Originally published in Touchstone magazine, February 2007
Like most druids (so I believe) I see Druidry as a spiritual path, a belief system that guides my actions in each world. In truth it is as much for me a practical path as it is spiritual; in fact the two are as inseparable as the two strands in DNA, or put another way, they are like yin and yang – perfectly complementing each other to make the whole.
As a typical aquarian some people see me as “away with the fairies” or “not quite the full shilling”. I am aware of this ability to be ungrounded in myself and to become lost in dreams and thoughts – this is where the practical path comes into its own! Practical actions and skills act as an anchor, they give manifestation to thought and help focus the mind; they can also be meditative as well.
If we take a brief look at the skills our grandparents began forgetting, our parents forgot and that we are largely or completely ignorant of – these skills might well nowadays be considered to be druidic. For instance, when out walking if you become lost but you know that to your west is a road, by day or night how do you find it without a compass? If you’re in a woodland and have a sudden headache, could you find something that might give you some relief? Suppose you found some juicy plums but had no pockets and no bag with which to carry them, could you devise something to carry them home? The answers to these and countless other questions were common knowledge not so long ago – not just among druids or cunning folk but to almost everyone. Sadly in today’s de-skilled world even country people often lack this basic knowledge of how to interact with the natural world.
These skills and knowledge are immensely practical but mankind has obtained it through millennia of experience and a bygone perspective of the world that was in far greater spiritual harmony with the land. This is where the practical path meets the spiritual – the practical actions and knowledge being an outward manifestation of the inner spiritual attitude to life. I would see the practical and spiritual paths of druidry as synergistic – they benefit each other and the sum is greater than the constituent parts.
An example from my own life is the creation of my stone circle and grove of trees that surrounds it (in my garden, Co. Wexford Ireland). This grove is practical in that it provides food and habitat for wildlife, reduction in air pollution etc, but I also find it a valuable aid in my spiritual work – it is a place where I can find peace, connect with nature and occasionally share with my friends too.
As I’ve worked more and more directly with the land it has lead me to begin studying horticulture so that I can eventually change profession. I find the subject fascinating, but as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the plant kingdom, in working outside I gain exercise, stress relief, mental space., fresh air and a healthier and more productive garden. Working with the natural environment has many lessons to teach us about life on many different levels.
More than anything I find that practical action brings form, structure and greater understanding to ideas, feeling and urges that I’ve gained on my spiritual journey but which may have remained internalized. This can be summed up by the Chinese proverb “To see is to know, to do is to understand” or by the Celtic triad “The first three parts of understanding: to see what is, a heart to feel what is and a boldness that dares to follow them.”
As well as bringing things into focus, a truly practical approach has the added benefit of manifesting our spiritual work on the physical plane. Surely, there is nothing more encouraging that to see the seed of an idea take root and sprout in the world around us – it serves as a reminder of what we can do with belief and also serves as a great example (and hopefully inspiration) to others. Given the present state of our beautiful world such an outcome can only be a good thing!