Druidry, at least as I try to understand it, is a spirituality of the real. It’s rooted in this world, and more specifically rooted in Place.
By Place, I mean the local environment where we each live, and move, and have our being. This Place encompasses the human and other-than-human communities who share the land, as well as the landscape, rocks, soil type, waterways and prevailing climate of the area. All these together can be considered to make up a “Spirit of Place”, just like an ecosystem is made up of all the plants, animals, fungi etc. who live together. The ecosystem is made up of each individual, but is more than the sum of its parts, acting like a super-organism or self organising system. So too for the Spirit of Place.
Spirit in this sense is not being used to mean a supernatural or non-physical “ghost”, but is used in the Stoic sense of πνεῦμα, an active, generative principle that organises both the individual and the broader cosmos.
The Gaia Hypothesis put forward by scientist James Lovelock suggests that on one level, the entire Earth is such a self organising system. Yet within that system are other systems, individual ecologies and places functioning together, but each with their own characteristics. Nature is fractal, and each smaller division of place can be seen as a “holon“, something that is simultaneously a whole in itself and a part of a greater whole.
Given that Druidry is a spirituality of Place, it stands to reason that different places can give rise to different Druidries, each an emergent phenomenon of the relationship between the Druid(s) and the place. There can be, therefore no single Druidry appropriate in its entirety for all people and all places.
This is most obvious in the difference between Northern and Southern hemisphere Druids, as the different seasons necessitate the classic Wheel of the Year schema be “flipped” for the Southern hemisphere.
On a smaller and more local scale, Druidry of the seashore will be different than Druidry of the mountains, or the forests, or the city. This is the natural and positive result of Druids responding to the particular energies, or Spirit, of a particular place.
Within the concept of Place I would also add the concept of Time. We know thanks to Einstein that space and time are not separate but are one connected substance, usually referred to as the space-time continuum, or simply Spacetime.
Just as Druidry in different places geographically will be different depending on the Spirit of Place, so too Druidry at different times will be different depending on the prevailing cultural beliefs, ideas, norms, and customs of that time. This zeitgeist, literally meaning “time spirit” or “spirit of the age” can be seen as emergent from the cultural and temporal ecology just as Spirit of Place emerges from the ecology of a particular area or ecosystem.
As an example of this, Druidry as it was practiced by the ancient Celts is different from Druidry as practiced by the 19th century Revival Druids, which is again different from the Druidry of today. These differences are in at least some part due to the different relationships Druids have with the Spirit of their times. Druids today are not advisers to kings, for instance, and have challenges, ideas, and experiences that would have been unknown to the ancient and Revival Druids.
Perhaps given the unity of Spacetime, there may be an emergent Spirit of Spacetime that connects and encompasses the various smaller Spirits of Place and Spirits of Time, and perhaps even Gaia herself? Perhaps this could even be seen in Pantheistic terms as God?
Interesting speculation, perhaps, but in practical terms the Spirit of Spacetime, or even Gaia, are too big to relate to on a real, embodied, physical level. So let’s bring it back down to the Spirits of *this* place and *this* time, wherever (and whenever) you are right now. Let’s take the term Spirit of Place to include that of Time in a localised spatio-temporal ecology, as each ecosystem or area is a point along the axes of both “horizontal” place and “vertical” time.
If Druidry is to be a real, this-world, spirituality it must be based in real relationship with place. The abstract symbology of the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, or (to a lesser extent, because more grounded in the real), the Celtic triptych of Land, Sea and Sky may provide some clues as to how to develop this relationship, but they are more like a map than the terrain istelf, or perhaps a mandala that opens the mind to deeper perception. Either way, to know the path you must walk the path, which is to say go beyond the symbolic and into the real.
In an article called Wild-Crafting the Modern Druid, Gordon Cooper writes:
“It does a potential druid no good to memorize endless and speculative lists of Ogham “trees” while ignoring the cactus or mountains in their own neighbourhood. Every land is sacred and has its own stories to tell. Not only in Ireland and Wales can the imbas, awen or grail be found, but in the whole of the greening and browning earth. It whispers in canyons in Colorado, teases one in the waving grains of the prairie, flashes in the evening light of the savannah and dances in tornados made by the gods of weather. Pounding waves have more to teach a druid than the glow of a thousand computer screens”.
For Druidry to be a spirituality of the real, a practicing Druid must orient themselves with a “visceral and studied participation in the world” to use Cooper’s phrase. In other words, cultivating relationship with the Spirit of Place.
If, as with so many of us in the modern world, your life is based mostly indoors, with artificial light, screens and “clock-time”, this can be a real challenge. Particularly now as most of the world is still in lockdown or facing restrictions on time outdoors due to coronavirus, it can be easy to become un-rooted, disconnected from the nourishing ground of being that is the Spirit of Place.
Re-orienting ourselves with our place in the world is one of the great challenges facing humanity as a species right now, and one which in our own way, faces each of us as individuals. Thankfully, there are ways to at least begin this ongoing process of inter-relationship.
Observe where (and when) the sun rises and sets. This orients you to place, as it gives you a sense of direction, where East and West are in relation to your home. it also orients you to real time as opposed to clock time. Feel the days as they lengthen from the Winter Solstice to the Summer Solstice and as they shorten again.
Follow the moon through its phases from Full to New and back again, and explore the different energies the darkness has depending on where the moon is in its cycle. If you’re lucky enough to live by the coast, you can also explore the moon’s effects on the tides.
Find a tree in your local area, be it in a forest, field, or city park. Return to this same tree often and see (and feel) how it changes with and through the seasons.
Stand or sit outside in different weather conditions and experience the changing and prevailing climate and weather patterns of your area.
Listen for the dawn and dusk chorus of birds and see if you can learn to identify the main singers in the symphony.
I’m sure you can think of many more ideas. The point is not to go on an intense retreat to an unspoiled wilderness far away (though that of course has value too) but to get to know, and come to fall in love with, the place where you are right now. Many of the above can be done even if you can’t get outside – what can you see and hear and feel through an open window?
Developing this relationship with the Spirit of Place is just that – a relationship. And relationships take time, and effort. But it leads to a greater integration into the unique wild world of your local area, your own ecology, and ultimately your own Druidry. A Druidry rooted not in books, websites and courses, but in soil, and water, air and sun.
A Druidry of the real.