Druidry is a religion, it is a spirituality, it is a way. But more importantly it is a relationship – a relationship with Nature, with the Universe. In this post I want to look again at Druidry – how there are differences and similarities between the ancient Druids and those today, but also how both are based on a relationship with the world around us. A modern Druid author named Greywind writes in his book, The Voice Within The Wind, about nine roles of a Druid. By using the lens of the Bard/ Ovate/ Druid distinctions, we can look at those nine roles and see what a modern day Druid might be like, especially from a naturalistic perspective.
Ancient Druids were made up of three groups. The first of these was the Bard. In Greywinds book, he identifies two strands of Druidism that could be said to be the roles of the Bard. First, Druidry is based in Celtic culture, language, mythology and history. The role of an ancient Bard was to act as a historian and lore keeper, to tell stories, make music, recite poetry to remind people of their history and culture, to inspire and to entertain. Today, modern Druids can study ancient Celtic culture in order to inform their beliefs and actions as Druids, but they can also go further. Bards can become modern historians and genealogists, reminding everyone of the collective histories (not just the celtic parts) of their family/ local area/ nation (and even of the Earth/ Universe through the epic of Cosmic Evolution). This will help to give people a grounding, a context within which to see themselves and live their lives and perhaps to inspire them to live in better ways.
The second Bardic strand identified by Greywind was Art. The Celtic people’s produced a lot of Art, especially sacred art. Bards were very creative and created stories, music and poetry to help spread their messages. Today we can take this further – Bards can write books, make films, be orators/ public speakers, take photographs, act on stage and do performing arts, alongside the traditional Bardic arts, in order to entertain and to point people towards Awen – towards the magic we experience in the miracles of Nature.
The next group in Ancient Druidry was the Ovate. There are three strands that could be said to be the preserve of the Ovate. The first of these was healing. Ovates were the healers of the ancient Celtic world, not just physical healing but also spiritual healing – keeping balance and looking after the relationships between the human and “more than human” worlds. Regarding physical healing, they would have been experts in Herbalism. Today, modern Ovates could learn Herbalism once again, as well as First Aid in order to help to heal people. Some may even wish to become Doctors.
A second Ovate strand is Metaphysics. The ancient Druids believed in a cosmos made up of land, sea and sky, but also of supernatural elements like the Otherworld. From a naturalistic point of view, a modern Druid may choose not to believe in the existence of the Otherworld if there is no scientific evidence. However, knowing about the Cosmos and the world around us is surely a modern Ovate role. Ovates would study Astronomy to know about the universe, as well as becoming scientists and naturalists to know about the world around them, giving them a deep sense of awe and wonder at the universe and a closer relationship with the natural world. Alongside this, Ovates could study Bushcraft, to know how to survive in the wild, to learn more about nature and to awaken or sharpen their primitive instincts.
The third Ovate strand is Seership. Ancient Ovates were Shamans, experts at divination and contacting the Otherworld for wisdom and healing. While there may be some benefit to using Tarot Cards to try to view situations differently, or to using drumming techniques to alter states of consciousness, a Modern Ovate would not necessarily have to believe in the supernatural. There are modern ways of “divination” such as learning to predict the weather based on watching clouds and nature that an Ovate could study i.e. studying nature and its patterns in order to be able to predict things. Another aspect of Shamanism includes helping people with non-physical healing…some would call this the spiritual aspects of their souls, others psychological or mental health. By studying psychology and skills like counselling, Ovates can do a similar job in looking after the holistic health of a person, both physical and spiritual/ psychological. Part of this role must also include healing people’s relationship with nature – healing the rift between the human and “more than human world.” by adopting a naturalistic form of Animism which saw the “spirits of a place” as the living beings themselves – insects, animals, plants, trees, microorganisms, an Ovate would seek to heal our relationship with them, teaching humans to respect and look after them.
The final group of Druidry was the Druids themselves. There are four strands identified by Greywind that I feel represent the role of the Druid. The first is Ritual. Ancient Druids would conduct the important spiritual rituals of the tribes, especially at the times of the Festivals. Today, we do not necessarily know the exact rituals that were followed, but we can make our own that are meaningful to us, whether elaborate or simple, and modern day Druids can oversee these rituals. Modern Druids can celebrate the eight festivals and invite others to do the same, in order to help increase everyone’s awareness of the changes in nature – be they agricultural/ seasonal or solar – and simply to have fun. Druids could also celebrate the lunar cycle.
The second Druid strand is Natural Philosophy. Ancient Druids would study both the inner and outer world – the physical as well as the spiritual and would seek to learn from observation of nature in order to understand and create their philosophies for life and living. Modern Druids can do the same – studying Philosophy to discover the wisdom of the past but more importantly studying nature and the way the world works now to find the best ways to live. Looking for wisdom in the sciences e.g. seeing how evolution and Gaia theory teaches that we all have a common ancestor, are all kin, are all interconnected, and then building our lives and our ethics upon that understanding.
The third Druid strand is Teaching. Ancient Druids would teach their people through various methods about their culture, laws, the universe and nature. Modern druids can do the same – through a variety of means. We can learn, and then teach others what we have learned so that we can all live better lives in relationship with the natural world. Some Druids may choose to have a career as a teacher.
The fourth and final Druid strand is Service. The Druid class in ancient Celtic cultures was very important, highly respected and occupied many of the most important roles in society – whether that be judges, teachers, peacemakers, political advisors, philosophers or ritualists. Druids were there to give a service to society around them. Modern Druids can follow this same path – not sitting back, but getting active in society, whether that’s learning about law, how to help people become more peaceful and solve conflicts or giving advice, and helping or holding to account those in politics. Druids were a class who believed in getting involved in their world and trying to make it a better place. Those who aspire to be modern Druids must do the same.
I believe that as Naturalistic Pantheists, we can take on a modern role of a Druid and fulfill these roles in our own lives.