“Druidry is a middle-class phenomenon. What with your workshops, books, weekends and camps, and especially the pricey study materials for groups like OBOD, who else but somebody middle-class could afford it? It’s like so much of the New Age: take away the cash cow that supplies the milk and it’ll collapse. Your ‘nature spirituality’ or ‘green religion’ is just middle-class consumption of good marketing. It’s not the real thing. Where’s the outreach to all levels of society?”
OK, let’s listen to this mostly economic critique. On the face of it, it may seem pretty damning. If Druidry is simple good marketing and money-driven, it’s like so many other trends and fashions: it depends on a manufactured need, or at least a market-boosted one. Take away the marketing and it fades away.
Outdoors the October sky is gray. I gaze out the window, sending a brief acknowledgement to the directions, thanking Spirit for the gift of this life, breathing and being aware of my breath, centering my attention before proceeding with this blog post.
If we look at ancient Druidry, through the filter of its classical recorders who did not always have its best interests at heart, it appears to be a distinct caste. Druids had status and power, and were definitely not the mass of society. They were an elite, with all the pluses and minuses that go with it. There was little we would call “middle-class” about Celtic society. Slaves, warriors, traders, farmers, craftspeople … but no one with that strange combination of material luxury, education, and political clout that looks remotely like what we mean by “middle class” today or for the last 100 years. By our standards or even by Medieval ones when something like a middle class began to emerge, most ancient Celts were wretchedly poor.
As for the over-marketing of the New Age and spirituality and all our current hopes and dreams and fears, that’s one of the creeping plagues of capitalism. If it can be packaged to make money, someone will package it. The retreats and workshops and therapists and healers and “sacred” this and “spiritual” that fill a need, or they wouldn’t exist. But they don’t touch the heart of knowing yourself for part of the world, feeling your body and the earth and trees, birds and insects and fish and animals, sun and clouds and stars all as kindred. The awen that is always streaming out of silence and calling us to sing back does not go away when the money stops clinking and whispering at the cash register. It only becomes more profound. There we can find the heart of Druidry.
Let’s look at the cost of study materials like those of OBOD right up front. If you decide to enroll in the Bardic course, you receive monthly course mailings, access to a tutor, online forums, a subscription to the OBOD magazine Touchstone, and supplemental materials throughout the year. Many people take more than a year — sometimes several years — to complete the work of the grade, but there’s no additional cost. The text-based Bardic study materials cost £215 — at the current exchange rate, that works out to $344 — a little less than a dollar a day. Many people spend more on cigarettes and alcohol. That’s the cost of joining one specific teaching and initiatic order. Printing and mailing cost money. But it is admittedly beyond the reach of many on tight budgets.
Of course, you can be a Druid for free, starting at this moment. You live on this earth, and you can follow your intuition and common sense and spiritual need and shape your own way throughout your own life, paying no one for any teaching, and bowing to no one and nothing except those you feel deserve it. Yes, the support and encouragement of what others have discovered and thought and written is invaluable along the way. Many valuable books and other materials are free online, or available at libraries. But if you want to receive and study OBOD’s Druid teachings, they cost money to reproduce and ship. If you want to study with ADF, or AODA, or the British Druid Order, there are fees because there are administrative costs and physical materials you receive. If you think Druidry is the next big way to make money, form your own order, market your One Genuine Real Live Druidry, and have at it.
One of the joys of living Druidry is a sense in the West at least that we’re recapturing something lost, something beautiful and profound, but also something utterly vital and practical. Many tribal peoples have preserved their traditional wisdom for living on earth without destroying it. Such wisdom is hard won. Tribes that practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, for instance, often found their land damaged after a few cycles and needed to move. Poor farming practices meant not just environmental degradation but often starvation and death.
As one flavor of Druidry, OBOD offers itself as “a spiritual way and practice that speaks to three of our greatest yearnings: to be fully creative in our lives, to commune deeply with the world of Nature, and to gain access to a source of profound wisdom.”* That may on occasion be good marketing, but it’s also uncommonly good sense to live in a way that makes our decades here all they can be, to walk lightly on the earth.
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*From the OBOD Website page “What is Druidry?“
Updated 15 October 2013 22:30