Archive for the ‘classical sources’ Category

Old Druids, and New

Too often we can still hear and read speakers and writers who proclaim, “We don’t know anything about the ancient Druids, so how can you call yourself Druids today?” Apart from the fact that wearying ourselves with approving and disapproving of whatever it is our neighbors are doing is usually a colossal waste of time, we actually DO know quite a lot about the Druids, from a variety of sources that have existed in many cases for hundreds if not thousands of years. From classical authors to modern archaeologists, our knowledge will always be incomplete, and it will also continue to grow.

The following TED-Ed video is a quick (4 minutes) and fun way to gain an overview of these sources.

[You can read a transcript here:

Virtually every statement in the video has a source in classical authors. Of course modern Druids don’t feel bound by what is, after all, an incomplete knowledge of the past, any more than a modern physicist needs to be concerned with what the ancient Greeks knew about the cosmos. But there is a discernible continuity in contemporary Druid practice of careful observation of the natural world, attention to all the other lives around us, both human and non-human, an awareness of many levels of reality, a sensitivity to intuition and the realms of Spirit, and a desire to live in harmony as far as possible with the natural cycles of life.

Living such a life, beyond its immediate practical wisdom and common sense — and often in the face of the treadmill of many modern lifestyles of excess, unhappiness, strain, discomfort and hollowness — proves deeply rewarding. It offers a deep sense of meaning and value to the lives all around us, as well as our own. It also nourishes and supports our creativity — witness the many old and new arts and crafts that abound in Druid practice and community, and that shine at Druid Gatherings.

Certainly in one sense no one ever needs to be or become a Druid to live such a life. The whole point of Druidry is that it is a set of wise practices and creative approaches anyone can try out and adopt, not a religious belief or doctrine to believe in.

But in another sense, especially as climate change, resource depletion, pollution, overpopulation and ravenous energy consumption will continue to challenge human creativity, we all need to be Druids: to live wisely in accord with the earth, neither tearing off our roof, kicking out the walls, excavating the foundation, or setting fire to the house we all live in.

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Geeks, Greeks, Dudes and Druids

[Updated 24 Feb 2013; 26 June 2020]

tblSometimes I can contrive nothing better to say or do on this blog than simply pass along something I’ve been reading for its surprise or its insight — or at best, both at once.  (Why begin with an image of Jake, Donny and Walt? Keep reading.  Or call it a Druidic obsession with triads…)

Today’s shamelessly self-indulgent instance of such a something comes from a post on another blog, where I encountered the following passage from The Greek Commonwealth by British scholar, utopian and idealist Alfred Zimmern, first published 1911, and now available online. (It’s also been reprinted at least five times by Oxford, the latest edition I’ve found dating from 1977.  Yes, I spent time tracking that info down.  It’s better than grading the mountain of essays that sit on my desk and desktop. Call it rationalized procrastination.)  In a chapter on poverty, noted the poster, Zimmern “tries to get the reader to imagine, in a poetic passage, the daily life of the Greeks in Classical times.”

Sappho and Alcaeus

Here, then, is Zimmern himself:

We think of the Greeks as pioneers of civilisation and unconsciously credit them with the material blessings and comforts in which we moderns have been taught, and are trying to teach Asiatics and Africans, to think that civilisation consists.

We must imagine houses without drains, beds without sheets or springs, rooms as cold, or as hot, as the open air, only draftier, meals that began and ended with pudding, and cities that could boast neither gentry nor millionaires. We must learn to tell the time without watches, to cross rivers without bridges, and seas without a compass, to fasten our clothes (or rather our two pieces of cloth) with two pins instead of rows of buttons, to wear our shoes or sandals without stockings, to warm ourselves over a pot of ashes, to judge open-air plays or lawsuits on a cold winter’s morning, to study poetry without books, geography without maps, and politics without newspapers. In a word we must learn how to be civilized without being comfortable. Or rather we must learn to enjoy the society of people for whom comfort meant something very different from motor-cars and armchairs, who, although or because they lived plainly and austerely and sat at the table of life without expecting any dessert, saw more of the use and beauty and goodness of the few things which were vouch-safed them – their minds, their bodies and Nature outside and around them.

Greek literature, like the Gospels, is a great protest against the modern view that the really important thing is to be comfortable…

How many Druids would hold this up as an ideal as well, at least at first?  But would — or could — we be as happy? Somehow I can imagine Jake Lebowski (from the Coen brothers’ ’98 film The Big Lebowski) would manage better in such conditions than I would. The Stoner might just beat out the Loner.  “There are things more important than comfort”, says fantasy author Ursula LeGuin, “unless one is an old woman or a cat.”  She’s now an old woman, as her image here shows; I confess that for some years, I’ve noticed a creeping feline-ness of (dis)inclination invade my once radical and rebellious bones …


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Images: BBC News article on The Big Lebowski (worth reading!); Plato’s Academy; Ursula LeGuin.

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