Duty and Service: The Life of a Druid

triskele-2For me, Druidry is about living a life in service. Many people confuse the word service with subservient: being beneath someone else in a lower position, lowering yourself for others. Service has nothing to do with this, and everything to do with using your skills, wit and intelligence to benefit the world around you. Relationship is at the heart of Druidry, and service to Druidry requires good relationship. There is equality, a give and take, in order to maintain a sustainable relationship. We work to serve the whole: the ecosystem, our community, our families, our ancestors, our gods, our planet. Our work in Druidry is not just for ourselves.

To work in service requires an open heart, a sense of duty and discipline. Too often, when things are rough, people can lay aside their spiritual practice feeling that they need to just in order to survive, or that they simply can’t be bothered. When we do so, we are stating that the theory and foundation of our religion or spirituality is just that: a theory. It’s not something that needs to manifest. When something just remains a thought, a theory, then it is completely intangible, and unable to create change in the world. At these points in time, when we are stretched to our limits, when we are in pain, when the world seems to be crumbling around us, this is when we need our Druidry the most. We make not feel like doing ritual, but this may be exactly what we need. We may not want to meditate, but again, that may be just what clears up our thoughts in order to proceed, to find the way forward. This is where discipline kicks in, as well a duty. When we just don’t feel like it, we can remember our ancestors, remember their struggles, their fears, their failings, and know that we can do better, we can give back for all that we have received. With relationship at the heart of Druidry, we must learn what we owe to the world, and not forget this very important concept. Only then will we truly understand the concept of duty, and manifest it in the world, living a life in service.

I am blessed in so many aspects of my life. That is not to say that my lady Brighid does not throw me onto her anvil every now and then, and pound the heck out of me, stretching me and re-forging me anew. But in service to Her, I work with the gifts that she provides me, with the challenges that lie before me, and see them as opportunities to re-forge relationships, or to understand why they don’t work and walk away. I learn where I can be of service, where my skills and talents lie, and then use them to the best of my ability, living my truth. Above all else, Brighid keeps reminding me to live my truth.

In the midst of despair, when all seems dark, I stop and take a look around. I see the blackbird, singing in my garden at sunset, listening to his call that takes me beyond this world and into the Otherworld. I see the deer eating the birdseed that falls from my feeder. I watch the clouds turn from white to gold and then deepest pinks and orange, a wash of colour that delights the eye and feeds the soul. I remember to look for and see the beauty in the world, in the small things and the large. I remember that I am part of an ecosystem, and that I have duty to give back. This gives my life meaning, and is also the meaning of life.

As a Druid, I walk a life of service. This service provides my life with meaning. I owe it to the land that nourishes me to protect it, to give back for my many blessings. I owe it to my ancestors, without whom I would not be here today. I owe it to my gods, who provide me with such deep inspiration that words cannot even come close to projecting my relationship with them. Knowing what I owe, I walk the path of service in perfect freedom, for freedom is found when we release our self-centred perspective, and take the whole of nature into our hearts and souls. We are nature.

It’s not just for ourselves. It’s for all existence.

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Changing Times

thank youDruid College begins in a couple of weeks, and I’m so very excited about it. This is the first time I’ve taught this many students at once – thirteen in all have signed up for Year 1! It promises to bring a lot of change to my life, and I look forward to it.

This year has already brought about many changes in my life, and has led to a deeper relationship with my gods, the ancestors and my environment. I feel so blessed to be on this journey, a journey that is shared with my friends and family, with readers of my blogs, my students and fellow colleagues on the Druid path. I have lived my Druidry full-time for many years now, and now it is a full-time “job” as well as a way of life! There are also more books underway, which I hope you will enjoy.

I aim to live in service to this land, to this planet, in whatever shape or form I can. I feel that it is our duty as part of an earth-based religion to serve, with truth and honour. I heartily thank all my teachers and guides along the way, and hope that I can continue the cycle of inspiration, of awen, after having been so inspired by so many people, both human and non-human, as well as that wonderful serpent energy contained within these British Isles. I honour my roots and work towards a future that I hope will be integrated, inclusive and inspiring.

Thank you, all from the depths of my heart.

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.

While out and about today…

Out on the half mile stretch of road on the heath leading up to the village, bright yellow rubber gloves on and hauling rubbish bags, I am picking up litter. Towards the end of the work, a car pulls in by mine, already loaded with two full bags. Chap steps out.
“Community service?” he says.
“Nope. Voluntary.” I reply.
A look of utter perplexity overwhelms his face, and he is lost for words. After several moments of awkward silence, he manages to form his thoughts. “Excuse me, but… why?”
A smile crosses my face. “Because I love this place.”
The look of incomprehension has not left his face. Another pause. “Nick ****. Local Wildlife Trust Manager. And you are?”

Truth, Honour, Service

Druidry can be summed up in three words – truth, honour and service. Yet these words can be very vague – what do they mean to the Druid?

 
Truth is not just figurative and literal truth. There are other dimensions to the word when we see it in accordance with our views of the world and religion or spirituality. Druids live in reverence of nature, connecting the world through awen, the flowing inspiration that guides and directs, that is each thing’s own soul song. When each thing is living in accordance to its own soul song, in accordance to its own nature, then it is following its own truth.

 
The world around us tries to muddy the waters of our truth, making us believe we need more than we could possibly know what to do with, making us think we are above others, making us feel inferior, unworthy and unloved. It tries to tell us that we are lacking. When we take a step back away from the world, we can examine it from a different perspective, seeing what is often termed in Druidry as “the truth against the world”.

 
This truth is our soul song. It shines from us when we live in accordance with nature. If flows like the awen when we care for ourselves, others and the planet. It springs forth when we acknowledge the times and tides of life and death. When we step away from what really matters, from living our own truth, we can feel distanced from the world and from each other, and perhaps even our own selves. We must return to the basics of what is our place is within nature, and how we can live in harmony and balance with it. When we do, we are then living our truth.

Honour is another word that lies in the hazy mists of time. It has connotations of chivalry, fealty and nobility. Yet honour is simply the courage to live our soul truth in the world. It is standing strong by our principles of balance and harmony, making the world a better for all. Returning again to what really matters, to our place in the world, is at the heart of honour. It is not a one-time thing that we can achieve and then sit back, resting on our laurels. Honour requires hard work, all the time, to see that we are indeed living our soul truths to the best of our ability.

 

When we come to understand truth and honour, the natural outcome is service. We live our lives in service to our Druidry – we can do no other. We are not subservient to anyone but ourselves. Living in accordance to our own nature, our own truths and finding sustainability through honour, it naturally results in service to the world – that same world that tries to rail against our truth! The cycle is ever flowing, and we work in service to the truth and the world in equal measure. That is where we find the most balance and harmony. That is what makes it so special, as well as bloody hard work sometimes.

 
Truth. Honour. Service. Three words; three concepts that are inextricably linked to each other, like beautiful Celtic knotwork.

 
Beltane blessings,
Jo.x

What does it mean to be a Druid today?

acornWhat does it mean to be a Druid in this modern day and age?

Being a Druid today does not mean trying to live in the same manner as our Celtic ancestors did in this land. We simply couldn’t – with our technology and changed world, our religion or spirituality must change. We can still follow the intention of our ancestors of blood, of the land or of tradition.  We can honour the land upon which we live, work to live in tune with the natural cycles of life, and live a life that is filled with honour, integrity and truth.  These latter three haven’t changed much over the course of millennia; they are still pretty much the same as they always were. Honour is living with great respect for yourself and for the world, for living a life filled with integrity and truth. Integrity is having the will to stand for what you believe in, even through the darkest nights of the soul.  It is standing strong though buffeted by high winds; it is living your soul truth.  Truth is living in accordance to the natural principle of life; it is finding your place in life and not working out of the bounds that our own bodies and souls are bound to in this life.  It is living in accordance with the natural world.

The Druids of old lived their religion – it wasn’t just a matter for the weekend, or eight times a year during the festivals.  Today we too can truly live our religion, allowing it to imbue our spirit with the inspiration to live a life that is wholly integrated between the spiritual and the mundane – in fact, the Druid would say that there is no separation, whether she be a Druid from the Iron Age or a Druid today. It is living in service, giving back for that which sustains us. We may not have the status of the Druids of old, which could be of benefit or detriment – power can corrupt, even as it can make the world a better place. Druids today show their power in their service and devotion to the natural world – from being a judge in the law courts to an RSPCA animal rescuer.  Our love of nature, whether bestowed by ancient or modern Druids, guides our way of life and our worldview.

The Druids of old were of the Celtic peoples – yet today one can be called a Druid without any Celtic ancestry.  Within Druidry, we honour the ancestors in a triad – ancestors of blood, of land and of tradition.  Where we may lack in one, we may find inspiration and guidance from the other two.  As far as I am aware, I have no Celtic ancestry in my recent heritage, however living in Britain and following teachers on the Druid path fill out two sides of the triad, providing me with balance.  I learn from studying what the Celtic worldview was like, from politics and culture, art and history, archaeology and more.  This fills in the last gap, which, all things considered, even those people who can claim Celtic descent should fully investigate. For those of Celtic descent living in other places of the world, their blood and tradition help to balance out their work with the spirits of a new land, and so on.

I do not try to reconstruct what the ancients did – that would not make sense in the modern world.  I understand things that the ancestors did not about nature – equally they understood things that I never could.  I use my knowledge, which is ever growing, to help me adapt my religion to better harmonise and be in balance with the world.  I use the Celtic worldview, as stated above, to guide me to live in accordance with the time and space of the here and now.

Druidry is all about relationship, whether ancient or modern.  While the ancient Druids may have tried to placate the gods with offerings or sacrifice, modern Druids may appear to do the same, but not for quite the same reasons.  We can never truly know the reasons why the ancients did what they did, as they did not write it down.  However, today we may offer daily gifts of thanks to the spirits of place in order to establish a relationship with them, to better understand and to show our gratitude. In relationship there is give and take – we seek the balance in all things.  We may howl at the wind in an attempt to understand why we are standing in the rain, soaked to our underwear, and receive the most blessed inspiration in doing so. We may just get wet.

Ancient Druids were the educated class, from what we can gather from the historical accounts by others about Druidry.  Today, Druids seek to sacrifice ignorance and to learn all that we can about our place in the world.  A Druid might be inspired to heal with herbs, and learn all that he can about that path. Another might be a poet or author, and use words to convey the awen bestowed by the gods, the ancestors and the land. Yet another might be a park ranger, working to protect wildlife – the possibilities are endless.  What links them all is in the continuous learning – we can never know everything about anything.  Druids are constantly learning. Even teachers and priests in the community are always learning, and never afraid to do so, for to do otherwise is simply allowing pride and passivity to come in the way of our relationship with the world.

It goes without saying that all Druids have a love and affinity with nature.  This love guides us in all that we do; it is our inspiration, our awen.  To be a Druid today is to live in accordance with nature, honouring nature in all that we do, with dedication and devotion, in service to the land, our gods and the community. In that, it is not so different from what we believe the ancients did!