This article came about as a result of the simplest question. Asked in all honesty by someone seeking a real and genuine answer. It came into the office email address of The Druid Network and it said, “Excuse me, how do you become a Druid?” How can it be that such a succinct enquiry can provoke such searching and debate in pursuit of clarity? Surely this question is so very fundamental that it is at the very top of the FAQ…?
There isn’t a FAQ?
I suspect the lack of a FAQ is down to the difficulty there is in defining what exactly it is that a Druid is, what a Druid does and what makes one person a Druid and another person with so very many shared aspects something else entirely.
How did I become a Druid? Did I become a Druid? Depends very much on who you ask, I guess. And having become a Druid, does one simply continue to be a Druid, or is it a continual reassessment process? Can one, without meaning to, drop off the Druid list? Is there a Druid list? I’m sure you can think of a dozen other questions.
At its core, Druidry is one way of dealing with the spiritual and the physical world. There are many. That one choses Druidry over any other comes down to personal connection with deity or deities, perhaps to geographic location and heritage, and to a structure whose stories hold a resonance in the head and the heart. What I say now about Druidry, others may claim also as a fundamental part of their own chosen path.
Druidry is most of all a path (shorthand; for path read spirituality or religion or whatever works for you) of intimate wakeful relationship with all that you encounter. On a day-to-day basis what we most encounter is landscape, humans and non-humans… Maybe we also encounter significant ‘other things’ too. But in terms of the mundane, it is all about the mud and the blood and how and where you fit into it. One can best become a Druid, in part, by living in awareness of the way in which your life affects the balance of the Eco-system. That doesn’t necessitate puritanical rejection of the modern world, but it does cause one to seek out ways in which to live that are less damaging – a greener life.
Some Druids take the inspiration of a greener life and make a Deep Green life for themselves. Living off the Grid, growing their own food, recycling just about everything, making do and buying second hand if they can’t make it themselves, perhaps choosing not to be parents in an ever more over-populated world. Other Druids make appropriate (for them) use of technology, living within society and acting from within to attempt to make it a more honourable, more sustainable, more ethical society. The two ‘sides’ are each Druid, and yet each Druid lives a very different life.
The Deep Green Druid may be reliant upon a wood burning stove to warm and feed his or her family, while the techno-Druid may have central heating, triple glazing and a solar roof. Looking harshly at each, the one is a direct cause of localised particulate pollution and the loss of windfall wood which is home to many creatures, living an insular lifestyle which could not possibly be replicated by the entire population… the other a proponent of centralised generation and even nuclear power – carbon neutral but intimately connected with fears of radiation and long term waste problems.
One will eschew carbon-fuelled transport and rely on foot and bicycle and canal, live in a caravan or narrowboat and look only to the modern world when necessity (or illness) calls. The other will use technology in awareness of consequence but also in understanding that improvements in engineering and invention offer a solution to the ever more pressing demands of an ever more increasing population. But each one will have a wakeful, aware, personal relationship with the world, in which the full argument for one side or the other will have been and continues to be worked out.
Druidry is also an ongoing quest for intimate empathic connection with the larger environment, a spiritual bonding with the world, with the universe, with all realities (what I tend to call the ‘verse). Many Druids find their gods in the wind and the rain and the hilltop and the waterfall and the cliff and the coast… Sometimes they find they have names, sometimes names that have come across in stories centuries and millenia old. That wakeful relationship extends beyond the normally understood world, and the Druid enters a commitment with his or her gods as strong and as deep as any person of any other faith might. There is next to no written history to Druidry; mostly it’s all invented or built around stories that have come down the years, and therefore any relationship one builds with the gods is utterly personal to the adherent – no one is told what to believe, how to believe, who to believe, or even whether to believe. Your truth is yours, and in truth you act.
(Having typed the above paragraph, it’s worth considering that all religions are built around stories that have come down the years. That some were written down and became ‘truth’ and became established as the right way to think in various societies doesn’t take away from the fact that once they were also invented, created, developed. Life is a story, and stories. We read some, we write some, we live some.)
Druidry is a label, the holding onto which requires a love of truth, and an insistence that the truth should be heard. Druids will often stand up for a principle – Eco-protest groups will often be second homes to Druids, and Druids will likely be involved in activism of all sorts (on both sides of the established legal systems in which they operate). Speaking out, litter picking, facilitating positive change, helping make a better world for both human and non-human alike… All those are Druid roles too, although of course not exclusively.
Druidry is a flamboyant, ritualistic, celebratory path. In seeking relationship with the Earth and with the gods we do not forget to build relationship with each other. Meeting for ritual and celebration out in the open (seldom indoors), in Gorsedd and private group, on hill top and river side, in circles created not to encircle and bind, but to signify inclusion and lack of hierarchy, where spirits are invited not summoned, thanked rather than banished. It is a path where the liminal space – the edges of things physical and immaterial – hold importance and energy. It is also a magical tradition whereby change is effected more through attitude than spell, but where spell can be a poem, a chant and a shared intention.
Druidry is a path where the magic of the word is loved and honoured. Poets, authors, actors, bards, musicians and singers… All come together to share the Awen – a word which itself signifies inspiration, spirit and energy, the shape form of which /| mostly shows three dots over the three lines. One can present a truth that the lines are the shadows cast at Solstice and the Equinoxes, while the dots represent the three drops of Awen brewed in Ceriddwen’s cauldron; a key story in the history of Druidry. Equally, it can represent whatever you take it to represent – again, dogma is if not absent at least interpretive.
Druidry is itself a story, and one that calls upon stories from within the British psyche. The Mabinogion and the Tales of Taliesin feature large in most teachings of Druidry. Like parables, or fables, or other traditional stories, these hold truths and for many Druids are the heritage from which their path derives. They identify many of the named gods of Britain, and tell us of them and how they can be related to, communicated with, honoured and worked with. Unlike the stories of other faiths, which have largely been written down for centuries, the oral character of Druidry has allowed the old tales to be repackaged for each generation, keeping the message relevant and alive. In the same way folk music brings a continuity to the tales within the songs, each retelling reinvigorates the messages contained in the words.
So, returning to the original question; “How does one become a Druid?”. In part, the answer has to begin with accepting there is no one answer. In all the words I’ve written there may be clues. Certainly there are far more books out there than when I began, and reading the words and ideas of as many self-identified Druid authors as possible is essential, as each will have a slightly different perspective and come at the subject from positions of differing emphasis. Getting out and walking in the world, in the city as much as in the woods (it’s all natural, for a given value of nature!) but perhaps especially in the woods and in the wild wherever it may be found.
Meet other Druids! There’s no shortage nowadays of camps and conferences, moots and open groves where one can find a welcome cup of (potentially herbal) tea and some radical viewpoints. Look out for public rituals such as those held at Avebury or Stonehenge but, oh so much better, near where you live, and go along and join in (you can hum if you don’t know the words). You can buy into some guidance from one of the established teaching Orders such as the BDO or OBOD, or pick up some of the free teaching materials available at The Druid Network. You can even join a Facebook group as long as you remember that it’s just a communications channel and not real life. And when you realize your own Druidry, perhaps you can consider joining The Druid Network and help others do the same!
And one day, perhaps years from now, you’ll decide you can pin the label of Druid to yourself. You’ll tell people you are a Druid and no-one will laugh. Ok, there are always days when they laugh; it’s how you react to the laughter that’s important. Remember it’s only a word, and one that’s been used by so many people over hundreds of years (but possibly not by the people we most assume to have been Druids). There have been Ancient Druids, Blood-curling Sacrificial Druids, Romantic Druids, Hippy Peace and Love Druids, (Warcraft Druids), Protesting Druids… and there will be you – unless in all your searching you decide the label’s not for you after all – and that’s cool too!
[note: this article was genuinely written in response to the question referred to, in pretty much a stream of consciousness stylee, and now finds itself on The Druid Network web site as one of many articles on Druidry. I’d be interested if folk posted their impressions and responses into the comments section so that I can potentially improve the overall document.)