Originally published in Watkin's: Mind Body Spirit, May 2012
Most of us are aware of the druids, even if the image in our minds is somewhat obscured and our perception is that of a religion shrouded in mystery. Most people would regard Druidism/Druidry as a long dead, primitive spirituality that met its demise as Christianity spread across Europe. However, the truth is hugely different and far more complicated than most people expect.
I became seriously interested in Celtic culture and more specifically Druidry, over twenty years ago. At that time my understanding of what druids did was very limited and I was not aware that they still existed in any serious sense. I have long had an interest in religion, stemming from my Catholic upbringing and my introduction to Buddhism as a teenager, plus a fascination with mythology.
As I looked more deeply into the roots of Christianity I became increasingly aware of the legacy of Celtic paganism that has been absorbed into Christianity to a surprisingly large extent. Having also developed a great interest in ecology, social/political issues and creativity, I was pleased to find that these areas are of no small significance within Druidry - hence this path seemed an obvious choice for me.
After some years, studying the druids of old, encountering many stumbling blocks, I eventually joined a druid grove in Ireland and also joined the international Druid order the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). Of course, the modern path has dispensed with the more violent and undesirable aspects of the ancient path, nonetheless modern orders I have encountered generally aspire to the principles and spiritual wisdom of the original form.
Through the course of my own study and study with OBOD it was clear to me that much of the original source material that has inspired the modern druid movement has fallen into obscurity and what exists is widely scattered among the literature and lore of the past. I have also become increasingly aware that almost all of the modern texts on Druidry focus on the Welsh traditions, with other Celtic nations remaining in the background.
I felt that I could perhaps throw some light on the obscured roots of the modern Druid path, particularly many of the beautiful and extensive traditions of Ireland and Scotland. I also wished to demonstrate that Druidry is a highly practical and relevant spiritual path for today’s world – uniting our heady spiritual aspirations with a deep love and respect for the natural world.
The book starts with a brief history of Celtic culture, a chapter defining what druids do and a compendium of the major deities. I felt it important to lay an honest and detailed foundation before moving onto more complex ideas such as cosmology or the annual seasonal observances.
I’ve structured the book so that each chapter stands alone but builds on the content of previous chapters. In all cases I’ve drawn from verifiable sources from Wales such as The Black Book of Camarthen and The Mabinogion, Irish texts such as The Scholar’s Primer and The Book of Invasions and Scottish texts such as Carmina Gadelica. I’ve also consulted the works of most of the major writers on Druidry from the 18th century revival onwards.
I’ve blended my own personal insights from experience with the core aspects of druidic thought and practice with the intention of giving a more picture of what Druidry is. I hope that this proves useful to the would-be druid, but in truth I wrote it as much for myself as anyone else.
In compiling this distillation of druidic knowledge the process of writing crystallized my own understanding and conception of what it really means to be a Druid in the modern world. As I understand it, Druidry is not really about magic, creativity or being an environmentalist; indeed it may incorporate all of these things, but primarily it is about forging a connection to the divine in a very direct way. Having much in common with Taoism, Druidry is about becoming more in touch with the world, with the rest of humanity and in doing so, discovering your true self and the spark of divinity within us all that exists throughout all creation.