What's it like being an initiated Druid in the 21st century? Is it a blend of ancient/modern beliefs?
I will start by saying that "druid" is about as accurate as "Christian" as far as pinning down precise beliefs and practices. There are many flavors of druidry, and what the term means for me won't mean the same to all people who identify as "druid." Bobby and I are initiated into the Ancient Order of Druids in America. Its then-leader John Michael Greer was giving a talk at the Spoutwood Farm Fairy Festival that we attended annually. Of course, his organizational affiliation caught our eye, and when we looked into it, we discovered that the group's purpose aligned quite well with our beliefs and goals.
Druidry is not a religion. I know of AODA members who are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Pagan ... I even encountered a Mormon druid once! Bobby and I are deist and agnostic, respectively. He was raised Catholic but had no interest in continuing beyond his forced participation as a child. I was raised in an arreligious family: baptized Catholic to appease my Polish-Catholic grandmother, but before I was eighteen, I had entered a Christian church a grand total of four times and always for other people's events. So neither of us had/have much interest in organized religion, besides the fact that our beliefs aren't at all theistic.
Druidry is also not a reenactment or re-creation group--at least not as we practice it in the AODA. I have lost most interest in doing things "costumed." Even in the SCA (a medieval re-creation group I belonged to for a while), my focus shifted quickly from wanting to dress up to wanting to learn and make things while wearing my comfy everydays. I've even lost my drive to dress up for Renaissance Faires. So a group that sought to re-create "ancient druidry"--an oral tradition about which we know almost nothing and most of what we do know comes from the conquering Romans and is therefore a wee bit biased--would not have interested me.
What we did and do have is a commitment to walking as lightly on the Earth as we can and a tendency to look to nature for answers to the kinds of existential questions that bother most humans from time to time. We're also people who--by virtue of holding graduate degrees and both working in education--value education, books, and study as a means of personal improvement and enlightenment. Druidy appealed to us because it emphasizes study and personal growth as a means to connect deeper to and preserve the Earth. It is action-oriented while also expecting that those actions will be based on a growing education in ecology and sustainable living.
After meeting JMG and hearing him speak at Spoutwood, we were both interested in druidry and AODA in particular but, even though it isn't a religion, it felt like a big step for us to commit to something like this, freewheeling agnostic and deist that we are. We read JMG's The Druidry Handbook before making our decision. We both decided in favor of joining and starting the first degree curriculum.
As newcomers, we were expected to complete an initiation, which we did together. We then began our first degree work. We were required to plant a tree; we planted three: the three fruit trees at our house in Maryland. We were also required to make three lifestyle changes so that we "take less from the Earth and give more back." I don't remember precisely what three things we did now. It became something of a habit: We'd start something new, it would get comfortable, so we'd try adding something else. We'd already started making lifestyle changes with the Earth in mind by the time we started practicing druidry, but really, being initiated into AODA was a turning point as far as our seriousness, I see in retrospect. There are also requirements for reading about one's local ecosystem and for spending time outside regularly.
We also observe the Solstices, Equinoxes, and the four Celtic cross-quarter days: Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. We do the AODA ritual and meditations on those days, although we're beginning to modify the ceremonies a little since we're not Pagan and shouldn't/can't invoke Pagan deities. Instead, we tend to use seasonal symbols. The ritual, in brief, involves a declaration of peace, a cleansing by the four elements, the recitation of some ritual poetry, a meditation on a seasonal theme, the offering of a local food/plant and drink, and a closing ceremony. I've found that when I can practice the rituals regularly, it helps me feel more connected to the cycles of the Earth, especially the turning of the year. There is a sense of being in the same place while the world around you--while time--has edged forward just a little. As the years have passed, there is also the sense that those repeated rituals layer one upon the other, year after year.
We're also supposed to meditate regularly, but I have to admit that I've never been good at making time for that.
Probably like most spiritual practitioners in the 21st century, we're not always the best adherents to what we're supposed to do. We were initiated years ago! We're both still working on the first degree. Sometimes we miss ceremonies. I'm terrible at meditation. I am not through my reading requirement and am awful at keeping up my journal (in part because I have to read and write so much for other areas of my life). It's hard to make room. One day, I will be able to commit as much as I'd hoped when I decided to embark on this path; I hope to at least complete the first degree.
But one thing where we do not waver--and this is the most important thing, and I believe that most druids, even as motley as we as a group are in belief and practice, would agree--is our commitment to the Earth and to constantly improving in terms of our family's sustainability practices. I may have lapsed for the better part of a year in other areas, at times, but we have never lapsed in those changes we started making as new initiates and have continued making across the better part of a decade. I feel like my heart is druidic but my time is often spent elsewhere. I don't necessarily regret that but hopefully it will someday change.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!