It seems that religions/spiritual paths have a set of core orientations or philosophies that form the underlying foundation upon which the religion/practice rests. This core philosophy is like the seed from which the entire “tree” of the religion grows–the tree might branch in different directions, but all of those branches eventually lead back to that single seed. For example, in many forms of Christianity, we might see that core seed as salvation; this seed forms the bulk of Christian thought, belief, and action. In some forms of Buddhist thought, the seed is freedom from suffering. These underlying “seeds” or philosophies makes that particular path unique, form the foundation of what is considered right thought and right action on that path, give the path purpose, and that offers particular gifts to its practitioners or to the broader world. And most importantly, this seed drives a number of underlying morals, values, and assumptions that practitioners of that path hold.
Druidry is many things to many people, and the joke is that if you ask five different druids about what druidry is, you’ll likely get seven different answers. As scattered and diverse as the modern druid movement seems to be–I believe, we too, have a core philosophy (with at least three expressions of that philosophy), and I’m going to explore this underlying “seed” of our tradition in today’s post.
Sources of Inspiration
The flow of awen for this post comes from a few places, and I want to acknowledge those first. Part of my insight comes from being in a leadership role in a major druid order in the US. I serve as the Archdruid of Water in the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and in that role, I interact with a lot of different kinds of druids at multiple points along their paths. I interact with people when they find druidry for the first time–what they are seeking, what they hope to find, and later, I see them as they move through our curriculum deepen their own understanding and interaction and the insights they have. I get to read their exams at the end of their time working through parts of our curriculum–so I’m hearing of the experiences of many on the druid path who have taken up this spiritual practice in a serious way. Additionally, part of my inspiration is personal – it comes from my experience in working through the complete curriculum in two druid orders, the AODA (1st, 2nd, and 3rd degrees) and the OBOD (bardic, ovate, and druid curricula) and coming to deep understandings over decade of time about that work. Finally, I have attended and been part of a lot of gatherings, online groups, and various initiatives, so I interact with lots of druids frequently. This is a synthesis of what I’ve read and conversed with others, and what I’ve generally understood over a period of time. But there is also another piece here– I’m also considering the overall trajectory of the druid tradition itself–not what we are, or were, but where we are heading and what potential exists for druidry in the future.
Therefore, this post is my take on the “seed” of our tradition, the underlying or core philosophy that drives much of druid practice. You might disagree with me, or want to add or subtract from this list–please do so and share in the comments what your own thoughts might look like.
On the Druid Revival
To understand the underlying core philosophy of druidry, we first need to delve back into the history of the druid revival and then move into the present day.
It is no coincidence that the very roots of the druid revival came about at the same time that industrialization rose in the British Isles. Farmers and peasants who had lived, sustained, and tended the land for countless generations were driven from their homes to work in factories (see, for example the “Highland Clearances” and “Enclosure Acts” in Scotland). During this time, the rise in machine-based worldviews, that is, that humans are machines (and cam work like machines, act like machines), and that nature is just another machine, became dominant (we see the outcome of this thinking everywhere today, particularly, in industrialized agriculture).
Our spiritual ancestors watched this scene unfolding: the land stripped of her resources for industrialization and progress, the growing emphasis on produced goods over communities, the rampant pollution and exploitation industrlization was creating, the relegating of humans, animals, and the land to that of a machine. It was during this period of time that our spiritual ancestors reached deep–and creatively–into their own history to return to an earlier time where humans and nature were connected. The druid revival movement, then, sought to reconnect with nature throug ancient roots in a time where society was heading in the opposite direction. I believe it is the same reason that people today are so drawn to the druid tradition–there is “something” missing for them and it is that connection to nature.
Now, a lot of the early druid revival works and authors have been discredited for creating “ancient” texts, drawing upon “found” materials that they had created, I find these attempts to discredit them problematic because they do not understand the context. These early attempts at bringing back the ancient druid traditions had a lot to do with people’s response to living in an age that was quickly stripping the lands of their resources and filling the skies and rivers with pollution. The important thing here is that druid revival tradition that we practice today was a spiritual response that emerged during the very beginnings of this current age of industrialization, and, therefore, offers us much wisdom as we are living with the outcomes and consequences of this same movement.
Industrialization, with so much promise at the time, much harm not only to our living earth, but to the pre-industrial communities and customs of the common people (a topic I picked up in some depth in my last series of posts on “Slowing down the Druid Way”). It is unsurprising, then, at the persistence and growth of the modern druid tradition in these times. For over 300 years, the ancient druids have offered our tradition sources of inspiration and reconnection. It is in this perpetual seeking of reconnection that we can see how druidry is, in some ways, a very human response to the larger wheels of industrialization that have been thrust upon most of us in the Western world.