By Nimue Brown
Perhaps three years ago I started doing a column for www.thepaganandthepen.wordpress.com. After much soul searching, I took the plunge and called it Druid Life. I half expected someone to come round and tell me I couldn’t, that I wasn’t qualified enough, wasn’t important enough to take such a grand title and put my thoughts into the world under that banner. Somehow, I got away with it. I was helping run a Druid group, and a larger Druid organisation at the time. I had students, I’d studied for years, and still I felt downright uncomfortable about offering myself up as some kind of authority. Truth be told, I still do.
Eventually, I took the plunge and set druidlife up as a blog – www.druidlife.wordpress.com and people read it, which remains a startling and gratifying sort of experience. In the early spring of 2012, my first book, Druidry and Meditation came out and now the second, Druidry and the Ancestors is on the way. It all starts to feel a bit serious. And still I have that niggling feeling of being a cheat. Why? Because I can’t tell you, with any confidence at all anything of what the ancient, historical Druids used to do.
I feel my Druidry keenly. I feel a connection to the word, a resonance with it that binds me to a whole community of people who I have a lot in common with. But whatever ‘druid’ is as a word, it probably isn’t what the Celts called their religious leaders. In fact, I’m not even certain the Celts would have self identified as Celts, the word appears to come from the Greek Keltoi. It may well be that all we have a labels put on from the outside. Why on earth would anyone resonate with that? Well, there’s a very awkward question I have no answer for. I don’t believe the bit about burning people in wicker men, because I’ve made wicker men and I don’t rate your chances of burning more than one or two willing participants in them. Or maybe people who were already dead. Human bodies do not burn easily, you need a lot of fuel and wicker men are a bloody stupid, impractical shape and lack the structural integrity required. I am passably convinced by the whole cutting of mistletoe and gathering in sacred groves reports, but that’s not really a lot of insight. It doesn’t tell me much about what ancient Druids believed.
The relationship between ancient Druidry and modern Druidry is not wholly comfortable. People on the outside tend to assume that either we do know what the Druids did – and mark us down as dangerous and likely to kill people, or that we don’t know – and mark us down as idiots. We’re seen as a very old movement when that serves to invalidate us, and as a very young movement when that makes a better argument for our having no credibility. It’s very frustrating. The new book, Druidry and the Ancestors, came out of a lot of wrestling I did around this topic.
If there’s one concept I could put into the wider world right now, it would be this: Religions are made up by people. All religions. Every last detail of them. They may be inspired, they may be good and useful, or they may be cruel and destructive, but for well or woe, they are our responsibility as a species. We need to stop blaming Gods for the things humans do, and we need to stop using Gods as justification for ever mad fantasy we, as human beings, manage to come up with. Religion is stories, and people make them up.
At which point, why invalidate anything new? Why is a story made up yesterday less useful than one made up in another country, another culture, a thousand years ago and more? Why not make our own stories? Tales of the now, shaping a religious identity that belongs to this place, and this time? Of course that approach will not give anyone a power base. It does not convey authority. This is all to the good. Our cultures would benefit from a lot fewer power bases and a lot more expressions of personal responsibility, I think.
It’s a funny place to be. I am a Druid author, and I really, really do not want to be a Druid authority. That’s three letters of difference, when you get down to it. It means I get to go out in public saying ‘listen to me, but not too much… follow me, but only if you like where I’m going, only if you want to.’ I have the call to arms of ‘really, I’m not always sure what I’m doing, or what I’m talking about’. I don’t actually spend a lot of time telling people what to do. My blog involves a fair bit of airing my flaws and uncertainties in public places. Being open and unashamedly human. I think that’s one of the most useful contributions I can make.
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