Letters is a series on Bishop In The Grove that allows readers to initiate the dialogue. Submit your letter on the Letters page, and it may be chosen to be included in a future post. This first post in the series is centered around bringing Druidry and Druidism into balance.
“You’ve talked before about wanting a balance between your revival Druidry and reform Druidism. Is this still something you’re trying to balance? How do you do it, practically – any examples?
– From someone trying to walk a similar path :)”
This question comes at an interesting time — both for me and for the community of bloggers I read. There’s a good bit of this v.s. that going on in conversations across the web, and I’m not quite sure how to make sense of it.
Just yesterday I witness an innocuous Facebook post unleash a somewhat heated debate about intellectual paganism v.s. non-intellectual paganism, an argument that seemed to suffer from a lack of agreement about terms and definitions. And there are blog post cropping up in every corner of the web about whether Paganism is reputable, or silly.
So when I read the question — how am I trying to balance these two streams of thought and tradition — I can’t help but notice how different that language sounds.
I’m an ADF Druid. I have been for a couple of years now. I’m also a member of OBOD, and (technically) a student in the Bardic grade. But I haven’t attended to my OBOD studies in a long time. The materials sit on my bookshelf, mostly untouched. So, mostly I’m ADF.
ADF Druidism is a religious path, and OBOD Druidry a philosophical one (to speak in very broad, general terms). In a way, I’ve been very much devoted to the development of a personal religion, one that is based in ADF principles. But then there are moments when I find myself asking,
Yes, but what does it all of what I’m doing mean?
And in that moment, I feel that my Druidism has once again become Druidry.
To give you an example:
This morning I was at my home shrine, lighting a piece of charcoal. I lit the charcoal with a lighter that contains in it the flame of Kildare, passed on to me ceremonially during a CUUPS gathering. While the fire set the coal to sizzle, I spoke in my mind,
This is the flame of Kildare. May it burn brightly and may it…
I stopped myself.
I was going to say something invoking the Goddess, Brighid, but then I wondered if this particular style of invocation was something that the ancestors would have done. I literally stopped the movement of my own inspiration in order to evaluate if what I was doing was historically accurate in relationship to my hearth culture.
The intellectual, inquisitive, +1 for scholarship side of my Druidism got the best of me in that moment.
The next thing I thought was,
Who cares?! What am I doing right now, and what does it mean to me?
I find that Druidry, OBOD style, places a greater emphasis on personal experience and personal revelation than ADF does (broadly speaking). The “what does it mean to me” question is central to Druidry, but not so much to Druidism.
Druidism even has the term “unverified personal gnosis” to denote the things you “know” but that cannot be verified. The very idea that inner knowing needs to be “verified” smacks of intellectual elitism, even if the term is being used to keep people from making claims about their unbroken Druid lineage.
I’ve witnessed many conversations on the ADF lists where members display concern about whether they’re “getting it right,” and I worry sometimes that the standard we use to judge our work, the standard of scholarship and historical accuracy that ADF holds up so strongly, can lead us to overlook the simple, meaningful, unscholarly needs of the heart.
But with all of that said, I still am committed to the religious tradition. It’s a choice I’m making, and it serves me.
I balance my Druidism with my Druidry, first, by acknowledging that the two needn’t be mutually exclusive. Philosophy, after all, is an intellectual pursuit; one which can inform the way one engages in their religious practice.
So in your question — a very good question — I take note of the word “balance.” It seems key here. I believe in bringing into balance the mind (critical thinking) with the heart (intuitive knowing); integrating and harmonizing the parts of ourself that seem to be discordant. The mind and the heart should be in dialogue, just as I think ADF Druidism should be in dialogue with OBOD Druidry.
Thank you for the letter, and for initiating this dialogue on Bishop In The Grove.
Now I turn to you, my thoughtful readership.
If you are a Druid, one who has been exposed to ADF and OBOD, how do you bring them into balance? Or, do you?
If you aren’t a Druid but have had experience with holding the tension between multiple traditions, how does that approach affect your spiritual life?
I am an Ovate in OBOD and have attended a few ADF rituals and workshops. I recognize that there is actually very little that we know of ancient druidism and that many more useful materials have been developed in the last century that enhance our spiritual journey. I wish to honor the old ways, but I incorporate many more newer aspects of the path that is in a constant state of development. When choosing which organization to join and study, I found the strict polytheism to be too limiting for me. I believe in an All One, the Divine Duality, the Sacred Triad, and four and five and so on. I find that overall, the Druid paths have more in common than they have differences.
I think that’s a great way to put it . . .the Druid paths have more in common than differences. I’m a Dedicant of ADF but would like to learn the OBOD bardic grade too. I feel that what I end up balancing in my life is my natural paganhood and my ADF religion. I’ve always been doing pagan things naturally – loving nature in all her aspects, feeling transcendent bliss while watching a sunset or sanderlings on the beach. Looking for guidance from within, gazing into a fire, pouring my heart out in a poem, listening to a bird’s song, and sometimes falling deeply in love with another person. Now I have been exposed to a ritual structure from ADF and learning resources which will be devoured, but I hope it will never supplant that simple, relaxed, and exciting natural paganhood going back to my teens.
I’m a Druid graduate of OBOD (i.e. – I’ve completed the studies of all three grades), but my first introduction to modern Druid practice was through the writings of Isaac Bonewits, one of the primary founders of ADF. I have great respect for both orders and both approaches to Druid belief and practice and agree that both should be in dialogue with each other. Not necessarily in balance (implying some sort of quantitative equality) but in dialogue – each informing the other to create a greater whole.
I want to be historically informed – I want to know what my pre-Roman Celtic ancestors did. I want to honor their beliefs and practices and I want to learn from them. I want to know what the Revival Druids of the 18th and 19th centuries did – I know they were mostly Christians, but if it wasn’t for them OBOD likely wouldn’t exist. I want to know what other Pagan Druids are doing now.
All of that speaks to me as I create my own Druid practice here and now. Good religion is a living thing. It grows and evolves. We’re right to build on as firm a historical foundation as we can, but in the end we’re not pre-Roman Celts or 19th century Welsh, we’re 21st century citizens of the world. What speaks to us here and now is ultimately more important than what the ancient Druids did a couple thousand years ago.
John , this is why i’m involved with The CR movement to be as accuratly Celtic as possible , altho philosophy is good i too wanted a religion and commerodery w/ like minds . That i found in ADF.
I was raised in the Catholic faith. I loved the ritual. However, at an early age one of my greatest frustrations was that women could not be priests. Once I got older and realized that while I valued the rituals in Catholicism, there were too many things that the church instructed that I did not believe. It was then that I turned to the Lutheran faith. Different but not quite. I was ordained in the Lutheran church even, but I still struggled with the fact that my beliefs didn’t quite fit in. The only benefit was that I could be a recognized leader within the church.
It was after years of soul searching and spiritual trials and tribulations that I found my true spiritual home in Druidism.
I find this same type of tender balance between ADF and OBOD. The balance is off kilter on many occasions. My connection to ADF lies in the rituals. I am comfortable with an established format on how to conduct rituals/worship/prayer. Still, there are moments when the information I am looking for isn’t found through ADF and I turn to my own research. Why?
I’ve experienced too many arguments and inconsistencies on various viewpoints on the ADF lists. What I thought would be a simple question ends up turning into an all day (or more) debate. And here is where I struggle. I thought that as a church ADF would have a “and this is how it is” stance — and let me back up — maybe the church does, but its members do not yet.
For me, I do not have the benefit of a grove or protogrove in my state. (although it is something that I’ve frequently contemplated starting at some point).
Are the struggles with “getting it right” because so many seekers of knowledge do not have the accessibility of a grove to turn to? I’ve never looked at the geographic make-up of ADF in the U.S., but where are the groves as compared to the members and how many of those solitary members are in the same boat as I am in? No where to go close to home for answers. Is it the availability of an established grove and ordained leadership that contributes to the question of whether or not we are doing things the right way?
[I’d be interested in hearing other views from members that do have accessibility to a grove.]
That said, when I cannot get the answers I am looking for through ADF, I do turn to OBOD for resources. They’ve got some wonderful material. However, I am dedicated to ADF. I love my church! So, while I may have found an answer that resonates with me on a personal level, I really don’t know if I’ve got “it right” in relation to the teachings of my church.
It is then that I feel that the other person on the teeter-totter jumped off while I was at the top and I just crashed down with a thud.
I’ve been a member of ADF since 1985. Discussion & debate have been part of the organization, along with research & ritual, for as long as I can remember. I don’t think I’ve ever expected ADF to have “the answer” to anything. I joined ADF in large part because I attended some of the early festival rituals that Isaac led and found that I connected with that framework more readily than with Wiccan circles, or the local Women’s Spirituality group. ( I really think that if Isaac had wanted to be in a group that claim ed to have all the answers, he’d have remained Catholic.) I’m also firmly Neo-Pagan, which is likely why OBOD and AODA never appealed to me.
As you can probably tell, I’m good with the notion of working things out as we go along. Your interactions with the KIndred are unlikely to be mine & your conclusions about that will probably be different from mine, even if we’re participating in the same ritual. I’m fine with that (yes, I’m a Libra, why do you ask?)
Thank you, Karen. For me, part of the challenge is that it would be difficult for me to attend any of the festival rituals because of where I live (they are all out-of-state). It would help to see and be a part of this experience. But I understand not everyone requires this type of hands-on learning.
I know what I believe aligns with what ADF recommends (or I wouldn’t be following this path). However, when I do have questions of deeper thought/theology, I don’t know where to really go for answers. The work I do on a daily basis is all research, so I know where to look for answers. However, the challenge is where to look for answers that can be validated somehow. Is there historical merit to the viewpoint? Did this information come through Divine intervention/hallucination/reflection?
Another challenge for me is that I tend to be extremely analytical. My educational background is in spiritual psychology. That said, I firmly believe in the concept “to each his/her own.” Yet, when I’m trying to define “my own,” it is not always so easy to know where to start.
I’ve always found ADF’s mailing lists to be an excellent place to get both opinions and formal references on ancient and ,modern practices. (Then again, I’m not easily scared off by people on mailing lists expressing strong opinions. I’m told that some people have issues with that. >8)
Thank you, Rob. That is a great suggestion. I do subscribe to the lists and have gleaned some great information. However, I’ve found that the format is a bit difficult for me to follow. Let alone, if a topic hits the hot button, my inbox gets inundated with list emails for the next couple days. The challenge then is that some of the topics go “off topic” and there is no way to follow the thread that I am interested in. Hopefully, as things progress the lists will be replaced with a format that is easier to follow and participate with.
Hi Karen. Do you mind if I ask what it is about OBOD and AODA that doesn’t mesh with your Neo-Paganism? (I’ve been looking for people’s stories about their experiences with AODA, and so far they seem to be kind of thin on the ground on the ‘net, at least compared to ADF and OBOD!)
It’s mostly that I’ve found the Masonic based Revival groups just don’t do anything for me personally. I’ve got a few friends who are part of a local AODA grove, and all of them describe their Druidism as their way of life. (They also all seem to be in survivalist/prepper mode as a way of life, something I find off putting after a while. They’re friends and good people, but it’s just not for me.)
ADF Druidry informs my religious practice, but I don’t connect with the idea of it being a philosophy or a way of life.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Karen. I’ve noticed some of the survivalist mindset as I read through John Michael Greer’s writing myself. It doesn’t put me off as much, but that could be because I’ve always wanted to have a lot of the skills they discuss in that regard. And since I’m sort of (it’s complicated) *looking* for a way to move environmentalism more deeply into my way of life, that connection could kind of work for me.
I call my spiritual path Druid-ry, but mostly for aesthetic reasons, because I think the -ism suffix just sounds clunky and awkward when attached to “Druid.” The only explanation I’ve heard about the difference between the two suffixes in choosing which to use is that the term “Druidry” suggests that the spiritual path is a kind of craft (like poet-ry and artist-ry) rather than a doctrinal or ideological stance. The etymologies of the suffixes -ry and -ism roughly reflect this distinction, with -ry meaning “place for, art of” and -ism forming nouns of state, condition or doctrine.
Personally, I am not a member of ADF because I disagree with its basic theology — but my Druidry (which is grounded in Revival Druidry but heavily influenced by CR) is most definitely a religion and not simply a philosophical stance. It does strike me as a bit odd that people within ADF seem to think of Druidism as “more intellectual” than Druidry. AODA, a decidedly revivalist Druidic tradition, incorporates a great deal of intellectual rigor and research into its training, though that research does focus more on scientific concepts like ecology, environmentalism and systems theory rather than anthropological or historical research.
What’s not as surprising is that ADF folks are getting bogged down by the question of “doing it right.” That’s almost always a stumbling block with “-ism”s. The stumbling block with “-ry” is not “am I doing it right” but “am I doing it well?”
That focus on scientific concepts like ecology and environmentalism is why I’ve felt more attracted to AODA than any of the others. I’d like to learn more about my world, and I’d like some sort of structure that gives value to it, and AODA seems to offer that.
One question: are “druidry” and “druidism” just two different word choices that the ADF (and AODA) and OBOD use for their practices? Is there some reasoning behind the different syntax?
I’m not sure. I always thought they were just two different word choices, but it definitely sounds from the way Teo’s approaching them that there’s some consensus about how they’re used that I wasn’t aware of (and maybe that consensus is coming from within ADF itself?).
Teo probably can say more about that than I can.
Personally, I’ve only ever referred to what ADF does as “Druidry”. If ADF has officially termed what it does as “Druidism”, they sure never told me about it.
My use of the terms is influenced by what I’ve read in Isaac Bonewits’ book, Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism.
He uses Druidism when speaking about Druids (mostly Neopagan) who approach their practice as a religion. Druidry, as he describes it, can be thought of us “‘what druids do,’ in the sense that artistry is what artists do and carpentry is what carpenters do.”
Perhaps I’ve misused the terms here in my post.
I confess that I haven’t read that one. I don’t know of anyone in ADF who self-describes with the term, and I avoid using it for precisely the reason Alison mentions: “-ism” implies dogma.
(Though I do sometimes say that I practice Hellenismos, so I can’t pretend to be consistent on that one. >8)
That’s exactly how I understand the difference between the terms, based on Bonewits’ definition, although it may not be how everyone understands the difference. I really like the subtlety of difference between them – craft and religion. I want both. 🙂
The distinction laid out that way does make sense. I just asked because I hadn’t really seen both words before. (I also think “druidism” sounds sort of clunky; “druidry” flows better I think.) ADF seems to be more focused on religion and history than I’m interested in (well, history yes, religion not as much) so I haven’t looked at much there. That would be the sort of thing I’d try to find from the library, but I’ve returned my last three ILL books late so I’m getting afraid to request more – I’m worried if I take one more back late they’ll cut off my ILL privileges!
I know this is old now, but I just noticed this on AODA’s FAQ page – pretty much sums up what you said here, Teo!
“9. You say “Druidry” rather than “Druidism.” Why is that?
The term “Druidry” stresses that the Druid path was not an “ism,” an ideology or set of beliefs, but a craft, a set of practices and traditions sharing common principles. The English language gives the suffix “-ry” to any number of crafts, such as pottery and forestry. More recently the difference between “Druidry” and “Druidism” has become a convenient label for the major division in the Druid community, with “Druidism” used most often by recent Celtic Reconstructionist groups who base their versions of the Druid way on modern scholarship, while “Druidry” is used most often by older groups who work with the heritage of the Druid Revival.”
I’m an ADF pagan, working through the beginnings of the Clergy Training Program, and starting a ProtoGrove in Boulder, CO. My dear friend, and business partner practices Dzogchen Buddhism, so conversations about non-dualism come about often.
Examining this idea of non-dualism from a polytheistic perspective, instead of my friend’s ’emptiness’-based perspective, has been part of my devotional practice as well as my ongoing clergy work for some time.
Here’s some personal understandings from my meditations, that have come to inform my overall pagan practice:
* The idea of “this or that” is born from and fueled by our prior connection to and influence of monotheism. If there is only one standard of divine excellence, then everything NOT equal to that standard, is profane.
* Two or more “truths” can exist simultaneously, without utterly destroying one’s personal convictions and understanding of their own truth.
*As a subculture community, NeoPagans will remain divisive and polarized to one another, the community-at-large, and other religious traditions unless we make personal efforts to become aware of the delicate influences of monotheism on our culture, our speech, and our working with our own personal religious practices.
I invite my fellow brothers and sisters identifying as pagan, heathen, Wiccan, asatru to embrace this challenge of exploration with me. I invite open dialogue about our traditions and practices, remembering that many truths can exist together.
Join me in kindling sacred fire, and offering silver to the well, asking for inspiration from our gods, our ancestors, and the spirits of the Land Herself, so that we may have wisdom on our journey, integrity in our relationships, and moderation of our ego.
Mtn. Ancestors ProtoGrove, ADF
Well i am what i call An ADF Druid w/ fairly strong CR leanings , for those not into it CR is Celtic Reconstructionism.This is based strongly on acheology and scholarly data . So a CR based pagan is as accurate as possible keeping up w/ current findings and data .What CR actualy is , is a methodology to find a real Celtic pagan faith , one historicaly accurate as possible . Altho a CR has to use UPG to make a working faith possible , we use as little as we can . In all reality even monotheistic faiths have to use UPG to work on a personal basis .For any religion to work , some things must be accepted on faith then UPG has to be used to suit each individual practicioner, how they wish to live their own faith.I personaly have no real problem with the concept of UPG , religion as we know know it couldn’t work w/o it . The biggest difference is see between many pagans and those of other faiths is pagans truely live our faiths , live by the tenents thereof . Kilm
I am too am familier with both ADF, now working my way through the clergy program, and the Bardic Grade in OBOD. I did OBOD before I joined ADF. I enjoyed the OBOD studies and got a few things of personal growth from it, but I did find that it lacked something that I personally needed, though I am hard pressed to put it into words what it was. I found it with ADF. For me ADF has the right balance between scholorship and inspiration. I find it interesting that so many people seem to interpret ADF as having some sort of really strict rules about how ritual has to be done in just the right way down the tiniest detail, when that is simply not the case. There is lots of room for inpsiration with in ADF ritual. Inspiration is great! but the fact is not all inspiration is well thought out or can stand the test of time. I might be ispired to fly and the quickest way to get there is to throw myself off a cliff in that inspiration. Yet wouldn’t it be much better to take that inspiration and learn to build and fly a hangglider? Same inspiration…better result (my ex might have a differen’t oppinion). This is what I get with ADF. Inspired ideas with a frame work to support and make that inspiration really fly. I guess when I take away all else and look at what Teo is really discussing…I see the age old strugle between inspiration and reasoning. As alluded to before on the readers posts before me, this is seeing the situation in a dualistic way, which is baggage from our Monotheistic cultural training. Druidry(ism) has taught me that in fact there is always a third factor. It’s usually the combination of the first two seeming dualities. In this case it’s the coming together of inspiration and the reasoning mind. It’s not a choice between standing on the earth or flinging my body over the cliff, but instead feeling the inspiration to fly, applying my reasoning and building the glider. There are times when we need to let inspiration lead, and times when we need to let reason lead. Some times as in Teo’s story about stopping his prayer, one or the other will trip up what we are doing. Knowing when to let inspiration lead, when to let reason lead and getting them to work in concert is Wisdom. (pls excuse the misspellings, no time to proff read =))
Thank you, Derek. Your post really resonated with me and provided me with some valuable insight for me to reflect on.
I’ve been a druid for 13 years and have never been involved with ADF or OBOD. My training always incorporated scholarly research and visionary research. Now I’m going to a Hindu temple to see what our IE cousins are doing. I’m not sure why these two modes of understanding the world are in conflict in any way. We’re trying to revive a cultural tradition that is very dead and very foreign to our modern culture. We need all the modes of understanding, all the tools, and all the info we can get to make this all workable enough that it survives past our generation. Both academic and visionary work are necessary and should be integrated rather than just balanced
That’s the problem with waiting to respond to an article like this, someone else posts first and covers most of what you wanted to day. >8) In this case, I agree with much of what William Ashton posted. Any question that assumes that two approaches to something need to be “reconciled” automatically assumes that the two are somehow in opposition to each other. Why can’t they both work? If we really want to work with a polytheistic worldview, why can’t there be lots of techniques that work for the many different practitioners and the many different deities that are out there?
(Side note: the “heart versus mind” dichotomy has never seemed very helpful to me, either. I’ve never felt like there was a hard and fast boundary between the two within myself.) (Then again, my chart has Mercury conjunct Moon, and I’m told that we’re all like that.) (Then again again, I think astrology is pretty silly too.)
In particular, I find myself amazingly saddened by the assumption that the parts of the ritual that feel satisfying are associated with OBOD and Druidry, and the parts that involve self-doubt and disrupting the flow of the rite are associated with ADF and “Druidism”, a word that I’ve not seen ADF associate with itself. (Indeed, don’t we translate “A’r nDrai’ocht Fe’in” as “Our Own Druidry”?) I’ve never been involved with OBOD for a variety of reasons (chief among them being that someone let me read the first four parts of their study program and I was wholly uninspired by them), so I don’t rightly know what it’s like to perform one of their household rites. But I find all kinds of inspiration and joy and spiritual satisfaction in the ADF High Day rites that I do with my Grove, and the ADF-influenced household rites I do by myself. And if a stray thought hits me in the middle of one of those rites that maybe I should do something slightly differently? As far as I’m concerned, that’s not self doubt or “Druidism”, that’s divine inspiration, or at least my own inspiration from having studied and practiced our ritual style for sixteen years. We all have more to learn about our path and our practices. Never let a learning opportunity turn into a speed bump in your head. Seize the moment, learn from it, and do it differently (or not) next time.
This is a great comment, Rob. Thank you for posting here.
I think it’s worth clarifying that while I had a moment during ritual this morning where I felt like my intellect blocked the flow of my work, and I associate that intellectual chatter with ADF (rightly or wrongly), I don’t think that ADF is without inspired work or spiritual relevance. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be devoting so much of myself to a work rooted in ADF style. It was less that I made an assumption, and more that I made an association. Perhaps that’s something I need to take a closer look at.
But again, thank you. Those last few sentences of your comment really hit home.
This really jumped out at me:
“Druidism even has the term “unverified personal gnosis” to denote the
things you “know” but that cannot be verified. The very idea that inner
knowing needs to be “verified” smacks of intellectual elitism, even if
the term is being used to keep people from making claims about their
unbroken Druid lineage.”
I first came across the phrase “unverified personal gnosis” in “Wicca 333,” but only really came to understand it while exploring CR as part of My Own Druidry. Outside of a recon context, a lot of people get upset with the phrase for the very reason you say – but I can’t help but feel that they don’t fully understand what it means, and are taking it the wrong way as a result.
First, UPG isn’t saying anything about your ideas and faith needing to be verified — it’s more about how applicable it is to other people. It’s a way of saying “this works for me, but YMMV.”
“It’s a way of saying “this works for me, but YMMV.””
I think that is an important function of UPG as well. I also think that the same basic attitude, to take each others experiences with a grain of salt but to both give people the benefit of the doubt and treat them respectfully is key. And frankly there are a lot of people who baulk at the term UPG but who have no problem critically examining other peoples’ spiritual experiences. Particularly ones they don’t think valid.
That last bit is troubling to me. Is something you’ve experienced in groves, online, or both?
Most often I’ve experienced this in what I like to call “religious” reconstructionist groups vs. “methodological” reconstructionist groups. Which is funny because while they tend to embrace the term UPG they often use it as a pejorative – particularly in comparison to “the lore”. It is one of the primary reasons I’m not active in those groups. That and they’re almost all exclusively online. Not my thing.
I have also experienced it in Wiccan or heavily Wiccan influenced groups to a lesser extent. And eclectic groups, the local CUUPS group is surprisingly notorious for that. Of course they don’t phrase it “you’re doing it wrong”, they say, in effect, “there’s no such thing as doing it right and therefore everyone is equally right”. Which is my experience of UUism as a religion in general. Nice people though.
“The very idea that inner
knowing needs to be “verified” smacks of intellectual elitism…”
I believe that self-determination is a foundational tenant of any just and rational society and that it is a good value to hold in smaller interpersonal relationships as well. I also agree with your implication that much of what constitutes inspiration, intuitive knowledge, and spiritual experience is simply not verifiable. Further I detest the way the term UPG is alternately used as a club to beat down competing theories and as a means of justifying slavish adherence to “the lore” – a troubling term in itself, for me.
I do believe though, that we need a certain measure of intersubjective verification. Beyond being somewhat gratifying, it helps to ensure that we are on the right path – not in the sense of “doing it right” but in the sense of “this is actually happening and I’m understanding it in light of what it is and not what I want it to be” – and this is essential precisely because there is a certain degree of mystery involved. This is beneficial not just to mystics and spirit workers but to average practitioners – thus the popular demand for spiritual direction – although Pagans and polytheists are often resistant to this as they may not appreciate a third party commenting on their spiritual experiences, coming from dogmatic religious backgrounds.
At what point does spirituality become religion? Is it when spiritual experiences are shared between members of a group? Is it possible for groups to share spiritual experiences? If not, that calls into question the purpose, if not the wisdom, in associating with others based on shared spirituality which may be the very foundation of religion itself. To this end it is advantageous for religious groups to encourage shared spiritual experiences and indeed this is what much of what a shared liturgy is intended to do within ADF, or any religious group that shares common liturgy. Personally, the first spiritual experience I ever had, of a sufficient magnitude to convince me pursuing religion was worthwhile, was had in a group setting. I doubt I could have achieved it individually, even leaving aside the question of motivation.
All of which is to say, I appreciate that spirituality is deeply personal. By definition it constitutes the most sacred moments of our lives. And after years of dogmas and creeds it can feel liberating to just go with our gut. I do feel however that we are best served as individuals and as communities when we are willing to let in trusted voices to help guide our search for the divine powers that call us to lives of worship and devotion. I’m not advocating “approved” experiences, I’m advocating that we help each other make sense of, and in the process even validate, our spirituality.
Wonderful comment, Dave. Thank you for contributing to the dialogue. You ask some great questions.
“I do believe though, that we need a certain measure of intersubjective verification. Beyond being somewhat gratifying, it helps to ensure that we are on the right path – not in the sense of “doing it right” but in the sense of “this is actually happening and I’m understanding it in light of what it is and not what I want it to be” – and this is essential precisely because there is a certain degree of mystery involved.”
This resonates with me.
Can I ask – are you an ADF member? Do you write about your spiritual or religious life?
Thanks, great blog Teo!
I’ve been ADF for years – I’m not married to her every talking point but she is a good match. Structure, pragmatism, at least an attempt at historicity while simultaneously remembering our place as 21st century people – largely Americans, although not exclusively! – in need of a 21st century religion, there’s a lot to love about Our Own Druidry. And I can say that as someone who approaches the Druid label with trepidation – damn you Dungeons and Dragons! You’ve ruined my attempts to take myself too seriously!
There are some things I question, the one size fits all liturgy in combination with adherence to varying degrees of methodological reconstructionism seems ahistorical and perhaps not as scholarly excellent as it could be. Of course being highly structured there’s some degree of preserving the organization at the expense of genuinely innovative and beneficial reforms but hey, faster than a speeding oak tree right? And so far the leadership has been strong and served honorably and well.
I’ve given thought to blogging but its been a back burner priority for a while. Perhaps that will change in the future.
To answer your question re: Druidism vs. Druidry –
Within the context of ADF I identify Druidism and Druidry as two sides of the same coin. Druidism is the public, grove and festival based rituals whereas Druidry is the private practice of ADF religion at our hearths and shrines. Of course that’s just my personal understanding based upon my idea of religion and spirituality essentially being two different manifestations of what is basically the same phenomenon.
I am, if only vaguely, aware of the historical associations between Druidry and philosophy – and a not necessarily Pagan/polytheist one at that! – and Druidism with (Neo-)
Paganism and, often although not always, “hard” polytheism. I’m also aware of other groups who identify as Druids to whatever extent that they do so, groups such as OBOD. I’ve never really been interested in Druidism/Druidry as such though, ADF is definitely exceptional for me in that regard!
Sorry i misunderstood you , Dave . Heck , i gave up on taking myself too seriously a long time ago . i was just speaking on how i understand UPG , and true many get thier panties in a wad over that topic .I too have found a home in my local ADF grove .
No worries my friend.
Ok , from a ADF and CR perspective i’d like to deal with a few of your statements and questions . UPG is quite personal , how we make our beliefs and religions work for ourselves individualy. Alot of of this taken on faith that is by defintion unverifiable . that is how UPG is used , no intellectualism intended . On another point in CR a set of beliefs becomes a religion when major part become set such as following a certain Pantheon and a set of core beliefs . Also in ADF the UPG ones uses and how is not controled or regulated . In ADF groves all the parent organisation does is provide some structure and way of doing things , there is a dedicant and clergy programs, guilds as well for those with specific interests , but all of that is optional . Each grove also picks it’s own cultural focus within the IE pagan pantheons. Each grove pretty much is an independant entity within the umbrella organisation , there is no overbearing control from above . Kilm
This really jumped out at me: “Druidism even has the term “unverified personal gnosis” to denote the things you “know” but that cannot be verified. The very idea that inner knowing needs to be “verified” smacks of intellectual elitism, even if the term is being used to keep people from making claims about their unbroken Druid lineage.”
I first came across the phrase “unverified personal gnosis” in “Wicca
333,” but only really came to understand it while exploring CR as part
of My Own Druidry. Outside of a recon context, a lot of people get upset
with the phrase for the very reason you wrote – but I can’t help but feel
that this anger comes from an incomplete understanding of the phrase.
UPG is part of a contiuum of gnosis/inspiration/revelation, that includes Shared Personal Gnosis (gnosis that multiple people arrived at independently) and Confirmed Gnosis (gnosis later backed up by lore). It’s a shorthand for describing your revelation in relationship to an existing community and body of lore, so that people can easily denote inspiration from research. Most importantly, though, the contiuum exists specifically because reconstructionists recognized that *all* religions started as personal (and later shared) inspiration, and we need to be able to hold that with as much respect and validity as historical sources. And just like with historical sources, the more support you can find for your idea, the stronger it is.
UPG doesn’t express anything about your ideas or faith needing
to be verified — it’s more about how applicable it is to other people.
It’s a way of saying “this works for me, but YMMV.” In the same way, SPG would be “this works for quite a few of us, but YMMV,” and CG would be “this works, and is historically relevant.”
I think a better set of terms to avoid that confusion might be Personal Gnosis, Shared Gnosis, and Confirmed Gnosis, but UPG/SPG/CG is what has stuck.
And I feel that this is almost exactly analogous to balancing the thought-streams you’re describing as “Druidism” vs. “Druidry”. Historical accuracy is important – but so is personal inspiration. In your personal practice, you’re doing it right if it feels right — if the Imbas is there, it’s clearly working. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
This is great stuff, Jason. Thank you for sharing this comment.
I’m a multi-trad Recon-method polytheist, animist, and pagan who works with a number of organizations as a way of expressing my beliefs and being a part of community. The pantheons I follow are Greek, Irish Celtic, and Norse; for the heathen in me, I (and my husband) are members of The Troth; for the Hellene in me, I’m a member (and on the Prutaneis) of Hellenion.
I joined ADF not quite two years ago so I would have local, offline/IRL community to work with as I continue to work in the CR tradition. (I’m a member of Ord Brigideach, and a long-time flametender for Brigid, but don’t know any members of that group in person). ADF has a reputation for encouraging scholastic rigor among its members, which appealed to me a great deal; being as historically accurate as is possible to be –especially in the framework of a modern culture that no longer practices things like human sacrifice or slavery, and especially for a polytheist tradition that left almost no written records behind — is important to me.
I’ve never been a member of OBOD, but I understand very well about balance. Sometimes it can be a bit of a juggling act to practice all three traditions separately, with respect to their individual beliefs, and with as much historical accuracy as is possible. I’ll never be able to completely reproduce the way the original members of those cultures did things, because so much of what they did, thought, and felt has been lost to time. I try to make certain that the bits I use to fill in the blanks left behind aren’t diametrically opposed to what we do know of their ways, and are respectful of what we know of them.
As for the animist part, all three cultures had their own beliefs on the spirits of the land, the animals, etc. — whether by the name of land wights, Aes Sidhe, or dryads/oreads/naiads etc. Building a rapport with the local spirits of the land and its inhabitants, as close to possible in keeping with the way that my ancestors did, has been challenging but rewarding, and was another flaming torch to juggle when building balance.
Nor can I say that the evolution of my beliefs and methods is complete, because generally we continue to learn as we grow; when we quit learning, and opening ourselves to new experiences, it’s my belief that we might as well be dead. I hope that I’ll be able to face those new challenges in the future with as much success as I feel I’ve had so far; although there have been times when I’ve made mistakes and screwed up (who hasn’t? I don’t know anyone who claims to be perfect), every time so far I’ve picked myself back up off the ground, done what I could to correct my errors, and incorporated what I learned from those mistakes into the way I do things from that point on.
I quantify my Path, more specifically, as Creideamh Si, or the “Fairy Faith” in the Irish Gaelic. I do as much research as I can, and incorporate the pre-Christian mythology & post-Christian myths, folk practices, and lore into my Path. This has been a painstaking effort over the years, and I do also strive toward understanding Druidry-ism in both the ancient and modern contexts. The archetype of the Druid is especially something I strive for in the Gaelic myths (Cathbad, Amergin, Fiontann, etc), and I study the Brehon Laws, the Triads.
And the template for the Fairy Ring/Circle is, “The Settling of the Manor of Tara, into my ceremonial orthopraxis regarding directions and the land of Ireland as a mandala, of sorts–the Body of the Goddess of Sovereignty. it felt overwhelmingly “right” on both intuitive and intellectual conscious capacities.
All in all, I meditate, pray to my Gods…Brigit is my Matron Goddess. I write poetry, I sing my own songs, and do my best with liturgy. Most often, I get these *There you go, you are on the right track,” feeling from Her. I have an altar devoted to Brigit, too!
In terms of balance, I try to undertand it in a spherical, circular context rather than a 2-dimensional, linear one, which imposes a kind of dialectical scale that continually bifurcates the wholeness of overall experience. Where wholeness is to be found, there need not be any binary oppositions at odds with one another, although, at times, there can be a creative tension between what appears to be separate; I have found, though, this tension especially relates to the soul striving for unification where illusory demarcations are and have been imposed by a strictly rational mode of being at the expense of the emotive, spiritual context (not always intentionally). We tend to separate what naturally belong together, and I have only come to partially understand this.
Anyways, I hope made sense of my ramblings; I felt compelled to put down a few of my thoughts, on here.
I believe in life, and death. I
believe in reality, and that reality is far greater than our five-sense-limited
bodies can comprehend. And I believe that in our heart of hearts (intuition) we
“know” this at a deep level. The problem comes when we try to limit
ourselves into literal / factual materialistic models. My own perception is
that every religion, philosophy, science, and history, are really metaphorical
systems in which we grapple with all of this.
My primary metaphorical (or
archetypical) system is Protestant Christianity, specifically Presbyterian,
because that is what I was raised and formed in. But it is a qualified and
augmented Christianity informed both by my own wrestlings and
re-conceptualizations of traditional teachings (Liberal / Progressive) and by
the insights and influences of other paths such as Celtic spirituality, Sufism,
Judaism, Native American and Creation spirituality, Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism,
Druidry, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Tao, and so on…. All of these have combined
to enliven and enrich my spirituality, both in concept and in practice
(spiritual discipline). But for me they are all also simply gropings at MYSTERY
and the LIVING PRESENCE of whatever is.
For myself, I “need”
Jesus at the core of my path, because he is the core of my path. But if I have
a “creed” that I really affirm anymore it is best summed up in the
Sufi invocation of Hazrat Inayat Khan: “Toward the One, the Perfection of
Love, Harmony, and Beauty, the Only Being, united with all the illuminated
souls who form the Embodiment of the Master, the Spirit of Guidance.”
That’s my thought, for what it is
Thank you for replying to my letter, Teo, and for giving me so much food for thought. I’m currently completing the OBOD Bardic Grade and moving into the ADF Dedicants’ Path. I belong to an OBOD grove, and a lot of what I do in groups is OBOD- or BDO-like in terms of ritual – revival Druidry is the dominant form of Druid practice here in the UK. But I’m drawn to ADF for a reason, and I don’t feel that I can ignore my reconstructionist leanings any longer. But I very much want to explore the balance between *craft* and *religion* in my practice, as I begin working with ADF, and to live the tension between the two. Great answer – thank you!
This post speaks to a very central dynamic in my practice-process.
I have a strong intellectualism in my personality and a deep appreciation for scholarly and historical rigor, but I’ve also been training within a deeply inspired and ecstatic tradition of practice with a teacher who constantly brings us back to embodiment, presence and integration.
For years, I’ve moved back and forth from a productive dialogue between a somewhat infertile intellectualism and a deeper sense of connection and heart-driven intuition, aesthetics and desire to a stale and paralyzing gridlock between the two.
As I’ve worked to bring both these sides toward satiation and dialogue, I feel they have become mutually supporting and reinforcing. My intellectual rigor has historical import; I get really annoyed by outlandish ahistorical claims. The attention to history and the unfolding process of my spiritual traditions helps me to see inspiration in the way in which they embodied, or practiced, their spiritual awareness in their context of time and place and culture. I value being able to use ancient prayers and to be inspired by centuries of literary and artistic/imagistic output (my core spiritual trip is Hermetic/Alchemical), which I feel helps me prepare for, connect to and transmit a spiritual current which is deep, rich, and old. However, it’s the 21st century and our practices and tools have to fit the needs of the times we live in; in some ways our problems are timeless, in others very contemporary. The mission becomes, for me, to explore honestly the history and expressions of all the spiritual currents that inform my mind soul and practice and then to engage them with discipline, honor, rigor and love through creativity and inspiration every day.
Are there really any new journies, other than our own? For years had “struggled” to find balance, finally realizing that it was an intellectual struggle not an experiential one. By defining, labeling, was creating separation rather unification. over the last 30+ years, have realized that my mixed heritage accounts for my relationship with different traditions. There are many aspects of druidic, pagan, wiccan, etc traditions that resonate as “right”. As a unique being, the mixture of traditions is therefore unique. So the balance is what makes me feel right. my personal, individual, and unique relationship with all that is around me – intellectually and spiritually. Years ago, in response to her insistance that I go to church, told my mother that if God didn’t like that I didn’t go to church, God knew where to find me and could tell me that directly. My relationship with the Divine is ours alone, so if my practice is pleasing to us both, it is no matter what anyone else thinks. of course, this does create a rather solitary “tradition”, which has been working just fine for us.