Book Review: The Druid Path: A Modern Tradition of Nature Spirituality by John Michael Greer

The Druid Path: A Modern Tradition of Nature Spirituality by John Michael Greer

Published by Sterling Ethos, 2021

This book is a great introduction to Druidry. I love a hardcover book, and this little gem published by Sterling Ethos is a really nice production. The corded cover with embossed title, the interior illustrations and the overall print quality is superb. We need more Pagan books that pay attention not only to the content, but also to the print quality and aesthetic! This book will last a long time, for sure. It’s in a nice almost square format too, which is different. It is an introductory book, so it doesn’t go into great length on any given subject, but it does cover all the essentials necessary to begin your path of Druidry.

It is divided into four sections: Part One looks at the sources of Druidry, including the ancient Druids, the Druid Revival and Modern Druidry. This brief history of Druidry covers all the essentials, as well as some new things that I have never come across, including William Stukeley’s elephants (you’ll just have to read the book for more on that one). I am also pleased to see a section on Women in Druidry.

Part Two looks at the Druid teachings, the different strands of Druidry and exercises to help one not just read about it, but also turn it into personal wisdom through experience. The section on “The Two Currents” I had not come across before in my own Druid learning. This chapter discusses the solar current and the earth’s telluric current and how to incorporate that into your practice.

Part Three is the practice of Druidry, an essential section that really shows how Druidry is a living practice, something that must be done, not just read about. I especially like Greer’s words on Druidry as a craft:

“Druidry is not an ideology. Like basketry, forestry, and many other words that end with –ry, it can be best understood as a craft. You don’t become a basket maker or a forester by believing some set of opinions. You become a basket maker by learning and practising basketry, and you become a forester by learning and practising forestry. In the same way, you become a Druid by learning and practicing the craft of Druidry. One of the things this means is that becoming a Druid isn’t an all-or-nothing matter. You start becoming a Druid as soon as you begin learning some elements of the Druid craft, and you keep on becoming a Druid as long as you keep studying and practicing that craft.”

In this section, Greer also introduces us to divination through the Coelbren alphabet, which is not used as much as the Irish ogham taught by many other Druid authors, teachers and organisations. This chapter also gives you some more daily practices and a couple of rituals to get you started.

Part four is about initiation into Druidry. The word initiation means “to begin” and so the ritual set out in this section provides the reader with a definitive point in time where they can say that they started out on the Druid path with directed intention to practice this craft to the best of their abilities. The self-initiation ritual is simple but poignant. Greer ends the book with the following words:

“A more important source of guidance than books and organizations, however, is the time you spend working with the basic practices of Druidry, listening to the One Life, and learning from nature. No one can do that for you. The only thing that limits how much you can learn and grow on the adventure of Druidry is your own willingness to pursue it.”

There is also a helpful glossary, bibliography, recommended resources and index.

I was very pleased with this little book that holds much wisdom. I’d recommend it to anyone starting out on the Druid path who wants a concise introduction contained within a beautifully printed publication.

The Myth of Duality

It’s hard to escape the ingrained duality of our culture and mindset in the Western world. For so many hundreds of years we have listened and taken as fact that the mind and body are separate, that the individual is separate from nature. This is a concept that abounds even in Modern Paganism, which in my opinion hinders the way forward for many people who are truly trying to integrate, to live in harmony with the natural world. By creating a divide we are instantly alienated from a world to which we have a natural birthright.

Even some proponents of non-duality still can get caught out on certain issues – take the Otherworld for instance. If we truly believed in an inclusive and shared reality, a shared experience in which there is no subject and object, but instead a collection of subjects in shared experience then we come close to the core of animism. However, many Pagans still believe that when we die, our soul splits from our bodies and goes “somewhere else”: The Otherworld, the Summerlands, etc. What I would posit is that there is no “other”, just as there is no such thing as “away”. I am fully aware that not all Pagans are animists, but for me personally they go hand in hand.

Jason Kirkey touches on this subject in his book, The Salmon in the Spring. He sees the Otherworld as a different mode of perception, more than a physical place that is different to this world. By opening our perception we can see the Otherworld, which really is our world in its full entirety, unhindered by concepts of dualism.

We live in a shared reality, though many choose not to accept this. We are, in each and every second, undergoing a shared experience. There can be no such thing as a solitary experience. We are in contact with the world each and every moment. As I sit here typing, I am experiencing the clack of the keyboard and its plastic keys, the light from the monitor, the air around me, the draft from the window, the light filtering through the cloudy skies, my cat complaining for more food. I am experiencing all these things, and all these things are also experiencing me. In this context, there is no subject/object, for in order for there to be an object there needs to be separate reality and experience entirely isolated from everything else. This is simply not possible – no one lives in a vacuum.

When I am walking to my Tai Chi class in the rain, I am experiencing the rain and the rain is experiencing me. When I am in class, I am experiencing the instructor and other class members, and they are experiencing me. When I place my foot carefully on the floorboards of the hall, I am experiencing the floorboards and the floorboards are experiencing me. As an animist, for me there is no such thing as inanimate objects, or even objects at all – everything is filled with energy in motion, which creates mass and density, and everything is subject to the world around it.

Creating a division, between Us and Them, between animate and inanimate is a huge cause for the troubles we are now experiencing politically, environmentally and socially. When we realise that everything is shared experience, then we automatically work for the benefit of the whole rather than ourselves, for we realise that there is no such thing as just “ourselves”. We are an integral part of the whole, and being integral it only comes as natural that we should live our lives in service to the whole.

This is the main focus of Druidry for me in my personal life. Living a life in service means thinking, acting, living for the whole rather than the self. It’s not done in an altruistic sense, but in a holistic sense. By dropping the illusion of separation I can experience the world on a much deeper level, and have a greater relationship because the illusory barriers and boundaries of dualism have simply disappeared.

In my opinion, Descartes has a lot to answer for.

What Druidry Is Not…

abbeyFor me, Druidry is not a white-robed affair. Crawling under low scrub pines and getting inside secret places of gorse bushes where only the deer trod, or standing on the seashore in the howling rain, or in the heart of the forest with the badgers and mosquitos – it just doesn’t work.

Druidry is not clean. It’s not an exercise only for the mind. It requires experience to turn what you have learned into real wisdom. It’s not just book-learning. Until you get out there and commune with the landscape, it’s not felt in the soul. It cannot live in the head. It will get you dirty, wet, hot, sweating, cold, scratched, bitten. It is dirty fingernails and peering under bushes. It is a return to the curiosity and wonder of the child, yet it is not child-like. It is deep learning, deep experience.

Druidry is not a male-centred religion or spirituality, nor is it female-centric. It is about equality and egality, anarchic and subject first and foremost to the teachings of nature.

It not just about standing in stone circles waving swords and reading off of sheets of paper with a group of other people, the media and tourists alike taking photographs. It is doing work in the heart of where you live, often without thanks or regard of any kind. It is giving back to the land, honouring the cycles and working for the community – and by community, I mean each and every living thing in that area wherein you live and call home, not just human. It is not about power and ego, but about communion and deep relationship. It is about dropping ideas of the self to better fit in the landscape.

It is not about writing loads of books and offering courses, achieving kudos through output, students and media. It is about the sharing of inspiration, acknowledging the inspiration of others and allowing the awen the flow through you in whatever way you see fit. One may be a teacher, or an author, or someone with whom the media interact – but they are not a spokesperson for all Druidry, nor a guru of any sort, and have no monopoly on wisdom. There is little room in deep Druidry for ego.

There are no titles, save those bestowed either by a person on him or herself, or by a group of people following a shared path and learning. These titles are not relevant to all Druids – just to the person or the group. Claiming to be an arch-druid of so and so has no bearing on those who are outside of the group. There is no central authority in Druidry.

Druidry is not about having things – it is about doing things. It is being utterly mindful of personal and global consumerism. It is about looking at everything that you do, everything that you have, everything that you take and everything that you give back. It is not about doing the bare minimum. It is about sacrifice, of time and ignorance, of ego and of desire. It is about constant re-evaluation of ethics, values and honour. It is about constant learning.

Druidry is not about attaining levels of initiation or ordination within learning, however. Courses and instruction may guide us, may open our minds and shatter pre-conceived notions, expanding awareness – but they are not there to gratify the ego through the bestowing of grade or rank. Druidry is also not about a specific point in time, where to call oneself a Druid means to have studied for twenty-some years, learned the genealogies of kings, etc. The Druidry of the past is not the Druidry of today. The Druidry of a small frame in time within the past and from a small, specific region is most certainly not the Druidry of today. Its wisdom can guide us, but it is just one window in a mansion of many halls. The Classical Druids were the Classical Druids – we are not, nor can ever be, Classical Druids.

Druidry is not just an exploration of the self. It goes beyond the self, to a life lived in service to others.

These are just a few things of what Druidy is not.

So what is Druidry?

It is allowing the wisdom of the oak to guide you in all that you do.