Sunday, 27 November 2011

Reflections on a Druid Path

I've just skimmed through the New Order of Druids Bardic Course. I have picked out some odd bits that caught my eye, paraphrased parts of it and given a few direct quotes. The course looks very interesting and detailed for those who wish to do a more thorough look into the beliefs and practices of the Druid path, but it isn't something I would wish to do mainly because it delves into areas which I'm not really sure about (as to whether I agree with them or that I would want to explore - but I could perhaps say the same about some of the things here!).

Learning from The Land
It could be said that ancient Druidism is part of history and therefore irrelevant to today's modern lifestyle. It is a term that belonged to a group of people who lived in a culture that was very different to ours. By using it today are we not just trying to relive a romantic and idealistic spirituality that is tinged with nostalgia and a sense of wanting to be different to other people the world around us? If this isn't relevant to today then in a spiritual context this denies the fact that it could perhaps be transcendent, transpersonal and archetypal. In today's world where our consumerist lifestyle is fed at the expense of the natural world, is this a valid a spiritual framework upon which to build a respect for the environment around us and a source of values upon which to decide personal ethics? What it is then is a response, like all other spiritualities are to the world around them - "a response to the divine beauty of the world and our desire to participate with it". If you have a keen attachment and sense of belonging to the natural world then I suggest that the framework upon which modern day druidry hangs its philosophy is valid and can sit comfortably within a more eco-centric Christian faith.

"Over time, the spirit of the people in relation to the spirit of the land shaped this response. It took on the colors and textures that were birthed through this dynamic interaction; and so tradition was born. To be a druid meant to be part of the learned class of society, it meant playing a role – whether a central role such as a judge, historian, storyteller, or even sometimes a king; or the more socially marginalized shamanic roles of magician or healer. In either case, the druid was centrally concerned with the workings of society and the community’s relationship with the land.

Behind the 'roles' of druids lay the spirit or archetype of druidism. It is this archetypal pattern that druidism, in all its forms, has grown out of. In asking what 'authentic' druidism is, we must ask what this archetype is, and whether modern druidism is in alignment with it. In this respect our answer is deeply personal. Because archetypes, which are primal patterns of consciousness, transcend human nature, and remain a numinous mystery, there can be no fixed objective scale for determining the authenticity of the response."

The Ecological Unconscious
Theodore Roszak has formulated the concept of the "ecological unconscious" (The Voice of the Earth, 2001). The human collective unconscious is a place in which resides cultural, social and religious patterns, symbols and archetypes. The ecological unconscious is place of all the ecological, wild and environmental patterns, symbols and archetypes. It is this that connects us with a deep bond to the cosmos from which we have emerged, and the earth which is our home.

Druidry is deeply rooted in a relationship with the earth and acknowledges the interdependance between all aspects of the natural world: soil, plants, mountains, rivers and animals. Thus it does have a deeply animistic flavour - it is a mutual conversation between humans and nature. This relationship is as valid now as it was in the Celtic times. The cultures may have been lost and changed, but authentic natural relationships are as important today as they were to the Celts. I am unsure about working with non-ordinary states of consciousness, but as a framework for fostering growth and wholeness I think  it has much to offer.

"In essence Druidism is more than a spirituality or religion, but is a way, and unlike organized religions it does not interpret reality for us, but rather asks us to question everything and interpret the universe on our own. So it can, at times, be difficult to know what ground we are standing on, or whether we even have solidity beneath our feet. In Druidism, it is really that ground which defines what the path is; that foundation. Everything above the foundation hinges on our own subjective experiences, but the foundation itself, the roots and structure, are what gives us our cultural and spiritual identity."

Nine Strands:
Tribal dimension: our cultural identity
Art: creative expression and inspiration
Healing: Balance between humans and 'more-than-human communities'
Metaphysical: understanding the universe, the cosmos
Seership: divination, but not just that; wisdom, Otherworld connections
Ritual: Joining the flow of the rhythm of the universe
Natural Philosophy: direct physical experience of the natural world
Teaching: writing, teaching others, simple conversations. Cultivate new knowledge and wisdom within ourselves
Service: we grow in order to be of service to the world as well as our own

"[This path is...] simply a perspective, a way of defining what is often so hard to define. It’s left to personal experience then, what the Druid Way is, and how it informs our actions. Like all ideas that may not necessarily hold true for all, but can neither be labeled right or wrong, this one might just bring some light to the darkened forest of the soul."

We need to look afresh at the world and see the sacred pulsing through everything and recognising the divine presence of the sacred. From an animistic perspective soul is all around us (John O'donohue ' The body is in the soul') - this is a way of seeing the numinous imbued in everything - everything is filled with divine beauty. This is why the Celtic view of divinity is different from later anthropomorphic/human images. Celtic art reflects this idea of the interconnectedness of things and the idea of Divine creative energy or Shaping where lines, knots and spirals turn from one shape or form to another, to a human, to an animal etc. It is a world of dynamic fluidity, nothing is static. This is one way of looking at it because a more basic view is that Celtic art was developed purely as a design element that filled empty space! Much of it was developed in the Christian Celtic era onwards.

"Our current industrial worldview is one that promotes the destruction of self and nature, and through them, soul and spirit. This dissociation however is simply psychological. In reality there is no separation between nature and soul, or self and Other. The illusion of this separation is a result of our perceptions about ourselves and the world around us. To heal this dissociative gap we must have a shift in worldview, from anthropocentric (human centered) to ecocentric (earth centered), and re-imbue the phenomenal world with an acknowledgement of the sacred."

A more cosmological view of the world would see all things as being animated by spirit and what is sacred or not depends on our perception and an opening up of all of our senses. The Celtic mind would see the world more in terms of things as cyclical, spiraling, ebbing and flowing between dark and light, winter and summer. Duality gives way to places between these things - where they meet - a thin place. The Otherworld is like the soul of nature - we move through this nature-soul with a dynamic openness of spirit. It could be within our psyche or it could be a real place - a spirit world perhaps.

Is there an Underworld/Sea (the unconscious), Middleworld/Land (normal waking consciousness) and Upperworld/Sky (Spirit)?

Spirit of Place
How do we interact with the landscape around us? What is the "spirit of place" and how does this connect with our memories, history and myth?

"Each specific place in nature has its indwelling spirit in the Celtic traditions. This animistic world-view, held by many native traditions, is the product of a belief in the sacredness of all things. Unlike many world religions which hold that divinity is entirely transcendent, animistic traditions believe that this divinity is both imminent and transcendent. God does not only dwell in heaven, but within the Earth as well. This view was held by both the ancient Celts as well as the modern ones. While Celtic Christians speak of this as the imminence of God, Celtic pagans speak of this as the spirit of place. If human beings can be conceived of having their own spirit, individualized as well as connected to the larger whole, then it would not be too far of a stretch to conceive all of the physical world as being possessed of the same spirit."

Myth, landscape and the Otherworld interact with one another. This means that the landscape in interacted with, more than just a human playground and a backdrop to our lives. It holds its own personality, grows as we grow and we are both shaped by each other.

The Language of Nature
What do we mean by communicating with the other-than-human world? Does nature have a language? The natural world communicates and expresses its own subjectivity by "presence". It isn't necessarily an enlivening mystical energy but something far more mundane. When we experience presence we feel and experience something in our body. It is about the physical nature of a thing, the authentic embodying of its own inherent nature - it is the sound of a stream tumbling over rocks; it is way a tree grows, the shape of its branches and the texture of its trunk - this is how it expresses itself through its own presence. Things then become subjects, not inert objects. Everything becomes a  dance and a dialogue. We have to be careful though because as self-reflective beings with egos we have the capacity to create messages and make things up.

The Sacred Dreamtime

"All of the history and legends surrounding the island merged with the sound of the lapping waters on the shore, the mountains in the distance, the breeze coming off of the lake. In that second my awareness and consciousness were completely in the Sacred Dreamtime. ... All aspects of it, history, myth, and place all merged into one. ... The Sacred Dreamtime does not move in a linear progression. It is not a progression at all. It is only now. Within this moment are all things that are. Within this second resides everything that is, everything that will be and everything that was. There is nothing that has been or will be. They are. Now. Within this moment, are all universals, all archetypes. To be in the now is to enter the otherworld, to touch the sacred; to wakefully experience the Sacred Dreamtime."

"The universe is a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects"
, Thomas Berry.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mindful Walking

Wapley Hill, Herefordshire

Slowly, each step is placed with conciousness and awareness of its place upon the earth. I'm in a place where time has no immediate pull on the mind and it doesn't matter if the journey takes five minutes or half an hour. The trees barely move so why should I move with determination and eagerness? The earth makes no noise beneath me so why should I tread heavily? I am a visitor in the woods so why not become like the wood? Shape and form, texture and colour, smell and touch become my companions as I notice my form and presence amongst the dampness, the soft silent mist and the other beings who inhabit this landscape of conifers and ancient man-made earthworks. With an attentive mind to the presence of everything around me I notice the drops of water hanging on the ends of conifer leaves, the damp cobwebs on old tree roots, the fungi on delicate branches and on the decaying  branches and waste wood than scatter the newly cleared hillside. I am aware of the depth of the space around me and how the trees and undergrowth fill that space. I marvel at the brightness of the autumnal colours that brighten the misty darkness. Like Qigong, this is a way of walking that asks the body to be slow, to be present, to be aware of every movement and and to take notice of the way it is made. I don't expect to see or sense anything amazing, but I take pleasure in just observing the small, the detail, the present.

I leave with a sense of depth and fullness.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Man-made Landscapes

Wapley Hill, Herefordshire

It was just before daybreak that I parked the car at the base of Wapley Hill. It was surprisingly warm and after I had set off on my walk I soon had to return my coat to the car as I was overheating. Yesterday had been a beautiful warm sunny afternoon with the bright yellow mahonia fowers in my mother's garden covered in bees and even a comma and red admiral butterflies. Today was shrouded in mist and although it brightened up later in the day, I didn't get any views during my limited time on the hill. An area of conifers has been cleared on the northern side of the hill and when I was up here a few weeks ago I saw views I had never seen before. Today I sat for quite a while at the edge of a new clearing and watched what I could see of the landscape around me. Some blue tits, a wren and a goldcrest kept me company at one stage.

To facilitate timber extraction on this very steep side of the hill a new track had been bulldozed along the side of the hill for a good half mile or so. The ground must drop away at least at a 45 degree angle or more in places so a reasonable amount of the limestone/shaley soil had to be moved to create a level track. I noted how the track ran along side the lowest ancient ramparts of the Iron Age Hillfort thus creating a new 'rampart' lower down the hill. I wondered at the manpower time and energy expenditure in creating both of these earthworks. The bulldozer would have created in minutes what would have probably taken months or years to construct by hand.

What I also pondered was this. The Forestry Commission are probably within their rights to construct such a track without any need to get planning approval or to consult local residents etc. The track will substantially change forever the ecology and microclimate of this part of the hill. Possibly for the better as it will create more edge habitats and and introduce light onto the ground layer, thus encouraging a greater diversity of plants along its length. Whether the track will increase public use and access to this part of the hill I'm not sure. But if I walked along it, then others are bound to also. So this is a highly significant change to the landscape that is irrepairable and permanent (like the hillfort too). Will anyone be complaining about it? I doubt it. Even though possibly thousands on tons of soil and rock have been moved in its construction.

Now, consider a proposal to build a large wind turbine on the same hill. A structure with a minute ground footprint in comparison, only a few tons of soil displacement and with probably hardly any measurable ecological impact. I wonder what the public reaction to that would be...?