Archive for the ‘Druid Orders’ Category

The Work of an Order   Leave a comment

Finding out about how we ourselves “do Druidry” — or other path we’re on — is a key step that all of us, it seems, keep taking. From that personal connection and insight, renewed over time and through our own experiences, comes a growing confidence in our own strengths and uniqueness that others can’t easily shake. It’s no longer just faith, but communion. It’s bone-knowledge, gut-wisdom, skin-sense. We know things, in that lovely old expression, by heart.

The more our practice, whatever it is, rests as much in doing as in believing, the more we draw strength from it in ways that can feel surprisingly like physical exercise. Our bodies learn to know our practice as well as our brains. Oak or rowan or beech become friends — our community has grown through knowing individuals, no longer just abstractions in a listing of trees in an ogham-book. The welcome of oak differs from the subtler touch that rowan extends. And these two differ from maple or hemlock. And so on through all the other furry, winged and finned kindred we encounter in the land where we find ourselves.

The work of any Order worth my energy and dedication will contain material that speaks clearly to me and seems just right. There will also be exercises and insights that I can adapt, and still others that are right to set aside for a time until they align with what I’m doing and needing to do. One of the signal advantages of an Order is its span: many hands and hearts have sifted material I might never encounter on my own, and wiser heads than mine have added insights, caveats and encouragements that I might otherwise miss. The work of an Order is more compact, in valuable ways, than the work of a Solitary. It’s denser, richer in certain ways, brewed and spiced, aged and tempered, refined and mellowed, sharpened and lit.

It also vibrates on a harmonic that reaches others attuned to it. Doing the rituals, passing through the initiations, studying and reflecting on and trying out the coursework, meeting others doing the same things, all bring me into a greater circle I discover I need, no matter how solitary I am — and need to be — most of the time. The choice, as it so often does, arises from the richness of both-and, not either-or. I find that I come not to a fork in the path, but the path itself opening out, for a time, into a meadow. Beyond is vista: mountains, maybe, or valleys shining with silver rivers, towns bright with banners and laughter. Quests beckon, mysteries abound. It’s no surprise that a medieval landscape features in so many modern dreams and deeds, with both real danger and jewelled possibility a heartbeat or horse-ride away. Just over the next hill, or back at the castle, down a corridor we never knew was there.

In the West we pursue ever more isolated and internal lives, busy too often with busy-ness itself, all the while crying out for the gifts of community we simultaneously keep turning away from: connection, fellowship, camaraderie, friendship, shared interests and inspirations, shared suffering and joy. Well-founded community sees that spark of individuality restored to a healthy place, one that does not render me less able to connect, but more; one that honors my need to withdraw at times, even as I also need to open to others; one that sweeps me out of indifference toward engagement with the struggles of others anywhere, who turn out to be surprisingly like me after all. We be of one blood, ye and I.

IMG_2017

first fire, a few days ago

Along with Groucho Marx, many of us may have grumbled some version of I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as members. And knowing ourselves as we do, maybe we’re right to say that. On our off days, we’re off on ourselves as much as anyone else. Hamlet’s our doppelganger, midwife to angst and depression and self-accusation: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?

Somehow “joining an Order” just doesn’t seem like any kind of sane response to that question, but more like the absolute last thing I would choose. Isn’t there a twilit bar or pub nearby where I can hide and drown my sorrows?

And certainly Orders aren’t any kind of cure-all or panacea. As human institutions, they’re potentially beset with all the human foibles we know so well in ourselves. Personalities clash, dreams backfire and scorch, visions implode, egos lunge and stab. We peer around at the wreckage, bandage the worst of our wounds, and vow: never again.

But Orders can also launch us toward the heights that we know or dream of, or — if we’re particularly cynical right now — doubt are possible at all: they focus and help to nourish the deepest hungers in us, beyond food or sex. In the connections they aid us in making, we touch on something that lifts us out of ourselves, we’re part of that never-ending story our best dreamers keep singing about to us, and painting, and weaving, and nudging us to explore.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Advertisements

13 Things that Make a Druid   5 comments

“What makes a Druid a Druid?”, asked a recent post to a Druid Facebook group I follow. The question, and the responses that followed, are both wonderfully instructive. I’ve distilled a large number of comments into thirteen ways of addressing the question. Below are the condensed originals, along with my indented comments.

1) A sickle, a white robe and a beard. What else?

This is one popular image, which we can trace to the Roman historian Pliny (link to short excerpt from his Natural History). Though it ignores the reality of female Druids in both the past and present, it does show that rather than a set of beliefs, Druidry suggests a set of tools that one uses in roles that Druids fulfill. In this case, harvesting the sacred mistletoe from the oak.

Ellen Evert Hopman likes to point out that white is really impractical — it shows dirt. Some of the oldest surviving Irish Druid materials talk about certain colours and patterns of cloth set aside for Druids — but not white. Wearing white stems partly from the influence of Pliny and partly from practices of the Druid Revival of the 1700s and onward.

2) A desire to seek knowledge regardless of belief or faith, a desire to keep that knowledge safe and a desire to share that knowledge with those able to understand it.

A good first draft of a Triad: “Three desires of the Druid: to seek knowledge, to preserve it, and to share it with others”. But many of us linger in desire without ever bringing it into manifestation. Desire alone won’t make a Druid.

3) Knowing when to put the kettle on.

Though it’s another piece of humour, timing of course matters deeply, and the “trick” of “catching the moment” reveals a great deal. Alertness to the hints the world is constantly giving us can guide our days. Likewise, obliviousness to such nudges and intuitions simply means our lives will be that much harder and less joyful. Nature so often is our first teacher.

The 21st century and most of its challenges reflect how often we’ve missed catching the moment and willfully ignored the many hints coming our way. Now we’re simply going to learn the hard way for the next few centuries. Neither Apocalypse nor Singularity, damnation or salvation: but a good deal more schooling in what we didn’t bother to learn the first few times round.

4) Initiation.

As a one-word answer, “initiation” points us in an important direction. But what we think it is, where and how we seek it, and what we do with it once we “have” it — those are places we can trip up.

As one commenter noted, “a Druid isn’t a ‘what’ – it’s not a thing to be initiated into. A Druid is what you are – you can be initiated into Druidry, but that doesn’t make you a Druid”.

Though, as another commenter observes, “self-initiation is a thing”, we are never alone: spirit, spirits, the ancestors, animal presences all participate in both “self” and group initiations.

In a larger sense, too, “initiation” happens to everyone. Life itself initiates us, through love, suffering, birth, death, the seasons. In that sense, we’re all “Druids in training”. Some opt to work with such energies more consciously and deliberately.

morrigan

The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

5) Membership in an Order.

For many — and it can be a valuable step — what “makes a Druid” is membership in an Order. The path of the Solitary means doing preliminary training on one’s own, and the requisite patience and listening and discipline of the Solitary aren’t for everyone as a starting point. Solitary work can feel trackless at times — how do I know where to focus? How do I assess my efforts? An Order can lay out for us its set of answers to such questions. However, to do more than merely “belong” or “be a member” — to grow into Druidry — still requires that same patience and listening and discipline which the Solitary practices.

6) Doing the necessary work.

As a commenter says, “Whether as a solitary or as a member of an order, WORK is required. Otherwise, to call oneself a Druid is meaningless”.

7) Study, reverence, work in nature, and commitment.

For most Druids I know, one or more of these may flag at times. It’s unavoidable. Jobs, relationships, changing health and life circumstances all demand much of us. Returning again and again to pick up the work is what “makes a Druid”.

“Persistence …” says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

8) Alternative answer: you have to be able to summon a unicorn or a dragon. You can also grow a tree that grows/attracts its own dryad.

Again, though a bit of humour, these answers point to Druidry as something people do rather than something they merely believe.

9) Living in honourable relationship with nature, the Gods and the tribe. (And the evidence that we’re doing this?) The ability to model and teach all of that.

10) There is a special badge you get that says “I’m a Druid” on it …

Ask a silly question …

If you’ve been at some Druid or Pagan events, you may on occasion have wondered whether it’s the bling that makes the Druid. Fortunately, no.

Theme for meditation: what says “I’m a Druid” to the non-human world around us?

11) Practice, experience, and listening.

Another good Triad to take into meditation. Each of the three informs and feeds the other two. What am I listening to? Is it nourishing the deepest part of me? If not … What have I learned from experience? How can that shape my practice? Does either practice or experience show me new things to listen for? What is teaching and guiding me today, right now? What is my next step?

12) 19 years of study … at least for the ancient Druids.

As others have pointed out, the dozen or more years of modern education most of us undertake account for a chunk of those 19 years, but by no means fulfill or equal all of them. A Druid who persists on the path finds in the end that those symbolic 19 years cover just the “introductory material” anyway …

13) You are a Druid when your community says you are — fulfilling the role.

This presents a paradox of sorts. It means I practice and work on fulfilling the role, though recognition may or may not come right away — or ever. But that’s not why I’m practicing. I’m not a Druid until I possess that inherent authority of experience that others recognize, yet I won’t possess that authority or experience unless I practice despite all lack of recognition. My indifference to such recognition as I practice is often a more sure way than any other to attain it.

One advantage of membership in an Order is that the community of members will come to recognize this authority. People will begin to turn to a wise and compassionate Bard, even though others who’ve completed the “higher” grades may also be present.

Another commenter reflects: “Because being a Druid is defined by function, it’s not something you can be in isolation. You can train as a teacher, and maybe even qualify. You can call yourself a teacher. But you are not in reality a teacher until you have taught someone, just as you are only a healer if you have healed someone. You are only a Druid if you carry out the role of a Druid”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Orders, Hierarchies & Solitaries   2 comments

Maybe you are (or you know you prefer to be) an Order of one. It’s simplicity itself. Spontaneous rituals can be, well, spontaneous. Or you live far from any group you know of, your work nights and sleep days, you’ve been burned by groups in the past, your spirits or guides take you where no group goes … Whatever the reason, you feel allergic to Orders, groups, traditions, the whole degrees and status and rules and standard-ritual-format thing. You honor your own life and its direction by walking and practicing alone.

I hear you. And for 350 days out of each year, we could be twins. Or at least close cousins. As a mostly-solitary, most if not all of your reasons are also mine.

Except.

Even solitaries belong to a Tribe. We’re distant kin. If evolutionary biologists have read the genomes right, we can all trace our ancestry back to a few ultimate grandmothers, and possibly even just one. So cousins it is.

People need people. Even (or especially) if your ideal dosage is low.

I’ve written of my experiences with Gatherings on several occasions. I “belong” to OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, in the sense that I study with them through a postal course. No membership card, no annual dues beyond the cost of coursework mailings. I’ve completed the work of the Bard, the first of OBOD’s three grades, and I have a tutor in the U.K.. for my current Ovate study. Apart from any Gatherings I choose to attend once or twice a year, that’s the extent of my group involvement. It’s almost as solitary as it gets. And I certainly don’t restrict my reading or practice or ritual work to OBOD. Nor am I ever asked to.

I maintain a lively interest in several other orders — from a distance. I know several people who have studied with more than one Order. And compilers of the course materials of several of the larger Orders like OBOD and BDO, the British Druid Order, have consciously designed their coursework to be complementary. Study with more than one group and you’ll gain from different emphases. And any overlap, beyond serving as useful review, can deepen understanding because it issues from a different perspective and experience and set of practices.

renu-pcg

Renu Aldritch, OBOD Druid and founder and editor of Druid Magazine*, interviewing OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm at East Coast Gathering ’17. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

The current leader of OBOD, Philip Carr-Gomm, has wisely observed that OBOD is a “flat hierarchy”. What matters are individual Druids and their love of the earth. Beyond them, any Groves they may opt to form or associate with. Philip is respected — and teased — and held in generally solid affection by most OBODies I know. But I could complete all three grades of OBOD coursework, never meet him, and never need to meet him or know anything about him. I could self-initiate, and practice on my own, with the useful focus that the study materials of an Order can offer, and never encounter hierarchy at all. Unless you count correspondence with the home office about mailings, or subscribing to the Order’s journal Touchstone, or exchanging letters or emails with a tutor.

I know four other Vermont OBODies, as members informally call themselves. Two of them live three hours away to the north. Another two live 10 minutes to the south. The “Northerners” attended the recent East Coast Gathering. I hadn’t seen them for a year or more. One member 10 minutes to the south joined me and we celebrated Lunasa about two months ago. But we three local OBODies have never managed to get together for coffee, in two years of trying. Solitary, often, right in the middle of being “members of an Order”. As they say, organizing Druids is like herding cats.

In the end, whether you’re an Order-member or a Solitary isn’t an either-or thing. Seeing it as such presents us with a false choice. On the strength of my limited experience as one person, I’d assert that everyone needs both in some form.

Because if I don’t spend time alone with trees and beasts, and energies of human and planetary existence that I can acknowledge and learn from and participate in, I won’t be more than half a Druid at best. And if I don’t learn from others — whether in the quiet company of books, the conversations we all have with “teachers of the moment” that we meet wherever we go, or in the noisier online worlds we’ve made, or the physical Gatherings that can provide so much recharging and good energy and fellowship and new friends — then I miss out on half that the Druid path can offer.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Druid Magazine is published online free, three time annually. You can find the current issue, as well as more information, here.

Help Along Our Ways   Leave a comment

woodpath
[This lovely image comes courtesy of mistressotdark. And in case you’re wondering: yes, the path sometimes IS this clear, lovely and straight. But we earn these glorious stretches during intervals when everything isn’t sweetness and light.]

Today’s post features an excerpt from Tommy Elf’s moving account of his Bardic journey, framed by his experiences at the first Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana this past weekend. His words dovetail with the previous post here about initiation — always a challenge, whether you’re journeying down a solitary path with its own obstacles and opportunities unique to your nature and history, or along a more public walk with Orders like OBOD.

Here are Tommy’s reflections:

Folks, I have been in my Bardic Grade studies for the last seven years. For those seven years, I believed that I could struggle through the material on my own. I rarely asked for help from my tutor/mentor, and stepped back and forth constantly as life had set into time requirements. At this gathering, I opted to have a Bardic Grade initiation – and I am glad that I did so. It has changed my perspective so much. I had the chance to talk with other Bardic Grade folks, as well as my fellow initiates, about their experiences. And I found out that I was not alone in those moments. Furthermore, one of the guests was Susan Jones, the Tutor Coordinator for OBOD. She held a session with all the Bardic Grade members to discuss pitfalls, and various other aspects concerning the course. Listening to other people discuss their experiences helped me to realize that our journeys may be unique to one another, but there are some aspects that are similar. For anyone currently in their Bardic Grade studies, I cannot stress how much help is actually available to you. You just have to reach out and grab it! There is your mentor/tutor, the discussion board, your own grove or study group (if one is near enough to you), as well as other folks within OBOD who are taking their Bardic grade or have already been through it.

Tommy’s openness here contrasts helpfully, I hope, with my own sometimes opaque references to my journey. There’s also a delightful symbolic resonance to his seven years in Druidry — at a crisis moment, the turn comes, and ways open before him. Seven it is. And now the challenge: what next? How do I incorporate this new thing into my life? How do I step into possibility, and not snuff it out by dragging along with me everything I DON’T need? What am I called to do? What CAN I do?

If time truly is what keeps everything from happening at once, and space is what keeps everything from happening here, we have ample reason to be grateful to both, pains though they both often are. Or more elegantly, as I’m fond of quoting Thoreau: “Time is the stream [we] go fishing in …”

/|\ /|\ /|\

%d bloggers like this: