Authenticity and Authority in Druidry

by Caitlín Matthews

Talk given at OBOD 50th Anniversary – 7th June 2014

caitlin-matthewsYou would think that 50 years were long enough and yet, we still hear, ‘By what authority do you call yourself a Druid? Or ‘You’re not a real Druid! You’re just a neo Druid!’

In the face of a society that dismisses spirituality to this degree, it is hard not to harbour a sense of fraudulence. Is my Druidic avocation founded upon anything? Is mine an authentic path and so do I act with authority? A sense of fraudulence is something that many seekers are subliminally aware of when they approach a tradition that has had no living elders for centuries.  By what right are we here? Where are the druids of yesteryear?

When When a tradition loses its living practitioners, it doesn’t mean that the tradition dies. Like water that goes deep underground, it will find another place to come up. This has been my experience since I was 12. The mixture of land, ancestry and the inspiration that connects us to spiritual sources weaves its own golden thread which we follow as best we may. If we follow faithfully, it leads us onwards and we find the tradition to which we have already been connected without knowing. People seek druid initiation in different ways.

Some folks try for complete authenticity by druidic re-enactment, learning a Celtic language, dressing the part, living in the Iron Age. But, as Bob Truscott points out in the recent issues of Touchstone, these people still bring their own mindset with them.  It is not by copying the past that we continue the druidic tradition, although the past can inspire us.  Some join a druid order and commit its literature to memory: but druidry doesn’t lie in what is written.  Some folk perform rituals that mark initiations: but it isn’t in the ritual that initiation lies. Some seek a line of transmission: those who have been druids before, but  druidic authority doesn’t lie in having an ‘apostolic tradition.’

When we want to properly orient ourselves, we study the cardinal directions, north, south, east, west, and map our course from the clues that they give us.  Each of the directions feels different; each speaks about, teaches different things. When we stand in the place of our true abiding, we can be aware of the powers of the cardinal directions that are unseen but also just as real.  In a similar way, Druidic initiation involves us finding the internal compass points of druidry.

The 10th century Middle Irish Saltair na Rann or Psalter of Verses advizes that there are five things a wise person should know: ‘the day of the solar month, the age of the moon, the tides of the sea, the day of the week, the calendar of holy days.’  Although this was written down in the Christian era but we still catch the druidic necessity to understand time and our surroundings.

In the not so ancient days of my youth, analogue televisions came with what used to be called the horizontal and vertical hold  – buttons that controlled how the picture was delivered to our tiny screens. Loss of horizontal synchronization usually resulted in an unwatchable picture; loss of vertical synchronization would produce an image rolling up or down the screen.  We are living in times when a similar problem is afflicting people too: a lack of primary coordinates is making life unbearable, disabling understanding and connection.  Wherever we live in the world, in whatever circumstances, we can still find our horizontal and vertical hold.  They are essential for druids.

Our ‘horizontal hold’ is what makes us a native of the place where we live, regardless of whether we were born there or not; it entails knowing the orientation of the celestial bodies – the sun, moon, stars and planets – over that place, in every season; knowing the plants, rocks, animals and trees in our region; being aware of the spirits of that place, the unseen and manifest life both in, and out of time, in that location.

Our ‘vertical hold’ transects time and place, for it is made up of the ancestral and inspirational rivers that flow into our being.  The ancestral tributaries are those of blood, of genetic and epigenetic tendency that inform and shape the life of our bodies. Ancestors of blood and spirit become aware of us. The inspirational tributaries carry the influences that inform and shape our souls.

With our internal compass of the unseen and manifest directions, and with a well practised horizontal and vertical hold in place, we become established and seen, both in our communities, where we can be of service, as well as to the unseen witnesses who observe and support us – the spirits and ancestors who are part of a living spiritual continuum.

Initiation means simply ‘to go into it.’ Our druidic initiation is about going into and becoming part of that living continuum. Recognition by the spirits and by the community, who are the joint witnesses, has a very pragmatic manifestation. It is an unfortunate fact that those who didn’t go into that continuum yet, often set themselves up as druidic practitioners, but it is only those who’ve been initiated into the living continuum who are asked by their community to be of service, because people can tell when we have not.  It is only by becoming part of that living continuum that we have initiation: when we enter into it, then we have the authenticity that we seek.

Each contemplation of a living tradition of wisdom has its own light which is reflected through and beyond time. The light that was shed in ancient time is thrown from its place of concealment to become the visible means by which we walk our road.  It reveals to us the task that calls us home, which is the living druidry.  The stillness and attention that we give to druidry causes its interior light to shine into our perception: our own witnessing of the druid light causes it to be reflected and amplified. When we do that,  we too are witnessed as druidic successors.

Making a place at our hearths and community gatherings for our ancestors is the first step in continuing the traditions and wisdom with which every land is endowed. When this happens, when we honour ancestors and their wisdom at a national level and things will change for the wellbeing of All That Is and for our children’s children.  When we have done this, then we have authority indeed.

A tradition that gives life has no need to reinvent itself: it has a continuity of its own. We are part of that continuity.

When we acknowledge and live the internal compass points of our tradition by our authentic connection with ancestral wisdom and true service to our community, then we stand in the light of our forebears, becoming in our turn, ancestors of blood and spirit.

So when someone says, ‘So you call yourself a druid,’ you can, with authority, look them in the eye and say, ‘I don’t call myself a druid, I AM a druid.’

http://www.druidry.org/library/modern-druidry/authenticity-and-authority-druidry

Overheard at a coffee shop 2,400 years ago…

Hard to believe that advice, human insight and practicality can still converge as a lesson for the modern man 2,400 years after this was written.. I have to chuckle when I read it. The wit and satire of such old a text I find, hmm – warm.

Peace.

- Ken

Plato’s “Republic” excerpt of Book I: Of Wealth, Justice, Moderation, And Their Opposites

You don’t come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought: If I were still able to go and see you I would not ask you to come to me. But at my age I can hardly get to the city, and therefore you should come oftener to the Piraeus. For, let me tell you that the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me are the pleasure and charm of conversation. Do not, then, deny my request, but make our house your resort and keep company with these young men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us.

I replied: There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travelers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to inquire whether the way is smooth and easy or rugged and difficult. And this is a question which I should like to ask of you, who have arrived at that time which the poets call the “threshold of old age”: Is life harder toward the end, or what report do you give of it?

I will tell you, Socrates, he said, what my own feeling is. Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is: I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away; there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life. Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause. But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault. For if old age were the cause, I too, being old, and every other old man would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known. How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, “How does love suit with age, Sophocles — are you still the man you were?” “Peace” he replied; “Most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master”.

His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men’s characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.

Star Map for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

Originally posted on Philip Carr-Gomm's Weblog:

OBOD member and talented astrologer Sarah Fuhro has very kindly drawn up a Star Map for our 50th Anniversary, analysing the relationship between it and the charts of OBOD’s  early beginnings and later resurgence. Sarah writes a wonderful Blog – ‘Sarah Fuhro’s Star-Flower Alchemy’ – which is well worth visiting and can be found hereWhat follows is Sarah’s insightful interpretation along with the charts themselves:

With the inspiration of Imbolc, I begin this description of the birth chart of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. There were two moments of inception.  Nuinn and friends gathered for an evening of poetry on 23 September, 1964, at 7:30 pm, and on 25 September held a public ritual on Parliament Hill, at 1:00 pm. With these two assemblies in honour of the Autumn Equinox, we can already see the themes of poetry and public celebration of the earth, which have drawn so many of us to this…

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Lost

Originally posted on Philip Carr-Gomm's Weblog:

sacredgrove

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~ David Wagoner

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Seamus Heaney and Me

Originally posted on A Druid Way:

Irish poet, Nobel Prize winner, essayist and translator Seamus Heaney died earlier today in Dublin at 74.  More than once I’ve quoted Heaney on this blog, not least because his work is accessible without being Hallmark-y, literate but not stuffy, and redolent of earth and earthy intelligence.  In other words, delightfully Druidical.  Rather than go all lit-critic here, I’ll give a tribute in the form of a modest personal anecdote. If I need any justification, we’re both farmers’ sons.

heaney2In January 1984 Heaney offered a 7:00 pm reading and book-signing as part of the long-running Brockport Writers Forum at the College of Brockport, a school that’s part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.  I mention this because at the time I held an unhealthy disdain for the SUNY schools.  They weren’t Ivies, and though a farmer’s son, I cultivated a decided snobbery that looks simply ludicrous now.  I…

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Circles, Why are they Important (or not) in Modern Druidry and Pagan Practice?

I had someone ask why we were ‘breaking’ the sacred circle boundary so often during our Samhuinn ritual on Saturday. My response.

Thanks for the note (name with held). Remember that any circle you may perform magickally is a construct to keep your mind focused. It is not required to do any healing work, or workings in general.. That being said: When we do public ritual with moving parts and invocations, we move ritual participants in and out of the circle. In this specific case, we invoked Cailleach – which was an exterior entry to the circle and ritually brought forward for the purpose of the Rite. The interesting thing is that it was one of the participants that transformed to that energy. No new energy added or removed from the ritual circle. So in a poetic way, we drew the Cailleach from the energy in each of us… If you reference some modern thought on magick circles and magick in general, you’ll see advice not to get too hung up on constructs cause you’re just weakening your own magick capabilities by relying on them. Kerr Cuhulain in his book ‘Full Contact Magick’ is a great reference guide for more contemporary quantum thought on Magick and less 18th century ‘mechanicalism’. He is a Wiccan practitioner and his book is great for any pagan tradition to draw from. It is very much in line with the OBOD traditional thoughts on the subject (druid and ovate grade) and expands a bit on areas of Magick that aren’t heavily outlined by the order. I have a few hard rules I use for our public rituals. This is to keep them grounded well and understood by a wide range of participants that may or may not be druids:

  • Don’t let people leave or join a circle where deep work is taking place (judgement call of the ritual leader). The energy being added or taken away is far more disruptive than crossing some imaginary boundary, though they are related loosely to understand who has ‘joined’ or ‘left’ the circle, or merely watching. You have to be strong practitioner to do public ritual because you are limited in your control of geography.
  • I ensure that we always do a standard opening and closing based on OBOD tradition. This creates sacred space (less about boundary) and more of a sacred place within each participant.
  • Certain level of uniformity in dress and ritual tools for the main directions and principals of the ritual. This shows unity and balance of the circle – also is a powerful effect on the dignity of the Rite itself.

John Beckett also wrote on the subject. You can check out his blog article at the link below. “The circle is also an organic arrangement for gathering. It gives everyone unblocked heat from a common fire. It allows everyone to see everyone and facilitates conversation. Like King Arthur’s Round Table, it promotes egalitarianism. The idea of gathering in circles is a very old, very natural, very pagan idea. While we can only guess at the purposes behind such ancient monuments as Stonehenge and Avebury, it is no surprise they are circular.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2012/10/circles.html

ALG incorporates as a non-profit: Founder’s Open Letter to the Grove

Bards, Ovates and Druids and Seekers,

I love the title for the meetup (MONEY, POWER, RITUAL, (SEX?) IN THE GROVE). I think it bears some reflection as everyone crosses the threshold into the order and of Awen’s Light Grove.

Over the years, I’ve found that a few things lead practicing druids, or all Pagans for that matter, out into the world of ‘group’ activity. One ventures out because there is something inherently meaningful for doing so. I particularly like this quote, as it points to that spiritual realization that you can only dwell in your inner grove for so long:

“To forget yourself is the secret of life; to forget yourself in some worthy purpose outside of yourself.” – James Freeman Clarke

We come to a group to do something bigger than ourselves. In particular we built ALG for these specific goals that appears on our website and act as a touchstone for our purpose:

- Support the modern druid in his/her spiritual growth through the OBOD path

- Help make a difference by honoring our ecological values, and

- Celebrating the Wheel of the Year through druid ceremony and ritual.

That is the core. No personal agendas, no confusion on why people join and what you are doing.

So stay focused though you are building a bigger structure for the organization. Remember your identity as a group – you are a specific group, not an eclectic organization that follows the whims of membership as they come and go, and

Remember that peace and harmony are the essence of a well functioning Druid group. When you focus on your identity and goal, everything else makes sense and synchronicity occurs.

Blessing of Star and Stone as you celebrate your incorporation and new era!

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