Archive for the ‘ADF’ Category
In this post you’ll find me wearing my hat of the linking, connecting and informing Druid, so salt to taste.
“My Druid is Christ,” wrote Saint Columba (521-597), among other things the founder of the abbey on Iona. Ask yourself what to make of such a remark from this early Irish missionary, working in what is now Scotland. You can even be Bardic about it, and shape your meditation into a triad of insights. Out of one of my meditations emerged a triad that begins: “Three things we serve, who love both flaming Star and branching Tree …”
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And out of such echoes from a distant past comes the Romantic conception that Druidry and Christianity initially co-existed in amity. Evidence exists both to support and refute such a view. But whatever the reality of that period, which we may never know, we can certainly identify its spiritual gold and and continue to create with it in the present.
OBOD Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:
Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity. It did this in at least four ways: it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints. That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (pg. 31).
As I poke around “ironic survival” further in this third (Part 1 | Part 2) reflection on Jesus and Druidry, I note one quite obvious thing many others have of course commented on. The Galilean master is at his most Druidic when he speaks with images of the natural cycle of things:
Truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).
An extensive Druid-Christian liturgy could be written with just the nature images that pervade Christian and Jewish scripture. Already many such resources exist. The OBOD website provides “Resources for Exploring Christian Druidry“, which include music, ritual calendars, books, and links to organizations like Forest Church.
Life and death are ironic, paradoxical. As integral gestures and movements of the cosmos, they’re also a “human thing”: we long for and fear the change that comes in death as in all such transformations. Initiation prefigures it, and life delivers it without fail. We all live and change, die and change. Druidry offers itself as a prime example of what it teaches, living, dying, changing and living again.
And Druidry, or at least Orders like OBOD, aren’t above borrowing and adapting rich language, Christian or not, attentive to the powers of Three. Nuinn (the Druid name of Ross Nichols, OBOD’s founder) writes:
Druidry is the Western form of an ancient universal philosophy, culture or religion, dating from the days of early man when the three were one (pg. 19).
This careful attention to triads and unities means that their presence in other traditions makes them attractive to Druid ceremony and ritual. Some OBOD rites include versions of the following Trinitarian as well as Druidic language:
May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Created Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be always with us. May the world be filled with harmony and Light.
Rev. Alistair Bate, author of the OBOD website article “Reflections on Druidic Christology“, comments from a sensitivity to the contact points of the two traditions:
A more orthodox rendering of Chief Nuinn’s triadic formula might be “May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Creative Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be always with us”. This, I believe, would not only be more truly in tune with the bardic experience, but would also resonate with the Om/Creation idea found in the Hindu tradition. As we envision Awen, the primordial sound, echoing out of the void, we connect with our own creative inspiration as part of that first creative Word, which is in Christian terms, at once Christ and his Spirit.
And with greater enthusiasm, perhaps, than comparative or historical theological accuracy, Bate concludes his article, summoning to his aid the words of probably the single most influential Christian thinker and writer:
In the 4th century St Augustine declared, “That which is called the Christian Religion existed among the Ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginning of the Human Race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity”. That the religion of our most ancient ancestors is in essence very similar to that of our more recent ancestors is the conviction that keeps some of us simultaneously both Druid and Christian.
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A Footnote on Orders and Flavors of Druidry
Some readers, writes Philip Carr-Gomm in his foreword to Nuinn’s Book of Druidry,
might be pleased to learn of such a dialogue between Druidry and Christianity, particularly when it results in specific action being taken to initiate a new impulse within the Christian movement. Others might be disappointed, hoping Druidry was exclusively ‘pagan’. But Druidry is a way of working with the natural world, and is not a dogma or religion … Druidry honours, above all, the freedom of the individual to follow his own path through life, offering only guides and suggestions, schemes of understanding, methods of celebration and mythical ideas — which can be used or not as the practitioner sees fit (pg. 14).
It’s important to note that OBOD Druidry differs here from Druid Orders like ADF which are more explicitly religious. There are of course also members of OBOD who practice it as their religion. Carr-Gomm writes from the same universalist Druid strain that shows up repeatedly in OBOD and in its stance toward other traditions and religions. Visit the current ADF homepage and you read:
Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship.
Explore further and you find specifics of ADF belief and activity that would exclude dual membership in ADF and a Christian church for all but the most liberal Christian. Among these are
the ADF Initiate Program, a course of training into the ways of magic, seership and trance for ADF, and with it a current of spiritual initiation
together with a cultivation of ancestral seership and contact, and an explicitly duotheistic ritual structure:
As a part of the work of growing our spiritual current the clergy of ADF have been exploring an otherworldly locale and inner Nemeton where we have been forming relationships with beings we call the ‘Ancient Wise’, those of the Sacred Dead who were poets, magicians and priests, and who would be willing to join with us to help us all walk the elder ways. This has been done through the good offices of the two deities who we honor in every sacrifice, the Warders of the Ways, the Earth Mother and the Keeper of Gates.
Compare this to the frequent shifting of language in the opening of OBOD’s “prayer which unites all Druids” but which ADF labels (accurately) a creation of the Druid Revival of the last 300 years, and thus from their perspective inauthentic. Listen closely at any OBOD gathering and you’ll hear these variations and others:
Grant, O Spirit(s)/God/Goddess/Holy Ones, thy protection …
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Image: Iona Abbey.
[Part 1 | Part 2]
A Whole Ritual Language
So you still want not just a few phrases but a complete language dedicated to your rituals?! And you’re crazy enough not just to think about this but to actually plan to pull it off! In spite of all the alternatives I mentioned in the previous post, like simply using a small number of individual words or phrases as ritual triggers, you’re still determined to acquire the complete ritual language package. You want to be able to compose new rites in this language, not just insert a few fixed phrases here and there in your rituals. And wrth gwrs (oorth goors) of course, your circle, grove, grotto, temple, fane, gathering or group is with entirely with you — 100%. Or they will be, once you browbeat or bribe or trick them to try it out, once they’re enchanted and seduced by the undeniable power and majesty and beauty of your fully-equipped ritual tafod (TAH-vohd) tongue. You know in your heart of hearts that soon enough they’ll be saying diolch (DEE-olkh) “thanks” to you for bringing them into the light (or the luminous darkness).
The First Candidate
Here’s the first ritual language candidate for your consideration, Welsh, along with some of the stronger arguments in its favor:
*It’s one of the six living Celtic languages, so you’ve got the authenticity thing covered. No one can accuse you of wimping out on that point.
*Hey, you already can say a couple of things in it, like wrth gwrs (oorth goors) “of course” and tafod (TAH-vohd) “tongue” and diolch (DEE-olkh) “thanks.”
*It’s from the “easier” side of the Celtic family: Welsh, along with Cornish and Breton (the P-Celtic branch), are considered easier to learn and speak (for English speakers) than Irish, Scots Gaelic, or Manx (the Q-Celtic branch) for a number of reasons: pronunciation, grammar, and spelling.
*The writing system uses a version of the Roman alphabet. True, because of the spelling of Welsh words like wrth gwrs and tafod and diolch, some have unkindly called written Welsh “alphabet vomit,” but Welsh offers a much better match between sound and symbol than does, say, English. Different doesn’t have to mean worse, and it can sometimes even mean better. Think about such oft-cited English examples like the pronunciation of -ough in through, rough, though, cough, and bough. You’ll be glad to know there’s extremely little of that in Welsh.
*It has a solid and well-documented literary history — the Mabinogion, that medieval collection of marvelous tales, is one of its chief glories — one which several modern Druid orders have used as a set of Druid teaching texts. Here for your delectation is the first line (in medieval Welsh) of Branwen, Daughter of Llyr:
Bendigeiduran uab Llyr, a oed urenhin coronawc ar yr ynys hon, ac ardyrchawc o goron Lundein.
“Bendigeidfran son of Llyr was the crowned king of this island, and exalted with the crown of London.”
[Bendigeidfran is pronounced roughly “ben-dee-GUIDE-vrahn”]
*There are numerous helpful learning aids available, including online materials like the Big Welsh Challenge. That means there’s plenty of assistance for students of the language, in large part because enough Welsh people themselves want to learn Welsh.
*Welsh is arguably doing as good a job at surviving the onslaught of English as any of the other Celtic languages. In other words, it’s not going away any time soon.
*Welsh makes a distinctive auditory impact on listeners — check out the short video below to hear several Welsh speakers:
Other Options — Proto-Indo-European
Or maybe Welsh still seems too much to tackle. (Did you catch the last word of the video — diolch [DEE-olkh] “thanks”?) You still want your own language, but something different. It doesn’t need to be a living language. In fact, a more private one might even serve better. You understand that ritual secrecy isn’t meant to exclude anyone but rather to focus and contain energies, like the Cauldron of the Goddess brewing those three drops of inspirational awen. Yes, there are still other options.
For instance, you could investigate Proto-Indo-European (PIE) — the Big Kahuna itself, the “Grandmother Tongue” of the speakers of all the hundred or so Indo-European languages alive today, spoken by more than 2 billion people. I’ve mentioned Ceisiwr Serith in a previous blog, whose fine book Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans offers much material for reflection, adaption and use. Serith writes and practices from an ADF perspective, emphasizing historical scholarship. You can also check out his website for more information and challenge.
Dictionaries and grammars of PIE are available online and through sellers like Amazon. With some hours of initial study and effort, you can begin to create short sentences like this one: yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo (YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom week-YOH) “I hallow you with sacred fire.” Using such resources I’ve fashioned these and other words and phrases for ritual. While scholars and amateur Indo-Europeanists can and will quibble quite endlessly* about “correct” or well-founded pronunciation and grammar, you’ll be exploring a ritual essence you can incorporate into your rites to enrich and empower them. Isn’t that the point?
(*It’s significant — and highly relevant for our purposes — that there’s much stronger consensus on PIE vocabulary than on grammar, details of pronunciation, or wider issues of culture, religious practice, original homeland, and so on. That’s as it should be: we intuitively understand that it’s in the names of things that we reach closest to the heart of any language, especially ritual language.)
The Celtic Conlang
Or you could go the Celtic conlang route, selecting from the pool of shared vocabulary that Welsh, Cornish and Breton (or Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx) have in common, and build your language piece by piece. Books like D. B Gregor’s Celtic: A Comparative Study (Oleander Press, 1980) devote several chapters to — you guessed it — detailed comparisons of the six Celtic languages. If you have some skill with languages (and you do, or you wouldn’t be considering this route, would you?), you can adapt and regularize to your heart’s content. To give you some idea, with a couple of dictionaries and the running start of sites like Omniglot’s Celtic Connections page, you can devise your own language with as much Celtic flavor as you wish.
Three Existing and Well-developed Celtic Conlangs
There are other conlang options too, like Deiniol Jones’ detailed Arvorec, Andrew Smith’s Brithenig and Alex Middleton’s Kaledonag. All three of these are sufficiently elaborated that you could create ritual materials in them. And you’ve got living conlangers that you can consult — or hire — for help.
Commission Your Own Unique Language
If you or your grove have some cash on hand, there’s yet another option, if you want to commission a conlanger to make you a unique never-before-seen-or-spoken ritual conlang. As I mentioned in the previous post, you can call on the Language Creation Society for help. Here’s the relevant LCS page for requesting a conlanger to create a language to your specs. Note the following minimum costs, as of today, 3/26/14: “We require a minimum of $150 for a language sketch, $300 for a full language, and $300 for an orthography.” (Each term is explained further on the page.) The commissoning person or group gets to set a wide range of criteria — worth investigating if this option appeals to you. Self-disclosure: Yes, I’m a member of the LCS, because they’re the best such group around. Like the ADF motto says, “Why not excellence?”
(Almost) Last, Best, and Deepest …
It shouldn’t come (almost) last, but here it is. If you’d like a deeper ritual challenge, ask your spirits, guides or gods for help. I’ve gotten valuable material this way, including large portions of blog posts (see here and here for examples), and I’m certainly far from unique. Others have also received names, prayers, rituals and other spiritual material from contemplation, trance, and ritual itself. If the God/desses want you to use a special or dedicated language in your rites, they’ll help. Just ask. What is inspiration, after all?!
Another illustration may help. Several years ago, over the space of about six or seven weeks, an acquaintance of mine named Chris received an entire ritual conlang — several thousand words, names, grammatical ideas, and — how else to say it? — cultural practices, like gestures, ritual apparel, symbols, etc. — through a series of visions and inner communications. We talked about his method, his process. He’d record as much as he could recall from a given experience or vision, then ask for guidance in recovering whatever he’d missed or forgotten, trying out names and phrases, for example, to see if they were acceptable in prayers and rituals, if they sounded right to the gods and to his own growing sense of “fit,” based on what he’d been given so far. For instance, the name Nezu came through, an inner guide he could call on. Testing the name, modifying it from the initial version he’d received, until it “worked” and felt right, mattered to him, and the name grew in impact because he took the time (hours and hours!) and made the effort. In short, he sacrificed for what he desired; he hallowed his own efforts through his dedication and attention and love, and the gods hallowed them for him in turn. Rarely is it just one or the other, after all.
Now Chris was interested in conlangs and had some experience learning, or learning about, several different languages. He knows some Elvish, Klingon and Na’vi, and he’s studied several different human languages in varying degrees of depth. Such a background doesn’t hurt, of course. The gods work with what we give them. If you’re a musician, you may get inspiration for songs. If you’re a visual artist, you may get images, and so on. Nurture and encourage the ritual skills and human talents of the people in your group, and you’ll be surprised at what they can achieve.
So you’ve got it down — your ritual books (unless you and your grove are really devoted, and all of you memorize your rites) are meant to make using the language as easy as possible, both for members and any visitors who drop in for your Evocation, Consecration, Tranformation, Prognostication, etc. Just hold off on the big-screen Powerpoint version until you become a Mega-grove, along the lines of the Protestant Mall-Churches.
A Note on Compiling Ritual Booklets
You know you can get your grove members to pronounce almost anything unusual reasonably well, just like Catholics have been doing with pronunciation guides like the following example from Pray It in Latin (pg. 3) by Louis Pizzuti. (My apologies if you have bad Church memories.) If you haven’t been paying attention, I’ve given short examples of this strategy earlier in this blog with wrth gwrs and tafod and diolch. Now you’ll remember these three, right? You’ve seen them three times, that magic number of manifestation and long-term memory.
OK, now see how well you manage learning to pronounce some Ecclesiastical Latin:
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum,
AH-vay Maria GRAHT-see-ah PLAY-nah DOH-mee-noos TAY-koom
Hail Mary filled with-grace Lord with-you
benedicta tu in mulieribus,
bay-nay-DEEK-tah too een moo-lee-AY-ree-boos
blessed you among women
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
ayt bay-nay-DEEK-toos FROOK-toos VAYN-trees TOO-ee YAY-soos.
and blessed fruit womb yours Jesus
Sancta Maria Mater Dei
SAHNK-tah Maria MAH-tayr DAY-ee
Holy Mary Mother of-God
ora pro nobis peccatoribus
OHR-ah proh NOH-bees payk-ah-TOH-ree-boos
pray for us sinners
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen
noonk ayt een HOR-ah MOHR-tees NOHS-tray AH-mayn
now and in hour of-death of-ours. Amen.
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[Part 2 | Part 3]
Ritual Language and the Case of Latin
Many spiritual and religious traditions feature a special language used for ritual purposes. The most visible example in the West is Latin. The Latin Mass remains popular, and though the mid-1960s reforms of Vatican II allowed the use of local vernacular languages for worship, they never prohibited Latin. For some Catholics, the use of vernacular reduced the mystery, the beauty and ultimately, in some sense, the sacredness of the rites. If you visit an Orthodox Christian or Jewish service, you may encounter other languages. Within an hour’s drive of my house in southern Vermont, you can encounter Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic and Tibetan used in prayer and ritual.
Language as Sacrament
The heightened language characteristic of ritual, such as prayer and chant, can be a powerful shaper of consciousness. The 5-minute Vedic Sanskrit video below can begin to approximate for one watching it a worship experience of sound and image and sensory engagement that transcends mere linguistic meaning. The rhythmic chanting, the ritual fire, the sacrificial gathering, the flowers and other sacred offerings, the memory of past rituals, the complex network of many kinds of meaning all join to form a potentially powerful ritual experience. What the ritual “means” is only partly mediated by the significance of the words. Language used in ritual in such ways transcends verbal meaning and becomes Word — sacrament as language, language as sacrament — a way of manifesting, expressing, reaching, participating in the holy.
And depending on your age and attention at the time, you may recall the renewed popularity of Gregorian chant starting two decades ago in 1994, starting with the simply-titled Chant, a collection by a group of Benedictines.
Issues with Ritual Language
One great challenge is to keep ritual and worship accessible. Does the experience of mystery and holiness need, or benefit from, the aid of a special ritual language? Do mystery and holiness deserve such language as one sign of respect we can offer? Should we expect to learn a new language, or special form of our own language, as part of our dedication and worship? Is hearing and being sacramentally influenced by the language enough, even if we don’t “understand” it? These aren’t always easy questions to answer.
“The King’s English”
For English-speaking Christians and for educated speakers of English in general, the King James Bible* continues to exert remarkable influence more than 400 years after its publication in 1611. What is now the early modern English grammar and vocabulary of Elizabethan England, in the minds of many, contribute to the “majesty of the language,” setting it apart from daily speech in powerful and useful ways. Think of the Lord’s Prayer, with its “thy” and “thine” and “lead us not”: the rhythms of liturgical — in this case, older — English are part of modern Christian worship for many, though more recent translations have also made their way into common use. A surprising number of people make decisions on which religious community to join on the basis of what language(s) are, or aren’t, used in worship.
Druid and Pagan Practice
When it comes to Druid practice (and Pagan practice more generally), attitudes toward special language, like attitudes towards much else, vary considerably. Some find anything that excludes full participation in ritual to be an unnecessary obstacle to be avoided. Of course, the same argument can be made for almost any aspect of Druid practice, or spiritual practice in general. Does the form of any rite inevitably exclude, if it doesn’t speak to all potential participants? If I consider my individual practice, it thrives in part because of improvisation, personal preference and spontaneity. It’s tailor-made for me, open to inspiration at the moment, though still shaped by group experience and the forms of OBOD ritual I have both studied and participated in. Is that exclusionary?
Unless they’re Catholic or particularly “high”-church Anglican/Episcopalian, many Westerners, including aspiring Druids, are often unacquainted with ritual. What is it? Why do it? How should or can you do it? What options are there? ADF offers some helpful guidance about ritual more generally in their Druid Ritual Primer page. The observations there are well worth reflecting on, if only to clarify your own sensibility and ideas. To sum up the first part all too quickly: Anyone can worship without clergy. That said, clergy often are the ones who show up! In a world of time and space, ritual has basic limits, like size and start time. Ignore them and the ritual fails, at least for you. Change, even or especially in ritual, is good and healthy. However, “With all this change everyone must still be on the same sheet of music.” As with so much else, what you get from ritual depends on what you give. And finally, people can and will make mistakes. In other words, there’s no “perfect” ritual — or perfect ritualists, either.
(Re)Inventing Ritual Wheels
Let me cite another specific example for illustration, to get at some of these issues in a slightly different way. In the recent Druidcast 82 interview, host Damh the Bard interviews OBOD’s Chosen Chief, Philip Carr-Gomm, who notes that some OBOD-trained Druids seem compelled to write their own liturgies rather than use OBOD rites and language. While he notes that “hiving off” from an existing group is natural and healthy, he asks why we shouldn’t retain beautiful language where it already exists. He also observes that Druidry appeals to many because it coincides with a widespread human tendency in this present period to seek out simplicity. This quest for simplicity has ritual consequences, one of which is that such Druidry can also help to heal the Pagan and Non-Pagan divide by not excluding the Christian Druid or Buddhist Druid, who can join rituals and rub shoulders with their “hard polytheist” and atheist brothers and sisters. (Yes, more exclusionary forms of Druidry do exist, as they do in any human endeavor, but thankfully they aren’t the mainstream.)
About this attitude towards what in other posts I’ve termed OGRELD, a belief in “One Genuine Real Live Druidry,” Carr-Gomm notes, “The idea that you can’t mix practices from different sources or traditions comes from an erroneous idea of purity.” Yes, we should be mindful of cultural appropriation. Of course, as he continues, “Every path is a mixture already … To quote Ronald Hutton, mention purity and ‘you can hear the sound of jackboots and smell the disinfectant.'” An obsession with that elusive One Genuine Real Live Whatever often misses present possibilities for some mythical, fundamentalist Other-time Neverland and Perfect Practice Pleasing to The Powers-That-Be. That said, “there are certain combinations that don’t work.” But these are better found out in practice than prescribed (or proscribed) up front, out of dogma rather than experience. In Druidry there’s a “recognition that there is an essence that we share,” which includes a common core of practices and values.
As a result, to give another instance, Carr-Gomm says, “If you take Druidry and Wicca, some people love to combine them and find they fit rather well together,” resulting in practices like Druidcraft. After all, boxes are for things, not people. Damh the Bard concurs at that point in the interview, asserting that, “To say you can’t [mix or combine elements] is a fake boundary.”
Yet facing this openness and Universalist tendency in much modern Druidry is the challenge of particularity. When I practice Druidry, it’s my experience last week, yesterday and tomorrow of the smell of sage smoke, the taste of mead, wine or apple juice, the sounds of drums, song, chant, the feel of wind or sun or rain on my face, the presence of others or Others, Spirit, awen, the god(s) in the rite. The Druid order ADF, after all, is named Ár nDraíocht Féin — the three initials often rendered in English as “A Druid Fellowship” but literally meaning “Our Own Druidry” in Gaelic.
A Human Undersong
Where to go from here? Carr-Gomm notes what Henry David Thoreau called an “undersong” inside all of us, underlying experience. “We sense intuitively that there’s this undersong,” says Carr-Gomm. “It’s your song, inside you. The Order and the course and the trainings [of groups like OBOD] — it’s all about helping you to find that song. It’s universal.” As humans we usually strive to increase such access-points to the universal whenever historical, political and cultural conditions are favorable, as they have been for the last several decades in the West.
Paradoxes of Particularity
Yet the point remains that each of us finds such access in the particulars of our experience. (Christians call it the “scandal of particularity”; in their case, the difficulty of their doctrine that one being, Jesus, is the sole saviour for all people — the single manifestation of the divine available to us.**) And the use of heightened ritual language can be one of those “particulars,” a doorway that can also admittedly exclude, an especially powerful access point, because even ordinary language mediates so much human reality. We quite literally say who and what we are. The stroke victim who cannot speak or speaks only with difficulty, the aphasic, the abused and isolated child who never acquires language beyond rudimentary words or gestures, the foreigner who never learns the local tongue — all demonstrate the degree to which the presence or absence of language enfolds us in or excludes us from human community and culture. And that includes spirituality, where — side by side with art and music — we are at our most human in every sense.
In the second post in this series, I’ll shift modes, moving from the context I’ve begun to outline here, and look at some specific candidates for a DRL — a Druidic Ritual Language.
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Images: Tridentine Mass; OBOD Star and Stone Fellowship rite.
*Go here for a higher-resolution image of the title page of the first King James Bible pictured above.
**In a 2012 post, Patheos blogger Tim Suttle quotes Franciscan friar and Father Richard Rohr at length on the force of particularity in a Christian context. If Christian imagery and language still work for you at all, you may find his words useful and inspiring. Wonder is at the heart of it. Here Rohr talks about Christmas, incarnation and access to the divine in Christian terms, but pointing to an encounter with the holy — the transforming experience behind why people seek out the holy in the first place:
A human woman is the mother of God, and God is the son of a human mother!
Do we have any idea what this sentence means, or what it might imply? Is it really true? If it is, then we are living in an entirely different universe than we imagine, or even can imagine. If the major division between Creator and creature can be overcome, then all others can be overcome too. To paraphrase Oswald Chambers “this is a truth that dumbly struggles in us for utterance!” It is too much to be true and too good to be true. So we can only resort to metaphors, images, poets, music, and artists of every stripe.
I have long felt that Christmas is a feast which is largely celebrating humanity’s unconscious desire and goal. Its meaning is too much for the rational mind to process, so God graciously puts this Big Truth on a small stage so that we can wrap our mind and heart around it over time. No philosopher would dare to imagine “the materialization of God,” so we are just presented with a very human image of a poor woman and her husband with a newly born child. (I am told that the Madonna is by far the most painted image in Western civilization. It heals all mothers and all children of mothers, if we can only look deeply and softly.)
Pope Benedict, who addressed 250 artists in the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo’s half-naked and often grotesque images, said quite brilliantly, “An essential function of genuine beauty is that it gives humanity a healthy shock!” And then he went on to quote Simone Weil who said that “Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is in fact possible.” Today is our beautiful feast of a possible and even probable Incarnation!
If there is one moment of beauty, then beauty can indeed exist on this earth. If there is one true moment of full Incarnation, then why not Incarnation everywhere? The beauty of this day is enough healthy shock for a lifetime, which leaves us all dumbly struggling for utterance.
Updated (minor editing) 1 April 2014
Lorna Smithers’ comments about Druid Orders on the last post, “Facing a Critique,” have revolved fruitfully in my thoughts for the last couple of days. I have to laugh at finding myself, if not defending groups and organizations, at least examining their virtues as evenhandedly as possible, given that I’m not much of a “joiner” either, though I’m a member of OBOD.
It was my preconceptions about the middleclassness and conservatism of Druidry that made me steer well clear of it until a couple of years ago until Phil Ryder of The Druid Network gave a talk at my local pagan society, voicing that it isn’t all about robes, ceremony and tradition but forming relationships with the land and communities in which we live. Which identifies it more with radical ecology and grass roots movements than middle class conservatism.
Many people instinctively shy from joining groups for the reasons Smithers gives: they’re confining to the person who wants and needs to do more than follow convention and the group-think that too often can arise from, and mar, such organizations. To many people, the energy and effort required to acclimate to a group don’t equal the advantages that come with belonging. And there are definite advantages, which I’ll talk about later.
A 1906 Breton gorsez (gorsedd)
Druid groups are of course no more exempt from these weaknesses than any other human institution. And for a number of secular Druid groups, some of the satisfactions of belonging are indeed the “robes, ceremony and tradition.” The Welsh, Cornish and Breton gorseddau (the Welsh plural of gorsedd “gathering”) are specifically intended to promote poetry, music and scholarship, and the annual public gatherings are rich with ceremony and symbolism — and robes.
I’ve never been able to bring myself to join an Order such as OBOD and pay for their tuition because I don’t want my relationship with nature and the divine to be determined by anybody else’s structure, and I believe one’s local land and community, its spirits and deities are the greatest teachers.
If ever there was a succinct manifesto not just for the solitary Druid, but for all Druids, there it is: “one’s local land and community, its spirits and deities are the greatest teachers.”
Yet we need some kind of structure, even if it’s free-form: a shape for our journeying, a cairn along the forest path. Where to find it? William Blake is credited with saying, “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s.” Sexist pronouns aside, his words ring true. The challenge for the solitary is to be open and receptive enough to perceive what she is being taught, to catch the lessons of the spirits and deities and local land and community. Orders can help in teaching techniques of openness. And the community of the like-minded, of one’s fellows, or of a more formal Order is often the leaven that forms in us an opening to new experience. We catch awen from others’ inspiration, we take flame from neighboring fires.
In my experience, a good half of spirituality is “caught” not “taught.” Or the teaching simply says listen! In the presence of others, human and non-human, we find what we seek when we inhabit fully our ears and eyes and tongues and noses and skins. What we need, to quote Moses at his most Druidic, is right here: “It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”* To obey is to listen and then to heed what we have heard, to follow what we know in our hearts, what we recognize is present to guide and heal and inspire us.
Emma Restall Orr
Emma Restall Orr, for a decade the joint chief of the British Druid Order (BDO), has pondered deeply some of the challenges of identity, authority, hierarchy and freedom in and outside formal “orders.” Her several short articles in the excellent BDO booklet Druidry: Rekindling the Sacred Fire deserve repeated reading. Here in “So What is the BDO?” she pinpoints the issues:
In keeping with so much of modern Druidry, the BDO exists as a paradox. And like modern Druidry, it is rather difficult to describe. A good place to begin might be to declare that the BDO exists largely as a concept: a means by which things get done, an organized non-organization. Druidry is sometimes easier to define through what it is not, and so is the BDO. It is not a source of teaching for an ancient faith or culture reconstructed. It is not aiming to proclaim a definitive Druidry, be it 3000 years old, 200 or 10. We have a mailing list of subscribers who receive our journal and various other leaves of information, then there are others who belong to our groves but do not subscribe, and many more who attend our affiliated gorseddau [gatherings]. Essentially these are the members and friends of the British Druid Order. Yet the ‘membership’ exists only in this personal way. It is horrifying the number of people, Druid chiefs to media men, who ask what is the membership of the BDO in order to judge its influence and validity. For us, the very existence of a ‘membership’ brings up connotations of an organization to which some people belong and others don’t. And once we find ourselves with an organization with this list of people attached, each one of them investing their energy and their loyalty, those who run the organization begin to find themselves taking responsibility for — and, the gods forbid, speaking on behalf of — that membership, who in turn on some level look to the organizers, and before you know it people are defining positions, and the great confusion of hierarchy and politics ensues. The whole problem of who does represent the membership quickly arises and next comes the democracy or dictatorship debate … Such political considerations are not part of the spiritual tradition that the BDO encourages or practices (65).**
The anti-authoritarian tone of Orr’s words finds a sympathetic reception on both sides of the Atlantic; if anything, Orders like ADF are every bit as structured as OBOD, and many people prefer to remain solitary or at least unaffiliated. John Michael Greer, a member of both orders, and head of a third, AODA, is uniquely positioned to comment about structures and hierarchies. In an article on the ADF website, he notes:
Each type of organization has its advantages and disadvantages. The minimalist approach followed by OBOD has resulted in a streamlined and efficient structure that needs to devote very little time to organizational matters, and has played a large part in helping OBOD go from the edge of extinction to become the largest Druid order in the world in only ten years. On the other hand, its success depends almost entirely on the personal qualities of the Chosen Chief, and members who are dissatisfied with OBOD policies have very few options other than voting with their feet. By contrast, ADF has achieved impressive organizational continuity and has extensive checks and balances in place to prevent malfeasance; this has been paid for by a need for so much involvement in organizational issues that many other matters have had to be neglected for years running.
What this means for actual practice, and what Druids can do whom the land calls and who divine that Orders are not for them, are among the things I’ll tackle in Part 2.
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Images: Breton gorsez; Emma Restall Orr
*Deut. 30:12-14; New International Version.
**The British Druid Order. Druidry: Rekindling the Sacred Fire. Peterborough: Express Printing, 2002.
Updated/edited 20 October 2013
“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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Images: enjoy capitalism; capitalism isn’t working; autumn.
*From the OBOD Website page “What is Druidry?”
Updated 15 October 2013 22:30
I’m a fake Druid. So is everyone else who names Druidry as the path they walk. And I’ve come to love it.
In a guest essay on the ADF website, J. M. Greer notes,
The very last of the ancient Druids went extinct in the ninth century, and the surviving scraps of their teachings and lore are so fragmentary, diffuse, and contradictory that they don’t form anything like a workable system. All modern Druid groups—OBOD, ADF, and everyone else—were invented in the last three centuries by people who used some mix of scholarly writings, personal spiritual insight, speculation, and sheer fantasy as raw material for their concoctions.
Thus if “real Druidry” is defined as the sort that was practiced by Druids in Celtic countries before the arrival of Christianity, all modern Druids practice fake Druidry. That can’t be avoided, since “real Druidry” hasn’t existed anywhere for more than a millennium. What differentiates one modern Druid tradition from another is the particular kind of “fake Druidry” each practices.
Of course, Greer writes here as an outsider might see it, to try on a truth many still feel uncomfortable to admit. As Archdruid of AODA, he obviously doesn’t habitually dwell on his particular flavor of Druidry as “fake.” And when I practice my Druidry, it doesn’t feel like a “concoction” at all. It coheres, because like anything used — steps, coins, dishes, skin, planets — the edges get smoothed, a few chips and dents show up, and everything takes on that “lived-in” look, that patina that makes antiques look antique, that gives worry-stones their shine, and faces their habitual smile or frown lines. I make an offering at an altar, I join my Druid brothers and sisters at a festival, I sit for an hour in moonlight meditating, and whether a group of people 300 years ago rediscovered things most traditional peoples have long known doesn’t really concern me. Clearly, the moment itself offers me better things to do.
The Druid community has on occasion been racked by squabbles between traditions, caused as often as not by simple misunderstandings that could have been quickly cleared up by people familiar with more than their own tradition. Since none of us have any right to claim possession of the One Genuine Real Live Druidry, a willingness to share the world with other Druid traditions, and to participate with them in celebrating the cycles of nature and the miracle of the living Earth, is a virtue that may well be worth cultivating by Druids of all kinds.
Ah, “One Genuine Real Live Druidry” — Ogreld, I’ll call it. My new tradition, founded right now as you’re reading this. Here we go … unlike every other practice and belief on the planet, Ogreld sprang into existence full-grown and perfect, without parents or kin. To get that essential temporal edge over other faiths and practices, Ogreld is the original “source faith” of humanity, practiced when people first became human. In fact, to top it off, it was Ogreld that made them human. Now we’re cooking! … This is faking with a vengeance. “I’m faker than you are. Na-na-na-na-na!”
In the Egyptian afterlife, the human heart is weighed against the feather of Maat, who personifies truth and justice. The Wise among us understand that whether I acknowledge three elements of earth, water and air, or four elements of earth, air, fire and water, or a god whose elements are bread and wine, my rituals will still work in accordance with the reverence and love I bring to them, and the holy presences that empower them. Whether I have helped or hurt the earth and its inhabitants will matter a lot more than the color of my robes, the rank I’ve achieved, or the number of gods I pray to. The only real Druidry is a “path with heart,” a way of walking the earth that wisely honors all paths with heart. I’m busy faking that wisdom, practicing till I get it “righter” than before. Insofar as faking is doing something, it’s generally better than not doing anything at all. So yes, I’m a fake Druid. Have you met any other kind?!