Three Druids presented modern-day practices and common links with Hinduism at a conference held in America on “Spirituality in Indigenous Cultural and Religious Traditions.”
More than 30 faiths across the globe assembled to explore the integral Hindu concept of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, a Sanskrit phrase meaning “The whole world is one family.” The event also examined the challenges to the preservation of indigenous cultures in the face of aggressive, proselytizing religions.
By developing an understanding of the common experiences and values of different traditions, we can ultimately promote world peace, according to Dr. Radheyshyam Dwivedi, the conference organizer and president of the International Center for Cultural Studies. ICCS, which provides scholarship, training and research in ancient cultures, and which held the event October 2009 at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Maryland.
The conference began with a ceremonial lighting of the diya, Hindu lamp, by OBOD Druid Sara Corry and representatives of several other faiths. After an invocation by Shri Narayanacharya, SSVT Priest who has conducted the White House’s celebration of Diwali, the representatives offered traditional prayers including Corry’s rendition of the Druid Prayer for Peace and a traditional bhajan.
Ms. Corry, who lives in the American Southwest, conveyed to the audience of mostly Southeast Asians the role of ritual in modern Druidry. She began by giving a brief overview of the history of Druidry and its link to the tribes of Europe, presented the practices of modern-day Druids, and concluded with a focus upon the role of ritual within the Druid tradition.
In her talk, Ms. Corry proposed that the shamanic and magical practices that became Druidry began perhaps even tens of thousands of years before the earliest historical documents described Celtic society and the Druids’ place within it. These very early social groups, such as those that created the well-known cave paintings at Lascaux developed their own ways of working with the Land, spirits of Place, and the animals and plants of their region. Gradually, as these peoples migrated throughout Europe, they carried their practices with them and adopted some of those of the local tribes as well. A distinct form of spiritual or religious expression called “druidry” eventually developed.
Ms. Corry explained that we can surmise that the early Druids, or proto-Druids, carried out rituals although we can’t know exactly what they did. Ancient monuments such as Newgrange, Stonehenge and Avebury, have distinctive solar orientations and could indicate they were particularly interested in time measurement. We also know that archaeologists have discovered vast quantities of artifacts which had been thrown into lakes, streams or wells, and appear to have been placed there as some sort of ritualistic practice.
However, Ms. Corry went on to say that modern Druids must enact rituals that are meaningful within the time and place where we are living today rather than seeking to re-enact rituals we can only guess at from thousands of years ago. Druids must find a way to respond to the rapid changes happening to our Earth, the increasing degradation of the environment, climate change, extinctions, and human disconnection from Nature resulting in severe physical and mental health problems. One response is ritual designed to heal both ourselves and the Earth.
Some of the rituals commonly enacted by Druids today are the eight seasonal festivals. Ms. Corry provided a general explanation of the OBOD Course with a short discussion of how individual rituals play a large part in the progression of the student through the three levels of initiation and how Druids can write rituals specifically intended for healing.
Renu Aldrich, an OBOD Bard as well as a Hindu by origin who lives in New York, highlighted some of the parallels between the two faiths that led scholars to investigate a common ancestor. Though none have gained full traction, several theories have emerged regarding where the common ancestor could have evolved based on linguistic similarities between Sanskrit and Old Irish.
The similarities in Hindu and Druid beliefs are richly compelling, including the fundamental tenet that nature and life are connected, and that while the earth sustains us physically and spiritually, it is only one aspect of our reality, according to Ms. Aldrich. Reincarnation is an integral Hindu concept shared by many Druids. Both paths also use meditation, trance and chanting to alter consciousness to enter the otherworld.
Another Hindu practice adopted by Druids is Ahimsa, non-violence. Some choose to abstain from eating meat while others adopt compassionate farming practices. But Ms. Aldrich explained that just like certain types of Hindus, not all Druids are vegetarian.
Druids and Hindus share a belief in karma, the law of cause and effect and reaping what we sow in the field and in life. Restorative justice is a cornerstone of the traditions, with the Universe being ultimate judge and juror. The Druid tradition has long honored giving service to others, much like Bhakti Yoga practices in Hinduism. Scholars even parallel the similar training of Brahmins and Druids. Indeed, Druids have been called the Brahmins, Indian priests, of the West. Many Druids continue to strive to be healers, counselors, peacekeepers, mediators, judges and priests today.
In addition to commonalities in Hindu and Celtic social custom and law, Ms. Aldrich presented the similarities that abound in mythology and symbols. Even the resemblance between the Indian flag and the Irish flag are no coincidence. Both are representative of a truce between cultures and living in peace.
As a historically oral tradition, Druids believe in myth and the power of storytelling to heal and enlighten as well as entertain, Ms. Aldrich said. Teachings are transmitted through the creative arts – most especially via parables and songs full of symbolism and inspiration. The stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses teach Dharma, right from wrong and other important life lessons. The Puranas are ancient myths, and the Mahabharata with its Bhagavad Gita is the longest poem in the world. The Ramayana was a popular folk story well before it was written down. It is retold in many ways today, including as a play, and is one of the oldest tales of the triumph of good over evil. The Rig Veda’s holy songs were written to be accompanied by the sitar, shenai and tabla. So, too, Bardic stories and music share knowledge of the world and how to live life to the fullest in both peaks and valleys, times of grace and times of want.
Ms. Aldrich told a common myth of the Hindu Goddess Ganga and the Celtic Mother Goddess Danu. Ganga was a Goddess resting in heaven when brought to the earth in the form of water for the salvation and purification of the sons of King Sagar so that she could rinse away the sins of mankind. According to an early Celtic creation myth, Danu fell from heaven in the form of rain and her waters created the Danuvius River and from this sprang the pantheon of gods known as the Tuatha de Danaan, who came through the air to teach wisdom to humankind and to fight valiantly against invaders. This race was also known as the sidhe. Interestingly enough, the Sanskrit word siddha means power. And in Sanskrit, Danu means “waters of heaven”. There is a temple in Bali dedicated to the Goddess of the Lake, Devi Danu.
Other Hindu and Celtic Gods and Goddesses are also comparable, Ms. Aldrich said. The Celtic God Cernunnos, or Horned One, is the God of fertility, produce, and the underworld. He has long hair and a beard, and sits cross-legged in a meditative state when not hunting. He wears torcs, or ornate neck-rings. He is associated with a serpent, who has the horns of a ram. Pashupati is the Horned God of the Indus Valley and the proto-God of Lord Siva, the long-haired Hindu God who spent time immersed in the forest in the form of a deer. He often assumes a meditative pose, is garlanded with snakes and is associated with fertility. He uses a Bisana, the long horn. As part of the Trimurti, he is the Destroyer in order for recreation to occur and wears the ashes of the dead. Both are known as Lord of the Animals. Ms. Aldrich cited the contested Gundestrup cauldron, a silver vessel found in Denmark that has been dated to the 1st century BC. Is this Cernunnos or Pashupati? The cup has Celtic imagery and Indian iconography.
Lord Siva’s Trishula, or trident, represent various trinities–creation, maintenance and destruction, past, present and future, the three gunas (creation/ satva, preservation/ raja, and destruction/ tamas). The number three is sacred to Hindus for the Trimurti, or trinity, of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Siva the Destroyer. One of the most important Celtic symbols is the triple spiral, triskele or triskelion, offers an array of associations to the sacred three including the realms of land, sea and sky, or mind, body and soul. The spiral of life represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth as well as the Triple Goddess – the Maiden, Mother and Crone. It also symbolizes the male, female, and child on the path of life. The OBOD symbol has three outer circles representing the circles of creation, three bars of light representing the Triple Deity, and a triad of sunrises symbolized by dots to indicate the solstices and equinoxes. In traditional Buddhist artwork, triskeles are frequently seen in the centre of Dharma wheel, four-pronged vajras and auspicious symbol mandalas.
Ms. Aldrich also presented a chart on common rituals humankind performs in winter to illustrate the similarities of several faiths to atone, mourn, give of ourselves, as well as to celebrate the return of light to the world via the seasons and into our hearts. In a manner resembling Samhain celebrations, Hindus honor ancestors, predecessors and those who have passed during Pitru Paksha Shradh. Samhain is one of the oldest, most sacred Druid ceremonies on record and is a time to commune with the dead and begin a transition to the inner world, releasing unwanted aspects of our lives and the sorrows in our hearts. Diwali celebrates the awareness of our inner light as the Druid’s Winter Solstice or Alban Arthan welcomes the rebirth of the Sun-God as the Celtic Son of Light, the Mabon.
OBOD continues its research program into common origins between Druidry and the ancient Vedic culture, planning a series of conferences to begin later this year in Birmingham and culminate with a joint effort with the ICCS in Rishikesh, India in 2012.
Ellen Evert Hopman, co-chief of the Druidic Order of the White Oak in Massachusetts and an author of numerous books on herbs, spoke at the conference on cosmology. Other presentations unveiled Yoruba traditions, the spiritual legacy of the Native American, and the concept of eco-spirituality. Several topics centered on the main concern of those at the conference – threats to minority religions. Atul Rawat, a Fulbright Scholar and freelance journalist from Delhi, India, discussed the indigenous celebration of plurality, the idea that “other” does not equate to “hostile.” These civilizations emphasized spirituality and unity in diversity rather than the perpetuation of power through imposing uniformity.
Dr. Dwivedi cites the very open nature of these faiths works against their fight for survival: “If we go back to the times before the advent of the major monotheistic evangelistic, proselytizing religions of today, we can go back to seeing the real similarities that existed within all the indigenous traditions and cultures of the world,” Dr. Dwivedi said. “We can see how they are like branches of the same tree of spiritual truth. It may be argued that while the individual traditions may not be the whole and absolute truth, nonetheless, they are the part of the same truth.”
“However, these traditions, because they don’t believe in conversion and often don’t know how to defend themselves against theological aggressors, are at a great disadvantage,” he said. “A great many of them have already been vanquished; those remaining are struggling hard to survive against great odds.”