Alban Artur. Photo by Michael Bérubé
I thought I might take the time to explain some of my philisophical practice of Druidry
As I have mentioned previously, Druidry for me begins with relationship. There are many people who approach their spirituality through the named gods of our ancestors. I have never heard the call of those beings other than to appreciate the stories and myths that surround them and to honor my ancestors by learning those stories. To me, this is establishing relationship with my ancestors because it helps me to understand how they saw the world around them, how they established their own relationship with the Wild Earth. In this manner, I can understand how they lived their lives without passing judgment upon them for it.
Of my ancestors, I most closely relate my practice to the Celtic and Gaelic tribes of Ireland, Scotland, Brittania, Wales, France and the Iberian peninsula. By many of todays standards, these were brutal people who practiced some level of human sacrifice (allegedly), constant tribal warfare and did not possess a sophisticated lifestyle based even on the conditions of the more affluent cultures of the day. Their art though is something that trumps many of our modern assumptions about the sophistication of their spiritual and cultural evolution. Their stories are something that survived far longer than their culture did and through these stories, we enjoy a window into their world that most can only glean snippits of relevant information from. I will by no means purport to be a scholar in reference to the lives of the Ancients. What I do have are instincts, instincts that tell me in the voices of my ancestors how they lived, how they loved, how they fought and how they died.
My ancestors speak to me of how they developed relationship to the land where their feet touched the Earth. While the stories and myths they told around their campfires and in the village commons were connected to that land, there are a great many lessons there to be appreciated and emulated as we seek to craft relationship to the location in which we find ourselves. My own feelings are that the gods of our ancestors are beings who belong in the lands our ancestors walked and while I can appreciate their presence in those stories, I feel a deeper kinship with the spirits of place that I find myself standing next to.
It is with this in mind that I view my spiritual beliefs, that I am a product of the natural forces that have sculpted the lines of my body as surely as they have sculpted the lines of the Earth itself and that my presence here is as relevant as the presence of any other being, the gods included. I don’t acknowledge these beings as existing in a context that is removed from us but neither do I have the opinion that their perspective encompasses our own. If we look at the mythologies of nearly any ancient culture, what we see is that the gods often interacted with us because they needed us to complete tasks that they were, for whatever reason, unable to do themselves. While monotheistic religions trend towards believing that their own center of worship is an omnipotent being capable of changing reality at will, in Pagan antiquity there was no such belief. The gods were/are capable of marvels yet remained somewhat dependent upon the human race to achieve very human goals and resolve very human jealousies. My ancestors want me to go deeper than that, further. I often think of the Gaelic chieftain Brennius. The story of Brennius goes that he and his army of Gaelic warriors took it upon themselves to wage a war upon Greece and in the process, managed to sack Delphi. When he entered the defeated city, Brennius observed the carefully carved marble busts of the Greek gods and when it was explained to him what they were he laughed at the Greeks that they would think the gods looked like men. While I fall rather short of laughing at those for whom the gods approach with human faces, I tend to agree with Brennius. The gods I acknowledge are the gods of wind and rain, sea and storm, the fire and lightning, the growing tree and the rich soil of the Earth in which things grow. I see the forces of nature at work in everything and the more I notice, the more I realize how little those forces care about me, seek my favor or acknowledge my existence.
My spiritual center stands with nature because I am a realist. It does not matter to me that I am not spoken to or chosen by the gods of my ancestors. Those beings will choose who they wish to choose and for me, it does not speak honorably of relationship for me to become a supplicant seeking the favor of these beings. Should they favor me at all, I want it to be because they have seen me walking with honor and admire my commitment, dedication and willingness to craft sacred relationship with the same home they occupy: The Earth. More importantly though, is to recognize that they are as much the gods and spirits of place as they are the gods of my ancestors and my feeling is that it is disrespectful for me to summon them here in an attempt to gain favor. Someday if I can, I will travel to them and then perhaps I will see them.
There are those who will think that there is some amount of judgement upon those who do feel the presence of those gods in their lives and I think it important that there is no judgement intended or actualized. Those who do commune with those beings feel their presence and have relationships with them. We each walk our own path and each of us have our own gifts. That is the nature of our existence and it does nobody any good to question such things in a derogatory manner. We each have our own path and if the gods walk with you, all the better.
So, I begin with relationship and I end with relationship but there are so many more, important steps in between. I wish I could create a flow chart for this but honestly, the road itself, the walk I take along this path is more about instinct than it is about directions. There are days when my direction seems clear and other days it is shrouded in fog and every day, regardless of how clear or foggy things seem, it is my own instincts that guide me, it is the voice of the ancestors that encourage me.
Awen, the Welsh word meaning “Divine inspiration” factors heavily into my spiritual conduct. I had a friend many years ago, an Atheist, admit to me that he was devastated when he heard me speak of Awen and assumed that “Divine inspiration” meant that some force outside of my body inspired me to create. I have not before or since heard such an awful explanation or misunderstanding of what Awen actually is or how it works. As an Animist and a Druid, I tend to see that all things are connected. I view this connection the way someone might look at a mist that saturates everything. Awen is like seeing a shape in that mist and thinking “That looks so cool, I’m going to paint that”. Awen has no “will” I have ever been able to discern. Instead, Awen pours through me in the times when I am alert, awake and present in the moment. When that flow of Awen hits me, I cannot help but want to create.
The author Steve Blamires talks about this a bit in his book “The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition”. In the book, Blamires peels back the layers of the story of the 2nd battle of Mag Tuired, when the Tuatha Da Danaan defeat the Fomoire for the rule of Ireland. For anyone curious about some of the legends of the Tuatha Da Danaan, I highly recommend this book. To paraphrase, Blamires suggest that magic occurs in three stages: First on the spiritual plane (What I refer to when I speak of “The Mist”). When we work “magic” we are reaching into the Mist and grasping an idea or concept. We process this concept or idea on the mental level and then we manifest it on the physical level. When I extrapolate that idea and set it outside the realm of hocus pocus, nearly every action we take is an act of magic. If Blamire’s assessment is true, and I happen to believe it is, then artists, writers and musicians are people who are the great magicians insofar as the magical tradition of our ancestors. Works of art like the Gundestrap cauldron, the Norse Eddas and the music of the Irish bards which still exist today are some of the greatest works of magic ever created as they still exist and we still recognize them. From this perspective, it seems to me that the greatest magic we can work is that of tradition, song and story. When we look at what little we are able to discern from what remains of the Celtic/Gaelic cultures, we can see that these are exactly the kinds of things the varied tribes of those cultures valued above all else.
This is one of the many reasons I wanted to create an order of Druidry that is local to our Maine community and the smaller, immediate communities we find ourselves in. In the tradition of Druidry, it was part and parcel to the duties of the Druids to strengthen the bonds of the community to the living Earth and interpret the will of the gods. They did this using acts of magic that were so powerful, even being wiped out and taken over by the monotheistic religion expanding out of Rome did almost nothing to stop their stories from surviving to the present day.
When we look at a culture that prizes a “good death” for the Bards and singers to write songs and stories about, it makes sense to reconsider how such a culture would view the context of magic. These are not people who would have been less impressed with the person who could shoot fireballs from their hands than the warrior who bested them or the warriors who died glorious deaths in the effort. In the stories of Cuchulain, the glory of combat was featured far more than his magic weapon, the Gae Bolg. A weapon of such terrible power, once deployed it would penetrate Cuchulain’s opponent and immediately fill them with spikes. The weapon is described and described as being used but only in passing. The same can be said of Lugh’s spear, Areadhbhair. Again, a weapon so powerful that it’s thirst for blood was legendary and it would fly around the battlefield slaughtering friend and foe alike unless it was hooded with a leather bag soaked in sleep inducing herbs and salves. In both cases, the details of the Gae Bolg and Areadhbhair are put together from a variety of stories rather than one simple explanation outlining the capabilities of the these weapons. These stories valued the Warrior over the weapon for a person who had a weapon of such fierce magic needed the skill to wield it and there is much to be gained by remembering the story and not just the exciting parts. To the ancients, the world was full to the brim with magic. At any moment they might walk over a hill and be in the otherworld or face to face with fantastical creatures. The Gaelic word for Magic is “draíochta” which literally translates as “What Druids do”. What we might see as “magic” items, for the ancient Celts, this was just a part of life. I would not go so far as to say that Druids are the only practitioners of magic, I am certain there would be more than a few people who might object and with good reason. What I am saying is that we have to look at the cultural significance of Druidry alongside what little we know about their practice to understand the entire picture. If we were to take the legends and myths at face value, here is a culture that prizes warriors with powerful weapons and yet magic is “What Druids do”. I find that fascinating and more than a bit intriguing. I am certainly not a “reconstructionist”, I will openly state I think reconstructionism is a waste of time. We will never really know with any certainty. We need to go with what works and what works for me is to understand the manner in which the Druids of antiquity established and maintained sacred relationship to the land and use what I have learned to do so here. This is part and parcel to why I acknowledge the spirit of the gods my ancestors experienced without expecting them to appear on Mt. Katahdin.
If the concept of “magic” is bringing something from the mist, through the mind and into the physical world, then what place does Awen have here? I would say Awen describes the motion of this process. When we invoke Awen, we are invoking this process in it’s entirety, to be inspired, to process that inspiration and then manifest it. I’ve gotten the impression from many that manifestation is supposed to be physical. If someone asks for healing and a ritual is done around it, the expectation is that the person will at least be helped along by the effort. When I think about my family and I am filled with Love and I tell them how much I Love them, this to me is also manifestation, it is also magic. It is the mechanism of identifying something in the mist and processing it through our minds into the physical world.
Every being does this in their way. This process probably looks a lot different for a rabbit than it does a human and a lot different for a human than for the beings we identify as gods. I say this in the context that we might not recognize the thoughts a rabbit has or the gods may not recognize the thoughts that we have but the actual process likely bears striking similarities and it is the nature of our existence that different beings will be able to manifest different things using such a process. If one needs proof of this, they need only go to an art museum and look at the multitude of different paintings, drawings, sculptures and exhibits on display and you should at least begin to understand what I mean if you don’t already. Even our own species manifests magic in an amazing variety of ways, I believe this is the reflection of nature upon us.
If I turn this practice to observing the wild, a panorama of color appears. Nature itself is as much a product of manifestation under the process of magic as anything else. This leads me to believe that the universe itself is aware and that it’s existence is a product of intention. I won’t bother to pretend I have some line on what that intention is or that I believe in a single omnipotent creator. I merely believe that the sum of consciousness in the universe is connected and that I am a part of that connection and that to touch the Universe, I can start here, where my feet touch the Earth, where the Earth touches the Solar system, where the Solar system touches the galaxy and out into the Universe ad infinitum.
To me, these concepts have become so ingrained that I have begun to see the land where my feet touch the Earth as patterns of swirling colors and sounds. I smile at how beautiful they are rather trying to make sense of them in a manner that only benefits myself. I hear the stories those colors tell and I sing the songs they inspire to my tribe around the ruddy light of a campfire as my ancestors once did in a time that was at once more simple and more brutal.
I seek to craft relationship to this land in the manner of my ancestors but do not call upon the gods of my ancestors to do so. Their place is across the ocean in the land where their own feet touch the Earth. The Druidry I practice seeks balance and relationship with the land, with the spirits of place, with the ancestors, the gods and the powerful forces of nature. Ultimately, I see myself as a phoenix in flight and the ancestors are the feathers on my great wings, lifting me higher into the air, helping me glide through the darkness. The winds are the voices of the spirits of the land where my feet touch the Earth. They want me to tell their stories. Someday, I will die and be reborn as the feather on an even greater phoenix. My voice will join the voices of the ancestors as a sigh of air over the plumage of a great bird of fire and we will soar.