The word Druid evokes images, distant memories, inspiration. Indeed, the continued use of the word holds an intention to harken back to an admittedly poorly understood and many-imagined time. Today, Druidry is a modern tradition which bases itself upon the ancient mythology of the Celtic priesthood. Even the word Celtic has ambiguity, so for clarity let’s assume we’re talking about the peoples of the old islands of Britain, Ireland and Gaul, places rich in story and in history. Sources of historic inspiration come from the classic writings of those who had a more contemporary knowledge of the ancient Druids (who left no written record), the Romans who defeated them and the early Christians who came after.
The tradition has been re-worked, reawakened, several times, with the Druid Revival some three hundred years back being the best known. From this time the foundations were laid upon which most modern Druids have built a spirituality.
Having said Druids build their spirituality, it is true and to be celebrated that there are so many unique interpretations of the Druid out there. For some, Druidry (or Druidism, but I prefer the former) is a philosophy; a toolbox with which to craft and understanding of the world and ones relationship with it. For some is it a spirituality; a personal means of communing and communicating with deity. For some it holds the qualities of a religion, a shared spirituality that can be explored in community, in ritual and celebration. For many it is all these things to varying degrees.
One can find Druids who incorporate the path into other faiths and non – Christian Druids and Atheist Druids, but perhaps most commonly Pagan Druids (amongst whom I count myself) who revere one or more of the old gods, or seek deity through the elemental worlds resonant within Land, Sea and Sky / Sun, Moon, Stars / Earth, Air, Fire , Water and Spirit.
The commonalities within modern Druidry… (I’ll drop the modern here, but you understand this isn’t a re-enactment thing, though some combine their Druidry with role play in order to better understand their ancestors). A commonality within Druidry is inspiration and creativity which is specifically born of wonder and enchantment with the all-living world, and often result in prose, poetry and performance art. Another is a quest to build relationships within an animistic world filled with human and non-human people, and through them to that which one perceives as deity – god, gods, spirit, the ‘verse… however each person perceives it.
The quality of personal perception also means that dogma is not relevant in Druidry. There is no rule book, nothing to tell you what to do, what to think, what to know. The diversity of Druidry springs from this open concept. It is not, however, a path without morals. A positive culture of personal honour and responsibility are inherent in the tradition.
Seasonal observance is important within most traditions, but perhaps more so in paths that work with nature. Watching the Sun rise and set on the Solstices, marking festivals of fertility and death, finding inspiration in the balancing times of equal day and night at equinox… the first bud-burst, the changing colours of the trees, fruiting and flowering… inevitably, such folk as these are connected with the environment, and ecology, including eco-activism.
Protest and dissent have a rich heritage in the Druid Revival, as does a deep connection with peace and pacifism. Though it is not unheard of for Druids to be in military service, a call to mediate and seek non-aggressive resolution lives in both modern Druids and those of ancient times, who were alleged to be able to walk through ongoing battles to bring warfare to an end.
Magic is another many-interpreted word, and some will claim Druids have and can perform magic. I see magic as the application of willpower to achieve actual outcomes using non-mechanical methods… not unconnected with psychology, and best recounted in recent narrative by Terry Pratchett as “headology” (although of course he was talking of witches). Focal instruments such as wands and staffs might be used by Druids and Pagans, but little or no flashy zappy Harry Potter type lightning is likely, even with the utmost concentration. Or at least, I have yet to witness it.
The mushrooms at the top of the article? Yes… So many people link the Druids of old with Stonehenge (I don’t particularly) I thought I’d front the page with a different ring; more organic, more alluring… heck, more orange!