The Druids of myth and legend were part of an oral tradition. This, we are told, is why we know almost nothing about the tradition they followed; their practices are now those reported by ancient historians, for the most part members of rival and conquering societies. History is written by the winners, it is said, and we can only presume there is at best partial truth in the reports of blood sacrifice. We are told that they were priests, philosophers poets, that they performed judiciary roles in ancient British, Gaulish and Irish society, were genealogists and ritualists… and from these accounts (ok, not the blood sacrifice one, usually) the modern Druids have constructed their own interpretations.
There is a great value in having nothing but inspiration upon which to base a creed. With no written basis for practice that must diminish in worth as societies evolve, the tenets of the path can adapt to changing circumstance, holding to a set of core truths that are expressed anew for each succeeding generation of adherents. One could criticise and say this is a path that blows with the winds, but one that does so tends not to fracture and snap when the winds blow strong.
Druidry, as reinvented in the C18th as a fraternal association, and in the C19th as a peace loving spiritual bond and in the C20th alongside Wicca as a nature revering reaction to post-war industrialisation, continues to hold the basic foundations of honourable relationship to the spirits of the landscape, to the ancestors of blood and to the evolving stories of the so-called Celtic lands of Britain, Ireland and northern Europe. Or so we think… we don’t know, for sure, because there’s nothing remaining to substantiate anything.
The reason this comes to mind today, is a story on radio 4 this morning whereby one of the developers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, was commenting on the precarious state of our C20th digital archives. Paper does seem to last a long time, and yet I can remember storing digital data that is probably now utterly beyond recovery.
I have old photo albums full of shots printed haphazardly by the local chemist (remember doing that?), shot without any instant preview using emulsion film (remember that?) so that you didn’t know if you’d taken a great shot or one that was blurry or over exposed or simply uninteresting until you’d paid to have it printed (wow, remember that?!). But these albums remain intact subject only to fire, flood or family breakup.
On the other hand, I once lost a year of early digital photographs because of a hard drive failure. I still to this day don’t remember what I did in the course of that year! Memory, too, is fragile and difficult to recover. In those days, no-one thought much about backing up. Now of course, there are archives of the main storage on the network server, in the cloud and even on CDs (remember them?). And yet, if someone amends the consensus for storing files – imagine if the .jpg format, only some twenty odd years old, were replaced – how soon would all your holiday snaps remain intact? A generation? Two? I have photographs from the 1800’s, on paper… my vinyl LPs will outlive me perhaps, will my MP3s?
I remember, when I first joined the CEGB, one of my first roles was constructing wiring frame records of telephone exchanges. This was done using a DOS program called Top Copy Plus. Even Google fails to recall this old program now, and although if I were sufficiently motivated I might be able to locate the original 5¼” floppy discs I wouldn’t have any way of reading them. If I found a disc drive, I still wouldn’t have a computer able to make head nor tail of the data. Likewise, I remember using Lotus Notes, WordPerfect and so many old applications no longer around. Digital data is dead, if not continually re-birthed into new formats. A bit like Druidry.
Back in the eighties I was a bit of a gamer, and I remember playing an eight-bit space sim called Elite for hours upon end. I can still play it now, because someone thought it worthwhile to port it into emulation on a modern operating system. And the original author went further, re-writing the whole shebang into something that I’m once more playing for hours… CMDR Incredibish salutes you (or shoots you down, you know how it is, in space).
More than at any time in history perhaps, our records are less long lived than those of previous times, unless we actively seek to evolve them to the latest standards. In defeat by invading forces, the ancient Druids were unable to retain their own history, and now we reimagine what was in order to build our own path (an awful lot of which is of course online!). I wonder if the times will come in the future when, due to the degradation of digital storage, the Druidry of today is as intangible as that of prehistory. And if so, if Druidry will again be reborn as a valid, contemporary, form of nature based, landscape and ancestor venerating spiritual practice.
Hold onto that old iPod Classic, young great grandchild… there might be the last remaining copy of DruidCast on it! 😉