Sunday, 27 February 2011

Bard, Ovate and Druid, and the 21st Century Druid

This is my current take on what the alleged 'three grades' could mean today (these suggestions may be subject to complete revision in future!)

The Bardic 'grade' represent all the artistic and creative aspect of druidry; including learning the discipline required for creativity and getting in the right 'mind set'  and state of awareness to find inspiration. My bardic skills, such as they are, are 'creative writing' but I definitely need more discipline and more inspiration....To live in the tradition of the ancient bards we might want to practice poetry and story telling, and perhaps we can enjoy the discipline of  memorising, say, ancient sayings and story forms.

The Ovate - tricky one to 'modernise' as the ancient Ovates were seers and healers. I wouldn't recommend anyone who is an Ovate as a substitute for a doctor or nurse if you are significantly ill.  To me the 'healing' that the modern Ovate can seek is 'self healing' principally - living a balanced lifestyle and finding psychological healing. What about the 'seer-ship'? Well I happen to think there are some interesting psychological lessons to be learnt from, say, using the tarot cards or other forms of 'divination' but I don't think they tell us a predetermined future. We find out something about ourselves, and the deeper we know ourselves the more we know our potential, our strengths and weaknesses, and thus to some extent mould our future 'in this sense'.  I could therefore tentatively suggest that the modern Ovatic tasks are primarily 'Psychological'
The Ovate seer was also  definitely interested in 'natural philosophy', what today we call 'science', but does not required that we become a professional scientist or even study for a GCSE in Chemistry. The ancient natural philosopher would study patterns in nature and draw conclusions. Ancient stone circles are for example testimony to their meticulous observational and mathematical skills.
To fulfill the Ovate grade I think we should just want  to get to  know something more, deeper and richer about nature, either the outerworld, the cosmos, or our 'inner world' (aka the 'Other World'). The typically druid interests include astronomy, meteology, and the ways of plants, wildlife, crystals (geology) but also the humanities of ancient history, ancient literature and the Celtic languages because a deeper knowledge of all these subjects provides great 'inspiration' as well as the process of learning and knowledge being a joy in itself.

The Druid grade is a combination of the other two grades and 'then some'. In particular the Druid  (in the sense of those who have reached the Druid Grade) who has honed his creative skills and explored the depths of the outer and particularly inner worlds, will teach, organise rituals and perhaps have a leadership, administrative, or facilitating  role in an organisation or group (without getting puffed up by any sense of grandeur or ego) and may instigate campaigns or activities either regularly or ad hoc.  The ancient druids find their modern equivalents in priests (modern sense = celebrants?) teachers, lawyer-judges, mediators. By the time the Druid has reached the 'Druid Grade' (I don't use these terms interchangeably) he is going to have come to a state of being where he has found a 'Druid Philosophy' (conceptualised or not) that guides his or her judgements and decisions. So I suppose the characteristic of the Druid Grade is developing a 'Philosophy' (your own, not anyone elses!)

So for me at least, the 'watchwords' of the three traditional 'grades'are:


In my ever so umble personal opinion, I don't hold that a 21st Druid has to go through each 'grade' like some system of education or training to be able to call himself a 'Druid' in the sense of 'one who practises druidry'. There can of course be many  advantages in  a formal  'training scheme' and of course it is basic to OBOD druidry that one passes through the various grades. The main danger of such is that one does not develop original thinking and simply imbibes a particular system of belief that is not necessarily true to yourself.

 I am sure that  a coherent Druidry does involve elements of the bardic, the ovatic and druidic task discussed above which can individually or in combination be taken as far as our interest and resources wants to take them. Therefore one can be a great bard, a bit of an Ovate and occasionally do stuff like the Druid Grade. The last thing I'd want to import into my version of Druidry (having once thought otherwise!) is a rigid hierarchy with all the inevitable 'looking down on others' that can result.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

A return to the path

I've been drifting away from the 'Druid Path' for some time.This pagan approach to spirituality first interested me about 7 years ago. In the last year or so I have been in a kind of religious tumult as I started to explore the concept of the divine. This quest has 'run its course'. I found I could believe in a form of monism, a pandeism or panentheism even deism in the sense these offered mostly coherent systems of thought, though each had some element that was little bit unsatisfactory either philosophically or practically or unable to fully scratch and satisfy the religious 'itch'.
However as ever, I discovered one can invent many different theologies (or 'castles in the air') but without any solid foundation. I was still forced to say 'I'm an Agnostic' even as i found some theological idea as more or less attractive. In the end there is still is no 'evidence' for God that satisfies my intellect, and definitely nothing that enables me to say 'Ah, now I believe', notwithstanding a great desire to believe. I have even tried to believe in Christianity again, the Nicene Creed and all. My unbelief is not from lack of wanting to consign my destiny and freedom of thought to some all encompassing worldview.  But all theology is just another imaginative  theory founded on speculation and intutition, but little else.It certainly does not relate to my actual 'praxis' and my sitz im leben life conditions. Only nature and my inner conscious awareness grounds me in this way - not theology.

Even what I consider the best rational argument for the deity, the apparent 'fine tuning' of the universe to fit it for life, well, even this 'evidence' for a God can be answered by naturalists by proposing a multiverse - an almost infinity of universes. For example the currently popular 'inflation model' of the history of the universe in the seconds post the Big Bang suggests there may be an infinite number of universes with different physical properties, allowing an almost infinite number of situations where life, even if very unlikely, could arise - everything that was possible would exist somewhere. What seemed so improbable and needing divine intervention is not improbable given infinite time and/or the possibility of infinite universes.

Knowing this I couldn't quite let go of was the desire for some 'perfected or ideal state' beyond this world - this chasing the perfect, ideal is a hard habit to crack but a very frustrating habit. I've had to let it go to save my sanity. Don't get me wrong I am attracted still to the notion of an absolute, a ground of being, a neutral monism, but I cannot go beyond my intuitive, mystical sensibilites to arrive at some solid ground, let alone start thinking there is an athropomorphic God who sends his only begotten son to save us. Ultimate reality, is perhaps, as wise men have said (but which wisdom I ignored) an  'unknown'. It is beyond conception and discovery, for me, currently, at least. If only intuition, a 'feeling' inclines one to belief at all, but can we trust our feelings?. On this as in some many areas of life, feelings can be deceptive. I will accept that i'm inclined to religiosity. I seem unable not to care and unable not to have some notion of the spiritual, but the absolute is not going to be grasped, and all attempts at a theology have to be given up.  Perhaps, as I've said before 'theology' is just another form of idolatory and the absolute really is having known of it. Equally it can't blame me if I just get on my life without reference to what I really have not the foggiest idea about.

At least I recall that I've been this way before. Druidry attracted me because I had lost all faith in traditional theism but found that nature spoke to me of a 'deeper magic'; its nature mysticism salvages the bit of theism that I was in tune with - the awesome beauty and majesty of creation. I was also into ancient and early medieval history, stone circles, environmentalism, respects my ancestors including the half of my family tree that is definitely celtic!
What has repelled me away from druidry recently has been a seroes pf interactions with convinced hard polytheists, in particular their assertion that they represent 'true druidry', also an 'anti-theism' and an anti-Christianity that can be rather adolescent and even made me wonder why they 'protested too much'. Some forms of druidry seem intent on reconstructing the past or at least the religious aspect of it, but the past, particular the past of the ancient druids is irrecoverable except the tit bits thrown up by long detective work, which still need a modern 'interpretation' or supplementing with unverified personal gnosis. Druidry has insulated itself large from Science and Reason;  indeed this non rationality and 'child like' approach becomes Druidry's USP. I agree we need the 'magic' but it depends on what you mean.

However once we reject the assumption that in the past we knew better,  there seems no reason why iron age druidry, like iron age medicine and education cannot be brought up to date. As the religious-intellectual elite of their societies their view would have evolved with society over the centuries.  Modern druidry does not need to look to the past, apart perhaps for aesthetic inspiration and to  'respect' the ancestors of blood. Modern druids, had their been some unbroken lineage to today, would have adopted the 'Zeit Geist' of their period in history. Apart perhaps from a few fundamentalists, the modern druid would have I'm sure a largely naturalistic view of the world and I am sure ancient druids knowing what we know now, would embrace science.

If druidry is to mean anything to me, it must be 'my druidry'. My worldview never tends to complete scepticism or materialism, but I also  reject the credulity and part-time rejection of science and reason  by some in the druid community. But I have now realised there is enough of value in Druidry, to want it to evolve to the next level. A 21st Century Druidry. Hence my change to the title of this blog. A 21st Druid can find relevance and meaning in the ideas of  atheism, pantheism, agnosticism, pandeism, taoism and have an interest in Wicca or Hellenic Paganism or even find inspiration in Christian Theology, without converting to a different path, and  while still being able to think critically and sensibly about other truth claims.  The 21st Druid says that there is one Ground of Being or Absolute that we do know and can be sure about and that is Nature itself, from which we emerge and to which we will surely return. Nature includes all that is seen and known by science and reason, and the so far hidden stuff - perhaps what is now called 'the supernatural' - that in principle science or reason can and will discover in future (when the 'supernatural' might be proved to be natural after all). And as for what can never be known even in principle by science and reason, it would be pointless to talk about - as this is the absolutely unknowable about which never can be meaningfully said. 'God' if there is such may be in this latter category of the absolutely knowable - certainly I've given up any idea that I could rationalise a theology that I could believe in. If I still feel there is some absolute depth and power behing all reality, that feeling is what it is. It is very nice but there is nowt you can do with it. It does not signify that there is something behind the feeling to have a feeling, and the feeling might be part of my mental condition or everybody's. But I hope I have now given up on speculation about stuff that is only a feeling and intutition but that I can't make sense of. There is the whole realm of nature, and the consciousness, and what is revealed by science, that is awe inspiring, beautiful and glorious - superlatives that should not be wasted on what we don't know, feel, touch, or interact with.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Naturalistic Druidry - the 'manifesto' of 2009


by White Horse

This is a non-exhaustive and definitely non-compulsory list of things that some (but not all) members of the Order might be involved at any one time and which the Order can encourage and facilitate:

Naturalistic Ritual

  • Celebrating Nature and our fundamental connection and response to it, notably the seasonal festivals and cycles of nature familiar to most pagans. We wish to design and take part in rituals and celebrations that don't require a belief in the supernatural but are yet evocative, profound and inspiring.
  • Celebrating the entirely made up festival of Yode (See below)
  • In the long term contributing to the development of alternative rituals for rites of passage from birth to death and developing celebrants to take part in these. Promoting humanistic and non-religious celebrants and rites of passage generally.

Exploring the "Other World" of the Unconscious & Personal Transformation

  • Practising meditation techniques that include promoting tranquility, mindfulness/focus or a sense unity with nature and all that is, to find creative inspiration, and solve problems. A meditation may be guided or solitary, through, say breathing exercises or chanting/drumming or focussing on some aspect of nature or deep immersement in creative acitivity. Individuals may 'meditate' through a simple walk in the woods or sitting watching the sea or through the thrill of a thunderstorm and so on......
  • Working with the unconscious and understanding mind-body relations in health promotion including the placebo effect, and learning how 'alternative therapies' factually result in healing, if and when they really do.
  • Journeying in the profound inner 'other world' including practices that produce altered states of consciousness and awareness (e.g. sweat lodge, legal substances). The purpose of this is self knowledge, the promotion of self-healing and personal transformation.
  • Developing our unconscious 'intuitive' capacity which appears to be the true basis of 'divinatory' techniques, while demonstrating the non-scientific and erroneous basis of some predictive claims.
  • Utilising mythological archetypes in our journeyings (including those drawn from ancient polytheism and folk stories) , for self-understanding, visualisation, affirmation and individuation.
  • Having an interest in parapsychology and applying scientific methods to the study of supernaturalistic claims e.g. ESP.
  • Developing critical thinking skills that enable us to see through pseudo-science, logical fallacies, urban myths, snake oil purveyors and false religious or New Age hogwash generally

Developing a holistic but naturalistic world view

  • Discussing and developing ideas about the interplay of science, ecology, psychology, art and spirituality that has implications for the individual and society, seeing mankind as one among other species, with no 'right' to treat the rest of nature for his own exclusive ends. Nature has no particular purpose or goal, man has no particular privileged status, yet if humans have worth we can also treat other creatures as having inherent worth and rights too. Our regard for other creatures is not sentimental, while our ethics avoid any unnecessary harm, we note that species compete and kill to satisfy their needs, yet each may develop a niche and there can be a 'balance' within nature.
  • Emphasing in the need for individual freedom with responsibility. Personal ethics may involve enlightened self interest but also noting society has its own ecology - social life is more than the sum of individual desires and as social animals we must co-operate for the good of all.

Environmentalism/peace making

  • Our eco-humanist ethics may be manifest in environmentalism and the protection of species/landscape from our fellow man
  • Pledging ourselves to preserving the planet through changing individual life-styles, appropriate activism and politics. In much of the world environmental damage is the result of social injustice and poverty and we must challenge this injustice too.
  • Caring for future people/ descendants working to bequeath them a world at least as beautiful and diverse as the one we inherited.
  • Druidic Naturalists are committed to the traditional druidic role of peacemaking, reconcillation and dispute resolution. We support world leaders who promote a just peace.
  • We would reject racism but also the labelling and classifying of people in arbitrary ways e.g according to race or religion, and we also realise that self-identity and sexuality is fluid.

Challenging traditional irrational and religious beliefs/power where imposed on others.

  • Druid Naturalists will tend to be very skeptical of supernaturalistic claims and miracle stories, asking for evidence'. We believe in the druid maxim 'truth against the world'. No spiritual (or political) leader or teacher should be beyond challenge.
  • Druid Naturalists will tend to strongly challenge theistic and supernaturalistic perspectives where these are being imposed or preached by other groups/religions while seeking to offer alternative philosophical and spiritual meanings and outlooks.
  • Druid Naturalists may campain for a secular society. Religious belief/dvisions - even benign beliefs - should not be the basis of our institutions and law making including in education.


  • Promoting creativity and artistic self expression and skills, particularly through the traditional bardic arts of creative writing and poetry, story telling, music and craft, but also modern methods including photography and webdesign. This creativity is especially inspired by our relationship to the landscape, nature, history and folklore of the Celtic lands.

Finding Identity/Honouring the Ancestors (human and non-human)

  • Considering it a duty to remember and respect (without idealising) our ancestors and their stories. For those who have gone before are immortal in the sense of being still with us - in our memories or our genes and/or in the knowledge they passed on and in the consequences of their actions for good or ill. We hope that we too will weave interesting and authentic life stories and be remembered among the honoured ancestors,
  • Seeking a sense of belonging/rooted-ness in our land, its stories, folklore, customs, by community and co-operation. Having a positive view of our identity while at the same time not treating those with other identities unfavourably.
  • Not considering any particular period of history 'better or worse' in all regards, but finding particular sense of identity in the pre-Christian celtic and pre-celtic cultures and being interested in the mysteries of the megalithic monuments e.g. Stonehenge.
  • Celebrating and demonstrating that our ancestors include the non-human species from which we have evolved by natural selection, a river of life back to when our ancestors were single celled creatures. And further back in the aeons of time, ultimately we know we are 'stardust' - made of elements created within dying stars.
  • Promoting/defending Darwinian Evolution by natural selection as the best explanation for the origin and diversity of life forms and underpinning our belief in kinship with non-human animals.

Being a Techno-Druid Community

  • While looking for inspiration in the past at the same time fully embracing sustainable technology and a scientific worldview.
  • Creating an internet community through forums, social networking sites and discussion boards to which everyone can contribute and be heard.

Getting Together

  • Encouraging open, fun and somewhat anarchic gatherings of the Order including camps. A gathering is called a 'Speak Easy'.
  • Being part of/co-operating with the wider druid/pagan community: seeking wider acceptance/recognition of the naturalistic path, and acceptance of pantheistic, agnostic and atheist paganism/druidry as valid expressions of spirituality/paganism

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pandeism revisted

In the beginning God, then God was not, for God  became the Cosmos.This is pandeism in a nutshell.

We might have a variety of intellectual reasons to consider the concept of God as necessary, perhaps as a first cause, or the being that 'fine tuned' the universe for life and consciousness. However God is apparently absent from our Cosmos today. Not least we have the problem of evil, which demands that God intervene if he omnipotent and good, yet he does not. The claims of religious persons to have encountered God or to have received a revelation are not verified, incoherent or simply conflicting. Pandeism explains why we do not find a supernatural 'person' called God present in our world. Pandeism does though explain the widespread intuition of many people that nature is in some sense sacred and that there is deep mystery  grounding our existence.

Pandeism has I think, this intellectual difficulty. If God became the Cosmos via an initial singularity event, then any God nature would appear to be obliterated by the Big Bang. Nothing that seems to be specifically  personal can be carried over into the new Cosmos where this has begun as result of a point of infinite temperature/pressure etc. God does not so much become the Cosmos, but dies and is cremated and the result of this death is that the residue of this God-destructive event  becomes the Cosmos. So in a scientifically consistent pandeism the Cosmos is not  'God' in any meaningful sense, any more than my cremated ashes are 'me' even if those ashes were to be incorporated into some other structure or life form. So Pandeism seems to require, in light of scientific knowledge of the initial singularity, that God is now dead.Thus in fact it becomes a strange form of atheism-theism hybrid: there was a God, but not any more.

With my knowledge of process theology (that of Alfred Whitehead and Charles Hartstone), I would borrow some concepts from that theology to substantially modify pandeism. In my version God does not 'die', but God exists in a hyper dimensional reality that is not our reality. God does not exist in our 'space-time' as an absolute individual being and cannot intervene as an 'actor' in space-time (so this is still a deism). God may still be 'conscious' of all that goes on in our universe by virtue of existing hyper dimensionally. However space-time is a process, an unfolding of the deity's 'consequent' nature, which seeks to evolve ever greater consciousness and creativity in physical form. God's relationship to the universe is rather like that of mind-body, except this mind can only set up the program for the body, it cannot 'move stuff' around. You might say 'well of course I can move my body' with my mind. But what I'm talking about is not the manipulation of our environment via our limbs, fingers etc, but manipulating our internal physical constitution. I can't for instance will my blood vessels to move differently - our bodily processes are generally autonomic. But anyway God has no 'environment' if God is infinitely and omnipresent. Our universe's relationship to God is analagous to the relationship not of limbs or fingers but of the cells of our bone, skin and blood  to our mind. We can perceive important physical feelings but not direct their functioning. Our body is a 'given' and we can't chose for it to be anyway other than it is.God's body, the cosmos, is designed by God, but its subsequent evolution is not entirely determined or predestined (quantum mechanics requires that complete determinism of the future is not possible). This is where the human mind-body analogy breaks down. God would know all possible futures and would probably set an ultimate 'course' for the body to follow, though beings have some freedom within these initial parameters set by God.

Why the existence (or not) of God is very important

As a philosophical position apatheism is lazy, and if you are a theist, also plain silly. I here rather agree with the fundamentalists on just this one point, that if there is a God then we couldn't sensibly be apathetic about it. God would, necessarily be, the 'reason' behind everything, and would, presumably, have some grand purpose for life, the universe and everything. Reality would have been constructed by God for God for God knows what reason. Grand metanarratives is what religion is about, for they are always telling us how we should fit our lives into the great cosmic scheme of things and what our life is 'really' for (irrespective of any meanings we might attach to our own lives) Such a God might be a being to be loved or hated or feared but could be no more ignored than gravity.

It is a fundamental a problem for theists to explain why, if God exists, he is not simply 'obvious' to everyone. Why would God be 'hidden'? The obvious naturalistic answer is that he is not there at all. Some mystics think God is so omnipresent that because we don't know of any existence without God, an objective vantage point is impossible - because there is no point in our reality where God is 'not', then we simply don't discern god just because he is everywhere. I think this claim is logical (if there is such a deity)
However I have a problem with the notion that God is 'everywhere' because there is so much shitty gratuitous and pointless evil and suffering in the world: if God is involved in all that evil then, well, he is not Good in any meaningful human sense. A God who is not Good makes some sense to me. After all, if there was a deity why should he be good to humans? Perhaps we are just expendable lab rats in some grand experiment.
Other religious traditions seem to insist God is 'withdrawn' or absent from the world because we are so sinful or we have 'fallen from grace', perhaps in fact we are divine sparks from the giddy heights of heaven fallen accidentally into matter. In this thinking, we have to make our way 'back' to God by spiritual practice. The ascent to god is not suprisingly often portrayed as a bit like climbing a mountain and climb we must or we have no hope or purpose and existence is thought to be futile. The theist insists that whoever does not seek God is failing to fulfill their true purpose and destiny. Its a bold and absolutist claim, but once you believe it has its own inherent logic. Alternatively in some religions God intends to rescue or 'save us'. Usually this means God will intervene and destroy/transform the world at some time in the future for God's people to re-populate the world and live in utopia minus the sinners who are to be anihilated (folk who believe this stuff are rather scary)

I think because God's absence is the more obvious fact of our curent existence, the consistent theist, who has any hope of making sense of the world, must claim that God is not 'with us' automatically but has to be 'found'. Most theisms including platonism and gnositicism allege there i some great existential gulf or blockage between the human and divine reality which has to be overcome - perhaps 'sin' or 'ego' or 'ignorance'. The alleged purpose of life say theists, is to drag ourselves from this worldly existence or state of being where God ain't to the happy blessed reality or state of being where God is; usually they talk of restoring us to 'union' with God from which relationship we are currently said to be alienated. But a personal take on reality and our individual aims are entirely devalued and must be surrendered. Indeed to even have personal aims contrary to the divine aims or purpose is what denies union with God according to some religions. Theism is I think necessarily anti humanistic, and anti-individualistic and at odds with most modern notions of personal 'freedom'.

And this is also why I believe the monotheist at least cannot truly enjoy or celebrate nature or our human existence now for its own sake: the purpose and meaning of life is projected instead into some future or heavenly state. The consistent theist must insist that we are just 'passing through' this current vale of sorrows and soul making; indeed the theist simply feels that 'this world is not enough' . And this is also why theism plays more to people in a state of poverty and oppression. Just because their lives are so impoverished, as they may cling on to the hope it will be better when the roll is called up yonder/in the sweet bye and bye. So theism, if true, and theologically consistent has a massive consequence for how we are to live and what we do or don't do. Indeed most theism say it is simply not enough to believe in a God. Belief requires action, praxis, a practical shake up of one's value and activities. Theistic claims are always totalistic. Anyone who does not see that, frankly does not understand religion at all. This is why I take any claims to 'apatheism' as tongue in cheek - as a funny, cheeky brand of atheism. It absolutely matters whether there is a god or not. It should be one of the most important life orientating decisions we make. And if one believes in God but it makes no difference to one's life i.e. one lives as if there is no God, and practically as an atheist, then every theistic religion seems to insist that such a nominal theist doesn't understand 'belief' or the notion of 'God' really at all. Nominal theism is the most pathetic and lazy state of mind of all. Atheism is strong and solid ground, Believers are strong but very scary, and Agnostics - well, we are really trying to find the truth.