First published in Indie Shaman magazine, April 2015
As a child I instinctively rejected the way I saw the world going, in fact I remember arguing with my parents around the age of 11 or 12 about what life is meant to be about. I was rather dismissive I suppose of those that have laboured for an average car, average house and all the trappings of modern life. My question was along the lines of ‘there must be something more to it than all this stuff?’. If I remember correctly they were not overly impressed with my line of questioning, given that they themselves were working very hard to provide a roof over my head and all the benefits of modern western living.
As I’ve grown older that same question has always remained with me, it seems that at the heart of all the major religions is the implication that the material life is only transient and that the soul’s progress is what really matters. At the same time, out of this belief, a casual disregard for the physical world seems to have grown, culminating in a culture of abuse and destruction – the results of which are very much in evidence today.
So somehow, I found that although Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism all held great wisdom and moral guidance, none of them quite translated into the real world of action very well – I was always struck by human inability to actually live by the principles we profess to hold dear. For a long time I felt that Taoism and Buddhism were as close to an established dogma that I would ever find that fitted with my own personal ethos, formed over many years of searching for answers. Strangely and unexpectedly it was indigenous religions, namely Druidry/Druidism that resonated with me most strongly.
Perhaps it was because it derives from my own European background, while still embodying the holistic and uncomplicated spirituality that is often to be found in surviving remains of Native North and South American, Siberian and Mongolian and Australian Aborigine cultures that it appealed to me. In a bizarre kind of way, these more simple, less dogmatic and naturalistic forms of religion or spirituality - ancient, long ignored or suppressed have an eternal and profound relevance to human existence. In a world where the traditional religions are still embroiled in corruption, institutional malaise, violence and conflict, they seem to me to be losing their relevance and their influence as humanity desperately struggles to grow up.
Just as teenagers often go through an existential crisis, I think that the entire human race, having come so far in such a short time, is faced with terrible growing pains as it becomes increasingly aware of its selfish and childish behaviour, that is still bringing us ever closer to the brink of oblivion. Almost everyone in the world would acknowledge a need for change, that the Western model of life (at least) is just not working and can only lead to catastrophe. Indigenous peoples were able to see the folly of the white man’s detached intellectual way of life long ago when they were first being invaded, but unfortunately were unable to resist its advance.
Now we live in a world that has been almost entirely conquered by Western capitalism and its ever-increasing expansion at the expense of the earth and those who continue to live quiet and simple lives close to the land they live on. Despite the fine words spoken at the UN and at climate summits, little is really changing and it seems to me that our politicians actually do not know what to do. We can all see the problems in front of us, but political lobbying, lack of integrity and a notable absence of the sacred in how the ‘movers and shakers’ decide our future means that very little changes.
Recent years have seen an awakening, on many levels; I think there is a growing awareness that there is no point in waiting for our political and religious leaders to actually do something. They are all paralysed by their corruption, self-interest and a competitive rather than cooperative attitude to life. More and more, I see a shift away from the politics of old and the religion of old. A new consciousness – based on a spiritual and practical gnosis seems to be emerging. All that concerns us – our families, friends, our work, our homes and this precious planet we so depend on is not going to be preserved by the governments and institutions of the world. It is us, each of us as individuals, working together in cooperation with other people who care, who understand that all of life is connected and mutually dependent, that are going to change things.
Shamanism, indigenous spiritualities, resurgent druidry are not social or political in a traditional sense, but they seem to be becoming increasingly important as a belief system and philosophy that offers a way out of the quagmire that modern humanity has created for itself. Ultimately, real spirituality is not about something that you do on Sundays or put away in a box until it is convenient to indulge it again. Perhaps the profound, life-changing aspects of these spiritual forms is the reason that they continue to grow as this century unfolds.
We have reached a point in human history where we are running out of options, running out of time to set things right. We cannot afford to make mistakes or pay lip-service to what we profess to believe in or what we believe is necessary. More and more, I see disillusionment, especially among young people, with our failure to live in harmony with each other and this wonderful planet. The hippy movement of the late sixties and seventies was the first spiritually influenced major attempt to break out of this stilted paradigm, but as we all know, it failed. Despite that failure to actually change the world, it demonstrated how close ordinary people could come to making a real difference. What the hippies didn’t realise was that governments were never going to change – no matter how it was pleaded for or demanded.
My generation and those coming up are increasingly realising that we must all ‘be the change’, it won’t happen if we wait for institutions to either crumble or have a miraculous spiritual awakening. So I would encourage those who are awakening to get up and get involved – find other like-minded people who want to change things, there are already lots of us. Despite its rather insidious nature, the internet is allowing people to connect all over the world and is in fact translating from ‘likes’ on a webpage into communities meeting in real-life and increased activism. People are united by this need for a better world and it is re-invigorating communities that have been impoverished and broken apart by relentless capitalism.
Much of this is secular, but there is also a spiritual dimension, with representatives of and entire spiritual communities stepping forward to be part of this call for change – such as the fight to prevent fracking from destroying the land and water that flows though it. I believe that this century is probably our last shot for any meaningful change in human evolution. Already we have seen vast swathes of species annihilated, mass deforestation, unbelievable pollution of the land, rivers and oceans. If ever there was a time for it to stop it is now, while there is still some hope of the world recovering from our reign of terror.
Ultimately, like myself as a youth, most people not only want a good life but they have questions about what we are here for and what life is really about. At the core of our destructive habits is a spiritual distemper – we have lost our way. If we are going to find the way out of this mess together then part of that must include healing ourselves spiritually – after all, it is from the inside that all human thought and action manifests itself.
Which religion or spirituality facilitates that personal gnosis or awakening to the sacred in all life is irrelevant. What is most vital is that the process of awakening and an emergence into spiritual adulthood happens en masse. For me, druidry ticks all the boxes in terms of my philosophy on life and my need for spiritual connection with the world around and beyond me. However, that does not suit everyone, each of us has to find our own path.
The Holy Grail was said to have healed Arthur, but it was perhaps the act of drinking, not the cup itself, that brought him back and the land with him. There are many cups in this world we might choose to drink from, which contain the answers to life’s purpose. Whatever that cup is for you, I encourage you to drink and drink deeply, and find the strength within you to become part of a sea-change that is beginning to sweep the world and which must succeed.