18th Mount Haemus : Lecture The Elementary Forms of Druidic Life – Towards a Moral Ecology of Land, Sea, and Sky

Jonathan Woolley, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, is part of a research project studying the relationships between people and the environment, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. His work with contemporary Druids explores the spiritual landscape they inhabit, and follows the political and social agency of such surroundings. By comparing the three worlds of Druidry with other cosmologies – both within the West, and elsewhere – we can develop a clear appreciation of what truly defines Druidry as a spiritual community; the elementary forms of Druidic life.

by Jonathan Woolley

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to characterise the central features of Druidry as a culture. Contemporary Druidry is defined varyingly as a religion, a spirituality, or a philosophy – but the broad category of “culture” allows us to consider Druidry as something that is as much practiced as it is thought, as much felt as it is imagined, and something that looks out onto broad philosophical horizons. Through examining both Druidry-as-practiced, and recent discussions of Druidic themes in previous Mount Haemus Lectures, it becomes clear that the fundamental orientation of Druidry today is towards one philosophical horizon in particular – that of aesthetics.

This elemental aesthetic reveals a cosmology that is orderly, yet full of feeling; holistic, yet diverse – that in turn renders sensible a culture where body and soul, nature and humankind, emotion and reason cannot be kept apart, where all aspects of existence are valuable. In appreciating these pivotal aspects of Druidic thinking, I suggest, it becomes clear to see the unique contribution of Druidic philosophy to central moral and political concerns of the present day.

Read the Lecture

This lecture will be published in printed form in 2024 in The Mount Haemus Lectures – Volume Three  available through our bookshop.

About the Author

Jonathan Woolley is a PhD student studying Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, specialising on the human ecology of the British Isles. In 2012, he completed an MPhil dissertation, also at Cambridge, on the subject of how Druids connect with their environment through ritual, belief, and political activity, and has presented his findings at numerous academic conferences, including the European Association for the Study of Religion 2014, the Royal Anthropological Institute Conference 2016, and at the Australian Anthropological Society Conference 2016.

From 2013 he has played an active role in The Warriors Call – a druidic anti-fracking collective, and is a passionate supporter of social justice and environmentalism. He has spoken publicly at a number of Pagan events, and has written on nature and cultural experience for a number of publications, including the Kings Review, the Pagan anticapitalist blog Gods and Radicals.

He is currently the main liaison between the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and the Charter for Trees, People, and Woods – a coalition of of civil society organisations dedicated to preserving and celebrating Britain’s forests.