Druids stick apart, as I wrote elsewhere. Even when they are at the same event, they don’t exactly hang together. They do their Druid thing in very different, individual ways, which I like. So I recently had two rare experiences; one of being at a Druid gathering, and the other of hearing tales of Druids bitching about this gathering‘s Druid thing, which includes magic. It seems that some Druids not only prefer to perform nothing but ‘celebratory ritual’ but also believe that Druids shouldn’t do anything else. Like magic.
Members of this gathering seemed somewhat distressed at the hating they’d been getting for doing magic. Apparently even healing spells are an interference with someone’s ‘journey’ and they must be allowed to encounter their suffering.
I, a scary chaos magician, rarely get such criticism to my face, but I would probably respond thusly:
- “Mind your own godsdamned business,”
- “If you don’t like it, tough. What are you going to do about it? Hurl a seasonal celebratory rite at me?”
- “Go down the doctor’s and explain to the people waiting there that they shouldn’t let the doctor interfere with their journey of suffering.”
- “You know when you call upon gods and spirits to be present? In magic we call that Evocation, and you’re doing it.”
- There was another reply, but it’s too rude to publish. Use your imagination: it’s probably right on the button.
Ever heard of the ‘no-true-Scotsman’ argument? It’s a fallacy where the definition shifts according to the whim of the arguer, like this:
“No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.” (universal negative statement)
“McTavish does.” (single counterexample, proving the universal false)
“Ah, but no true Scotsman …” (evasion of the counterexample)
So we seem to be encountering a ‘no-true-Druid’ argument here. As with the Scotsman, the definition of ‘Druid’ is the problem. More so since none of us are the Druids of Roman times, nor of post-Roman Britain or Ireland, but most clearly derived from the Druid revival. Druids are so when they declare themselves as such, beginning with William Stukeley, the first to allow himself to be styled ‘the Druid’ ca. 1722. Since modern neo-Druidry is in all its forms made up by someone or other, it’s bizarre to claim that one form of Druidry is invalid when it stands clearly in the tradition begun by the antiquarians.
So does that mean that anything goes that calls itself Druidry? Well, no. To be in the family, one must show the same continuity with the tradition. Furthermore, my 4th criterion of Paganism applies to Druidry also: a Druid is so also because they are recognised as such within their community.
So I thought it might be fun to look at some of the extended family of Druidry, and see how the cousins in one branch differ from the cousins in another without needing to drive anyone out of the clan. If you’re seeking to prove whether someone (yourself?) is a true Druid, know that these are only some of the possibilities. These are not the Druid you’re looking for.
THE CONTEMPLATIVE DRUID
The contemplatives tend to favour stillness and connection to The Great Unknown, the numinous, and to roam the astral.
- The Nature mystic follows in the tradition of the Romanticist nature poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth, and seeks ultimate meaning in the presence of the Wild Green.
- The monk takes a more overtly religious stance, in the strain of, say, the European mystics like Swedenborg, Merton, or the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, or perhaps that of the East, fashioning a mystical Druidry out of Zen or Theravada Buddhism or modelling the Vedic sannyasi. Or perhaps following in the footsteps of occultists, the quasi-religious mystic will build an astral Otherworld from Qabalah or other forms of Gnosticism and rise through the planes in their work of theurgy.
- The ‘shamanic’ Druid (and can we not please get hung up on the obvious weaknesses of our appropriation of this term?) may sink deep into trance to commune with the spirits of Nature and of Otherworld, utilizing probably the world’s oldest model of magic, the Spirit model.
THE ACTIVIST DRUID
The Western mystical tradition has long concerned itself with the difficult balance between contemplation and action. Overbalanced contemplation leads to a mystic who is so heavenly-minded they’re of no earthly use. Activism is a balancer, continuing the strain of political radicalism manifest in such as Iolo Morganwg and William Price. The eco-warrior, for example, reminds the contemplative that the future of life on earth and the well-being of the Web of Nature is not simply in the hands of ‘the Divine’ but in the hands of those who care to do something about it, on the understanding that we are not on this earth to escape from it but to engage with it. Others may work with authorities in curating sacred sites, perhaps. Activists protest, lobby, debate, provide practical assistance and perform direct action, all arising from passion.
One risk is that those who don’t share that particular passion in the same way may get a rough time from the Activist. Another is to get so caught up in activity as to forget being a Druid and not just a campaigner.
THE CEREMONIAL DRUID
This one looks rather like the Contemplative, but the theurgy is more elaborately ritualistic, the cataphatic rather than apophatic mystic. The path to God is paved with liturgy and lit with appropriate symbols. Here the initiatory path much more likely follows that of the occult tradition, a Mystery school structured by quasi-Masonic rite.
The Ceremonial Druid is of course the one most likely to have a go at our next family of druids:
THE MAGICIAN DRUID
Wizard. Yes, thanks Microsoft menu for the reminder. Merlin. Druids drawing on the literature of medieval Wales, for example, find many role-models of the magician, and healers and diviners manifest a strong Ovate current in Druidry, including those who style themselves after the cunning men and women of the 17th century onwards. Some Magician Druids may find it hard to distinguish themselves in practice from ‘shamanic’ Druids.
I’ve written before of the balance between mysticism and sorcery, theurgy and thaumatugy. It parallels the balance between contemplation and action. Theurgists and Contemplatives alike remind the Magician (and the Activist) not to get so caught up in doing things as to avoid connecting to the Source of the Doing. The Magician tartly reminds them not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and to engage actively with these powers they seem to know so well.
THE INTELLECTUAL DRUID
This family tree has many branches. It began with the antiquarians, who seemed to like the aura of musty wisdom and the semi-divine air of Classical antiquity. To this day, most Druids I know are geeks, especially about history.
- Reconstructionists might go so far as to try to live like they imagine Iron Age Druids may have lived. They’re big on archeology.
- Philosophical Druids are still debating questions arising from the Enlightenment about God, mind and body, and so forth.
- Modern Intellectual Druids will have moved on to incorporate New Age thought or pop culture references or modes or some such, which can be said to be keeping the tradition up to date. I have a friend who is a Steampunk DJ and a librarian. Of course he’s a Druid. The Urban Druid is trying to relate the experience of Druidry to the fact of living in town. There are so many varieties here that further classification is impossible. Trying to cut the cake that small will result only in a pile of crumbs.
And many many more.
So what have we done? We’ve distinguished the family tree of Druidry according to type of activity. It will already have dawned on you that any given Druid is capable of more than one kind of activity. I may spend an hour meditating in the morning, attend a public protest in the afternoon and spend the evening studying the Barddas. Or go down the pub and argue about it with another Druid. An Activist is likely to supplement their protest with magical workings, a Ceremonial Druid may find themselves increasingly drawn to contemplative silence, the spirits of the forest may require a Shamanic Druid to rise up on their behalf against developers, a Contemplative may be prompted to send healing to a sick relative. An Intellectual Druid, perhaps more than any, may be gagging to get out into the forest and greet the Mystery in Nature.
What a varied clan we are: all related but each family a bit different. In some families, they even put sugar on their porridge. So deal with it, cousin: smile nicely and ask for the salt if you prefer it. And then let’s go for a walk in the forest, eh? There you’ll find the Druids you’re looking for.