A Stoic Druid?

We all feel inadequate at times. We can’t help it – in modern Western society, with media and social media all around us, we are constantly looking at each other’s lives and making value judgements not only about them, but in comparison to ours. We often forget that we are only looking at a tiny fraction of the truth, of the facts, of the life being lived in that present moment.

People raised in capitalistic societies learn to compete from a very young age. Not all competition is wrong, but we have to take a deep look at just why we feel the need to compete in the first place. Life is not a competition, after all. We’re all gonna die, end of story. No one wins. We perhaps need to realise just what is important in our lives, and what is irrelevant. Maybe then the desire to compete will lessen, and we can free ourselves from such restrictions, supporting instead of competing, making the world a better place. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try our best; far from it. However, we might lessen our feelings of inadequacy.

Having studied Eastern philosophy for many years now, I’m trying something new. After a wonderful conversation with a very dear friend, the concepts found within Stoicism intrigue me. Already I can see how similar they are to, say, Zen Buddhism, and also how they differ. I should imagine it will be a great journey of discovery.

We spoke of value, and the importance of judgement, not externally but internally regarding our perception of self-worth. She explained that in Stoicism, it is in the striving, in the living, in the journey towards being the most awesome human being you can be that is important. This related on so many levels to what I already understood from many Eastern traditions, but also clicked in various different ways that I am excited to explore. I liken it to creating a work of art: it’s not the finished product that is important, but the creative process of making it that is the most important (and the most exciting). Relating this to my Druid path could open up possibilities I have never explored. How wonderful!

I am keen to explore the value judgements others make upon me, and how I respond to them. I am intrigued to understand more about how to listen to my own value judgements on a deeper level. This differs from Eastern philosophy, where we learn to let go of all value judgements. What is our worth? How do we value that worth? I am reminded of the root of the Saxon word, weorthscipe (worship), how we deem something to be worthy. What are the tools, the philosophy, behind this?

We never stop learning. I’ve always had a keen desire to learn history, art, biology, theology and philosophy. Indulge in your passions, for life is far, far too short. The steps on the journey are what makes the journey worthwhile; not the destination.

Animism Today

P1040954 (1024x768)What does it mean to be an animist in today’s world? Druid Emma Restall Orr describes animism as that which acknowledges the inherent value in all things.  This description, for me, is the best offered so far.

Many people can see animism as a throw-back to times when people were not so intelligent; the cavemen who believed in spirits imbuing inanimate objects. What I would offer is a redefinition of inanimate for, in my worldview, nothing could be inanimate.

How is this so? Well, I’m not a physicist however I’m pretty sure that everything is composed of atoms that are constantly moving (atomic theory).  Ancient philosopher Heraclitus theorised this yonks ago, claiming that everything is in a state of flux. Therefore, how could anything be inanimate? Most people, when considering the word inanimate, seem to think of things that don’t move, that aren’t “alive”.

So how does the dictionary define inanimate? There are a few: 1.not animate; lifeless. 2.spiritless; sluggish; dull. Synonyms: inorganic, vegetable, mineral; inert, dead. 2. inactive, dormant, torpid. Considering these descriptions, we must also consider the word “alive”. Oxford English dictionary describes it as 1.(of a person, animal, or plant) living, not dead; 2. continuing in existence or use.  Not very helpful, is it? Animate is something that is not lifeless, and alive is something that is not dead. So what is dead then?

I could go on.  Is the desk that my computer on dead? When did it cease to live? It is still in existence and continuing in existence and use, as the OED states something that is alive does.  The only change has been in the form of the matter. When someone dies, they change through the processes of decay, returning to the earth.  So have they truly died, or merely changed form?

If we cannot define what is alive and what is dead, what is animate and what is inanimate, then in essence everything should be treated equally.  With such loose terms we cannot and should not push aside what we do not fully comprehend.  Yet every single day millions of people do so, declaring that something is merely a tool, a resource, something to be used for their personal benefit.  The inherent value in something is in relation to its usefulness. Again, usefulness is such a broad and subjective term.

If the oceans are merely a resource, if a chicken is only a resource, then it loses its inherent value in the fact of it simply being.  We can then abuse it to our own purpose – mostly selfishness and greed.  We are able to pollute the seas because we no longer respect them. We cage hens and kill them once their usefulness in egg-production is up, or dairy cows when they have “dried up”.  They no longer have any value.

Animism honours each and every thing for what it is, whether it is bird or bee, human or cat, tree or rock, mountain or lake.  Each thing is made up of millions of other things. Each individual thing on this planet contains parts of other things.  Not only is everything inherent in its own being and value, but everything is interconnected.

Everything is made up of nothing – the essential building blocks of everything is nothing, if we go deeper in physics.  In this, we are all connected. We are all made up of things that are constantly in motion – energy always moving and creating different forms that we recognise as sibling, house, lorry.  For me, this blows my mind.

So does this mean that I need to bow down and worship the lorry that takes away our recycling?  Well, no, not really, though it’s an interesting concept.  Many pagans who also are animists have an apprehension or dislike for bowing down to anyone – but that is a separate issue. I have no problem in bowing to my gods.  We then have to define what constitutes deity. Again, I digress.

Recognising the inherent value of everything does not mean worshipping it. So, in seeing that the blackbird is energy taken form as a black-feathered bird with glorious song, I can see its inherent beauty and value.  But what of things we do not consider to be beautiful? I would posit that as beauty is so subjective, there can again be no limits on value.  Is a virus beautiful? For me personally, I think it is a remarkable thing. For someone who is dying from one, they may not see it in such a light.

Animism today is not walking around believing that the Moon is a goddess (though it may be for some, to each their own). It sees the inherent value of the moon and acknowledges it. We can honour as deity what the moon does to our planet, to ourselves. We can attach godlike qualities to these phenomena, creating a relationship with it through seeing them as archetypes.  We can lose the whole archetype consideration altogether and think of gods as things that can kill. Deity has far too many definitions and is again so subjective. It can be hard to have a relationship with something as vast as a mountain, so we create gods that we can relate to on a human level. It is difficult to have a relationship with an abstract, such as love, or anger. We relate to these as gods when we see the value of them and how they affect our lives.  The thunderstorm is simply a thunderstorm, yet it is also a wondrous coming together of energies that can change our lives forever.

In Druidry, we often hear the term “the song”. This is a poetic phrase to mean the energy and quality of a certain thing, whether it is the song of the wind through the leaves, or of the cat hunting in the backyard. It is the coming together of energies creating something that has its own inherent value simply by its matter of being. In animism, the song is what defines something as different from other things.

Through animism today, we can learn to create better relationships with the world around us. We learn of compassion and understanding, of differences and similarities.  We learn a new sense of gratitude and wonder. In my opinion, these things are not childlike or primitive, but the essential parts of being an evolved being.

This blog post is my contribution to The Animists Carnival: http://lifthrasirsuccess.wordpress.com/animist-blog-carnival/

(This month, blog Eaarth Animist is the host)

Honour in Druidry

The gods in Druidry, for those Druids who believe in the gods, are vast.  They may be ancestral deities out of myth and legend, the stories of the people from an area that may be carried through time, over oceans and continents and held within the blood of the tribe. They may be gods of wind and rain, of thunder and sunshine and the growing of crops.  They may be from a pantheon of gods local to the area, or from thousands of miles away.  With such a diverse range of gods, and what it is to be a god in Druidry, how can we celebrate together, or even separately as a tradition under the single banner of Druidry?

I purport that it is with honour that we acknowledge the similarities and differences within the tradition, that which is holding it all together. But what then is honour?

As a noun, honour has several meanings*:

1.            personal integrity; allegiance to moral principles

2.            a. fame or glory

b. a person or thing that wins this for another: he is an honour to the school

3.            ( often plural ) great respect, regard, esteem, etc, or an outward sign of this

4.            ( often plural ) high or noble rank

5.            a privilege or pleasure: it is an honour to serve you

Let’s being with number one – personal integrity and allegiance to moral principles.  Within Druidry, it is widely understood that one does not need to have gods in order to have a moral and ethical code.  Druids take their inspiration from the natural world around them, and whether or not they see certain aspects of nature as deity is irrelevant – it is quite possible to be an ethical Druid, or an ethical anything, without a belief in god.  What is most meaningful in this, however, is maintaining your personal integrity, your moral principles, without trampling over those of others. So, while an atheist Druid might disagree with a Pagan Druid on the existence of gods, having personal integrity means that you don’t stomp all over someone else’s belief, or lack of belief.

Number two, fame or glory, is an odd wording in my opinion – I would classify it more as an asset rather than fame or glory.  However, in Celtic and indeed in religions the world over, one’s  reputation is of utmost importance, and perhaps in this context it would work.  By walking our walk, instead of just talking out talk, in Druidry we know that honour means accepting the diversity of nature, and human nature, which includes religion and philosophy.  What we need to also acknowledge are the assets of others, famous or not.  A Druid quietly standing by a fracking site in peaceful protest is just as important as a well-reknowned poet, or author, or activist Druid that is more publicly known.  It also implies that those in supposed positions of power should think more on the repercussions of their actions, and how they conduct themselves publicly, though I would like to say that this should apply to each and every individual on the planet.

Great respect, regard and self-esteem tends to overlap with my points for number two, especially with regards to walking our walk.

Number four doesn’t really apply to Druidry, but in our own human nature and society, we still often revert to ranking systems in order to classify people, much as some of us absolutely hate it. We have Chief Executives in companies, and High Judges in the legal system.  We have so-called and often self-styled Arch Druids and High Priests and Priestesses in some Pagan traditions.  Often there is debate in Druidry over who is even entitled to call themselves a Druid, some believing that this is only an accolade offered to those who have studied for a certain length of time.  I personally don’t subscribe to this notion, but there are many who do, who state that one can follow the path of Druidry, without being a Druid per se.  This often follows a set of grades that those who follow Druidry study, being that of Bard, Ovate and Druid. It is sometimes, in error, also seen as hierarchal grades in which to achieve status.  After spending many years in primary and secondary school systems and indeed, in many other aspects of our society, you can see how many come to this conclusion – you need to get this grade in order to progress to this grade, etc.  However, in Druidry many Druids (and note that here I mean all those who follow the path of Druidry) don’t give a tinker’s dam about rank, and treat everyone equally.  This again has its roots in honour, and in honouring someone for who they are innately, as opposed to honouring a rank.

Number five, a privilege or pleasure, is a most interesting description. In my Druidry, serving the gods and the community ranks highly.  Indeed, it is an honour to call oneself a Druid, as it is an honour to serve that which inspires me – nature.  It is also an honour to share that inspiration with the community, with a deep respect for the tradition and for each other.

Honour is also a verb – and again there are many descriptions:

* to hold in respect or esteem

* to show courteous behaviour towards

* to worship

* to confer a distinction upon

* to accept and then pay when due (a cheque, draft, etc)

* to keep (one’s promise); fulfil (a previous agreement)

* to bow or curtsy to (one’s dancing partner)

Again, many of these overlap with the noun descriptives. However, there are some that hold a particular resonance with me, and are perhaps more poignant as a verb than as a noun.  To show courteous behaviour towards another is quite important, as a) it is just a nicer way to deal with the world at large, and b) it implies a certain respect for other souls who are sharing this planet with us, whether they are human or non-human.  I show equal courteous behaviour to a tree as I would a relative, or a person on the bus – in my mind they are all souls sharing this journey of life. Whilst I maintain boundaries in dealing with people, and indeed, those who refuse act with similar courtesy are then relegated to the outer bounds of my interaction, there is still a basic understanding of human and non-human functioning and a shared existence.

Equating the word honour with the word worship is quite a tricky one. Many atheists would balk at it, with good cause.  Many Druids, even those who have a relationship with the gods do not like the term “worship”, as it implies a subservience, at least in today’s society.  Its roots in Old English stem from weorthscipe, the worth of something to the person.  This perhaps is more meaningful. The gods are worthy of my praise, of my attention, and so I worship deity.  This is not however, universally held within the tradition, and can cause problems, most of which are linguistically based.

So, when dealing with the concept of honour, we begin to see how this can create a cohesive bonding in such a varied landscape of paths that all fall under the banner of Druidry.  For many, it also comes down to an awareness of the spirit of everything – each thing’s own inherent consciousness, and each thing’s own inherent value, often known as animism.  When we realise the worth of something, and not in a financial or in a resource sort of way, but its own inherent worth, we then act with honour in our relationship to it.  So, a political Druid who often gets media attention through their behaviour and who you often may roll your eyes at, has his or her own inherent worth.  A wasp that is trying to get in your nice cold pint of beer has its own inherent worth.  Even the troll who is trying to get a rise out of you on an internet social media forum has its own inherent worth.

In seeing the inherent worth in everything, something even more accepting than tolerance is gained – it is more akin perhaps to an immersion with everything around you, rather than a passive acceptance.  The acknowledgement is participatory, instead of passive.  Druids, when celebrating together, can acknowledge the beauty and diversity, rather than simply tolerate each other’s beliefs.  It is much more meaningful that way, much more poignant.  Nature does not tolerate diversity, nature IS diversity.

Therefore, Druids too are diversity.

*taken from dictionary.com