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Monday, 9 March 2015

Voices on the Wind




Voices on the Wind

It is a rare thing for me to lose my temper outside the pages of Facebook, but on this occasion I went ballistic. So here is a little word or two about Druidry….

The stimulus was an editorial written by Tim Stanley in which he described the Green Party as “a Looney Tunes alliance of druids and trots.” As far as cheap shots go, this is a very cheap shot. The Green Party, unfortunately, are a very easy target, but an even easier target are Druids. It wasn’t just the fact that Mr Stanley, I can barely mention his name now without spitting blood, implied that Druids are just a bunch of looneys, it was also the fact that he compounded the insult in the text by implying that we sacrifice goats “to Sheba the Moon Goddess.” In essence, this was a highly abusive, highly insulting personal attack on a whole community of people, within the UK and abroad, who follow a particular spiritual tradition. In short, religious bigotry and intolerance of the very worst kind. As a Druid myself, I took this very personally, and said so in my response within the comments section below the editorial itself.

Fortunately for the Telegraph, and for anyone else, Druids don’t have to suffer the problem of having an extremist minority that the rest of us have to disown or condemn, who claim to be acting in the ‘interests of Druidry’ or whatever feeble excuse, by blowing up the Telegraph offices or acts of a similar evil nature. In that I would just as quickly like to express my sympathy and friendship with the Muslim community, the 95 percent of peace-loving, warm, friendly Muslims who do have to endure such warped individuals acting in such a despicable fashion and claiming it for Islam. However, I am assuming that in part this means that the Telegraph, on some level, feels it can viciously attack Druids and Pagans at every available opportunity and even feels it has the right to do so. Druids are, as I mentioned, an easy target.

Here is the thing, and it might come as a surprise to some. Druids don’t spend all their time dancing around stone circles in white robes muttering strange bits of poetry. In fact, that white-robed thing, though important in some ways, is merely what I call ‘the public gloss’. It makes us highly visible when we appear in public, celebrating the seasons and conducting ‘rites of passage’ ceremonies such as handfastings (Pagan wedding ceremonies), Namings (Pagan ‘christening’ ceremonies) and ‘passing over rituals’ (funerals). However, 95 percent of Druidic work, so to speak, doesn’t involve dressing in a white robe. Well, not to me it doesn’t, and I imagine that would also be true of many other Druids.

Having said that, it is probably true that, on the basis of the ‘white robed thing’, Druids have a bit of a PR problem. And that is probably why it is a very good time for me to set some time aside to just explain a few things about Druidry, or what Druidry means to me.

So what is Druidry?

That depends on who you ask. Although Druidy has some common characteristics, one Druid’s Druidry may be very different to another Druid’s Druidry. A short answer may therefore be ‘Druidry is what Druids do’. After that though it gets a little more complicated.

To me, Druidry is a wisdom tradition. It is overwhelmingly rooted in the neo-Celtic atmosphere or energy known to many as ‘the western mystery tradition’. A part of this is drawn from Ancient Egyptian mythology surrounding particular deities such as Isis (the goddess consort of Osiris) and Horus and others. As I interpret it,  the western mystery tradition is mostly concerned with the ‘bardic shamanism’ of Irish and Welsh myth featuring particular characters such as the poet Taliesin, the shadowy Merddin Emrys underlying the later Arthurian character of Merlin and Irish heroes such as Fionn MacCumhail (Finn MacCool) and CuChulainn.

Even more so, Druidry is also rooted in nature and the idea that the ‘spirits of the land’, however you may wish to think of them, communicate partly through the power of language and the vocal arts, which includes language in its written form alongside powerful oratory. In essence, the human capacity for expression in the form of song, poetry and story could potentially be interpreted, and is so in my case, as the ‘voice of the land’ moving through humans, using them as a ‘channel’.

There are much simpler ways of putting this of course: ‘Knowledge is Power’, ‘powerful oratory’, the ‘sacred power of the word’, and so on. You might dismiss this nonsense, but before you do I would ask you to consider the multitude of ways in which words have an effect on you, and the multitude of ways in which those words affect your thinking and your emotions. Even more illustrative are the ways in which, throughout history, powerful oratory and powerful written texts, have moved nations, for good or ill. Think of Adolf Hitler and you will hopefully see how the power of words has the capacity for evil of an utterly terrible kind, but think of Dr Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, William Shakespeare, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and many others and you will see that the power of words equally has moved nations, and arguably the entire world, for the power of positivity and good.

This is the essence of Druidry, rooted in a Celtic framework and in reverence for nature. It’s that simple. The Celtic framework in this sense is indeed, in part, romanticist and pseudo-historical. It can involve tales that are often heavily distorted or, in the case of material originating from the 17th and 18th century ‘Druid revival’ led by figures such as Iolo Morgannwg, are even completely invented with no actual root in recorded ancient myth.

On some level, that doesn’t matter too much, because it is the spirit of the thing that is the most important element. However, as far as possible, being an enthusiastic fan of Celtic myth and history and having an academic nature, as well as being a freelance journalist myself, I try as much as possible, wherever I can, to get it right. I might therefore do my Druidry by reciting aloud the John Matthews version (based upon translations by R. A. S. MacAlister, Eleanor Hull and Cross and Slover) of ‘The Song of Amairgen’, a 27-line invocation in which the poet declares himself to be ‘the wind upon the sea’ and ‘the mound of poetry’ and so on. I might instead tell the story of Pwyll and Rhiannon from the ‘Second Branch of the Mabinogi’ in the Welsh collection of stories known as ‘The Mabinogion’, or the tale of Diarmuid and Grainne from Irish myth, and so on.

Or I might choose instead a modern song based on The Song of Amairgen called ‘The Mabon’, composed by Glastonbury band ‘Silver on the Tree’, or indeed a line or two from W. B. Yeats or Shakespeare.

And I might do this not just at a ritual or ceremony but also while out walking in the countryside, or working in the garden.

And that is the point. Druids are journalists, musicians, singers, storytellers, novelists, poets, gardeners, farmers, foresters, hikers, cyclists, naturalists, historians, archaeologists, artists, carpenters, builders, bankers, technicians, even scientists.

But above all, we are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, all united by a love of the land, a love of humanity and the desire to do good. For others, for other lifeforms and for the planet which supports us all, as well as for ourselves on occasion.
And that is why Tim Stanley’s editorial is so grievously disrespectful, insulting and abusive.

We should not tolerate it. We will not tolerate it. And that needs to be announced and understood, clearly and comprehensively.

And that is all I have to say on the matter, for the moment. Doubtless this debate will drag on in some form, but I now call to others, Druids and non-Druids alike, to follow this through and utterly condemn this editorial for the hateful diatribe it is.

So may it be.

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