I have been attempting to develop a kind of flow of interconnected ideas and concerns, from one post to the next, in this blog lately... but every once in a while, I find myself struck by a sudden rant that just needs expression. Now. This is one of those rants. Enjoy (or be annoyed), and I hope you'll come back when I return to writing more directly about the problem of spiritual growth.
See, this is why AODA annoys me sometimes. In general, members are very kind, supportive and helpful, but every once in a while, they go in for this "sabotaging the newbie" nonsense. It might not even be intentional. Perhaps they do not even realize that, collectively, they're coming off as very intimidating and discouraging, at times even obnoxious. The latest example that set me off (and has happened at least twice in the past month) concerns what I will flippantly refer to as book learnin'. Someone sent a post to the online forum asking for recommendations on good, reliable (and accurate) books on Druidry. Now, this is a perfectly understandable request, especially if you're just starting to explore the Druid path, because there is a ton of misinformation out there on the Druids ancient and modern, some of it more or less intentional and misleading. Asking for advice on where to begin looking for a foundation of scholarly information as well as insight into modern practices is not only a good idea, but perhaps an essential early step for a neophyte (especially one not lucky enough to have other practicing Druids around to offer in-person guidance and discussion).
But what do the members of this AODA forum do? They respond with things like, "O well, it really depends on what kind of Druidry you mean, because there are so many, such as [insert long list of all the variations and "denominations" of Druidy here, many with names that sound like paleontology prefixes and which you've probably never heard of unless you've been studying two or three years already].... Which one did you mean?" Not one helpful recommendation of a good, solid text that covers a wide variety of information to provide a beginner with a bit of foundation. (Such general introductory texts do exist, I assure you, and I would bet money that every person who responded to this inquiry with nitpicking has probably read several such books.)
O, and my favorite: "Druidry isn't something you can learn from books. You have to do it and experience it for yourself. How can someone possibly understand [insert name of exotic sounding ritual involving fire and possibly pain or blood sacrifice] and even attempt to write about all its important lessons when such things are beyond words?"
How is this helpful? It's not. It's a way of avoiding giving anything away or giving up any of the aura of authority you get by knowing more and having more experiences under your belt than a neophyte. If I were new to Druidry, I would be immensely discouraged, not to mention as annoyed as I am now, by such replies. Luckily, I adore books and you couldn't stop me from reading them if you tried, no matter what kind of sanctimonious the-reality-is-beyond-words nonsense you bombarded me with.
Perhaps it's because I came to Druidry through my poetry (which I've been writing since about the age I could first hold a crayon) and I continue to adore Druidry because of its bardic traditions, which embrace and celebrate music, song and the power of words... but I have never understood the kind of response that rejects book learnin' as somehow less important or more dangerous than direct experience. To me, reading and exploring ideas in books has always inspired and sewn in me the seeds of desire: desire to move ideas into the real world and bring their beauty into participatory being, and desire to meet the challenge of articulating my own experiences in meaningful ways that can sew those seeds in others. If it hadn't been for a few incredibly well-written books on Druidry, I wouldn't have ever bothered to begin the real life practice that has given me so much and opened me to so many experiences (I wouldn't even know what a [insert exotic sounding ritual here] was or why it might matter to other people, let alone what it might someday mean to me).
Somehow I doubt people who post requests for book recommendations are looking to replace the actual activity of walking a spiritual path in real life. I don't see why it should be a problem to provide suggestions about a few well-researched and insightful books about Druidry, which is after all not only a personal path but a community spiritual tradition (and a diverse and diffuse community at that, which has developed its own customs of discussion and often communicates its shared interests and values through text, in books as well as in online forums and blogs like this one). If this were still an oral culture and non-textual sources of information were more readily available, perhaps an avoidance of books might be more justified. But the truth is, this is a literate culture we live in today, and if a new student of Druidry is to find her way into the tradition, it is not enough to set her loose in the forest without a teacher or a mythology to guide her, and say, "Well, go to it, go do 'Druidry'."
On that note, these are a few of my favorite books on Druidry and modern Druidic practice:
- Way of the Druid: Renaissance of a Celtic Religion and its Relevance, by Graeme Talboys With a bit of historical background, this book explores the "Celtic metaphysic" and how it relates to modern practice. It's the first book I would lend to a non-Druid friend or family member interested in understanding the spiritual tradition I follow.
- Spirits of the Sacred Grove: The World of a Druid Priestess, by Emma Restall Orr A wonderful memoir that follows the cycle of the seasons, this book expresses in beautiful, powerful writing the kinds of personal experiences at the root of practical Druidry and gives you that itch to go out and spend long hours in the local woods listening to the breathing of things. A very nice counterbalance to Talboys' more theoretical focus, though it may come across as "too weird" for non-Druids... I wouldn't recommend it to my mother, anyway!
- The Mysteries of Druidry: Celtic Mysticism, Theory, & Practice, by Brendan Myers This text focuses a bit more on various common themes and symbols that echo throughout Celtic mythology and lay a foundation for creative, engaged work with the Druidic tradition.
- The Rebirth of Druidry: Ancient Earth Wisdom for Today, edited by Philip Carr-Gomm A collection of essays, this is the very first book that shook me awake and inspired me to seek out Druidry in my own life; all sorts of topics are covered, from the personal to the traditional, from theory on seasonal calendars to explorations of self- and social-identity, and more.
- The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth, by John Michael Greer A very good how-to kind of handbook that talks a bit about some of the concepts central to Revival Druidry in particular, and lays out the First Degree curriculum for AODA in depth.
All of the above focus on contemporary Druidic practice from various perspectives. As far as scholarly historical works, Ronald Hutton wrote a fascinating introductory text entitled, Druids: A History, that traces the development of the idea of Druidry and Druidism throughout the past several hundred years. He has a more extensive book due to be published in June, 2009, called Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain that will expand on this topic, and which is bound to be great. Beyond this, I'd recommend any of Miranda Green's work (I just got her Symbol & Image in Celtic Religious Art, which I can't wait to tear into!), as well as most of the books written by John and Caitlin Matthews, which usually explore mythological themes and have a bit of an historical/academic bent, if not much at times.