Druids aren’t associated with magic in the same way that other Pagan traditions, such as Wicca or Witchcraft seem to be. Yet I’ve found that in every spiritual path, there are elements of magic contained within that are often very similar in nature.
What is Druid magic? Do Druids cast spells? Have magical tools? Do we think of Gandalf, brandishing his staff and saying mightily “You Shall Not Pass!” or his mushroom-addled fellow, Radagast, who lives in the woods, talks to animals and, according to the latest Hobbit films, has a rabbit-powered all-terrain sleigh and brings hedgehogs back from the dead?
Of course it’s none of these things. It would be pretty cool if it were. But Druid magic, like all magic, is subtler than what we see on the screen or read in books. There isn’t lightning shooting from fingertips or fire balls sparking from one’s eyes. In fact, many modern Druids don’t use magic at all, or don’t call it magic.
So what is magic? It has often been quoted these days as manipulating the natural forces of energy within nature to provide a desired result. This could have many interpretations. Flicking a switch and having my living room lit up at night could fall within this category, but I’m being a bit facetious. It is also often said that magic should be the last recourse after having tried all mundane means of solving a problem. So how do Druids use magic, if at all?
There is a growing trend of blending Wicca and Druidry, as in Philip Carr-Gomm’s new book, Druidcraft. This is a lovely way of expressing the divide between two very similar paths; kind of bridging the gap that lies between. I thought the book, especially the audio book, was brilliant, and yet I’m still not one to perform spells on a regular basis. Why is that?
As stated previously, magic is often the last recourse to a situation. If all other means have been tried, and I’m plum run out of ideas, then I might turn to magic. I might equally turn to prayer. Praying for some guidance, asking the gods, the spirits, the ancestors for a little advice when I’m stuck could be called a spell – it could also be called a prayer. Lighting a candle and some incense, meditating and then seeking some clarification or inspiration from the ancestors could indeed look like the workings of a magical spell. I think perhaps the difference is in the intention – in both magic and prayer, we are hoping for a result, but the results are often different.
In prayer, asking for the gods to solve a problem for us rarely, if ever, works in my own experience. I prefer to ask them for inspiration on how to get through this, or my spirit guides on where to go to next in order to resolve and issue. Casting a spell bypasses the question, in a way, and seeks to get an answer to a question not asked. Perhaps this is why I resort to magic so little, I always like to ask the input of others to seek out different perspectives on a situation. Again, this is only my own personal views, and others may have other ways of both prayer and spell-casting that are vastly different to my own.
For me, as a Druid I am always questing the awen – for me, awen is the Grail. Inspiration, flowing spirit – it is such a beautiful word from the Welsh language that has so many different meanings. To me, awen is magic, though perhaps not in the spellcaster’s sense of the word. It is energy, it is flowing, it is the Tao and The Force of the Jedi Knight. It is something to be tapped into in order to gain a new perspective, to see the bigger picture, to obtain compassion. Awen is Buddhist enlightenment. It is the Christian “God is Love”.
Instead of performing a magic spell, I might wander the heathland or forest, looking for inspiration around me. I might find a place to pray, using that inspiration to guide my prayers to better understanding of myself, the situation, the world. When all other recourses have failed, then I might try magic – the last recourse.
I feel that magic is something special, something not to be abused or overused. We often hear the term “god-bothering” and magic may indeed be another form of “bothering” – whether it is the elements, the energy of nature, or something else entirely. I feel that Druids on the whole would turn to awen rather than magic, but perhaps with the blending of Druidry and other traditions this could indeed change, or maybe even change back to the way Druidry used to be – who knows?
Perhaps my quest for awen is my magic. Magic includes transformation, and questing the awen will indeed change someone. None of the knights on the Grail quest were ever the same. None who seek enlightenment will ever be the same person they were before. We are constantly changing anyways, living a life of impermanence and fluidity, of change and flux.
Perhaps just tapping into that idea is magic, is awen.
(Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman: http://www.witchesandpagans.com/SageWoman-Blogs/druid-magic.html)
Excellent piece. I have a some thoughts I would like to add. First I am a druid priest so these comments come from that perspective. I am very active in the pagan community here in Maine. And I have spoken at length with people about magic. The common definition used is, “creating change through force of will”. And this as a druid is something I never do on a spiritual level. Yes, I do use will. I have no choice in that. I decide to eat an apple and I do it. I make decisions and try to accomplish them. The big difference between what I do as a druid and that which people in magical traditions is this: sacred relationship.
Sacred relationship is that of living life connecting to the world on the deepest level, the soul level. And sacred relationship is always, again always, a process of negotiation. There has to be peace. There has to be perfect equality and respect. For without these, there cannot be courage to open to one another at the deepest level. And being a druid, I realize the Awen doesn’t flow without that opening.
So when trying to deal with a situation, I don’t resort to imposing my will, gathering and raising energy to direct at a problem. Instead, I reach for peace, for deeper relationship, for equality where I can open my soul to the energies around and have it reciprocated. And I recognize that there cannot be peace without the needs of all the spirits of place being met. I don’t create change through force of will. With imposing my will, I have to ask myself, “what is so important about my will being done?” I mean really, we are all just part of an ecosystem, with our own limited perspective. And perhaps my will is more than Nature can support. So one has to look very deeply at the ethics involved. Hitler wanted his will done. Was that ethical? I am sure Hitler felt he was a deeply ethical man (sorry to pick an extreme example). We have to all sort our the difference between needs and desires.That is the place to start. And without engaging in deep sacred relationship, our desires will always cause harm, no matter our intention (including sending the raised energy out with the corollary, “and it harm none.”
Sacred relationship is the process and the end desire as well. By engaging in relationship, we don’t have an end-goal in mind. It is the process of relationship that determines the outcome. The process is what matters as we quest Awen. There is a huge difference between that and raising energy for a preconceived goal. In the first case, it allows for change. With relationship, comes understanding and knowledge from the engagement and sharing. And when we reach the place where we can open our souls to each other, the Awen flows. So from this process not only do I receive the information on how to move forward, I have received the energy to do it. And it takes into account the needs of others. And where needs aren’t being met, there will never be sufficient trust for two souls to open to another deeply enough so the Awen flows. It seems magical practices try to bypass all the sticky, difficult, challenging aspects of building soul deep relationships and having to acknowledge the needs of all the souls involved. “My will be done” isn’t ethical. It never is.
I see an enormous difference in the ethical approach and theological foundation of Druidry and those of religious traditions that focus on magic and use spell casting. Personally, I don’t like the idea of combining Wicca and Druidry. Druidry is unique and after a lifetime of searching and studying other religions, it was the one that I found was complete, the one that presented an experiential path and the tools to walk life an ethical life. If you take away the magical practices in Wicca, what is left to add to Druidry that it doesn’t already have with clear solid teachings and practices to work with?
Be well and blessings,
I agree with you, Snowhawke – I too prefer to keep them separate. But Druidry is such a diverse practice – and modern Druidry has such close roots and ties to Wicca that the line is often blurred. With Nichols and Gardener at the forefront of both modern traditions, working so closely together, sometimes it’s hard to see where one ends and one begins.
Prayer, establishing relationship is what is most important to me. This is not to detract from those who follow a magical path and choose that instead of prayer, or who work alongside it. It is simply my choice. Those who follow a Wiccan path may also feel the same as I do, and prefer prayer to magic. Prayer is not always about asking for things – it is about sacred soul touching. I’m sure many Wiccans as well as Druids would feel the same, and indeed others may from different spiritual paths.
Philip Carr-Gomm does make an excellent point in his book, however, about the Ovatic path and magic. It really is an interesting read, and I don’t feel that it detracts from either tradition.
I think we have to be careful not to appear condescending towards those who follow a more magical path, claiming that our path is an ethical one – it queries the other path when there may be many who follow as strict a code of ethics as you or I. It’s impossible to lump everyone into a pagan category, and even more difficult when the subject of ethics comes up.
I like to believe that every Pagan tradition is about sacred relationship to nature and the gods, at its very core. What makes Druidry different is perhaps the language, the flavour, however we decide to use it in our fusion “cooking” of the tradition. An Australian Druid will be different to a British Druid, using the spirits of place, but still having a similar flavour, language, etc.
I’m hoping that this makes sense!
Thanks for the article, funny and agreeable to read 🙂
If you are woodworking, you can work with the grain of the wood or across it. Both approaches may produce your artefact but the later takes more effort and the end product loses much of the inherent strength and beauty of the wood. Magic should work with the flow of Awen rather than across (or against) it. It’s not about mastering the medium, it’s about first understanding it, aligning with it and then using the natural flows to craft something that is in keeping with nature. I’m tending to the view that “ancient” druid magic was much more likely to have been the magic of the wise woman/cunning man, working in the mud with the flow of nature, than the high magic of the magus, working in a protective circle to dominate and control.
I think you’re right that magic should be a last resort but it should also only be used once you have learned to read the grain of the wood, the flow of Awen – only then are you in a position to work with it.
Very interesting wood analogy, Gwion! x
When I was little, had big brothers. My mom had bloodied my brothers nose.It wouldn’t stop bleeding.she said a spell,and it stopped.later in life I asked her what she said.she would never tell me.I am an empath just as she was.I need to know where my ism should be.so confused!
I’d recommend gently introducing yourself to various forms of Pagan paths, to see if they resonate with you. Some books I would recommend are from Scott Cunningham, Emma Restall Orr, Philip Carr-Gomm, Marian Green and Rae Beth, or any of my books 🙂 Blessings on your journey of discovery! x
Reblogged this on Druid Reborn.