Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Why Druidry?

There are several questions that always seem to come up when I talk with others about my spirituality: Why not be a pagan Druid? Why not be a "normal" Christian? Why not be a Witch, or Wiccan? Why not do away with labels altogether?

It is this second-to-last question that I want to address today (I'll leave the rest for another time). The question of why I have felt such a sudden and strong pull towards Druidry is perhaps all the more confusing because I first started my explorations into magic and mysticism through witchcraft. I have always been reluctant to jump from one spiritual path to another--to become a "window-shopper" of religions or to approach religions with a buffet-style pick-and-choose attitude. I believe that spiritual traditions have an integrity and internal consistency of their own, and that it is often more fruitful to explore a single tradition deeply, than to abandon any belief or practice that seems, on the surface, to be difficult or unappealing. Why, then, have I changed the focus and structure of my path to reflect that of modern Druidry, rather than continuing to identify my work as "witchcraft"? Why Druidry? Why not Wicca?

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky:
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.

- Shelley, from "The Cloud"
I'm not sure exactly why I feel more drawn to Druidry than to Wicca, though both I think are equally open to Christian or Christo-pagan perspectives. When I first became interested in the Craft and more occult topics, I began my explorations with witchcraft, and I often heard people talk about how it felt like "coming home." I often envied that feeling because, in some ways, it never quite felt that way to me. Then, on a whim one day, I picked up a book about Druidry--a collection of essays under the title The Rebirth of Druidry, edited by Philip Carr-Gomm. Many of the essays sparked my interest, but the one that really spoke to something deep within me that I hadn't known before was the one titled, "Druids and Witches: History, Archetype and Identity," by Dr. Christina Oakley. In this essay, Oakley explores the roots of the archetypal identities that shape that Druidic and Wiccan movements, and explore why they "feel" so different even though they share a lot in common.

One difference that I realized has always been important to me is how I consider myself in relation to the rest of society. The history--both the literal history and the idealized tradition--of Druidry is based on the idea that the Druids were not only priests, but the scholars, judges, advisers, poets and historians of their societies. They were integral to the healthy functioning of their community, and their wisdom was respected, celebrated and utilized openly. On the other hand, the dominant narrative about historical identity for most modern Witches and Wiccans is the story of the Witch Trials. Although we now know that many women who were killed were in no way associated with witchcraft, there is still the general idea at the heart of many witchcraft traditions that wisdom and power--especially that of women--is feared and rejected by society, that this is "just how it is" because society "can't handle it." The identity archetype of the "witch" remains the young seductress or old wise-woman living on the outskirts of the village, ostracized and misunderstood even when the community does covertly desire her or utilize her wisdom and influence. Personally, I was never comfortable with this latter archetype--I did not see it as something desirable and I never truly thought it was inevitable. While I could relate to and appreciate those in history who had been persecuted, and I know that the struggle for equality, integrity and acceptance is on-going, I could not bring myself to identify with that archetype. The ideal that spoke deeply to me was of the community in which spirituality and "wild wisdom" was integrated in a healthy and sacred way--and, even if this is not yet fully realized or even realistic, it is the ideal that rests at the heart of Druidry, even though modern Druids are just as likely to be bitter, anarchist or counterculture as any Witch these days. In the end, I felt that Druidry incorporated both: the revolutionary, and the stability of the leadership that a community needs once the revolution is over--just as it incorporates both solar and lunar cosmologies, and just as it is just as comfortable with private rites by moonlight, or large, joyful rituals by day in the light of the public eye.

Another thing that became clear to me as I read Oakley's essay, and the other essays in the book, was the different spiritual focus that Druidry incorporated. Wicca is highly and unabashedly agricultural. That is certainly okay, but I found that it did not speak to my personal situation and the root of my own spirituality as I had known it all my life. I have never been very good with or inspired by handicrafts, home-making and farming--although I adore animals, plants and nature and feel very strongly connected to them in a slightly different way. My personality treads the line between (and integrates both) the more philosophical and ecstatic traditions. I am not a farmer, but an artist at heart, with all of the risks and uncertainty that both philosophy and creativity involve. What I experience in nature is not the tamed farmlands and their warm sustaining embrace that the agriculturist knows, but the wild thralls and deep ponderings of the poet, the dangers of the dark woods and the mysteries of the ocean meeting the horizon, who often seem utterly unconcerned with the merely human. Druidry incorporates both, and individuals within Druidry are just as likely to be stuffy old professors of forgotten languages and obscure alchemical systems, or wild-haired and wide-eyed beatnik artists, as they are to be Martha-Stewarts brimming with the light of goddess worship.

In short, though, it's really just that I feel more at home. Every time I discover a new book on Druidry, I snatch it up and feel that thrill of familiarity. I still consider it a craft, and a form of nature spirituality, but I also feel that it opens up opportunities for me--both in terms of art and philosophy, and in how I conceive of my role within society--that Wicca never quite helped me to access. It's a personal calling, really... Maybe someday I'll understand it better than I do now.


  1. I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog. You're a beautiful writer.


  2. Aw, thanks, Nettle. :) Someday I hope I have the discipline to put it to good use (then maybe I can quit my waitressing job!). Till then, blogging it is.

  3. Lovely post!

    - Mr. Lurker

  4. Well articulated. I think we have callings and interpret them in many ways. I especially liked the quote from Shelley.

    At any rate, a thoughtful passage here. Thanks.

  5. Profound lines:..why not do away with labels altogether..?God is one.Humanity is one.
    A good post.Good luck.

  6. Well this world is full of labels. The trick is to find what resides within. The ego attaches to labels and positions.
    Anyway your a very interesting person.

  7. There is definitely a negative opinion about "labels" within a certain demographic--especially, I think, among young people and people who pride themselves on tolerance. A "label" is assumed to be restrictive, elitist, repressive, misleading, shallow, etc.

    On the other hand, in many spiritual traditions, the idea of "naming" carries a great deal of importance--the process of naming is often one of knowledge-seeking. It can be associated with the free will and creativity of the human race and our ability to articulate experience. Names in particular, and languages in general, give people a framework for thinking about and exploring certain ideas, beliefs, practices, cultural groups, etc.

    It's a subject I still feel ambivalent about. All too often, refusing a name or "label" to a person or a group is a way of rejecting that particular sense of identity. Such a rejection itself can be a form of intolerance or obfuscation. Rather than freeing a person to "move beyond labels," it can doom them to the murky waters of sloppy thinking or marginalize their opinions by isolating them from a community or system of belief. As with everything, it's a complicated topic, and one that I think warrants a great deal of careful consideration.

  8. Hi there,

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    I'm trying to post 1 Million Love Messages From All Around The World in my blog.

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  9. Hi, Ali... This is a first time stop for me at your blog... I found my way here after a post on Erik's Executive Pagan (and liked what you had to say so much that I shared it on the Metapagan Portal--its homepage is here, and the "Pipes" feature that merges all feeds is herehere, if you are interested in finding your cite...)

    I think that Wicca is a point of entry for a lot of Pagans... but that we are often called or led in all kinds of directions from there. Certainly that's my own experience as a Quaker Pagan.

    Thoughtful writing! I look forward to reading your words again.

  10. Cat, wow, I didn't even know Erik had posted anything about my blog. :) I feel special. I've actually only recently started writing again, and I'm hoping I'll have the discipline to keep it up this time around. It definitely helps, having so many other people out there who are not only readers, but writers of their own blogs, as well. The more I read, the more ideas pop into my head that I want to write about (I already have a backlog of notes for future posts!).

    I'll definitely check out the Metapagan Portal, too. :) Meanwhile, thanks for reading and I hope you'll share some comments in the future!

  11. Ali,
    On the other hand, in many spiritual traditions, the idea of "naming" carries a great deal of importance

    You have, I hope, read Ursula LeGuin's story "The Rule of Names"? (If not, it was published in her collection "The Wind's Twelve Quarters".)

  12. Erik,

    Ooo, actually I have not! But I'm a big fan of Ursula K. Le Guin's work. I only just discovered her about a year ago, and wish I'd read her as a kid growing up. But I'll definitely check that book out (I've mostly just read her six Earthsea books). Thanks for the recommendation! :)

  13. I did read her growing up, and I can absolutely say her writing (particularly the original Earthsea trilogy) was one of the shaping forces in my spiritual development...

  14. hopped over from wiccanweb.ca - love this and will be back to read more! thank you for putting this so very well.

  15. Fantastic post! I feel the same way about Wicca and Druidry (though I am more of the agricultural type lol). You have a lovely way with words, can't wait to read more.

  16. Jenn, Chrissy, and everyone else who's been visiting and reading recently--thanks very much! :) I hope you come back often to read and respond!

  17. Ali,

    I know that this is an older post, but it spoke to me so I had to respond.

    I want to thank you. The honesty that you approach your writing with forces me to dig deep into my own psyche and search for that strength and integrity you inspire with your words. It's a frightening thing but necessary in order to find truth.

    You have crafted your words with beauty but never shied away from the dark or harsh aspects and make no apologies for them either. I consider that to be incredibly admirable.

    That's all. I've been reading your work for quite awhile and thought it was well past time to just say hi and thank you.

  18. Well said, and so poetic. I have recently posted on why I am strongly considering Druidry, but it's more introspective and analytical: definitely prosaic, not poetic.

  19. Just found you. This instant. This moment. Completely smitten with so much of the truth as you have revealed and related. What a gift to find you in the middle of my own theological muddle. I so very much resound with your poet heart... I long for" the wild thralls and deep ponderings of the poet, the dangers of the dark woods and the mysteries of the ocean meeting the horizon, who often seem utterly unconcerned with the merely human." So nice to find you. I'm going exploring.

  20. Lindsay, Thank you, welcome, and enjoy! :)