“We are our deeds” – Heathen saying.
Druidry is not a path of rules and commandments. There are no “Thou Shalt Nots”, no precepts that must be adhered to on pain of everlasting torment. Far from making Druidry devoid of ethics, this lack of legalistic rigidity makes Druidry all the more open to an ethical dimension. As Immanuel Kant said, “the death of dogma is the birth of morality”.
Druidry approaches ethics in a gentle way, an open-ended way, not through setting rules but by asking questions: What does it mean to live a good life as a creature within an ecosystem? If nature is sacred, how should we act? If non-human beings are sentient, how shall we create honourable and meaningful relationships with them?
The ancient Druids were judges for their people, called in to decide on matters of morality and rightness. While we may not hold that role today, modern Druids can still be spokespeople and examples for ethical decision-making: the voice of the trees and the land. Not by being “holier than thou” or preaching ethical dogma, but through our relationships.
The core of Druidry for me is relationship. Druidry expands our awareness beyond the everyday, to our relationship with all people and beings, human and non-human with whom we come into contact, and all the far reaches of our actions. No longer can we simply act without care, for everything we do in this interconnected world affects everyone else. How we treat one another is the foundation of a Druidic approach to ethics.
I think of Druidic ethics as a form of Virtue Ethics, an idea as old as Aristotle, in which what makes us ethical or not are the virtues we hold dear and, crucially, the virtues we practice. Every action, every choice, every interaction with another, is a moment for ethical examination and ethical action. How we choose, how we act, becomes who we are, and leads us either closer to the virtues we want to embody or further away from them.
It’s crucial that in Druidry these virtues and values are your own, reached through thought and experience, meditation and examination, not simply what another has told you. We can learn from the ethics of the ancient Celts and Druids, who seemingly valued honour, courage, loyalty and generosity, without being beholden to them – they also practiced slavery and human sacrifice after all. We can be inspired by the ethical worlds of the past while creating our own ethics and values for the future.
Ancient people faced many of the same issues we face today, but we also face many new ones. How should a Druid respond to climate change for instance? We must listen to the voices of nature, including the voice of our own nature and conscience, and make our decision in wisdom. Druid ethics lead us to take responsibility for our own choices while at the same time recognising our place within the circle of all beings.
Druid ethics, values and virtues are emergent, organic, living and growing. They arise from our dialogue with ourselves, with each other, with nature and with the Sacred, and express themselves through acting in tune with the flow of Awen in our lives.
[Prompt from Alison Leigh Lilly’s 30 Days of Druidry]