Reflections on Druidic Christology
by Rev. Alistair Bate
My Druid is Christ, the Son of God, Christ, Son of Mary, the Great Abbot, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
~ St. Columba
It is well known that there are today, and have been, probably for nearly two thousand years, Christian Druids. This venerable tradition is, however, in danger of being superseded as we move out of the age of Pisces and into the age of Aquarius. The danger I perceive is that, sensing the power of the new wave of spiritual activity on our planet, the new devotees will miss the opportunity to integrate the best of the old with the new forms of spiritual practice.
If Druids are to be true to both our highest calling as human beings and to the traditionally tolerant, inclusive and universalist Druid tradition, then we need to make ‘integration’ our watchword for the next century at least. A wholescale rejection of Christianity in favour of a reconstructed Paganism can only lead to more ignorance and fundamentalism. Hence my wish to write something about specifically Christian Druidry. What one might call ‘Christian Druidism’ is largely theologically incoherent. However, scholars much more able than I have offered some observations on the relationship of pre-Christian Druidic deities with Christian theology and some others, such as past Chiefs of the Ancient Druid Order and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, have attempted to give ceremonial expression to deeply felt theological convictions.
As an example of orthodox Christology finding its way into Druidic ceremonial I would like to consider the benediction at the end of the traditional (O.B.O.D.) ritual for Imbolc; “May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Created Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be always with us. May the world be filled with harmony and Light. ….” In this case, the writer (probably Chief Nuinn/Ross Nichols, Chief of the Order of Bard, Ovates and Druids and Celtic Orthodox Deacon) was obviously inspired by the opening verses of St John’s gospel. This in itself may be no accident given the popularly alleged association between a Gnostic Johannine tradition and Celtic Christianity. However, the writer may also have been influenced by a passage in “The Barddas of Iolo Morgannwg”, where God the Father is referred to as HEN DDIHENYDD, (meaning the Ancient or Unoriginated One). Iolo goes on to say that “God the Son is called IAU” (meaning Younger), “that is, God under a finite form and corporeity… And when he became man in this world, he was called Jesus Christ”. Iolo goes on to explain some of the epithets of Jesus. Two in particular are of interest; “and he also has other names, such as PERYDD, (Causer/ first cause), and God the NER, (Energy/ the Powerful).
The theological difficulty with the above is that Iolo appears at once to imply that Jesus Christ was himself both created and Creator. Such is the difficulty arising from the church’s teaching in the Nicene creed that Jesus was “begotten, not created”. It would appear, therefore, that Iolo’s Christology leans towards Arianism, though it doesn’t quite get there, and that Chief Nuinn’s Christology leans in the same direction. A more orthodox rendering of Chief Nuinn’s triadic formula might be “May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Creative Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be always with us”. This, I believe, would not only be more truly in tune with the bardic experience, but would also resonate with the Om/Creation idea found in the Hindu tradition. As we envision Awen, the primordial sound, echoing out of the void, we connect with our own creative inspiration as part of that first creative Word, which is in Christian terms, at once Christ and his Spirit.
In fact, our own potential divinity, a very orthodox idea, is affirmed by Iolo when he writes that “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from Gwynvyd to the Little World in the condition of man, in order to teach, warn, direct, and inform those who seek to be divine.” It is this urge towards personal transformation, and ultimately theosis or divinisation, that is at the very heart of both Christian mysticism and Christian Druidism, the allowing of Awen, the Creative Word, to do its transforming work in us. Looking at what one might call pre-figurings of the Trinity among the ancient Celts, one is immediately struck by the theological common ground shared by middle eastern mystery religions, among which I would count Christianity, and the mystery religions of Western Europe. These similarities and correspondences were perhaps understood and grasped most perfectly by Chief Nuinn/Ross Nichols and presented, posthumously, in his “Book of Druidry”.
It is quite well known that ancient Druidism had, as Chief Nuinn wrote, “an essential spirit called Hesus or Esus, linked with the Oak tree, which seemed a plain anticipation of Jesus upon the tree of the cross.” Iolo Morgannwg goes so far as to identify Hu/Hesus/Esus with Jesus Christ: “Hu the Mighty, – Jesus the Son of God, the least in respect of His worldly greatness whilst in the flesh, and the greatest in heaven of all visible majesties.” The editor of Barddas, Revd J. Williams ab Ithel, helpfully goes on to explain that “the meaning of “Hu”, is that which is apt to pervade, or to spread over. It is used as an epithet of the deity, in reference to His omniscience, and is not unfrequently to be met with as such in the words of the Bards…..”
Chief Nuinn links Esus in a triad of Gods with Teutates and Cernunnos, as their statues were discovered together in Paris, but perhaps more intriguingly, Hesus is also linked with Beli, the “Sun Disk”, and Taruos Trigaranus (the Bull God of three cranes). Chief Nuinn notices what he calls a “unity of idea” within the Hesus/Beli/Taruos triad. Beli “the sun disk” can be identified with both the Aten of Akhenaten and Adon/Adonai of Moses, in both cases the (same) Father aspect of the divinity, but Beli can also be seen as the Solar Logos, the Creative Word or Son aspect. Hu can be seen as both emergent from the Oak tree – the Mabon/Christ child – and as the Origin, the Father of all. Taruos, as a bull God, parallels the Canaanite Baal and the Greek Zeus, both Father God types associated with bull cults, while the crane as the Celtic bird of Wisdom parallels Sophia, Holy Wisdom, most often symbolised by a dove.
Hence we see that Hesus/Hu and Beli both contain Father and Son aspects while Taruos contains Father and Spirit aspects of the Christian Trinity. Perhaps there is indeed a “unity of idea” here. In practical terms and from a monotheistic Druidic perspective, there is one obvious flaw in the triadic formulas of the past and that is their seeming maleness and consequent reinforcement of patriarchy. The Maiden/Mother/Crone model favoured by Wiccans is a modern invention, though of course the triple Matronae and the three battle Goddesses of Ireland are very ancient. I would wish, however, to make room for the feminine aspect of Divinity in a more orthodox model. Chief Nuinn writes that “Teut, Hu and Bel may be reckoned a trinity of shapes of the One; but there is always the fourth, the feminine balance, the all-mother Ana”
Ana/Anu/Dana/Danu is the mother of all the Gods of the ancient Irish, the Tuatha De Danann, the people of Danu. Interestingly, a Hindu Goddess shares the same name. To call Ana, the Grandmother of the Gods would not, in fact, be incongruous. To Gnostic ears too, this would not sound strange, as one neo-gnostic “Ave” petition reads, “Holy Sophia, Mother all the Gods, pray for us now and at the hour of our death”. If Mary is Theokotos, the Mother of God, then her mother, St. Anne/Anna could be called Grandmother of God. Popularly, though it has never been defined satisfactorily, Mary is not only the Mother of Christ and Mother of God, she is also called, in the Litany of Loreto, “Mother of the Creator”. We are used to the image of Mary as mother of Jesus, but have we really considered her as Mother of the Creator. Preceding even the utterance of the creative Word, She was, as Sophia, the breath – that is the life – of God hovering over the waters.
Though the historical Mary is hardly an empowering archetype, nevertheless, I believe that a proper mystical understanding of, and devotion to, the Mother of God, the “Cosmic Mary”, if you will, is a viable alternative to Celtic pagan Goddess reconstruction, beautifully creative though that can be. In the 4th century St Augustine declared, “That which is called the Christian Religion existed among the Ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginning of the Human Race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity”. That the religion of our most ancient ancestors is in essence very similar to that of our more recent ancestors is the conviction that keeps some of us simultaneously both Druid and Christian.
The Barddas of Iolo Morgannwg – J. Williams ab Ithel, ed., 1862 – Weiser (2004).
The Book of Druidry – Ross Nichols – Thorsons 1990.