What makes Druidry or Celtic Paganism unique?
Céad míle fáilte … a hundred thousand welcomes!
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Many people that are curious about Druidry or Celtic paganism as a spiritual or lifestyle framework often wonder what sets it apart, and the similarities and differences between other paths and this one. This post will give you a little bit of an explanation in that regard.
For beginners, our best advice is read, read, read in the order of… #1 history and factual evidence of the Celts and Druids, #2 surviving myths, legends and folktales, #3 modern Druidry interpretations, #4 course material from any number of the courses available and lastly #5 niche topic interests such as symbolism, herbalism, Ogham or any number of related topics. Take your time on your journey. Settle in, keep a journal of your thoughts and inspirations and give yourself space and time to absorb the information. This takes years of study so there’s no need to feel rushed. Keep in mind, there are many variations in beliefs and practices but reading in this way and order allows you to first, make your opinion from a clean slate and allow yourself to be drawn to that which truly resonates with you. This is of course, only a mere suggestion and ultimately it’s good to do that which calls to you and in what order you wish to receive the information. Be mindful that there are different facets of Celticity in regards to educational studies, of course with lots of overlapping… #1 The surviving Celtic nations with a cultural fabric uniquely their own. #2 Celtic language studies. #3 Celtic indigenous culture where modern Druidry beliefs stem from that once spanned the entirety of central Europe and British Isles from Germany to Turkey, Spain to Ireland. There is going to be lots of cultural crossover but it’s important to at least recognize this, respect, value and contribute to the living cultures.
Druids chose not to write much down or it has been destroyed or lost in the sands of time. The idealisms we generally support to be true are those that can be corroborated by multiple sources in archaeology, quotes, mythology, folklore and traditions passed down through generations. That’s not to say one biased quote or romantic sentiment from the revival period isn’t interesting to ponder. It’s just important to keep in mind the validity of the source.
What are the basics of modern Druidry?
• Modern Druidry in various form is not an exact recreation of ancient times as that is impossible. The social role of the Druid has somewhat been replaced by the modern judge, teacher or doctor. We are simply using old knowledge, inspiration and a personal calling to formulate our own modern Druid path.
• There are variances in how people use the term Druid. For example, some people prefer to say they are a Celtic pagan or follower of Druidry instead of a Druid. That is, at least until they have studied at length or completed an official course and initiation ceremony of sorts which can be done as a solitary just as well as with a group. This is completely a matter of personal choice and preference on what we call ourselves. We support doing some sort of program and initiation rather than just using the title flippantly which only adds value to your experience as well as validates your work and your title.
• It’s still rooted in Celtic culture. The Celtic culture and related Druid and polytheistic spiritual framework was once indigenous throughout Britain, Ireland and a good portion of Europe. These various people across the landscape had an identifiable similar culture but were also considered separate tribes and entities. Undoubtedly, there were quarrels between them but they also had to be somewhat peaceful as there is archaeological proof of vast trade networks across Europe as well as to and fro between Europe and the British Isles. The role of Bard, a historically Druid type role was maintained in Ireland at least through the 1800s. However, it wasn’t until the Celtic Romantic Period, that a more modern spiritual and philosophical framework based somewhat on the ancient Druids, was created. This traditional role was not carried on in an unbroken lineage due to colonization, but was instead recreated.
• Druidry is generally free of dogma. That is, there are no absolutes in regards to Otherworldly belief and we recognize the growth that occurs when our knowledge about our world and ourselves, advances. For many, nature or the universe is an all encompassing term for a higher power. Some may practice animism, pantheism, naturalism or humanism while there are are just as many that are polytheists, monotheists, duotheists or atheists.
• The four Celtic fire festivals are celebrated that tied into the natural ebb and flow of the year that relate to the weather and agricultural changes. Within these festivals, certain gods and goddesses are recognized, for some literally (inspirational spiritual manifestations and beings with a purpose to guide us) and for others allegorically (characters in mythology designed to teach lessons). Many also celebrate the solstice and equinoxes as well as recognize the moon cycles.
• The idea that the Druids were connected to the standing stones or other neolithic and mesolithic structures is debated. Although, historian and writer Barry Cunliffe, deducing from genetic and language studies, believes there has been a stable population in Ireland and Britain since the mesolithic period alluding to a cultural continuity for at least the last 6,000 years and that the ancestors of Celts in essence built the structures. This also falls in line with the claim of the Druids studying of the movement of the stars, moon and heavenly bodies and the structures being aligned to these or rare celestial events. There was simply not an identifiable ‘Celtic’ culture at the time to confirm this. One of the most recently built burial mounds dubbed the Black Forest Stonehenge was completed as recently as 600 BC. The purpose of the stones are also debated with a wide range of beliefs based around local folklore. The largest held belief is that the stones were ancestors, giants, turned to stone by magic and the circles and other structures served as some sort of ritual burial ground as cairns of ashes were often found among the ruins. They may have been ritual places to commune with ancestors in general for inspiration and guidance. Of course, this is all speculation. What we do have that was definitely indigenous Celtic and possibly Druidic are the numerous carvings, iconography and structures dated to the time period between approx. 300 BC and 1200 CE give or take a couple hundred years in each direction.
• There are many similarities between all indigenous cultural spiritual belief structures simply because of the nature of being human. There are basic primal needs, feelings and questions we all inevitably have in common. With that said, there is a particular large amount in common between Druids and the “Dharmic religions” that arose near India such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism as well as their sacret text The Vedas, various gods and goddesses and their representations. Many scholars feel they are somehow connected or one evolved from the other as we migrated to new locations over time.
• Some other modern generalizations that we usually have in common are having a connection to nature, respect for the earth, universe, animals and living things, tolerance and non-judgement, equal male and female presence, having a celebratory and loving nature, living simply and sustainably as well as cultivating knowledge and creativity. In essence, living our best lives and passing on what we learn to the next generation.
What do we know about the Druids that helps guide our path today?
Endeavoring to have a meaningful path, we can look to the corroboration of multiple historical sources (quotes, archaeology, literature, traditions passed down) to give us a relatively accurate look into the past and emulate what Druids may have actually practiced. Modern Druids typically do love nature (that they’re popularly known for) but there is also a lot more to it as well. It’s a journey that takes patience and time, following a spiral path rather than a linear one.
• Personal development via the arts and creativity such as poetry and musical abilities.
• Cultivation and appreciation of knowledge in general.
• Cultivating our ability to write and tell stories.
• Perfecting the memory.
• Using Ogham, Ogham sticks or wands for spiritual inspiration.
• Acquiring knowledge on naturally healing herbs, plants and trees and how to use them.
• Using various sacred wood for ritual purposes.
• ‘Saining’ or using sacred smoke to heal and otherwise rid someone of malevolent forces that were causing their ailment.
• Venerating trees in general. Using various sacred wood for fire festival bonfires.
• Celtic language.
• Ritualistic and chanting practices.
• The belief in the sacred center.
• Moving clockwise during rituals. To do otherwise was bad luck. Although, many patterns found in nature move clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere.
• Belief in the realms of “earth, sea and sky”.
• Reverence for triplism in general and belief in the power of symbolism, especially through ritual.
• Working with 3, 9, 27 parts of everything.
• Belief in the powers of water to heal and fire to cleanse.
• Belief in Otherworlds in general.
• Belief in the spirits of the land, waterways, trees and other creatures.
• Valuing and recognizing the reciprocity between nature/gods/goddess/the land. Ie. You can only get something if you give something.
• Make offerings to nature/god/goddesses/the land (considered a social cause in modern times) via our time, resources or efforts.
• Valuing justice, fairness and truth in regards to law issues.
• Respecting or venerating animals and their unique attributes, the good and bad.
• Reading the signs of the sun, moon, stars, seasons, clouds, thunder, animal migration, plant growth etc. Ie. Paying attention to the natural cycles of everything around us.
• Attempting to use the movement of birds to gain insight or “talk” to animals and plants.
• Celebrating the four seasonal fire festivals.
• Recognizing the circular year and thinking in circular terms about life in general verses a linear progression.
• Meditation and pathworking.
• Venturing to the Otherworld through an induced trance or asking ancestors/gods/goddesses for answers and guidance. In Ireland, from a story telling perspective, this was called an omramh or immrama, when a character went on a journey to the Otherworld and was given gifts or insight and sometimes stayed there forever.
• Screening and synchronizing new knowledge to the old through experimentation, evaluation and experience.
• Teaching the youth and passing on knowledge and traditions to the next generation.
• Valuing elders and learning from our elders as well as ancestor reverence and pride.
• Witnessing, performing or organizing oaths and ceremonies of life and coming of age events.
• Developing our ability or possible ability to predict the future or at least using our insight to anticipate how events will play out.
• Valuing our physical form, cleanliness and overall health.