Posts Tagged ‘England’

I’m an English Druid, this soil very much part of my psyche, and the rivers of my home feel like part of my blood. A sense of connection to the land itself is absolutely intrinsic to my Druidry, and if asked to explain what I do ‘priest of the land’ is a description I feel comfortable with. The landscape of the British Isles can seem to be hardwired into what the word ‘Druid’ means. Tara and Stonehenge, Avebury, Glastonbury, Anglesey… these settings evoke Druidry. Orders from beyond these shores claim Welsh, Irish and Avalonian influences even though they are far from the ‘motherland’. You could be forgiven for thinking that to be a Druid is to be a priest, very specifically, of this landscape, and that to live beyond these shores means having your work cut out. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

I’ve been to America twice. The first time, I remember those early views of the landscape as I flew in over the east coast and the absolute sense of enormity. Looking at maps gives a person no sense at all of how huge America is. England has been densely populated for a very long time. We don’t have much in the way of untouched landscapes, but America does. The sense of wildness, and vastness, struck me.

A few days after that landing, I was on a beach, attempting a bardic initiation. Planning it from the comfort of home, I’d rather arrogantly imagined it would be easy. I knew from the moment my feet touched soil that I had a very steep learning curve ahead of me. This was not my land. It was not in my bones, and my ancestors were not part of it. I did not have the rivers in my blood. I had never heard the voices of the spirits of place. The sense of being a small thing in a big place and totally out of my depth, was educational to say the least. I was lucky, though, the beach was used to people, and welcoming enough, tolerant of a lone Druid from another place who had not got sufficient time to really learn to feel any of it properly.

To be a priest of the land, is to be the priest of the specific bit of land you are engaging with. I’d say as a general rule it’s probably wherever you can walk to from where you live. You may find there’s a core, that you really belong to, a wider landscape where you feel passably at home and a point somewhere beyond that where it all starts to get a bit alien.

Every landscape has spirits. Every land has power, sacredness and a need for service. What your landscape may not have, is stories. One of the things that makes the iconic places of the British Isles seem so powerful, is the number and richness of the stories attached to them. However, most of the UK is not in the Isle of Avalon and doesn’t have a stone circle or other mythic place in easy walking distance. I spent a decade in a more industrial landscape where stories of place where few, and I found engaging with the land hard work. I grew up in a place rich with story.

It is through stories that we connect to the land. If your landscape doesn’t have the kind of mythic, powerful tales to make it equivalent to Stonehenge, the answer is simple: Make them up. Invent them. All stories were made up by people, either out of pure imagination, or based on shreds of history, or weaving the two together in ways absolutely designed to give future historians nasty headaches. If your landscape does not have myths, then the greatest service you can perform, is to invent a few. Getting into the details of how to do that would need another blog in its own right, at the very least, but I wanted to seed the idea, because I think it’s a very important one.

Druidry is an international movement. No one outside the UK should ever feel that their landscape is somehow less important, or that their connection to the land less meaningful. Wherever your land is, that’s where you are a Druid. And in truth, there is no definite historical connection between the ancient Druids and most of the UK sites associated with them, although I think a pretty decent case can be made for Anglesey. It’s just stories. Future Druids, wherever you happen to be, can have stories of Druidry in your landscape, if you create them. Listen to the land, and the stories will come, because that’s very much in the nature of stories. They turn up when you’re paying attention, and sometimes when you aren’t as well.

Anyone interested in exploring the subject of modern Druidry’s relationship with ancestry, I’d like to point you at my book Druidry and Ancestors.

I also blog most days at www.druidlife.wordpress.com

By Nimue Brown

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Feet in Clayton, NY

Hubby and I relaxing in the St. Lawrence River, 2011.  Each year, my relationship with the local spirits strengthens. – Photo by Weretoad.

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.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  The Celts: A History.  Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY: 2004.
Jacox, Helen P. & Kleinhans Jr., Eugene B.  Thousand Island Park: One Hundred Years, and Then Some.  Valhalla Printing Co, T.I.P., NY: 1975.

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BBC News – Staffordshire Hoard ‘to help rewrite history’.


Neat!  I can’t wait to hear more about this.

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