Today is Canada Day, 1st July. Back home in Canada there will be fireworks, music and celebrations from backyard barbeques to city-wide parties and festivals. Days like this I miss my homeland, my mother country. As today has approached, I’ve been giving some thought about what it means to be a Druid in a land that is not “your own”, living in a foreign land.
A Druid’s relationship is with the land, first and foremost. It is the defining part of our spiritual tradition, religion and philosophy. We deepen that relationship through working with the ancestors, deities, the three worlds, etc. However, at the heart of the matter is the land upon which you live. Establishing a deep and sacred relationship with it is the main part of our work as Druids. But what is this relationship?
We have to know the environment we are living in, in order to live well in it. If we live with ignorance, we might cause damage. If we run against the currents of energy that are flowing through our land, say for example spending inordinate amounts of energy during the winter holidays when the darkness is actually calling us to rest a moment, to get in touch with the depths of winter, then we become exhausted, ill, suffering from diseases and dis-ease. We have to dance with the land, and when dancing with another it is of utmost importance to acknowledge the other’s movements, in order not to cause injury or step on anyone’s toes. We have to be aware of what is going on, each and every day in our landscape. It is not enough to celebrate the eight festivals of the modern pagan Wheel of the Year – to be a Druid requires much more than that.
It is a relationship that is not one way. Singer/composer/pianist Tori Amos once described her relationship to the land through her Cherokee grandfather’s guiding words: “We are either caretakers, or takers. It’s your choice”. While as Druids we don’t really have a sense of stewardship of the earth, for that would place us in a hierarchal order of being that doesn’t really make any sense, we do know that taking too much is damaging and so we work to live in harmony, in balance. Inspired by the ecosystems around us, we see how to fit in, to work with each other, whether that be human or beetle, stinging nettle or oak tree.
My relationship with the land began in Canada, where I was born. I drank from the rivers and lakes: that water is in my body. I grew up in the Laurentian mountains: those granite hills are also in my bones, in my foundation. The wild thunderstorms of summer are in my blood, the cold crisp air of winter in my lungs. They are a part of me and I am a part of it. We are inseparable, the land and I. The conditions manifested at the right time to bring me into being in that space and in that time, and I cannot disengage with it any more than I can wilfully cut off an arm or a leg.
But I live in the UK now. I am a resident of this country, and have been for many, many years. I have been here almost as long as I have lived in Canada. I have learned to dance to the rhythms of this land, with its differently beating heart, its slower pulses and island mentality. I have felt Brighid’s serpent rising and falling with each passing year, deep within the earth, dancing in the light of the sun in summer and retreating again, curled up within the depths of winter’s darkness and at the base of my spine. I have seen different gods of thunder and lightning, of seas and oceans, rivers and deep, cold lakes. I have felt and honoured the ancestors of this land, feeling their stories sung in the evening breeze, feeding from their bodies in the food grown on this land, breathing the air they breathed. I have walked many, many miles all across this land, coming to know its vast and intricate landscape, from craggy sea cliffs to heather moorland, from the Scottish Highlands to the White Cliffs of Dover. I have danced in this energy, so different and still similar to that of my mother country.
The questions remains: to whom do I belong?
I have roved many parts of this world, been in many places on this beautiful blue planet. I belong to this planet, I would say, first and foremost. Though I still carry a Canadian passport, I am a citizen of Earth more than a citizen of any country. Those lines on a map really mean nothing to me, spiritually. A land defines its spirituality, for sure, but there is a shared spirituality as well, as we are all part of this huge ecosystem called Earth. The energies run differently here in the UK than they do in Canada, on the surface, at least. But delve deep enough, in to the core of this spherical mass hurtling through space and it’s a shared centre, with sacred fire holding it all together.
I feel equally at home here in the UK as I do in Canada. There are other places on this planet that I feel at home – Sweden is one. I cannot date my ancestry back to either Scandavian or Celtic roots, but I know that I did come from the same basic ancestors as we all did those many, many years ago. It matters not what more modern root I come from in my Druidry. I was baptised and confirmed a Protestant, but I am a Pagan Druid. I honour different gods from all traditions, and still question the existence of all of them. I quest the awen daily, searching for inspiration, looking for answers, searching for the right questions, sitting in silence and dancing in delight. It doesn’t matter where I came from. What matters most is what I do now, in the land that I am in, whether it is the UK, Norway, France or USA. What matters is that deep connection to the spirits of the land, to the essence of nature wherever I am, and in that connection an honourable, sacred and sustainable relationship. I am not a tourist anywhere.
Yet still I call myself Canadian for the most part. My accent, though much bastardised, is still different and people will ask me where I’m from. Legally I am a Canadian who is resident in the UK. Yet I vote on UK policies, not Canadian ones. I follow deities that are from this land. I honour the deities of Canada and North America, those different energies moving along swifter currents and wilder ways. But I work with the land beneath which I walk, barefoot on the grass in my backyard, the ash trees whispering ancient secrets to me beneath a mackerel evening sky. Perhaps I am not a Canadian. I am not British. But I am Druid.