The Humanist Druid

As a human being and druid, I believe that being human and human beings are important and valuable. This value transcends culture, religion and nationality. Human nature is something that is universal, and over which no one has a monopoly; it is something that connects us all. What it is and how to recognise it are on-going processes involving the self-discovery of each individual and the evolution of the human race as a whole as we realise just how many ways there are to be “human” and how deep our cultural conditioning goes.

One image of the ancient druids that inspires me is that of a network of Celtic intelligensia that worked between tribes, kingdoms and cultures that make up the diverse range of peoples we call “Celtic” (with an area stretching between the British Isles, Iberian Peninsula and Turkey). Their wisdom and training transcended their tribal loyalties and traditions to bind them together with a common human spirit. The value of this image is not whether it is fact or fiction but how it inspires us to live our lives.

A modern druid, like anyone in the world today, is in contact with and influenced by international ideas and relations. Indeed, they may even find themselves outside the traditional range of the Celts, and perhaps not even with Celtic ancestry. Modern druidry and its ideas themselves are not limited to Celtic tradition, but have for centuries been mixed with others.

We live in an era where international human rights have been developed and agreed upon, we are connected by the Internet and other forms of media that stretch across the world, bringing us information instantly. Inevitably, the mix of cultures can prove a volatile powder keg, provoking much conflict. But a modern druid takes all this in their stride, joining with the flux of culture that lays over the undercurrent of humanity.

This particularly resonates with me, being a British expat living in a bilingual part of Spain with a French-speaking Swiss family. I have gone beyond the “comfort” of my anglo-centric box and discovered other cultures and other parts of the world. And when relating to other human beings, I cannot rely on the familiar or conventional ways I was brought up with, but must learn to relate to other human beings, not as a druid or a Brit, but as a human being.

I don’t think we have to deny our cultural backgrounds, and trade them in for something more universal, but simply put them into perspective. To misquote Jesus Christ, “Humanity was not made for culture/science/art/religion; culture/science/art/religion were made for humanity.”

The Gaian Druid

Gaia philosophy has deep roots, with ideas abounding for millenia about the Earth being a single organism, and ourselves being a part of this. This forms a very important part of my worldview, which you can see a glimpse of in my previous blog post on The Three Circles, and there are a number of my blog posts on Gaian philosophy and science – just look through the Gaia tag on The Grove of Quotes. In the last century it has been given substance by the scientific work of James Lovelock and his Gaia Hypothesis. The Earth, together with its atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere, is a life-sustaining system that can adapt and evolve like an organism, and may be described as a superorganism. The scientific name for this is geophysiology. Though Gaia works just as well for me.

The Gaian Druid sees themself as part of Gaia and seeks to turn their qualities to the service of Gaia and all the life that she sustains. Everything we are and everything we do can be seen as part of the way Gaia functions, all our technologies, sciences, religions, spiritualities, arts, cultures, traditions, etc.. Though many have had a tendency to go astray, and we live in a state of disharmony with the earth, in much the same way that the human brain may seek to own, control and coerce the body and its functions to its own goals, instead of providing a useful function for the whole organism. The Noosphere/Gwynvid (as manifest in humanity) is an infant quality of Gaia, and has a lot of things to offer but a lot of challenges to overcome too. The Gaian Druid is there, acting as midwife to support this process within themself and the world around them, as Gaia gives birth to a new phase of her life: self-awareness.

“Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space, and begins to know her place in the universe.” James Lovelock

One day I imagine all word prefixed with “eco-” (ecopsychology, ecotechnology, ecobusiness, ecovillage, etc.) will become meaningless as we realise that all aspects of human life are essentially “eco”, i.e. fundamentally related, interrellated and identified with the natural world. As David Richo said “We are not living on the Earth, we are part of how it lives.”

And some more of my favourite quotes on this subject:
“You did not come into this world, you came out of it. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Alan Watts

“Concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues”; it is the CONTEXT of everything else- our lives, our business, our politics.” Fritjof Capra

The Three Circles of Existence

The Three Circles of Existence can be traced back to Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg by his bardic name) who claimed they were part of ancient druid tradition but are largely accepted to be inventions of his own. Still, much of his work has contributed to modern druidic tradition, such as the Druid’s Prayer, and even the Three Circles can provide inspiration for modern druidry.

The Three Circles through which a soul journeys are Annwn, Abred and Gwynvid. Finally there is Ceugant which represents the Infinite, God or Spirit. The journey of the soul begins in Annwn, the Cauldron of Rebirth. From here souls are incarnated in the physical world, Abred, and when the body dies the soul returns to Annwn with the lessons learnt. The soul continues evolving through mineral, vegetable, animal and human forms, until finally it reaches a spiritual perfection where it may then enter heavenly realm of Gwynvid, from where it need not return.

In naturalist terms this doesn’t hold water, but I have found a parallel in Teilhard de Chardin’s work on cosmology: Annwn represents the geosphere (inanimate matter), Abred represents the biosphere (biological life), and Gwynvid represents the noosphere (human consciousness and its development). Annwn is the entire material universe, within which we can find the living world of Abred, and from that evolves Gwynvid.

There is a constant “reincarnation” or recycling of matter through biological lifeforms: soil is consumed by a plant, incorporated into the plant as a leaf, the leaf then dies and returns to soil (or it is eaten and recycled/reincarnated through the food chain). Life evolves, and from it appears the noosphere, specifically human consciousness.

For me, this fits with the Gaian worldview (see Gaia Theory by James Lovelock), where the planet as a living system has developed a mind through humanity, which forms a network of consciousness (noosphere). At present the noosphere is disparate and even volatile, and certainly not a harmonious contributor to the ecosphere, but we can see through history how it and human culture have developed, and how ideas have travelled and helped form a globalisation of culture (and with the advent of the Internet, information can now travel round the world at the blink of an eye, making the Internet function like a nervous system for the noosphere). As each individual develops noetically, the noosphere in turn evolves, becoming more refined and coordinated, and it becomes another part of the evolution of Gaia, a composition of Annwn, Abred and Gwynvid.

Ceugant is a bit more difficult to include, but we could say it parallels Teilhard’s Omega Point, the apex of the evolution of consciousness. Ceugant stands beyond what we can know, and perhaps represents an “infinite mystery”. We may never reach beyond the known, but there is always the possibility that the unknown can, progressively, become known. There are plenty of horizons of potential!

The Pacifist Druid and Budo

“Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be.” from OBOD ritual

One theme that is strong in modern Druidry is that of peace. The image of the ancient druids as “peacemakers” (whether accurate or not) is a compelling one, such as the one of a druid walking between two armies to stop them from fighting.

In OBOD ritual we are taught to call for peace to each of the cardinal points (North, South, West, East) for “without peace can no work be.” Many modern druids have different ideas about peace and pacifism, but for me peace is an important part of my druidry, and I look for practical and creative ways to live my life by it. One way, perhaps surprisingly, is through martials arts, more specifically aikido, which has a philosophy of non-violence and peace. It emphasises harmony between humanity and nature, mind and body, attacked and attacker, all of which are intimately related.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, learnt various forms of jujutsu. Later he became involved with Ōmoto-kyō, a Shinto sect where pacifism is very important, and so he began to develop his martial art in a way that not only became effective way of defending oneself, but also a way of not harming your attacker, if done skilfully. There are ways to let their energy pass, reflect it back or use their movement to unbalance them.

In aikido you don’t attack first because 1) it is a response to violence, not a way to achieve it and 2) when someone initiates an attack, their own aggression becomes a source of imbalance, and can be used against them. All techniques are defensive, and any strikes and punches are for distraction. Having said that, all techniques have their origin in causing pain and damage; where one technique involves an elbow strike to the throat, in aikido this becomes a way to simply touch the chin and tip over the opponent with little effort.

Ueshiba included Budo, or the Way of the Warrior, as part of his philosophy, but it is not a way to hurt or destroy others. It includes, instead, a martial attitude, discipline, sense of honour and inner rectitude for facing the “enemy”. Not the outer enemy that attacks us, but the inner enemy that produces weaknesses in us and prevents us from living life harmoniously.

Here is something that Ueshiba said about Budo.
“The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”

I think there is an idea about pacificm (which I’ve held) that is about avoiding violence or “being passive”, even. Budo, in the context of aikido, does not avoid violence, it faces it. But then, instead of responding to violence with violence we learn to face it and actively transform it, neutralising it through harmony. This principle can be applied not just to martial arts but to different aspects of our lives, which is certainly something to be encouraged for any Pacifist Druid.

Druidic Theism

Within modern Druidry there is a wide range of theistic belief. Most Pagan druids will describe themselves as polytheistic or pantheistic, though there are others that embrace monotheism, duotheism, monistic-polytheism, panentheism, and even atheism and agnosticism. In this post I describe a little about my ‘theistic’ beliefs and how atheism, polytheism and pantheism have inspired me.

So, since I’m a naturalist and materialist/physicalist, that must mean I’m an atheist or agnostic. Well, yes… and no. I don’t subscribe to traditional theistic beliefs, meaning that labels such as personhood, consciousness and purpose can only be fully applied to humans (acknowledging other forms personality, awareness and intention in some life forms). As a basic intellectual statement of belief I could describe myself as an atheist or agnostic. But the gods that appear in world mythology do exist… albeit within the confines of the human imagination. But we can say that they represent something real, dressed in human form to make them more relatable.

Looking at definitions of polytheism, there is a weak polytheism that regards the gods as aspects of the One or as representing archetypes and natural forces, and a strong form that believes in them as literal beings, not just symbols. If this is so, then I am a “weak” polytheist. I don’t believe that archetypes and natural forces are endowed with consciousness or purpose; they are forces that follow inner patterns without planning or reflection.

One definition of theism I like is that of pantheism, or more or more accurately scientific or naturalistic pantheism. As Paul Harrison defines it “Pantheist beliefs are above all statements of an emotional response of reverence and belonging to Nature and the wider Universe in all their power, beauty and mystery.” I am in constant amazement of the Universe, and find science a wonderful source of inspiration and wonder, which leaves me with a sense that the universe is indeed “divine”. The gods represent parts of the whole or All that is the universe.

C.G. Jung said “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.” Certainly, in terms of natural forces and archetypes we can strip away consciousness, purpose and the anthropomorphic appearances from the world myths, but the underlying realities that they represent remain. Gods can also represent our highest values and aspirations, an aspect of human nature, and even if we remove the images of the gods, the underlying values remain. Money, science, family, work, art are all things we can find valuable in our lives without having to mention “God”. They give us sense, meaning and direction without being labelled “gods”. But they represent the focus of meaning and direction in our lives. In this sense, theism is not a statement of intellectual belief in something, it is an innate sense of value within each of us.

The Naturalist Druid

Naturalism is the idea that only nature exists, or to put it another way, everything that exists is nature. In this view there is no room for the supernatural. Also, the scientific method provides the best way to objectively explore the Universe.
I started with “weak” naturalist view, that is to say I believed in gods, spirits and otherworlds, but they could all be considered as part of nature, not separate from it. But bit by bit I relinquished this view, becoming more materialist or physicalist, i.e. everything can be explained by a physical view of the universe.

I considered the “duality” between spirit and matter and, like many followers of a nature-based spirituality, saw this view as part the root of our environmental problems. When spirit is somehow seen as something “better than”, “higher than” or “separate” from nature, we denigrate it through our indifference to or distain of it. From then on I could not take seriously anything that separated soul and body, which I see as two sides of the same coin (roughly speaking, the internal and external experience of ourelves).

I said above that everything can be explained in physical terms. I think everything can be explained in physical terms, but human perception is not limited to rational empiricism. We are intuitive, symbolic, irrational creatures, and certainly not limited to “physical only” thinking, no matter how hard we try.

Categories like “spirit”, “soul”, “gods”, and “Otherworld” are useful way of describing how we perceive the world around us or ourselves. They are symbolic of the human being and its relationship to the world within and without. The gods became archetypes; soul, the psyche; the Otherworld, the unconscious. The world religions represent a real need for humans to understand the world around us in other-than-physical terms, though science can, for me, play an important role in our religious thinking.

For a while I was an active member of Caer Abred, the Druid Order of Naturalists’ online forum. The forum no longer exists, and the Order is effectively defunct, but there is still a Wikispace page here if you want to have a look at how others have combined Druidry and Naturalism. I contributed some things on this wikispace (mostly about the Holistic Spectrum Mercenaries on the Gangster Connection page), which I’ll shortly publish here.

Being Organised

For a while I’ve had several things that I’ve been wanting to do, but not been able to do them. Not out of lack of time, but because I’ve not known how to prioritise them. So now I have a list of things I’ve been meaning to do and a timetable to do them.

Monday I practiced on my didgeridoo and bodhrán, yesterday a spot of bird spotting, and today some art and fiction writing. Tomorrow’s a day off, but Friday I’m gonna work on my Psychosynthesis lesson. Just an hour for each thing, and the rest of the day leaves me free to do other things like cleaning the house, gardening and so on.

This also includes blogs. So every-so-often, like today, I can find myself some time to write something.