Druidry was the native spiritual tradition of the peoples who inhabited the islands of Britain and Ireland, spreading through much of Europe. Though many consider it to have been a religion or political force that came to Britain with the influx of culture concurrent with the Iron Age, it is increasingly understood, and within the Network acknowledged, to be of an older indigenous if ever-evolving religious tradition sourced within these islands.
As an ancient pagan religion, Druidry is based on the reverential, sacred and honourable relationship between the people and the land. In its personal expression, modern Druidry is the spiritual interaction between an individual and the spirits of nature, including those of landscape and ancestry, together with the continuities of spiritual, literary and cultural heritage.
Druidic practice is also based on honour for the ancestors, considered sacred. In ancestral stories, in human nature and lifes patterns, in the long river of history, in poetry and music, the Druid finds the divine inspiration known as awen, the force that flows into his/her own sacred creativity of living, allowing depths of understanding and wisdom.
Druidic practice seeks too to understand the patterns of nature outside humanity, within our environment, honouring the powers of nature as wholly sacred. All life is deemed to be unconditionally sacred, bearing its own intrinsic validity and purpose.
Those who practise Druidry do so through a deep spiritual connection perceived and experienced with this land and culture, either directly (as residents) or through links and empathies of ancestry, literature, art, history, heritage, philosophy and mythology. So does Druidry continue to grow, not only in Britain, but also all around the world.
Though many shy away from the word Religion with its connotations of political monotheism and authority, preferring the word spirituality, Druidry is a religion. Its practitioners revere their deities, most often perceived as the most powerful forces of nature (such as thunder, sun and earth), spirits of place (such as mountains and rivers), and divine guides of a people (such as Brighid, Rhiannon and Bran).
Druidry cannot be defined by or limited to the reverence of one deity or a pantheon. Thus while many within Druidry honour what are known as the Celtic named and mythologized deities, others honour Christian, Saxon, Nordic or Classical Pagan gods. Yet again there are those who honour animistic and conceptual forms of deity. These differences do not divide or dilute the tradition, however, for such differences are integral parts of the traditions essential nature.
The spirits of a place bring the richness of ecological diversity, encouraging us to experience the wealth of different ecosystems, from moorland to meadows, mountains to wetlands. So does reverence for life and nature engender a diversity of practice in those expressing devotion and seeking to live in sacred relationship with the spirits of a place. Thus is locality another factor that brings diversity to the tradition.
Ancestral lineage, local history and heritage add diversity in the same way. Generations of miners, fishermen or travellers, personal tragedy or wealth, close family or solitude; all are factors that affect our spiritual seeking and expression. As Druidry guides us to honour and learn from our ancestry and our path of life, so is this diversity also a defining factor in Druidic practice, as is acceptance and indeed celebration of this diversity.
Coherence is brought to Druidry upon the spiritual foundations of its reverence for nature. Based on reverence and respect for life itself, and the practice of seeking honourable relationship with all, Druidry guides us to live with truth and responsibility.
While sacrifice is a core notion within most world spiritual traditions, within Druidry it is confused by historical accounts of the killing of both human and animal victims. No such practice is deemed acceptable within modern Druidry. What is sacrificed within the tradition today is that which we value most highly in life and hold to with most passion: time, security, certainty, comfort, convenience, ignorance, and the like. Indeed, most Druidic sacrifice is expressed through work that benefits the wider community and the planet as a whole, such as environmental volunteering, ethical consumerism, spiritual education, dissemination of information, caring for family and community (notably children, the sick, the elderly and dying) and creative expression.
Although there are groups within the tradition who value their privacy, Druidry is not an occult tradition. A good part of its practice is openly celebrated. Increasingly there are many within the tradition that share its essential tenets through public ritual in ceremonies marking the seasonal festivals that are open and free to all; examples include the gorseddau at Avebury and Stonehenge.
Introduction to Common Practice and Beliefs within Druidry.
Those who practice Druidry do so through a deep spiritual connection perceived and experienced within the land and its culture. Many, when they first find Druidry, describe the feeling as 'coming home'; they have rediscovered a connection with the land, its people, history, heritage and culture. This is more than mere interest; imbued with wonder, gratitude, respect and a sense of the perpetual flow of time, it inspires a devotional commitment, an acknowledgment of the sacred and a recognition of deity (male, female and non-gendered gods) within these currents of nature. This is the foundation of Druid practice.
The issue as to whether modern Druidry has any clear link back to pre-Roman Britain is debated. Historically Druidry was essentially an oral tradition and no texts are available written by our pre-Roman ancestors. However, the religious and spiritual traditions survived in folklore, through poetry and mythologies, within the development of British/western philosophy and the bardic colleges. A good deal was incorporated into Christianity when it came to these lands, particularly surviving in rural churches where Paganism continued side by side with the new religion. In the eighteenth century a resurgence of Druidry led to academic scrutiny of Classical and Mediaeval texts and a good deal of todays common Druidic practice is based on interpretation of that material. This scrutiny continues today and Druids use this as a link to their ancestral past. As a religion today, Druidry is ever evolving. So common practice is gained through Druids coming together and sharing their experiences, rituals and celebrations.
Many come to Druidry because of its diversity. Freedom of expression and personal connection to deity is, for them, of paramount importance. Connection to the divine is gained through experience, neither through belief nor through reciting prayers that are essentially anothers understanding or vision. As a polytheistic religion, individuals devote themselves to and revere deities who express different aspects of nature and ancestry. For example, Cerridwen is a goddess of the dark, the waning moon, the cauldron of potential; Brighid is a goddess of fire, light and assertive action. The rituals and practice of Druids honouring one or other of these as their principal deity would differ accordingly.
Druids take their inspiration from Nature. Within the British Isles we have a huge diversity of landscape and this is reflected in the practice of individuals and local groups or Groves. If a Druid is inspired by their local north sea coast, his gods and religious focus would be different from a Druid inspired by the rolling hills and woodlands of the Cotswolds, or the open moors of Devon. Similarly a Druid grove celebrating the festival of midwinter in an urban garden in Kent will look and feel very different from a grove celebrating in the Highlands of Scotland, were most of its members are dependent on rural or agricultural livelihoods: winter means something very different to both groves. All these individuals and groves are equally honouring (and seeking relationship with) Nature.
Druids are inspired too by their ancestors. To a Druid, ancestry is not a vague concept, but a gathering of individuals, each with their strengths and weaknesses, their own stories of success and failure. The diversity of druidry is further expressed through the fact that each person has a different line of ancestors, and a different relationship with those people: this may manifest through a religious practice that focuses on a certain temple or landscape, myth or poet, skill or occupation. Again, such practice may appear significantly distinct, say, if we were to observe a farmer, a blacksmith, a writer or healer. As Druids, all are honouring their ancestors, nonetheless, by using the skills inherited and so expressing the spiritual devotion, gratitude and reverence required of the Druid.
The reverence for nature that is integral to Druidry also provides a morality or ethical base that is common to all Druids. Like any moral code, whether religious or secular, it is interpreted with slight differences. However, honour, respect, truth and justice are of primary importance and constitute the basis of all Druid practice. This does not dilute Druidry, but brings to it a richness that is welcomed and celebrated. Thus, paradoxically, diversity is both a strength and a cohesive element of Druid practice.
There are further elements of Druid practice and ritual that are common to all within the tradition and these we shall explore.
Most adherents of modern Druidry celebrate eight major festivals and these can be further subdivided into the Solar Festivals and Celtic Fire Festivals, which may also be known as agricultural, pastoral, seasonal or cross quarter festivals. Some Groves and individuals only work with the Solar and some only with the Fire Festivals. Placed around the course of the year, they occur every 5-7 weeks, and generally Druids will at this time make ritual, giving offerings.
The purpose of the festivals is to ensure two things:
The Druid is always spiritually awake to the cycles of nature, the seasons, the tides of growth and decay, together with the gifts the gods offer at these times. The Druid attunes his own soul to the cycle of nature around him, working with the seasons internally, spiritually, instead of pushing against them and risking stress, depression, exhaustion, complacency and so on. Being in harmony with natures cycles ensures spiritual health, appreciation, inspired creativity and vibrant community, through reverential relationship with the gods, ancestors and spirits of place.
Druids will also make ritual at various phases of the moon, though which phase is most important to any individual Druid will depend on their own nature. Some Druids will regularly meet with their grove at the dark or new moon, others preferring the full moon, and some acknowledge the quarter moons. This practice encourages and facilitates the Druid's attunement with the lunar cycle, increasing awareness as to its impact on his own nature and the natural world around him, increasing health, well being and relationships.
Rites of Passage
It is also common within Druid practice to celebrate important points along lifes path, and it is at such times that we acknowledge the growth, change and release that are integral to an individuals path. Some points that may be celebrated are:
Childrens Rites - the welcoming of newborn babies, naming ceremonies, starting school and their successes are all important points that may be celebrated within the community. Weddings, often called Handfastings. Rites of Passing that may include funerals, memorials or honouring of the dead.
Rites of Separation - acceptance and release are important. Breakdown of any relationship should be acknowledged. Rites of Elderhood - these occur for men and women between the ages of 55 - 70, acknowledging their changing place in society with retirement, menopause or the arrival of grandchildren.
Dedication - for some it is important that they declare their dedication publicly. This may be a dedication to their God(s), their work, their community or any other important areas of focus. At such rituals, it is common practice for Druids to honour the gods, the landscape, the ancestors, the community and nature in general. The Grove or gathering acknowledges the part played by each of these entities; they are thanked, offerings made and celebrations shared.
Traditionally gatherings of Bards, these are now generally understood as public ritual for those studying the tradition, and those wishing to share in a wider community of Druidry. They are held throughout the country and indeed the world. They are usually held on the weekend closest to the actual date of the festivals mentioned previously.
Free and open to all they are a gathering to celebrate the festival and to perform rites of passage. Space will also be included in the celebration for the poetry, song, music and other creativity that is such an important part of Druidry. While not all Druids regularly attend Gorsedd Rites, all Druids will acknowledge the importance and validity of such gatherings and rituals.
A Grove is a group of people who come together to honour deity, land, culture, heritage, ancestry and each other within the Druid tradition. Essentially they are run by Druids local to an area, and because they take their inspiration from the locality, each is consequently and appropriately different.
How the Grove is run entirely rests on those who facilitate it; theirs is the time, energy and inspiration that enables it to be. Because of the limits on their time and energy, some Grove leaders choose to limit the number of members, and once this level is reached they cannot accept more applicants, although they are usually happy for people to approach them for advice on Druidry. In practice, when a grove has reached its limit of members, usually someone will leave to form a new Grove and so Druidry continues to grow.
There are some Groves who choose to be closed to new members. These Groves are usually comprised of close friends who are studying together a particular area of Druidry and do not have time to facilitate an open Grove or facilitate the learning of newcomers to the tradition. Again these Groves are willing to give help and assistance to anybody who approaches them; this may be in the form of individual teaching offered, or by directing the enquirer to another local Grove or to organisations like The Druid Network who can offer a high level of assistance.
As said previously, all Groves are different, but again there is identifiable commonality of practice. The celebration of the year's cycle of festivals, moon phase rituals and the rites of passage mentioned previously are in some form universally celebrated.
Druidry cannot be considered a religion that is practiced only at certain times or festivals. Because it is essentially a celebration of life, all time not spent at public celebration could be considered as private practice. However, it is the depth of that practice that will differ and this will depend not only on an individuals commitment to Druidry but also the Druids personal life. There are those within the tradition that have the time to immerse themselves fully and there are many others with work and family commitments that make time and opportunity limited.
However, life is cyclical and circumstances change, therefore the depth of private practice supports this. mother whose life is wrapped around the bringing up of children will usually return to committed Druidic work once the children are more independent, until that time remaining content as a part of the Druid community if not a student of the mythology, theology and deeper practice.
A Druids practice is aimed at seeking to understand and achieve sacred relationship with nature and thus the gods. Belief implies blind faith and that is not the Druid way. Experience of sacred connection, wonder and understanding are the foundation stones of the tradition, not reliance of blind faith in something that one has not personally experienced or perceived.
All Druids, however, seek to connect with the same source - nature - and that source provides some common areas of understanding if not belief. The following points are therefore presented as statements of common Druidic understanding.
Nature is considered to be unconditionally sacred and an expression or manifestation of deity and divinity. Everything exists as an interconnected web. Although everything is interconnected, for many people that connection is not felt. They stand apart from the natural world and in many cases consider themselves superior to it. A Druid seeks to re-connect, use their senses and seek to develop them, open their spirit to the spirit that flows around them, to connect with that flow, that divine source. In other words, experience of the web is essential for honourable living.
All Druids honour the powers of nature, as environment (the Three Worlds of land, sea and sky), as ancestors (of our blood, of our history and land, of our mythology), as heritage and wisdom, and through reverence for the sacred and for deity.
What does this mean? In terms of an integrated system of belief and practice, Druids would be expected to :
Respect the natural world (non-human), care for the environment, to study nature (from trees to winds). Respect human nature, work on their own intellectual and emotional development, care for the community, family and colleagues. Respect our history, learn about our heritage, ancestors, their stories, languages, ways of life. Respect the gods, the forces of nature that influence our worlds. All these are religious tasks, performed not just as a way of serving the gods, ancestors or community, but as a way of connecting with the gods, seeking religiously meaningful and, at times, ecstatic union.
Because the gods are forces of nature and heritage, they exist within every aspect of nature. Instead of reaching to a single abstract concept of deity (a unique creative supernatural god), Druids find the divine through study, ritual, music, meditation, prayer, dance. In other words, by singing an old song, learning an old language, sitting by the grave of an ancestor or within an old stone circle, meditating in the rain, planting trees or tending the garden, the Druid opens his soul (mind, consciousness, heart) to connect with the forces of nature (gods) present and influential within that aspect of nature. He open his soul to his ancestors and the gods who guided them into sacred relationship, fulfillment and peace.
This is religious practice (seeking connection with deity, the sacred powers of existence) and is found within all Druidry, throughout the world