Sometimes, I ponder my path in relation to my location and nationality. There are times when I can’t help but wonder if my Druidism is somehow “less connected” than if I were actually living in Ireland, Scotland, England, Cornwall, etc… Am I less connected to the Tuatha de Danann who are so intimately intertwined with the land of Ireland? What of the myriad of other unseen spirits connected to Ireland? And what of the spirits native to America and living cultures who still work with them? When I make offerings to the Local Spirits, am I talking to spirits who followed my ancestors from their homeland, the Native spirits who dwell here, or both?
This post from August, particularly the last paragraph, had me thinking about it once more. Are we, the descendants of Celtic and English diaspora, trying to overcompensate in the form of Celtic Reconstructionism and its methodology? The seed of ADF was planted in America. Although it is an international Druidic organization, the girth of its membership continues to be in America. Compare ADF to OBOD, as John Michael Greer did and you’ll notice some interesting differences. Having been a member of OBOD for a few months* I came to the conclusion that its rituals were more similar to Wicca, although still very beautiful! So what does it mean when the biggest Druidic tradition in the UK feels more like Wicca compared to the American-born ADF with it’s reconstructionist methods? As Greer notes, neither tradition is “real Druidism” as in historically handed down from the ancients. Similarly, both address different needs and can be combined. Indeed, some folks on the ADF e-lists were just discussing how they’ve successfully combined ADF and OBOD in their personal lives.
But let’s move beyond the organizations because, when it comes down to it, the bulk of a modern Druid’s time is spent in his or her home and environment. What about living modern, American Druidism? You know – connecting to the spirit world in all we do every day.
When you start studying the folk beliefs of the Celts, it becomes clear how location-centered it is. Well X has a being associated with it. The spirit of Well X lives in Well X, not Well Z over in America. At least, so the old beliefs would make it seem. The Ancient Celts did migrate, and some deities seemed to travel with the tribe. Peter Berresford Ellis writes, “There are over 400 names of Celtic deities, male and female, recorded but the vast majority would appear to be local deities, tribal gods and goddesses. However, that leaves some hundred or so who are to be found throughout the Celtic world; indeed, many of the deities are clearly the major deities of the Celts” (160). What this says to me is that the tribal deities, beings like Lugh, Brighid, and An Dagda, are concerned with humanity and open to communication regardless of location. My theory has been that, by creating welcoming altars, we create a means of communing – a “spirit phone” or a “guest house”. But the spirit of Well X? He or she is only reached at his/her well. Make a pilgrimage and visit, be inspired by that well’s lore, but otherwise you must find new well spirits in the “New World.”
But who are these American spirits? Nature Spirits? Gods? Demigods? Nature Spirits elevated to some Godhood status through increase worship thus power? Are they Native or immigrants like our ancestors? The answer seems to be, “It’s complicated.”
Arch Druid Emeritis of ADF, Rev. Skip Ellison, presented a workshop called “The Fairy Races of the British Isles” a few years ago in Utica, NY. He explained the various beings and how to work with them, of course, but he also shared his theory with regards to the question above. Ellison postulates that some spirits emigrated with the diaspora. It makes sense if you consider beings attached to tribes or households. Why wouldn’t they follow the people they have a relationship with? Ellison suggests they settled where their humans settled. If so, is there antagonism between those spirits and the Native? If spirits mate, did they mate with Native spirits? Is thinking this horrendously disrespectful to Native American cultures? Add to that the reality that the Ancient Celts would take up worshipping the spirit of the rivers they settled near, what do us modern practitioners do in America? I feel very drawn to the rivers I live near, particularly the St. Lawrence. Before their lives and traditions here were disrupted by white settlers, the Iroquois who lived in the North Country called the Thousand Islands “The Great Spirit’s Garden” and considered it a sacred hunting ground (Jacox and Kleinhans, 7). When I go to honor the spirit of the St. Lawrence, am I disrespecting Native culture? The Ancient Celts saw rivers as female spirits, and I have felt similarly about the St. Lawrence – but is that just my intellectual assumption or genuine unverified personal gnosis? It is difficult to find information on Native beliefs surrounding the river. Did they believe it to have a guardian spirit? Was it female or male?
Once more, the answers seem complicated, and I suspect my perspective will grow and evolve as I learn and practice more. Despite the uncertainties, it feels important for me to connect to this land. My time spent in England, Cornwall, and Ireland was precious. I felt a deep reawakening, a feeling of ‘coming home’ in some ways, and a connection to the history and my ancestors there. When I went to Ireland, I could not help but wonder if my ancestors who left it all those years ago for a chance at a new life were looking at her again through my eyes. When I visited ancient, sacred sites, I felt that I was visiting the oldest and most favored “homes” of the Gods I love. Yet when I returned to Upstate NY, although the Nature Spirits have their own personality, the Old Gods I strive to honor were still there to listen.
In this month of October, as we move towards Samhain, I am going to explore, research, and reflect on my relationship to the ancestors. I cannot do that without considering my place as the descendant of the diaspora who came here over a century ago. Without a doubt, it influences my Druidism. The question is how? I hope you’ll join me in my thoughts and discussion.
* I left OBOD because the study program was too expensive for me and, as Greer’s article points out, it’s a huge part of the organization. There are also fewer groups in America. Community is important to me, and ADF just has more easily-found groves in the US. I may look into OBOD down the road when I have more funds, especially because their approach is so beautiful and lyrical.