To be or not to be – that is the question…

Questioning your spiritual and religious path is something that happens to almost everyone who is travelling down the winding trackways of life, with its twists and turns, surprises and disappointments. For the most part, we try to find others who are on a similar path, to share in the experience, to help us perhaps with their stories, to provide guidance or simply reassurance that we are on the correct path. We as a species are a tribal people. We also love to put things into categories and boxes, in order to make some sort of sense of life. With religion or spirituality, it’s never that easy.

Our path may have been walked by others for many years – or we may be forging out on our own. It helps if we can name our path, as if in naming we can further clarify the intention behind the journeying. We can get caught up in the naming, trying to find where we fit in the world, finding some definition that makes sense to us and to everyone else. Sometimes there is no sense to be made, for if we are walking between worlds, defining it using the terms of just one world can make it seem less than what it really is, what it feels like to us, and how we experience it.

When we are researching our path, we come across definitions that others have used, that they may still use and hope that perhaps we will fit somewhere within them. Yet the fit isn’t quite right – either the hem is too low, the collar too tight, the colour is wrong. We may like the cut but not the pattern. It may not be suitable in all weathers – you get my point. When I first started out, it was on the path of Wicca, back in the early 1990s, then coming to Druidry shortly after the new millennium had begun. I’ve studied other religious paths along the way – Buddhism and Zen, Native American, Romany Chovihano, Heathenry and more. Always questing the awen, I’ve often found that there is no monopoly on wisdom. I’ve incorporated elements of all these into my own Druidry and, by doing is, is it still Druidry?

For me, yes – it is. My path is based on the wisdom of this land and the ancestors. This is the base from which I work, flavoured with ideas and teachings from other paths. Yet it is still, in essence, Druidry – at least in my own eyes. Others might disagree. For me, Druidry is simply a word that describes the language of my spirituality, of my religion. In it I find the wisdom of the oak – for me it is that simple.

Questioning and questing are valuable assets in our spiritual paths – they are a force against complacency, against blind acceptance. They make us address the issues of words and ideas thoroughly in a meaningful way that pertains to us alone. I’ve witnessed many thoughtful words from people looking at their own path, and trying to find a definition that works. Nell wrote on her blog, The Animist Craft of community (click HERE for full article). Lorna Smithers currently has found a new path that makes sense for her (click HERE) and Nimue Brown has discussed it in various forms on her posts, Disillusioned with Druidry and Walking your Own Pagan Path (and written a book, Spirituality Without Structure). Emma Restall Orr even touched upon this issue in “Essays in Contemporary Paganism” (Moon Books, 2013) in her essay, “After Paganism”. After spending around 30 years being a leading figure in the Druid community, she now states on her website [accessed 25 June, 2014]:

“Studying Druidry from the mid 1980s, I worked for The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, then The British Druid Order, where I was joint chief for some 9 years alongside Philip Shallcrass. In 2002 I left to found The Druid Network, which now runs without me. While my time within Druidry was enormously valuable, I would no longer term myself a Druid.”

Our beliefs and attitudes are always shifting, always questing the awen in different ways. We may walk a path for a while, for many years even, and then find that we’d rather follow something else or create a new path deep through the forest of our souls. We may find that we do not fit in with the definition others ascribe to a path, such as Druidry. We may shrug off what others say and continue to call ourselves Druids, feeling that the word itself, and not the adherents to it, adequately describe our own path.

For me personally, I’m happy with the term, Druid, even though I disagree with a lot of what other Druids do, just as much as I agree with them. Though others may say or do things I find embarrassing, or simply wrong, they do not describe my path any more than those who I find inspirational and wise. Are we trying too hard to find definitions of what we are, or what we aren’t, or is this an exercise that is necessary in order not only to define our own paths, but our own selves? Where does intention fit in with this idea? Are you happy with the terms you or others have ascribed to your own path? Do these terms matter?

6 thoughts on “To be or not to be – that is the question…

  1. I do struggle with the term, and I often feel like I’m on the edges of druidry as a non-theist who practices druidry as a philiosophy rather than a religion. And I’ve heard all the arguments that ‘you can’t be a real druid if…’ but I still think the term is valuable.

    I am inspired by druids ancient and modern, and my practices are fairly solidly based in druidry (meditation, nature awareness, seasonal celebrations etc.) so I’m happy to use it, even if it means something slightly different to me than it would to you or anyone else.

    John Michael Greer makes an amusing point in his ‘Druidru Handbook’ that the term ‘druid’ may be complex and inaccurate sometimes, but it is at least simpler than saying something like ‘follower of post-Anglican latitudinarian universalist poly/pantheist nature spirituality’.

    There are a lot of internet debates about labelling one’s path, but ultimately I don’t think it matters much what you call yourself or what you believe, it matters more what you do and how you act in the world.

  2. This seems to be a very popular topic at the moment, (with members of the Druid Network at least). I wonder, is this questioning of what to call oneself something specific to Druids; do Wiccans, Heathens etc also agonise over what to call themselves whilst continuing to practice what they practice?

    It does seem, in the case of Druidry, that it’s not so much that the questioners change or question their beliefs and practices as that they begin to ask themselves if those beliefs and practices constitute Druidry. From my limited experience, Christians, for example, experience their crises of confidence by questioning what they believe and do. Druids seem more likely to continue in their beliefs and practices (perhaps having put more thought into arriving at them in the first place) but question what to call them. Perhaps this is somehow tied up with the lack of dogma in Druidry. Perhaps questioning is an essential part of human spirituality and, lacking a dogma to question, Druids must question the name.

    (Thanks for your contribution to the topic which is one much in my own thoughts – though I constantly ask myself your last question!)

  3. Thought I would take the liberty of reproducing my response to this that I did on TDN’s facebook page, for those who don’t engage in facebook…

    “As far as I can see, the whole issue around titles is something that, just like the tides, come around with regularity. I think the key issue is peoples attitude to the idea of self identifying with a title. The title can empower, it can create connections through its adoption, but then we see in most (though not all) people that what we see in nature. The title may become static and people and life are not. A tension is created by, within and around the title. And just like in nature, eventually the tension is released through movement ( an evolutionary catalyst) and the title is dropped, changed or discarded. That doesn’t mean the experience is wasted, indeed movement caused by the adoption and subsequent dropping of the title, IMO, can not be a bad thing because it has played its part as that evolutionary catalyst. The extent to the titles influence will naturally differ between individuals. What is different now-a-days though, is the first use of a global mass conscious network available to an increasing number of the Earths population ( the internet) and experiences that may have been strictly confined to geographical communities are now up for collective discussion, which increases the amount of shared experiences and also increases the potential for discontent with the position you are in at any one time. The classical Druids, I suspect, probably wouldn’t have had the option to discard the title for very practical reasons. So questioning of yourself, as far as I am concerned is not only good practice, it is esential. Because it shows engagement within the ebb and flow of life.”

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