THE OLD RELIGION
Druidism (Old Irish Druidecht) is the contemporary name for the original, indigenous form of pagan religion practiced by the ancient Celts of Britain, and by the related peoples of the European continent. It is the ancestral, native religion and spiritual heritage of much of northern and western Europe. The origins of Druidism are lost in the mists of time, but it has been restored in modern times by those who believe it offers a solution to the spiritual crisis of the modern world. Recognizing the power of religious rituals, methods and communications on human behavior, Druidism fuses traditional religious behaviors onto the foundation of scientific inquiry, and Druid practices can help us to liberate the inspirational divine spark inherent in all living creatures.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY A "PAGAN RELIGION"?
The terms 'pagan' and 'heathen' are synonymous and interchangeable, and refer to any of the spiritual practices of the earliest phases of human history. One common feature to all the earliest known forms of religion is polytheism, the belief in many gods and goddesses. The ancient pagan or 'natural' religions can be contrasted with the 'prophetic' or 'revealed' religions founded at a much later period by individual teachers such as Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus or Muhammed.
ARE THERE OTHER KINDS OF PAGANISM?
In ancient times, every culture on earth practiced some form of paganism: the ancient Greeks and Romans, ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, Native Americans, as well as the ancient Celts, Teutons and Slavs. The polytheistic Hindu and Shinto faiths of India and Japan respectively, are forms of paganism which have survived into modern times. So too are the animist religions of sub-Saharan Africa, North and South America, and Polynesia. Therefore, paganism is, in a sense, the only universal form of religion known, and Druidism is just one branch of the pagan family of religions: that practiced by the Celtic and Indo-European peoples.
WHO ARE THE CELTS?
The Celtic peoples comprise a number of indigenous nations and tribes of northern and western Europe, and by extension, their descendents living in many countries around the world. Both the modern Celtic and Teutonic (Germanic) peoples are descendents of Indo-European tribes possessing a common origin in Eurasia, and who speak one or other of the Celtic, Germanic, or Slavic languages. Their modern representatives include the Irish, Scots, English, Welsh, Germans, Scandinavians and Slavic peoples. All of these nations were originally worshippers of a wide variety of gods and goddesses which are revered today in contemporary Druidism.
WHAT ARE DRUID BELIEFS?
Druidism is a life-affirming religion. Druids value and esteem everything that sustains, promotes, enhances, and enriches life. Druids do not conceive of life on Earth as merely being a preparation for a life hereafter. We see it as an end in itself, as something positive, good, and hallowed. We rejoice in and celebrate all that is wonderful in the world around us: the fruitfulness of Nature, the changing seasons, the comforts of family and home, human creativity, and our personal and collective achievements. Druids do not practice fasting and penitence; rather, we worship the gods in joy and in celebration of the Natural environment.
Druidism is a spiritual religion. Although we appreciate the material aspects of human nature and the world in which we live, we recognize that the essence of the human condition is spiritual. Each of us contains a spark of the divine, which is our essential Self. Druid teachings seek to achieve a balance between the material and the spiritual, neither condemning the former, nor denying the latter. Both are precious elements of human life.
Druidism is a nature-based religion. Druids revere, love and honor nature, including human nature, viewing it as a true manifestation of the spiritual. Our gods are nature gods, expressing true concern for, and indeed identifying themselves with its aspects and elements.
Druidism is an animistic religion. Animists believe that all things are, to some degree, possessed of a spiritual essence which Druids call Awen; not only humans, animals and plants, but mountains, seas and rivers, and the stars and planets themselves, all of which can be apprehended, like the Earth herself, as living entities, endowed with spirit.
Druidism is a cosmic religion. Our mythology asserts that, just as there are many gods, there are also many 'worlds', which is to say, many planes of existence, or dimensions of reality, interconnected, overlapping and inextricably emeshed with one another. The myths describe this 'multiverse', and within this cosmological reality, there has always been, and always will be, a conflict of opposing forces embracing the entire cosmos, including ourselves. This is not a simplistic dichotomy of 'good versus evil' as described in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths, but a struggle for balance between the forces of Nature, order, life and creativity, and the opposing forces of dissolution, disorder, disintegration and destruction. These apparent oppositions are actually complementary, each necessary to maintain the balance of the universe. In this cosmic struggle each of us must play our part. This is the inner meaning of our lives.
WHAT ABOUT THE GODS AND GODDESSES?
A great many deities are acknowledged in modern Druidism. They include male, female, and gender fluid or gender neutral divinities, with powers and functions ranging from wisdom and fertility to love and death, among many others. Pagan deities often embody elements and forces of nature, but also aspects of human culture and psychology. The similarities between the names, functions, and myths of pagan deities reveal an underlying commonality between the Indo-European dieties of different traditions. Unlike the impersonal, transcendent diety of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic traditions, the pagan dieties are often portrayed as having human qualities. They have passions and pleasures and enjoy various pursuits, according to their individual personalities.
For pagans, the imperfections and limitations of their deities reflect the actual dynamics of life on earth in a far more compelling manner than the absolute perfection of the monotheistic supergod. To the monotheistic mind, these mythical follies and peccadilloes have no place in the depiction of divinity. The pagan religious sensibility takes pleasure in these ancient stories as an acknowledgement that no one is perfect or immune from the absurdities of life, not even the gods.
Modern Druids do not expect their gods to be perfect. We respect them as representing and embodying important factors in life and in nature, but we do not share the Judeo-Christian-Islamic sense that deity should be absolute, transcendent, and without flaw. It is enough for us that the gods are wise, if not always wise, and powerful in the way that natural elements such as rivers, storms and mountains are powerful. We respect the gods as greater than human, but not beyond human feeling or understanding.
Many contemporary Druids interpret the gods in psychological terms, as potentials within the human psyche, somewhat in the manner of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung's theory of archetypes, rather than as external, supernatural beings. Yet other Druids view the gods as existing simultaneously within the human mind and beyond it as well. Whatever conception of divinity embraced by individual Druids, we regard our gods not as our masters, but as trusted friends and powerful allies.
Druidism is an ethical religion. Druids are committed to behaving in a way which respects and promotes Nature, order, life, liberty and creativity, and avoiding behavior which is harmful and destructive, or threatens the well-being of other people or the natural environment. Druids place great emphasis on the concept of personal freedom, and therefore repudiate all forms of totalitarianism, but accept the necessity of law for the common good. Druid ethics are not expressed in terms of prohibitions or commandments, but in terms of positive virtues such as love, honor, self-discipline, wisdom, courtesy and hospitality.
WHAT ABOUT DRUID SACRIFICES?
It is well-known that in ancient times the most widespread form of communal pagan worship in every part of the world was the sacrifice. Sometimes farmyard animals would be sacrificed; sometimes it would be agricultural produce such as grain, corn or fruit; sometimes a libation of wine or other beverage would be made by pouring the liquid onto the earth; sometimes treasure or weaponry would be sacrificially burned or submerged in rivers or bogs. Literary and archeological evidence suggests that criminals, prisoners of war, or even tribal chieftains would sometimes be sacrificed, although it is unclear whether or not human sacrifice was a common practice among European pagans. Regardless of the form it took, the sacrifice was understood as an offering of a gift to the gods, in order to ensure their goodwill and to be rewarded in turn by their favor. The essence of the sacrifice is that something of value or item of personal wealth is given away, consumed, or destroyed.
Of course, modern Druids understand that the sacrifices of ancient pagans were symbolic: the gods are spiritual beings, and are therefore not physically nourished by the food and drink offered to them; they cannot be materially enriched by our gifts of silver and gold. As with all gifts, 'it is the thought that counts'; it is the devotion shown by the worshipper to which the gods attribute merit, and to which they respond with generosity, in accordance with the pagan maxim of 'a gift for a gift', one gift deserving another in return.
MODERN DRUID RITES
Modern Druids do not practice elaborate rituals such as animal sacrifices, that were common in ancient times; it is neither ethical nor necessary to do so, and the Druid Fellowship expressly forbids such practices among its members. However, it is necessary to understand the theological principles underlying ancient Druidic practices, and apply those principles in forms better suited to contemporary conditions.
For this reason, the form of sacrifice practiced by modern Druids is the libation of mead or other beverage, as well as small cakes, fruits or vegetables. Accounts of such offerings of food are recorded in ancient literature. In today's Druidic ritual, a chalice or drinking horn is filled with mead (a sacred beverage associated with the gods in both Celtic and Norse/Germanic traditions), or if desired, a non-alchoholic beverage such as cider may be substituted. The offering is consecrated by the Arddrui (Druid priest or priestess), and some of the mead is then sacrificed with prayers by being poured onto the earth, or into a bowl containing soil, if it is an indoor celebration. Offerings of food may be left on the altar for a reasonable period of time, and then disposed of respectfully or consumed by the congregants. Finally, the chalice or horn is passed around to the congregation for each to sip of the remnants in turn, adding if they wish personal prayers or petitions, not unlike the toasting ritual at a contemporary wedding reception.
Traditionally, Druid rituals were held outdoors whenever possible. The ancient druids conducted their rites in sacred groves or beneath an oak tree (the most sacred tree in Druid lore). They probably also utilized neolithic or bronze-age stone circles for their rites, although there is no archeological evidence to support this. Modern Druids in Europe often conduct their ceremonies at such prehistoric monuments (the summer solstice ritual at England's Stonehenge has been an annual Druid tradition since the 18th century). Most modern Druids do not have access to such ancient sacred sites, so contemporary Druids typically conduct their rites in parks, woodlands or other natural spaces. Indoor rituals are also acceptable in case of inclement weather, or for security or privacy purposes. Ancient Druids probably also had temple structures, but again, the archeological evidence is unclear, although later medieval European pagan cultures, such as the Norse, certainly had indoor temples.
Magic is defined as ritual practices intended to have a transformative effect on the internal or external environment, or as the generation and directing of Awen (spiritual energy) to achieve such goals. Druid offerings and ritual can be described as a 'sacrament' (a term originally borrowed from pagan usage by Christian polemicists), which is to say that it is a symbolic practice which affects what it symbolizes, and symbolizes what it effects. Such offerings play an important role in the cosmic struggle between the forces of order and chaos, because the symbolism of ritually offering life-giving sustenance to the gods and other spiritual beings creates a genuine effect on the spiritual plane, which in turn can have a transformational effect upon events in the natural world, and thus benefits human society also.
Although magical practices are not utilized by all Druids, many Druids are persuaded that the invocation of spiritual forces is an extremely effective means of bringing about positive change in the world, and of achieving desirable ends through the practical application of spiritual power. Magic works though the exercise of spiritual power in conjunction with human action.
Copyright © 2023 Druid Fellowship - All Rights Reserved.