Originally published in Touchstone magazine, November 2007
In the pre-christian era, western Europe, before Roman conquest, was ruled by Celtic monarchs/tribal chiefs, relying on the guidance of druids, who also were responsible for the administation of much of society on a day to day level. The druids were both feared and respected and their strict code of behaviour was adhered to otherwise a heavy price was paid by the transgressor. In modern times the use of draconian practices seems extreme and unnecessary and it is indeed a good thing that the modern practice of Druidry has evolved. It is not much more than 50 years since any form of paganism has once again been permissible in western society, perhaps it is now time for druids to once again take a major role in society but in a way that befits the times we now live in?
After thousands of years with very slow technological and social change, mankind has made several ‘quantum leaps’ in the last few centuries, sadly though our collective emotional, intellectual and spiritual evolution does not appear to have kept pace with the changes in our abilities and lifestyles.
The invention of machines – first steam engines and later the internal combustion engine literally revolutionized the way that we live – enabling us to change our environment and use its hidden treasures on a far greater scale than was previously imaginable. This technology is what has fueled our rape of the land for more and more oil, gas, coal, food and living space and it has also enabled the rapid spread of empires and commerce to areas of the world that were previously difficult to access. The invention of plastics has further changed society, enabling manufacture of almost anything that can be imagined and giving rise to a disposable culture that is now prevelant in much of the world. Plastic is truly an amazing tool, but unfortunately as it takes thousands of years for it to biodegrade, nearly all of the plastic ever made is still hanging around the landscape, in landfills and in our rivers, seas and oceans.
All of these changes seem to have happened not because they should, but because it was possible. Little thought has been given to the consequences of this wonderful technology and the wisest use of it, it was just used because it had become available, which has led humanity to where it is now – on the brink of ecological disaster.
As Druids we are people with a connection to the land, a love of and understanding of nature – something that seems to be disappearing from mainstream society. I believe that it is no accident that Druidry and paganism has made a dramatic resurgence since the second half of the last century, this has happened because change is required in our spiritual, emotional and intellectual way of life – and this will precipitate a change in our lifestyles from within.
One could say that western culture has become corrupted and cynical from root to tip – our churches and political organizations etc. no longer command our respect and a great many ordinary people have become complacent and sedated by consumerism or are too disillusioned to try and affect change. From my personal experience this is not so of modern druids. Most druids I have met are passionate about life, not just the earth we live on but the whole process of living life as a celebration of existence. Modern Druidry draws on a tradition that belongs in our ‘pre-civilised’ past but has left behind some of the more violent and no-longer relevant values of earlier times. I believe that the love and passion that is evident amongst druids is infectious, and that we have the ability to be shining beacons of hope in a jaded world.
I am not suggesting that we should become evangelists and try and convert everyone to paganism, far from it. One of the core values of modern Druidry is tolerance, which to my view immediately invalidates any expansionist/evangelical attitudes. I do though think that others can be inspired by witnessing us living our lives according to the principles of Druidry and trying each day to bring that into the world on all levels. Ideas are very powerful – if people ‘buy into’ an idea there is no need to coerce them, as they have made the choice themselves and sown the seeds that lead to changing.
Having come to an awareness of our connection to the earth I feel duty bound to do whatever I can in this lifetime to foster that connection and to attempt to reverse the catastrophic damage that this and previous generations have done. Each practical thing that I change in my life and each time I make a stand against injustice and ignorance it gives me greater hope for the future. I make these decisions for myself and for the good of all existence and that is enough in itself, but if other people around me can see this as positive maybe they will begin to make changes themselves?
Like author Thom Hartmann I believe that we are all connected in a cosmic-consciousness, and that great shifts in the way human society acts have been achieved from small beginnings. In ‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight’ he cites the example of Mahatma Gandhi who in a totally non-violent revolution changed the course of Indian History, but without maybe intending to do so he instigated the demise of the British and other European empires and also changed attitudes of millions of people worldwide.
If one man was able to achieve all this, by inspiring those around him, surely we can do the same? Maybe not to the level of this exceptional person, but enough to make a difference in our family, circle of friends, village, town or city. The world is ripe for change and we have the opportunity right here and now to be a positive force in altering the course of humanity for the good of all future generations and the world itself; I think it’s an opportunity that we must grasp.