Meeting “The Uniqueness of Our Spiritual Need”   Leave a comment

“One of the most striking characteristics of Druidism”, writes Philip Carr-Gomm, “is the degree to which it is free of dogma and any fixed set of beliefs or practices” (What Do Druids Believe? Granta Publications, 2006, pg. 25). “It honours the uniqueness of each individual’s spiritual needs. In this way it manages to offer a spiritual path and a way of being in the world that avoids many of the problems of intolerance and sectarianism that the established religions have encountered”.

So how does such a remarkable characteristic avoid fragmentation and a kind of “everyone for themselves” approach that would seem to end in splintering and a piecemeal practice and a hopeless muddle of “it’s my truth — find your own” subjectivity where no one can agree or discover common ground about anything?

Community and shared practice. That’s one experience that binds us together. This last weekend was the first New England BAM Druid Gather at Camp Middlesex in Ashby, Massachusetts.

BAM Druid Gather.jpg

Photo courtesy Catriona McDonald

With a rainy Thursday a.m. to clear the skies, a full moon on Friday the 13th, and sun all the rest of the weekend, the Gather(ing) of some 70 Druids showed Druidry at its best.

A Camp or Gathering by its nature needs contributions from many to happen at all. It simply can’t be the work of one person. Planning, reservations, cabin cleaning, fires, food purchasing and kitchen crew, scheduling and programs, kids’ activities, accessibility, publicity, registration, transport, fundraising, scholarships, website, site and event insurance, initiations, workshops, materials for activities, emergencies, special guests, first aid  — you begin to get the idea from this still-incomplete list.

Rather than partial either-or labels of “create” or “experience”, a Gathering at its best is both at the same time. We experience what we create together as we create it, as it unfolds while we experience it, because of how we experience it, because of who we are. A Camp or Gathering is a demonstration of what Druidry does, rather than a sometimes-stillborn philosophical statement in words that can be (mis)read, argued with, etc. Participate in a Gathering — preferably, more than just one — help to make it happen in any way that fits your current life and means, and you begin to comprehend the tribal nature of this spiritual practice. As both a unity and a diversity, a Tribe united in experience embodies Druidry. To use a word from another tradition, the Tribe incarnates the Druid experience.

Where does that leave Solitaries? Which, after all, is all of us, when we’re apart from our Tribe, whether by preference or necessity, calendars or the nature of the gods or the exigencies of finances, time and space.

The same thing happens when we’re “alone” in our practice. Because if I practice for any length of time, I begin to sense my connections with the Others, both human and non-human, in all the Worlds around me. Again, this isn’t really a matter of belief but of demonstration — though it’s true belief can often catalyze, as well as limit, such experience.

I suppose it’s even possible, given how flexible and elastic this cosmos often turns out to be, for a resolute materialist to practice Druidry seriously over time, and still experience nothing of these things. But it would take immense resistance to the “Ten Thousand Things”, as Taoism calls them, all asking to be heard, to commune, to express themselves all around us and within our cells and sinews and fibers, to link with us and work at making a world. Ours is a thoroughly-inhabited Cosmos, and it’s ready to let us know it, if we give it even half a chance.

As Robert Frost, one of my Core Bardic Sages For Every Occasion™ puts it, “We dance round in a ring and suppose,/But the Secret sits in the middle and knows”. Ritual, Tribe, spiritual practice — all these contribute to our sitting in the center right along with the Secret, till it is secret no longer, but shared abundantly among us all.

May you know and savor and cherish such communions, wherever you are.

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