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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

On Druidry

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

On Druidry

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yavanna earth
[personal profile] shirebound asked me one of my favorite questions for the ramble meme:

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!

  • That sounds so much like my generation of earth lovers and tree huggers--a rather nice sort I have always thought! Although I never gave a name to it or followed any formal prescriptions I think it has formed a lot of my outlook in general. Except for my total computer obsession, I have always since my childhood been committed to treading lightly on the earth. I know it sounds silly, but a lot of it has been aesthetic to me rather than a principled question. As long as we live in a place like this country, the next level is going to be largely realizable only by a privileged layer rather than the vast unwashed urban majority ground down under the heel of this system.

    Sorry! I believe that the changes necessary are not individual but systemic. (OMG! Look at things like Whole Foods--which were created to appeal to people who wanted what you want and are now only accessible to the rich or very privileged.) So, we probably have a departure there, although we may desire the same outcome. You're hoping Bernie is a good guy and I want throw all those bums out!

    I find a strong pull to the things--to nature, wholeness, protecting the earth, honoring life, and slowing down a bit--which you describe, although not the organizational commitment. But I support genetically modified crops, which going back thousands of years are what has made the earth able to feed most of its people. I am not impressed with capitalist industry controlling that (that can be horrifying), but I am not ready to say 'let 'em starve' either.

    Hey, there are a lot worse things to commit to than the belief structure you describe (and linked to above) and much of organized religion falls into those categories. This country, for example, gives Christianity a terrible name! Wow! And I am less than overwhelmed by this current Good Pope in Rome! Get outa here! Watched any documentaries about those anti-abortion creatures lately, folks? Terrifying business--Laura was watching one the other night and vacillating between tears and rage. Speaking of which, I am not watching the TV version of Handmaid's Tale although I just re-read the book because it had been a couple of decades or more. It's all too relevant to today's world and I am too fragile to take it on in living color on TV. I might reconsider and watch it at some point in the future, but not right now.

    Edited at 2017-05-10 01:54 am (UTC)
    • Except for my total computer obsession

      OMG! You and me both!

      a lot of it has been aesthetic to me rather than a principled question.

      I agree. I detest the modernist, minimalist, monochrome aesthetic as much as you do.

      As an agnostic, too, some of it is pure self-interest. I'm stuck here. There is no Heaven, no otherworldly afterlife to escape to. I sometimes wonder how much of the Western attitude toward to the Earth--as a disposable commodity that can be wantonly trashed in the capitalist interest--comes from the Christian belief that we're only here in this purposefully inferior place for a short time before getting ported off to our Great Reward. For me, there is nothing better than what we have, and I will remain here in one form or another until ...?

      I believe that the changes necessary are not individual but systemic.

      I don't know that I'd throw out a hope for systemic change. I do hope and work for systemic change. I just don't see systemic change as an area where I'm necessarily going to be very effective. That's probably cynical but sadly true. I don't have to tell you the huge forces we are working against: billionaire moneyed interests that are buying their way to their desired outcome. Can anything I do effectively fight that? The best way I've found to fight it is to opt out of it as much as possible: strengthen my community, my neighbors and their businesses, my own skills in self-sufficiency, and deprive the corporations, the banks, and the billionaires of the one thing I have that matters to them: my money.

      My view on individual change is that it has to be just that: individual. I cannot presume to know much less judge an individual's circumstances and what is possible for them as far as action for the Earth. I only judge myself. I am keenly aware of the intersection between poverty and the ability to "be green"; I wrote about this after the climate march (although I think I recall that you weren't getting notifications then).

      Whole Foods is a giant national corporation. Why would they have turned out to be anything but what they became? They are interested in money before all else, and they clearly make money under their current model. And selling overpriced lettuce that was trucked in from a hothouse 1,000 miles away is in no way "green" to me. "Green" is finding a farmer who grows lettuce or growing lettuce on your windowsill or just going without fucking lettuce when it's not in season. I don't think there's a such thing as a truly "green" corporation, although there are some that are better than others.

      I don't expect big entities--government but especially corporations--to solve problems. I certainly don't expect them to give a fuck about me or know or care anything about the backwoods corner of the world I inhabit. I prefer always to deal with organizations that are community-based, where an actual concern for each other underlies decisions before money, convenience, et cetera.

      I am not ready to say 'let 'em starve' either.

      Neither am I. If it was between using GMO crops or letting thousands/millions of people starve, I'd choose the GMO crops. But--and I am not an expert and am willing to be corrected if I'm wrong--my understanding is that there is no shortage of food but a problem with distribution. I wonder how much of the world could be fed using land in the U.S. that grows corn and soy to be dumped into processed foods or to feed animals in CAFOs? In this sense, I feel like the U.S. is a good microcosm of the problem: one in five children is food insecure in the U.S. but we have no shortage of food, just that it does not reach the people who need it, and we waste enormous quantities of it producing soda and McDonald's hamburgers and chicken feed. So the "feed the world" argument for GMOs feels like a straw man to me; GMOs do not address those issues but certainly do open their share of cans of worms. (Not least of all that they are owned by corporations that make Trump look like an altar boy.)

      I am too fragile to take it

      I am watching it, and it is graphic and has been hard to watch at times, and you know I'm a pretty tough cookie.
      • Western attitude toward to the Earth--as a disposable commodity that can be wantonly trashed in the capitalist interest--comes from the Christian belief that we're only here in this purposefully inferior place for a short time before getting ported off to our Great Reward.

        I think you might be onto something there.

        I remember growing up. My mother was a fabulous cook and my father worked hard as a factory worker and a labor leader, and both put enormous value on clothing, educating, and feeding their children well! It started with no junk food, and also eating seasonal and regional food. We were very privileged to survive by today's standards. We had fruit trees, a vegetable garden, and an adjacent lot planted with corn and potatoes. My mother and grandma canned like crazy a couple of very hot weeks at the end of each summer and we ate well, even when we were pitifully short of cash. That is a pipe dream for most of today's working class families.

        I am not even sure I want to see any women working like my mother and grandmother did when that stuff could be more efficiently preserved in larger quantities in a humane and air-conditioned setting and distributed where there is a need for it as well. But you nailed it when you said that distribution and waste are among our biggest problems, those and the profit margins.

        I hope some science can help us convince people that we protect the earth or lose everything about it that we love. That's the bottom line. I could write a book about the ecological train wreck that is the Valley of Mexico (Mexico City area). The raping of the earth there precedes the Spanish Conquest and continues with some occasional redress, always too late and never enough.

        We need to live and learn and correct our mistakes. But the profit system flourishes with lies and cover-ups and always only serves a few. I guess they never think beyond tomorrow. There is no big plan--they do not intend to jump into space ships and go off and try to find another earth. They plan to die before this one is totally all used up and the hell with their children, I presume.
        • I am not even sure I want to see any women working like my mother and grandmother did

          As a feminist, this was one of my big criticisms of the emphasis of the AODA (via JMG's blog, which Bobby was an ardent follower of) on self-sufficiency. And Bobby and I try to be as self-sufficient as we can; we have those hot afternoons canning our excess harvest. (Although we have AC! One of those luxuries that we aren't willing to go without. Our house easily gets into the 90s thanks to being south-facing with multiple windows on that side.) But those tasks tend to fall to women. I felt like it was easy for men to see it as an ideal without understanding that, for women, having just recently freed ourselves from the expectation that we would do and produce most everything for our families, the idea of going back to the kitchen or doing things like washing clothes by hand is not romantic and is quite a lot to ask. (Having a washing machine was one of my nonnegotiables. I told Bobby that laundry by hand is cute the first time but no way to live long-term if you also work.)

          Bobby and I labor share now with him doing slightly more because he'll likely be the first to quit work when we're able to do so and he enjoys working around the house and yard more than I do. You know me ... the border collie! I have to be working, and working only around the house don't cut it. (JMG was also the stay-at-home in his partnership while his wife worked full-time.)
  • Thank you so much for that wonderful sharing. I'm glad I asked!
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