Reflecting on the Druid’s Prayer

In Iolo Morganwg’s Barddas, there are apparently six different versions, and this is the version I learnt going to druid rituals in England and which is traditionally used by the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. It is addressed here to the “God and Goddess”, though traditionally it was just addressed to “God”, and in fact can be replaced with any other word deemed appropriate.

The form of the Druid’s Prayer is conducive to meditation, one attribute leads to another, and so we are led through a structure that can help us contemplate the connections between each quality and integrate them into our lives. This is my own reflection on the Druid’s Prayer.

Grant, o God and Goddess, thy [sic]* protection
We feel small and helpless, so sometimes it feels good to ask something that is “more-than-self” for a little help, whether that be disembodied entities, another person or the unexplored and undeveloped powers within us.

And in protection, strength;
I think we can remember some time as children wanting to try something new and different, but being too scared to. Then along comes mum, dad or another adult we trust, and with their support we can confront our limits and go beyond them. If we have a sense that we are “protected” in some way, we then have the confidence to go meet our challenges.

And in strength, understanding,
We gained confidence, meet our challenges and go beyond our limits. We experience life directly for ourselves, and so we gain an understanding of life, an insight into how it works and how we work within that.

And in understanding, knowledge;
If understanding is an insight into life, then knowledge is turning that insight into certainty. We have confidence in what we have directly observed, and the strength of knowledge to act on that.

And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
Knowledge is not stable, but something that is constantly being adapted and adjusted to new insights. Life always throws up new challenges, and so we gain knowledge of the dynamism of nature, the balance, flow and harmony inherent in the universe that serves as a natural justice. It is this natural justice that governs the natural world.

And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
As we come to know this natural justice, you see that things do make sense and that this balance, flow and harmony are what allows and sustains your existence. Gratefulness and love follow.

And in that love, the love of all existences;
We are all interconnected, all lifeforms. We are all part of the natural justice that sustains each living being, and as we see and understand this, our love expands to include all living and non-living things. They express the natural justice we love, so we love them.

And in the love of all existences, the love of God, Goddess and all goodness.
Our vision of life and love are expanded and we come to see nature and the universe in positive terms that express something of our highest ideals and principles. Love is central to many world religions, even if their adherents fall short in practicing it, and here it is given a prominent place in Druidry too.

*some time ago in the history of the English language, “thy” was actually singular, comparable to Spanish tu or French ton/ta, and is appropriate in addressing a single entity, as is the case in the original forms of the Druid’s Prayer. “Your”, which corresponds to Spanish vuestro and French votre, would be more appropriate here, but “thy” was the form I learnt before discovering the grammatical difference and tends to offer a more archaic or poetic feel to the prayer.

Or perhaps we can understand “God and Goddess”, not as two separate entities but as complementary aspects of the same divinity united in its love? Something to think about, anyway. ;)

Transition Between Spaces

Inspired after reading Stepping into ritual space

In many ritualistic traditions, the marking of space and our transition from “outside” to “inside” is structured so that we have a change in attitude. In Druidry and similar traditions, a circle is marked in preparation for magical or celebratory acts.

The dojo in martial arts is considered “different” from the world outside it. You can’t enter with shoes, and in some there is a certain ettiquette that has to be observed upon entering. It marks for me the moment when the work begins and informs my attitude from then on

In Ecopsychology we’re taught to ask “permission” of a natural place, following the non-verbal signals of the body (“natural attractions”) to verify what the place is “telling” us. We can’t just go in as if we own the place and do whatever we want – other beings live here, and they deserve our respect.

I think this transition is important, but I think it’s also important not to create a bubble of it, in that you only live this within that moment or place, and never apply it in your life. In OBOD ritual we’re taught to say “may memory hold what eye and ear have gained”, meaning that whatever we experience “in-circle” becomes integrated into us and we carry that attitude with us to “out-circle”.

Ecothought: the Ego and the Body

You go out into nature and there is a sensation of forgetting oneself, yet remembering something more fundamental. All the “cheats and tricks” you’ve learnt being amongst people (flirting, appeasing, intimidating, deceiving, negotiating , etc.) don’t work the way they “should” do, and questions like Who? become unimportant. These masks just fall away, and for anyone that identifies strongly with these masks, being in nature can be disconcerting, because you can no longer rely on the rules or script of society.

The ego is a social tool, and relies on society and human relationships for its image and structure, and as a social tool it is quite useful, but it does not reveal the entire picture of who or what you are. It is a narrow beam of light that highlights certain details (the ones we want to show), but leaves others very much out of focus.

Out in nature, a crack appears in the ego, the narrow beam of light dims slightly and lets other details appear, details which you may or may not be familiar with, and which you may or may not find agreeable. In society we may come to believe that we are an ego that wears a body, but in nature this becomes reversed and we have space to realise we are a body that carries an ego.

I feel the same doing aikido too. When practicing a technique, I am in physical contact with another person, and cannot rely on my social image to interact with them. In this way I come face-to-face with my own physical limitations, which I cannot overcome by presenting a new image to them, but only by confronting the existence of my body.

The body is our organic contact with reality, and the ego is a social tool. Perhaps we’ve spent more of our lives living in a social mode than the organic, and it’s difficult to change that habit. But the more we spend time with nature, the more the organic reality asserts itself and the social reality is put into perspective.

The Druid’s Peace Moon

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every full moon, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids encourages its members to conduct rituals or meditations for peace (for more see here). In this vein, I am going to offer each full moon a quote for peace. Enjoy!
Yours in the peace of the Grove,

The Taoist Druid

I walked into a bookshop and looked at the religion and spirituality section, and there before me were two scriptures from the East: the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Te Ching, so I bought them and read them. Out of the two the Tao Te Ching spoke to me the most, and I soon became enthusiastic about its philosophy.

One allegorical painting, The Vinegar Tasters, depicts China’s three main philosophies and their reactions to life: Confusianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Confucius, the Buddha and Lao-Tzu are standing around a vinegar pot and they have each stuck their finger in the pot, taken a taste and are left with different expressions on their faces. Confucius has a sour look, seeing life as out of harmony with Heaven and thus needing the proper rules and institutions to regulate it. The Buddha has a bitter look, seeing life as something we suffer (First Noble Truth: “Life is suffering”) and from which we should seek liberation. Lao-Tzu has a happy look because he realised that vinegar (or life) is as it should be, and it is our meddling in it that causes problems for us. The taste of vinegar is not pleasant, but that is as it should be; it is vinegar being vinegar!

Here was a philosophy that affirmed that life and nature are fundamentally good, and not something we should control or seek liberation from, which really clicked with my Pagan and Gaian sensibilities.

There is a principle of harmony and unity at work in nature, called the Tao, or Way. It is not one particular way, it is the Way of All Things, of Heaven and Earth and the “ten thousand things,” so it cannot be constricted or encapsulated by any one belief or thought system, which are all partial and limited.

Each being has its own contact with the Tao, called Te meaning virtue, the inborn nature of each being that has its source in the Tao. A mountain has its Te, as do the stars, as do ants, as does a rock, as does a flu virus, as does a water molecule, as do human beings! All things have their own Te, which is, by nature, in harmony with the Tao. If we are in harmony with our own Te, we are in harmony with the Tao, and if we are in harmony with the Tao then we are in harmony with the Te of All Things. No need for control, no need for liberation. All things can happen “Self-so”, if we let them.

But I cannot now say this is my philosophy, because this is something that is “done without doing”, a concept known as wu-wei. It has become a non-philosophy for me, because it is something achieved without contrived effort, it is something we are born with and not something we can achieve, it is something we simply are – if only we would let ourselves! What is the Uncarved Block? It is the form of the block in its naturalness before human hands took it and shaped it, it is the tree in its natural state. This is the Uncarved Block. Wu-wei is simply letting the Uncarved Block be what it is, a tree in its natural state.

In considering wu-wei, Taoism is not a system that can be applied like other philosophies, it cannot be thought out, planned or systemised, because it represents Nature as it is. Its goal is Harmony with Nature, except that Nature is Harmony, and so it is impossible to achieve with the usual goal-driven manner of thinking. It already exists. But even the goal-driven conscious ego has its own Te, its own function in the nature of things. It is not a matter of denying this ego, to stop it interfering but to observe nature (including the Nature within the human mind) and learning from and applying its principles, and let Nature transform our way of thinking.

We can plan, scheme, manage, invent and have goals and expectations, because that is simply the nature of the conscious mind, and how we evolved, but we can do it in harmony with nature. The conscious mind can consider itself as one function within the wholeness of the human psyche, and the human being can consider itself as one part of how Nature functions, instead of somehow separate from, better than or above it.

The Buddhist Druid

Buddhism has had a great impact on my thinking, and though I may not officially take refuge in “Buddha, Dharma, Sangha”, or adopt the Buddhist precepts as a rule of life, many of its ideas have helped me overcome many philosophical tangles, simplifying and clarifying many of my thoughts.

The appeal of Buddhism for me is its universalism, that the Buddha’s teachings weren’t simply directed towards a specific tribe, ethnicity or culture but were used to describe the human condition, in much the same way as I see Christ and his teachings. Of central importance to both is love or compassion, conceived of and practiced in slightly different ways, but essentially the same. Bodisattvas delay complete release from Samasara (cycle of rebirth) in order to help others in their search for enlightenment and the cessation of suffering. For me enlightenment and compassion have become closely allied if not synonymous.

The concepts that really underpin what I’ve received from Buddhism are the three signs of being: dukkha, anicca and anatta, roughly translated as suffering, change and no-self, respectively. All beings suffer, all beings are subject to change and all beings are lacking in any permanent sense of self. The sense of self itself can change over time, but also it can appear and disappear, much like the light in a light bulb (science seems to confirm this: “I” am a cluster of neurons that serves the purpose of identity in this organism). I think in the realisation and acceptance of dukkha, anicca and anatta, I suffer less, I worry less about these things and learn the meaning of The Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

The Buddha originally sought a way to cease suffering through spiritual means, and this culminated in his enlightenment, Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, but what he taught was the Middle Way, moderation between the extremes of hedonism and asceticism, that both extremities can become obsessions and thus sources of suffering instead of liberation from it. Perhaps even the pursuit of moderation can become obsessive, so we can say “All things in moderation, including moderation.” The Buddha offered a way to help the world, and so he encouraged people to take what they felt was helpful in their lives and not obsess over or accept all his teachings.

Recently, I saw a picture of the Buddha “going to Nirvana”. It was an image of his death and around his body were his followers in various states of mourning. We tend to think of Buddhism as encouraging detachment and dispassion, yet here is a scene of pain and passion! Buddhism certainly isn’t about denying these feelings, but just not becoming attached to or obsessed over them. Feelings come and go like the tides, like the tides of change. In the acceptance of this we can find a measure of peace, even in extreme times, and develop a mindful attitude of acute observation. For me, Buddhism is a deeper and clearer way of feeling and living, and not letting ourselves become overcome by our passions.

The Pagan Druid

Having grown up with Christian beliefs and then experimenting with Spiritualist and New Age ideas in my teens, I didn’t start an active spirituality until I discovered Neo-Paganism. Here I started to examine my previous ideas and experiment with new ones.

Modern Paganism offered me a spirituality that was non-dogmatic and experiental, leaving me to experiment and investigate various beliefs without committing myself to any particular one. Above all, it offered me a spirituality connected to nature, affirmed life and inspired me with myths and symbols forgotten after the coming of Christianity.

Pagan (or pre-Christian) religions represent a long buried source of spiritual inspiration that is not Christian or an exotic Eastern one. They are native to the Western psyche, with symbols and myths corresponding to a deeper “archeological” layer of our cultural psyche.

Neo-Paganism is often described as a Revival or Reconstruction of ancient pagan religion, but I would not describe it like that but I think of it in terms of Reconnection: we can reconnect to the ancestral traditions, which can bring us insights about ourselves, our world and the universe, insights that can reconnect us with our instinctive selves and with nature. This also means that other sources of spiritual inspiration are not precluded; Paganism represents just one layer in my spirituality, one of primal religion, connected to instincts and nature. Christianity provides another substantial layer in my thinking, as do Buddhism and science.

Aspects relating to this “primal religion” are polytheism, pantheism, Goddess worship, animism, shamanism, celebration of the seasons and reverence for the ancestors and their ways, which I’ll describe briefly here:

Pantheism and Polytheism the universe and the natural forces that comprise it are divine and so sacred and worthy of our respect, individually and as a whole.

Goddess Worship for many centuries Western culture has held fast to the image of the Divine as masculine, a significant part of Neo-Paganism is to redress this imbalance, reviving the image of the Divine Feminine. In it, women may find empowerment and respect, positive “feminine”* qualities can be given due credit, and we can find ways of living harmoniously with the Earth Mother instead of exploiting her. (*here I talk of a cultural definition of gender that is by no means pan-cultural, and may in fact belong to men as much as women).

Animism the universe is alive, as something organic and not merely mechanical. Each being and presence in nature deserve recognition and respect.

Shamanism the awareness of hidden aspects of ourselves and the world around us, we see all things as interconnected, and the human mind reveals itself to be something more than just a conscious ego, but contains upper, middle and lowers worlds through which we can “travel”.

Celebration of the Seasons a major part of modern Paganism is the use of the Wheel of the Year. With eight, roughly equidistant festivals we observe the changing seasons, celebrating them and integrating our observances into our lives, which all too often are urbanised and disconnected from nature.

Reverence of the Ancestors the past is often forgotten in the rush to get the newest, shiniest electronic devise before the next one comes along in six months. We advance in ignorance of our roots at our own risk! To know our roots or ancestors is a way of knowing the ground we walk on and the wisdom (or lack thereof) of its stability. But here we must also apply discrimination, sorting the wheat from the chaff, as not all we inherit has necessarily been for our own good or that of the future. And let us not forget Reverence for the Descendants, those who will be left with the legacies (good and bad) that we leave behind.

From this we have a life-affirming spirituality that is ecological in nature, integrating all that is organic, interdependent, primitive, wild and instinctive in harmony with our modern intellectual and technological ways. I feel this integration is an important part of gaining stability as we advance into the future.