Thinking About: What Makes a Druid a Druid?

Yesterday, I was surprised by a comment on the blog by William. Now, I don’t get a ton of comments about the blog – either openly or privately – so getting one is always a nice surprise, but William posed a question to me, which I have to openly admit, is a really tough one to answer.

What defines or maybe a better wording is what are the essentials that make one a “druid”? What is the tie/beliefs or tenets that connects all druids and are unique to those calling themselves druids? Or is there such a thing?

This is a really tough question to answer, for a whole lot of reasons. Probably the most recognizable issue is something that William noted in his question.

Get too general and it encompasses other paths….. try to narrow it down and it seems to exclude too much.

Complicating it even more, is that not all Druids follow similar Spiritual Paths. For instance, I am a Pagan, Polytheist with bits of Animistic philosophy thrown in for good measure. There are Druids that follow a Christian Path, those that fully embrace Buddhist philosophy and principles into their Druidry. And I haven’t started to delve into the various type of Druid orders that are out there.

So where to start? Well, I could make this completely about how I see things, except that my own perspective would fall into the narrow thought process that William noted above – thus excluding a lot of other Paths and beliefs held by those that embrace Druidry at their core. When I start trying to figure things out, I tend to go into my old academic mode…I went to the bookshelf and pulled a group of books I thought might help build something of a core perspective to work from. Yes, this is my default mode. Seriously.

There is no ‘sacred text’ or the equivalent of a bible in Druidism, and there is no universally agreed set of beliefs amongst Druids. Rather than it being founded upon doctrine, it urges followers to learn from their own experience of being in the world. Despite this lack of doctrine, there are a number of ideas and beliefs that most Druids hold in common, and that help to define the nature of Druidry today. … Druids share a belief in the fundamentally spiritual nature of life. … the greatest characteristic of most modern-day Druids is their tolerance of diversity. …One of the unwritten tenets of Druidism is that none of us has the monopoly on truth, and that diversity is both healthy and natural. they also believe that the world we see is not the one that exists. –Philip Carr-Gomm, “What Do Druids Believe?” ISBN 1-86207-864-5

Within a spiritual tradition where there are so many different views it is almost impossible to find an all-encompassing definition. …In many ways, Druidry is even more complex than Paganism or another broad spirituality, such as Hinduism. Its is truly a polytheistic faith, within which can be found space and honor for any deity or any concept of deity, together with their priests, devotees and philosophers. There are many within the tradition who call themselves Christian, while some assert that Druidry is not a religion at all, not even necessarily a spirituality, but simply a philosophy of living. –Emma Restall Orr, “Thorson’s Principles of Druidry” ISBN 0-7225-3674-7

Rather than being an organized religion, Druidry offers a personal individual life path that can become part of a modern urban existence as easily as a rural life. It connects us instinctively to the life-giving energies of the earth beneath the pavement, and the sky above the highest office building. Druidry has the same reverence for the ancestors, love of nature, and awareness of the life force flowing through plants, insects, animals, and humans alike that characterize the indigenous culture of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. So in a world that daily gets smaller with the advances of technology and faster travel, people of all cultural backgrounds can find kinship within Druidic ritual and celebrations of the passing year. –Cassandra Eason, “The Modern Day Druidess” ISBN 0-8065-2637-8

So, working from these three quotes, there are a lot of directions and conclusions one can make. But in Emma Restall Orr’s quote, the notation that it is nearly impossible to find an over-arching definition of exactly what a Druid is seems to be the wisest choice of understanding here. Druidry is essentially about the individual experience, which will be completely unique from person to person. No two perspectives will be completely the same. Similar, yes – but not completely the same. But all of this is not all of what William asked. William asked for me own perspective. And for that, I will have to take a few steps backwards.

My perspective of Paganism is one of individual experience. For me to understand something, I need to experience it. That has been the case for nearly anything throughout my Life. I went to an all-boys Catholic school in my last two years of high school. Topics and perspectives were taught as infallible writ. Questioning any aspect was particularly frowned upon, and you were regarded with suspicion from that point on. All for the crime of being inquisitive enough to try and understand what was being relayed through a lens of individual experience and thought. From there, I wandered into the camp of the southern Baptists, where individual experience is described in terms of collective group perspectives. For someone seeking something that embraced the idea of individual experience, this was an off-putting environment. Eventually, I found myself within Wicca, where everything was seemingly compartmentalized into the males do this, and the females do that. Granted, this was likely some of the doing of the tradition I was a part of…but I moved on as quickly as I could. (I had been involved in Wicca earlier, but that experience was far different for a lot of other reasons) When I finally rolled across Druidry, I was not expecting the full embrace of what I came across. I had passed Druidry by several times, mostly with the thought – “I just don’t look good in white.”

What I found was a path that I would describe as a framework upon which I could hang and frame my own Spirituality, my own understanding of the world around me, and the world beyond. However it wound up looking like did not matter. It was mine. I could decorate as I felt it should. I could set what felt right to me, without judgment. But what exactly makes a Druid? What exactly does a Druid believe? What are the principles that bind all Druids together, regardless of their chosen direction? I think a lot of that is encompassed in what is termed as “The Druid’s Prayer”

Grant, O Gods, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
 the love of the the Earth our mother, and all goodness.

Now, this is the version that I personally utilize. Some replace “O Gods” and “the Earth our mother” with what feels right to them. All Druids, in my experience (which is admittedly limited), believe in the points of providing Protection to those in their communities, lending their Strength to those that need it, trying to understand a perspective before making choices, continuing to broaden their Knowledge, seeking Justice where it is needed, believing in the need for Justice found through Love of all things, which brings diversity, and the love/connection with Nature (that is to say, that mankind is part of Nature, not separate from Nature).

So, what makes a Druid a Druid? Well, an attachment and affinity for those concepts, mapped against every individuals own unique experience and connection to everything around them. is there a hardcore definition that can be found and utilized? Most likely not. But if you are looking for something that might connection all Druids together, the above “Druid’s Prayer” may just be the keystone you are seeking.

…and just to muddy the waters a bit more…the “Druid’s Prayer” can easily be applied to any other Pagan Path, should the adherent choose it for their own Path. Maybe, deep down inside, we are all Druids….but only if you want to be. Your Path is your own to define. #TwoQuid

–T /|\

Thinking About: Voted Most Likely Not to Be What You Thought a Pagan Is

Not that long ago, I wrote a blog post about not being the kind of Druid you think I might be or some such nonsense. The basics boiled down to not being what people conjure up in their minds when it comes to the concept of what a Druid is. Given that, I’m not likely what you expect a Pagan to be either, and yet I am. When you mention to people what they think a Pagan is, the typical response is some kind of drug-crazed, hippy-type, who sleeps with whoever and whatever they damn well please. They have a pack of tarot cards jammed into one of their pants pockets, and have adopted some crazy-assed name like “moonbeam” or something.

Ok, I fit some of these silly stereotypes, just not that well. I’m not drug-crazed, unless you count the hard-core coffee addiction, and the occasional snort of whiskey when my diabetes doc isn’t looking. I am what people would “420 friendly” even though I don’t smoke the stuff. I’m just not out to condemn those that do partake. And then there’s my childhood nickname of “Elf” that has stuck with me into my fifties. Yeah, I might be related to Moonbeam in some fashion. But the reality is that is about as close as I seem to get to many of the other Pagans I have met.

Most of what I am relating to here are really horrible stereotypes. The truth is that you will find Pagans in many walks of Life. For instance, when I was in the military, I was a very open Pagan. My superiors knew about my beliefs. Some of them were quite the assholes about it, and that may have contributed a bit towards my dismissal from the Air Force over a missed formation. Most of the Pagans that I encountered in the military ranks were junior enlisted. There were only a handful of Non-Commissioned Officers (including myself) that I encountered. But there was one Commissioned Officer, a Major in Army Intelligence. Now Commissioned Officers do not frequently mesh with enlisted folks, and when they do, its typically with higher Non-Commissioned Officers – mostly because of the similar ages. This Major was also in a career field that is fairly sensitive, so his religious preferences were fairly well carved in such a way to not led any speculation to Paganism. The point here is that this Major came from a much different part of the military ranks as most of the Pagans I encountered. And its not that different out in the civilian world either.

Many Pagans seem to come from fairly lower ranks within the economic stratum of everyday life. The keyword here is “seem”. I have met Pagans from all levels of economic stratum in society. However, sometimes it seems that most of the Pagans that are out there struggle to make ends meet. An interesting observation in pre-corona virus days, and one that is indeed difficult to fully explain. At least to the naked eye. However, its not really all that inconceivable to find Pagans that are fairly well off, financially. I would hate to say that Paganism only seems to fully reveal itself to people in the lower economic stratum in our global society. I’m sure it would provide a fascinating study, by someone other than me, for a university dissertation. For the moment, I will postulate that it only seems that Paganism is largely made up for folks from a middle-to-lower economic stratum in society as a whole. Seemingly, it makes sense since the economic stratum is skewed heavily towards the lower income and economic stratum by a wide and varying level of factors and variables. But like I said….a study for some future Pagan academic.

More men than women in Paganism? I would say its about an even split, until you start looking into specific aspects of Paganism. Then, you can find some very extreme disparate data points between the sexes. Add to that folks of transgender status, folks who do not identify by any gender, those who identify in dual genders – and any other combination and thought you can come up with – and this particular data point becomes a very messy perspective to handle. No wonder the federal government has been slow to add a fourth gender category to the gender assignment category within the Federal Department of Education. Certainly, it has proven to be a near herculean task for colleges and universities to deal with the male, female and unreported categories, particularly in environments with open enrollment standards. I still stick to the 40/40/?? split….

So, I started this out with pointing out that I am probably not the type of Pagan you envision. Honestly, let me dress like I usually do – a Grateful Dead tshirt, torn up jeans, tennis shoes and my Grand Teton Association hat…and I just look like a tired, burned-out stoner hippy type. I could literally blend in with many other individuals of my age (mid 50s) on a casual Saturday in the park. Stick me with a group of Pagans…and I sort of stick out like a sore thumb. I’m older. I’m more out-of-shape. And I don’t really have a flair for the dramatic. Aside from my Awen pendant or my Ying/Yang wolf necklace…you would be pretty hard-pressed to identify me as a Pagan in that crowd. How am I not what you might have expected? Well, if you had seen me at the Austin WitchFest…you would know what I am talking about.

Now for the bigger question. What does it matter? Really? Because when it gets right down to the brass-tacks in the Witch’s brass bra in the dead of Winter….it really doesn’t matter. Paganism has never been about how much better you dress than someone else. Or how much you can out-Pagan the other Pagans. If that’s your idea of Paganism, well – more power to you. You will have a difficult time associating with me as a Pagan. And to be honest, that’s fine. I’ll still treat you as a Pagan because you said you are. I have no reason to doubt you. Furthermore, I have no desire to do so. My idea of Paganism deals with my experiences with the World around me – not judging others on their own experiences. I’m here on my Pagan walk, not yours. You can; however, invite me to walk for a bit on your Path with you through the forest. I’ll be more than happy to do so. Not because I’m validating you as a Pagan. Rather, I find you an interesting person and would love to walk through the forest and talk for a bit. Maybe even exchange Emails so we can continue the conversation later in private. Paganism, to me, isn’t about judging you – its about finding a connection between us that we can turn into a tighter, more constructive bond. And in this day and age…we can all use a friend that looks out for us.

–T /|\\

Thinking About: That Time When I Tossed My Beliefs on the Fire…

Sometimes, I get asked what life with two Trickster Gods – Crow and Coyote specifically – is like. Well, at times, it can feel like your life is a giant dumpster fire. Other times, its like being at a comedy rave, where the joke is your Life. But there are always lessons to be worked through, and plenty of chances to laugh at yourself. Every once in a while, you get the chance to stop and take inventory of everything that has happened. For me, this is the moment that transcends all the others. Its the moment that I really live for in my Spiritual Practice, even if it comes far more infrequently than I would prefer.

Coyote has been a part of my life far longer than Crow or even Abnoba (the Germanic/Gaulish Goddess that has been working with me recently). Coyote was there to throw the match on a lot of what I had managed to cobble together in the early aspects of my Spiritual Path. I have been on my Path for over thirty years. In the first fifteen or so years, I believed strongly in a polytheist world, but one where the Gods were psychological archetypes, not individual, distinct entities. When I moved onto the edge of the central plains (here in the United States), I managed to stumble into Coyote through a series of meditations. At first, I thought it was just a dream or some sort of manifestation of my subconscious. Then things would disappear from home, and turn up in the hands of Coyote, who would describe exactly where the item was – in a place I had not been before. That’s when my perception and understanding started to change to where I am now – that the Gods are each singular, distinct entities that are real, but just beyond the perception of one’s everyday, normal senses.

All of this placed my previous perception of Paganism and Polytheism in a position of change. Everything I knew was being tossed into a dumpster. My eyes were opened to a different level of understanding and perception. To be able to step forward, meant that it was time to light everything else I understood on fire, sit back to watch the blaze, feel the energy from the heat, and sift through the final debris to see what was salvageable. I even had a very vivid meditation that detailed this scene very well. The entire time, I heard Coyote’s howls of laughter in the background, as I felt a welling sorrow for all the work I had done and developed being destroyed right before my eyes. You can imagine how chaotic my world had suddenly become. I had no anchor to work from, nothing that felt solid.

A lot of folks would have walked away from their Paganism at this point. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame them. I nearly did as well. For a different perspective, imagine yourself as a doctoral student that has been preparing his/her final dissertation. All that hard work and research to build a strong foundation towards their Life’s work, and then having that foundation erased in a single night because of a sudden revelation about one piece of evidence. That it was an improper perspective, and removing it brings the entire study to a resounding crash.

Yep. Welcome to the crash of my world and understanding. And all of that to the soundtrack of laughter and derision from the God that pulled back that curtain. Crushed just doesn’t even begin to describe where I was.

Thankfully, Coyote was not a vengeful individual. Some pity was eventually taken upon me, and some long discussions explained the necessity of developing foundational understandings that were built of more solid aspects. Coyote even provided some direction to start working from. So, I started out rebuilding what I knew, starting with my perspective on Polytheism. From there, I started to see where the path of Druidry that I had started following – that of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) could help settle some of the framework that I needed to design from my new foundations. There were some things that I added that got laughter from Crow (and some folks that I talked with), but I learned where to defend what I had added to my structure, and where I needed to make a more critical look for amendment or deletion.

Picture by John Beckett, who takes amazing photos

Following this path has been very similar to writing a Doctoral Dissertation. Reading, research, experimentation, testing of hypothesis – all of that has helped me to get to this particular point on my Path. Please do not misunderstand, its been a major shit-ton of work, but there has been a lot of fun too. And a whole lot of learning. About me. About Druidry, in general. About Polytheism. About religion, in general. And about personal belief. And there’s a whole lot more to learn…about everything I just stated, and more. Stepping out on your own Spiritual Path is a lifelong journey. And there is no degree or graduation ceremony waiting at the very end.

That’s right. Nothing like that. When I finish the three grades within OBOD, I will still be learning about everything that I have noted, and more. The reward? The sating of my own personal curiosity and desire to learn, both of which will never have their individual thirsts quenched. What I will get from all of this is the satisfaction that I kept on learning, that I kept on experiencing. And that is what my approach to Paganism has really been all about – experiencing. I don’t accumulate the experience in order to move up to the next level for my class. Dungeons and Dragons is a really, REALLY fun game, but its not Life.

So where am I at with my Paganism? Well, let’s see – I started back in 1986. I don’t remember exactly when – so I’ll be kind and use 1987 as the first full-year in Paganism. That puts me at thirty-three years and change. But all of that time makes me no better than you. All of that time makes me…well…me. And that’s really all I can really ask for. If you are trying to figure out what do for your own Paganism, especially in this particular time-frame that our world provides for us….dive deep.

What do I mean? Simple. Set your Paganism out on the table. Dig into what it is. Do you believe in a Polytheistic Path where the Gods are individual entities? Do you believe that the Gods are archetypes that are rolled into a God and Goddess that is defined by the face of the Deity that you see? Or is it something else? Whatever it might be, examine why you believe that way. I mean REALLY examine it. Get to the root of things. Then build outward from there. And believe me folks, you won’t be able to do this in a single day or even a single week. Take your time, do it right – do it slow. When you’re peeling apart your beliefs, you are essentially re-learning you. You’re making love to what you are. Trust me, you’re going to want it slow and deep. And that’s not just some sexual innuendo.

My Life will always have these two Trickster Gods in it. Crow and Coyote enjoy tossing obstacles in my way, but nothing that I am not able to overcome. Both of them know how to challenge me. Both of them also are reminders that Life is meant to have laughter within it. No matter how much I want to be absolutely serious about a topic – there’s always some aspect of it that can appeal to the juvenile within me. And to be honest, I just love the sound of laughter….even when I’m the butt of the joke.

Dive deep….

–T /|\

Thinking About – Magick

A quiet night. That is what it is. I have a tall, cold glass of water on my desk. Nora Jones’ “Not Too Late” album is playing on the speakers. I have the volume down a little lower than I normally would. That beautiful smoky voice is softly rubbing against the thoughts I am allowing into my mind.

“We’re gonna be sinking soon. Everybody hold your breath because we’re gonna be sinking soon.”

What a lyric to float on by. Last year was rough. Massive health scares. Loss of a job. Yeah, last year can just scatter down the alleyway. This coming year is going to be about changes, that’s a flavor in the wind these days.

Some folks have asked how I go about doing magick. Well, to be honest, its not so much me doing magick, as it is just sitting back and letting it happen. Aleister Crowley once defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” I can understand and relate to that aspect, but for me, I have come to understand magick as a tidal force that we sometimes dip our toes and fingers into. The ripples we cause with our splashes, is a cause of what we toss into the pool. Sometimes, we want the ripples to effect something in our lives, and we attempt to have an effect on that through spell work and the such. But magick is always there. My idea of working magick comes from just sitting back, thinking about something, and letting it happen.

I don’t do a lot of spell work because I prefer to let things happen. I will influence everything as I live. My preference is to sit and think in the early morning hours or the earlier parts of the evening. The mid-day and midnight portions of the day are for other things. One of those moments, which I can still recall vividly, is the second time I attended the ADF Imbolc Retreat – that Saturday morning.

I am not one for staying up too late in the night. As I noted, midnight time has its own uses in my daily Life, namely that of sleep and dream-work. I had stayed up at the evening fire for a short time, and eventually made my way to bed – long before most folks. The next morning, I was up before the sunrise, showered and ready to greet the Sun in its promised returned. I would surmise that the fire had only recently been allowed to burn out, as there was still a smoldering aspect there. The smoke drifted upward into the cold air. The location for the retreat was in a higher elevation of the Texas Hill country, so the temperature was a little cooler than I had expected. I sat on one of the benches closest to the fire, and noticed that the wood it was feeding on was fresh, an indication that I was not the only early riser in camp. I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for a bit of a respite from company.

I did the grounding and centering exercises that I had learned from my Bardic Grade material, and then opened my senses to the world around me. I could hear the crackle of the fire, with the slight twittering of nearby birds – all carried by the slight breeze I could hear blowing through the nearby Mesquite branches. Far off in the distance, I could hear trucks applying their air brakes on the hilly portions of the nearby interstate. I let the sounds wash over me, and integrate into my own thoughts. At the time, I was fuming over trying to finish my Bardic Grade material in OBOD, and was beginning to wonder if my six years of working the material was too long. My mind set that to the side for the moment, and I wandered over to a variety of other thoughts until I was interrupted by the individual who was tending the fire. We re-introduced ourselves and started to talk about our pasts, finding much commonality between us. Through that conversation, I made mental notes on a new approach to my Bardic Grade material, eventually finding a way to work past my mental blocks.

See, I did not need to fashion a spell to work with magick. I know that spell work is something that others work with intensely and find that it works wonderfully for them. For me, not so much. Spell work, as I understand it, is a super intense mental focus, done through the use of materials or spoken words or ritualistic gestures. I completely grok how that can be helpful to other folks. For me, its really a matter of just finding a quiet place and time to think and let things happen. Perhaps, what I do can be construed to be an aspect of spell work or ritual work designed to bring magick into focus. But I prefer the idea that magick is not something to be forced into “doing” but is something that is just “being”. To use a water-ish concept, I like that the river flows on its own – where, when and how it should. I know that I could divert it to try and focus it for a particular use, such as a water wheel to move a grinding device or other uses that a water-mill has. However, I prefer to let the river flow as it does, without intervention or coaxing from me.

Perhaps, my understand of magick is vastly different than yours. I can understand that. Everyone will have their own way of understanding the more abstract aspects of such concepts. For me to say that your perception is wrong or incorrect….well, that would be greatly arrogant of me. Plus, it would go against my own acceptance that my Path is right…right for me. Parts of what I believe might be right for you…or maybe not even at all. However, I would dare not say that everyone *must* believe as I do…I left empirical Spiritual mandates behind a long time back….I have no desire to pick that up again. Ever. This is merely one perspective, which happens to be mine. Hopefully, I have articulated it well enough to allow you to understand….