The Three Functions of Druidry
by Adam Brough
In ancient times, the Druids were members of a professional class in which their society’s religious and spiritual life was embodied. They were the philosophers, scientists, theologians, and intellectuals of their culture, and the holders of the philosophical, scientific, and religious knowledge of their age. The nearest modern equivalent, then, would be professors in universities or colleges, medical doctors, lawyers and judges, school teachers and so on. One could say that such people are the real “Druids” of our time. The ancient Druids brought all of these practices together into a single structure, unified by religious commitment. If you imagine what it would be like if your doctor, lawyer or teacher was also a priest, and the hospital, law court, and college was also a temple, then you have an idea what Druidry was like for ancient Celtic people.
~ Brendan Cathbad Myers, The Mysteries of Druidry
How can I claim to be a Druid when they and their traditions are effectively extinct? We’re only left with fragments of folklore, second hand myths written by Christian monks, vague archeology and biased reports by Romans and Greeks. What comes after those are fanciful theories and imaginative speculation. We are left with a ragged patchwork that’s 5% fact and 95% fiction (not actual figures). Some modern Druids can be seen to be attempting to faithfully reconstruct the tradition and culture of what ancient Druids were, some are guided by whatever fantasies takes their fancy, whilst others consciously embrace Druidry as a viable spiritual path, whether fact or fiction. Put me in the third category.
I’m not interested in the fact or fiction of what Druids were, I’m more interested in what Druidry can do in the world today. I’m not adverse to a fictional image of Druidry if it helps my purpose. In this context I’ll introduce my theory, which isn’t a description of what Druids were, but is an image, a symbol that can inspire the role of Druidry in today’s world. I’m a myth maker, and myths are symbols that help inform our attitude towards and behavior within the world. And Druidry, as I envision it, can be a useful tool to direct human attitude and behavior towards a healthy relationship with each other, with the living Earth and with the expression of our souls.
My theory starts with fragmented tribes violently competing with one another and making humans and nature suffer. Does that sound familiar? From this, individuals specialised in spirituality, education and politics from many different tribes, speaking different languages, practicing different religions with different pantheons, came together to create a system that would help organize and guide the balance between the various tribes and the natural world within which they exist. Through their spiritual, educational and political expertise they built a system to do just that. A system that was not limited to a single region, tribe, culture, language, pantheon, religion or nation; but one that transcended the boundaries of human identity to create a common understanding to work together.
My interest in Druidry is mainly about what their function and role was within society and how that image can inspire the role of Druidry today. In my mind I have an image of a triangle, made up of three functions which are, if you haven’t guessed by now, spirituality, education and politics. A sort of triangular spectrum not too dissimilar to the chart of soil types; sand, sediment and clay, one at each point, and in between some substances somewhere in between, with the centre being a mixture of all three. They were not three separate functions, taken up by specialised individuals, but rather a holistic system where they complemented one another and were familiar to all Druids. For Druidry to be a viable movement in today’s world, there needs to be an image of Druid roles today that are not confined solely to the spiritual like many of today’s Neo-Druid groups.
This is the first post of a series. I will take each of the “functions” and put into detail how a modern Druid might approach them and work with them, and in true Druidic fashion each one will be accompanied by a triad of quotes. There will also be a last section, after the three functions, describing a very important aspect of modern Druid tradition which is the context for, not just Druidry, but the whole of human existence.
The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole.
Only the development of his inner powers can offset the dangers inherent in man’s losing control of the tremendous natural forces at his disposal and becoming the victim of his own achievements.
~ Roberto Assagioli
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Anne Sullivan
Druids were educators. They had schools that taught many things; history, genealogy, stories, laws, lore and other things. They were living breathing archives that could be called upon by tribal chiefs and kings, or the common people of the tribes. They must have had complex mnemonic systems to catalogue everything into their memory, since their tradition was an oral one and it was forbidden to write anything down. One such system is their alphabet, the Ogham, that was used to list things and their attributes. The most well known is the tree alphabet, but there was plenty of others for birds, animals, herbs etc. This system, or one like it, must have been used to remember extensive information.
Druids today don’t have to be living breathing archives, we have books and computers for that sort of thing, and it is not forbidden to write anything down. A shame in some ways, as writing things down (like I am now) has the tendency to abstract information, removing it from living experience. And we can see that in the book-based education of today, it emphasises a lot on intellectual knowledge; what to think than on how to think. I don’t say that we should ban books (I love them too much!) but that they are not the be all and end all of education, and that education should be directed towards living experience. For me, a Druid education is an integrated one, based on developing a holistic intelligence, not just an intellectual one. And also it is about self-development and discovery and not for a student to conform their knowledge to a school’s syllabus. Another thing to remember is that education doesn’t just take place in a classroom, all aspects of our life educate us in different ways; from the media we get our information from, the books we read, the films we watch, the toys we have as children, the relationships we’re involved with, the careers we choose. All of these things are symbols of the educational and psychological structure we build up inside us.
Holistic intelligence I think of as something that includes many aspects of the human being. As I said, intelligence is measured mainly by intellect, as the so-called “Intelligence Quotient” or IQ reflects. It’s tests are all about how well the intellectual, thinking side, of humans work. The “I” of IQ is more appropriately seen as Intellect because intelligence can also be seen as emotional intelligence, physical intelligence, social intelligence, ethical intelligence and spiritual intelligence. We could also talk about creative or imaginative intelligence as Druids were also the artists, poets and musicians of their peoples, and also health intelligence, since Druids could also specialise in healing, as doctors of their time. But knowing how to be healthy and stay healthy is a fairly basic skill for all people, not just something for professionals. Education should be about the development of the whole human being, not just the intellect. In the same way that we should have a “healthy and balanced diet” to stay physically healthy, we should also have a healthy and balanced education, in order to develop a healthy intelligence, a holistic intelligence.
To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.
Politics has less to do with where you live than where your heart is.
~ Margaret Cho
The new vision senses the Earth as a complex system, Gaia, and recognizes that our globalized social world is reliant on the natural world: when there’s trouble in nature, there’s trouble in society.
~ Susan Canney
The Druids were lawmakers, counsellors to kings, guardians of sovereignty, peacemakers, and probably warmakers too. They would resolve differences between tribes and probably even resolve differences with people within a tribe. For this they had to be very aware of the social balance of things and used their knowledge to guide this balance. Some were probably corrupt, following their own selfish schemes or that of their tribe and some may even have had a noble idea about a common good for all people. I like the common good idea, but realistically human nature is what it is and has the habit of doing all sorts of things, even within such positions of power and responsibility. Despite this not too rosy image of human nature, in the image of a Druid we have a figure that is powerful in social and political fields of activity, and that is what I lean on here.
For me, my political work as a Druid isn’t about walking into warzones or gang fights to resolve the conflicts there. It isn’t about me signing petitions, lobbying new legislation, attending a political march in protest about some issue, social work, standing for election or “making my vote count.” Politics, at its root, is about how humans relate to each other, it’s about our relationships. Political discord stems from the social ills we have, so all political work fundamentally starts here. It’s about the relationship between offspring and parents, men and women, young and old etc. Before we heroically face the problems of the world, we should heroically face our own personal problems, and from that foundation all other problems of the world; economical, ecological, national, international etc can be legitimately dealt without skipping personal problems; an essential experience if we are to tackle anything else. Before we take our issues to Monarchs, Prime Ministers or Presidents we should face and resolve the issues we have with our parents, children and all our relationships.
It [spirituality] is the province of our responsive and creative imagination – not just a fiction-factory but a vitally necessary place where we work out the interpretative patterns we need for our life-world as a whole, structures and visions to provide some usable order in the chaotic world of our experience.
Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.
~ Anais Nin
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
~ Carl Jung
I left spirituality until last because it’s too easy for modern Druids to focus on the spiritual aspect of Druidry at the expense of the political and educational aspects of it. Druids were priests, magicians, seers, prophets, diviners, mediators with the deities, shamans, guardians of sacred knowledge, sacred places and shrines and a whole range of spiritual and religious functions in their society. They were the mythologers and mythographers of their time, governing the images, stories and symbols that would guide, and even legitimise, the lifestyle and culture of their peoples. They also encoded their peoples’ experience into myths to preserve the wisdom of the past for future generations, locking their history and worldview into symbolic form.
Symbols speak to us at deep levels; they evoke and invoke energies within us, energies that give us a connection between our personal life and the rest of the cosmos. Spirituality gives meaning and ethics to guide us in life, guiding our attitude and behaviour, but it also goes deeper than that. Psychospiritual development can take place, through the normal psychological development stages, but also a spiritual development where an individual is open to their creative potential beyond initial psychological programming. When therapy stops or is not necessary, and the psyche is in a healthy and balanced state, development doesn’t stop there, it carries on. The psyche is not a static machine, to be repaired, adjusted and kept running smoothly, it is a growing organic thing that constantly changes, and spirituality is something that helps us cope and direct that change, and allows the soul’s own Dharma or spiritual “blueprint” to unfold and evolve according to its own inner pattern.
Each person’s inner pattern and life journey is extremely personal and individual. I live and work with people, our own paths in life run parallel but they do not merge. Working together, growing together, but never growing into each other. My life journey can only ever be mine, shareable with no other being, but it is a thread in the fabric of evolution; of human evolution, of the living Earth’s evolution and of the whole cosmos’ evolution, with its beginning and end residing there; emerging from and finally merging back into nature. And here we take a step into a fundamental aspect of modern Druid practice and belief; its connection to the natural world and the focus it can create in humanity on ecological and environmental issues.
We do not live on the Earth, we are a part of how the Earth lives.
~ David Richo
You go to Nature for an experience of the sacred… to re-establish your contact with the core of things…The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in Nature enables you to cope more effectively with the problems of humanity.
~ Will Unsoeld
Paradoxically, turning attention to the inner life can make us acutely aware of the beauty and fragility of the earth. Since our collective habits of behaviour appear to be leading toward annihilation, recognition of our capacity for conscious evolution has become an increasingly compelling necessity. Spiritual awareness of our relationship to the whole earth can no longer be considered the prerogative of a few introverted individuals. Although it may take a leap of faith to believe that a radical shift in human consciousness is possible, this global mind change may be necessary to shift our collective trajectory from self-destruction to self-renewal.
~ Frances Vaughan
I have spoken of three functions of ancient Druidry and have put them into a relevant form for modern times, but what I have not really gone into detail about is Druidry as a nature-based spirituality. We could say, maybe, that Druids were ecologists and environmentalists. But considering the times they were living in, everyone in their cultures had to have some basic ecological knowledge of some sort, so it could not be seen as a druidic “function” but a basic fact of life for everyone. Today, whether we are into Druidry or not, this is something we should all have, we should all be familiar with ecological knowledge, of the fact that we are part of an ecological system and that it is the very basis for our existence. Locked away in our cities we are disconnected from where our food comes from, where our oxygen comes from, where our water, gas and electric come from, even where out money comes from! We are so familiar with a world which is so human dominated we forget just how embedded we are in the living systems of the Earth, how much we depend upon them and how much we affect them.
It’s important for our eco-starved species to once again gain an ecological perspective that pervades every aspect of our activites on, or more appropriately as part of, the Earth. Humanity and every aspect of its evolution should find a way to evolve with the Earth’s evolution and also creatively contribute to it. The development of a holistic intelligence is one that can only grow as a part of nature, the work of politics and relationships also includes our relationship with nature and the journey of the spiritual life is a part of nature not apart from it. Nature is such a fundamental part of Druidry that each of the functions I have described can be better understood if we put the suffix “eco” on each; ecoeducation, ecopolitics and ecospirituality. In such a way we recognise that ecology isn’t just one of many subjects but the entire context of our lives. An important resource for modern Druidry’s worldview can be found in the scientific developments of the Gaia Hypothesis and Earth Systems Science and the implications they have for every aspect of our lives.
Such a fundamental part of human life is ecology that I’m reluctant about treating this as a separate subject, because our various activities, like spirituality, education and politics, do not stand apart from nature, but can only exist because of nature. Each of the functions of Druidry can be envisaged as pillars of Druidry; The Three Pillars of Druidry. Or better yet, trees; The Three Trees of Druidry. The fourth “pillar” or “tree” is nature, but it does not stand separately, it itself is the Three Trees and also the sky above them and the earth below them. The “function” of ecology or environmentalism, must be so fundamental to the other three functions that it pervades them, their growth and their evolution, as it should with the whole of human existence. Leaving this subject last and apparently separated from the others signifies the human psyche’s split from nature. Something that a nature-based path like Druidry can facilitate in this modern world is the healing of the human consciousness in relation to nature.
Adam Brough, from his blog ‘The Grove of Quotes’