Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Druid Order for the 21st Century

Like many Druids, I can say that once I found a formal association of Druids (OBOD and then a few years later, AODA) I knew that in some sense that is difficult to explain, I had always been a Druid. Even as a child, when I look back on my many trips to the woods to sit at the foot of a large pine, on a rock, overlooking a spring, I was drawn instinctively to sky, earth and sea. The elements spoke. The pine connected above and below and I found myself there anew each time. They helped me navigate the chaos in my world.

And yet, having found "formal Druidry" to some extent I find myself disillusioned with the hierarchical nature of the typical Druid orders. I have joined revival Druidry organizations. They are the more liberal of the orders and yet, even with OBOD and AODA, one only need scratch the surface and they bleed fraternal lodges' blood, Masonry in particular. One need not scratch AODA much at all. It's fraternal lodge structure and hierarchy is very near the surface, and I find that to be an impediment to my path. OBOD has done a better job of making distance from that past, but that past is there. Both of these orders of Druids claim to be and are to a large extent attempts at living Druidry in the 21st century, but they do so with structures built in from an era gone by. Elements of secrecy, top-down flow of power, degrees or grades of initiation, cult of personality, elements of exclusivity--all of these to some degree or another exist in the fraternal lodge structures out of which OBOD and AODA have grown. And yet, they leave their mark and the present experience of Druidry through such orders.

The irony, for me, is that Revival Druidry while not claiming to hail back to ancient Druids, is driven more (AODA) or less (OBOD) by fraternal lodge models of the 17-19th centuries. It's a latent reconstruction, if you will. And this is not inherent in revival Druidry, or Druidry of any particular kind. I have witnessed this in several religious communities--that regardless of how much they claim to be doing a particular work now, as long as their past goes unexamined, that past inserts and asserts its influence. And when I say unexamined I am observing that the past of a religious community is always in the background asserting and inserting its influence. When a community stops noticing that, the past has all the more influence.

So, I find myself reflecting often these days about what a Druidry for the 21st century would look like if I were to create one (and why not?). I am sold on some aspects of revival druidry that I have gleaned from both OBOD and AODA.

1) We do not have a conscious, direct line from ancient Druids.
2) We do have modern sources that can help us craft a spiritual path that rings true to what
Druidry means to us, like environmentalism, social justice, Jungian spirituality,
sustainability practices, and wisdom traditions from many sources.
3) We have fragments of history, myth, magic and culture that allow us to weave together
a Druidry that works for us in this time on this planet.

So, what would a Druidry for the 21st Century look like if I were to put it together? Even as I attempt to construct my own idea of a Druidry for the 21st century, I am indebted to both of the orders I belong to, to some of the ideas and practices I benefit from in them, and, in rejecting some of their historical structures, am even by the rejection of what I consider to be a hindrance, connected to them. It's another example, of course, of what we call in UU-sim, the Interconnected Web of all Being. Here's my list, thus far of what a Druidry for the 21st century would look like:

--The beginning principle: Modern Druids work together with the various levels and aspects of earth's nature. (That's meant to be wide open--extending from very material biology to very metaphysical energy, as people are led).

--A community based on a circle and not a hierarchy. The grove as the central symbol would be the reality, in fact. Roles in ritual and in leadership would always be interchangeable and shared. In other words, with adequate practice, any member of the community could take any role in group ritual. There would be no "special" or reserved seats.

--The core principle, even underneath the beginning principle above, would be respecting and honoring integrity--the integrity of one's own individual self, the integrity of the other, the integrity of nature, of the earth, of the universe, and seeing that this is, finally, one interconnected web of being.

--Every member, from newest to eldest, would be considered a priest, and that all aspects of nature would be vehicles of divine communication. The question would not be "what degree are you", but " what shape is your priesthood taking?"

--There would be no degrees, but there would be a basic commitment to walking the path, growing in wisdom, and life-long learning and working together at times in community as well as solitarily. The notion of spirals to work on is a good one, but no one would control them, prescribe them, or limit them. At the same time, every Druid priest would be sharing with the community what she/he was working on at the time.

--Leadership would be about structure and helping maintain a structure for the community, but it would be based on transparency, facilitation, democracy and service to the community. It would have short terms, and renewed often. Leadership would not be the image of the ones at the top, but those who tend the foundations.

--This Druidry would provide choices for people and invite them to explore areas of interest in order to build a personal path of self-discovery.

--This Druidry would emphasize social justice--a concern that everyone have what he/she needed to survive and thrive--another aspect of respecting integrity, but now recognizing the social, political and cultural aspect of that integrity.

--This Druidry would hold regular sessions of discernment asking only three questions: what are we doing that is working? what are we doing that is not working? If we were to change one thing to make things work better for us, what would it be?

That's it. That's my list. That's my idea of a Druidry for the 21st century. So, if I found a group of poeple willing to launch an order of Druidry for the 21st century that looked like the above, would I resign from OBOD and AODA? Likely not. I have benefitted from them both, and continue to, though admittedly sometimes it is a benefit through the negative--becoming clear about what is an impediment, what is not working. Still, that is a benefit, and finally, no religious or spiritual organization in my experience is flawless. The challenge to be vigilant in constant reform and renewal is a relentless one, and necessary for any group that wishes to remain alive and of service to people. Otherwise, a religious group becomes the tyrant that demands servitude from its members. As I've said before: I didn't need to become a Druid to find that.

I welcome comments.