Druidic Inspiration

I’ve just started reading Blood and Mistletoe by Ronald Hutton, tracing the perception of the druids through history – which is probably easier than trying to figure out what they actually were. We are given various descriptions from Greek and Roman authors with motives of their own to describe the druids the way they did – can’t be relied on for accuracy. They are vilified or romanticised, depending on who is writing.

The image (or images) of the druid, though invented, adapted or exagerrated, have proven to be a useful resource for propoganda through history and also to become the basis of a whole movement for which may emphasise their social, cultural, spiritual, religious, magical, shamanic or political functions.

The druids are many things to many people, but using historic persons in this was is no new thing – the Jesus of the Roman Catholics is different from the Baptist Jesus is different from the Lutheran Jesus; the Buddha emerging in the West has diverged in some ways from his traditional portrayals in the East. Their personalities and roles are adapted to the needs and wants of the people, and yet they are the basis of legitimacy for their respective cultures and religions.

In this context, I think it’s significant that one of the central concepts of modern Druidry is “Awen” or Inspiration, something that just about all druid groups after the Druid Revival share. It is described as a divine source of creativity, but not only that, I think it symbolises modern Druidry itself as something creative and versatile, that the nature of those ancient druids is determined by the use of their image. As I read through Blood and Mistletoe, I shall reasses the various images and my own of them and share my thoughts here. It’s certainly a good read, and I’m only on the second chapter.

Beith: Regeneration of Forests

Valleys covered with Aleppo pine.

Valleys covered with Aleppo pine.

In both Britain and Spain there is a common phrase: there was so much forest that a squirrel could have gone from the South to the North without touching the floor. Nowadays we cannot talk of a continuous forest but of landscapes dotted with woods,  very few of which are ancient. But nature regenerates and renews itself, and that is the message of Beith, the first few (or letter) of the Ogham, an old Celtic alphabet, which is well known for its association with trees – though there are other lists, like birds, colours, lakes, tools and so on.

In the Tree Ogham Beith corresponds to the birch tree, which is quick to propagate and grow. Where there is no forest in North European countries, this will be the first one to establish new forest and pave the way for other species, hence its association with regeneration and renewal. But in our part of the Mediterranean there are no birch trees since it is far too dry and hot for them, leaving Beith without a tree. Enter the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), resistent to heat and dry weather, and also a tree that will quickly cover forest-less landscapes. Here, we refer to it as the “white pine” (distinguishing it from “red” and “black” varieties), further strengthening its association with the birch tree.

Spain, like many places in Europe and the world, has been subject to a lot of deforestation from the times of the Romans onwards, so only the fastest growing trees would come back, like the Aleppo pine, leaving slower growing trees struggling to recover.

I was looking one day at old aerial photographs of the valley where I live and was amazed to see that just a few decades ago there were hundreds of terraces used for hazel, olive and apple orchards. Now, all this land has become forest, and the terraces are hidden beneath a skin of Aleppo forest. The forest is regenerating!

When I came from England to live here, I didn’t appreciate this pine enough, since I was used to deciduous, broad-leafed forests with a lot more greenness and humidity – knowing what I know now, I can appreciate it more. The land has been cleared of forest, but now it has been left to its own devices, and the Forest is coming back. Long may it continue!

A Triad of Self-Knowledge

Three keys essential on the path to self-knowledge: acceptance, rejection and synthesis.
Acceptance of those elements that are ours but we have rejected; rejection of those elements that aren’t ours but we have accepted; a synthesis with a more adjusted sense of wholeness and centred in a more essential sense of self.

The Magic of Understanding

Magic is a way of making changes in your life the way you want or need, which is fine, but there’s more to it than “waving a magic wand”.  We can make changes and choose according to our desires, but without a key ingredient these changes and choices will not have any long lasting effects and may become overridden by what we don’t see. It’s like building a house without understanding the very ground you’re building on, which has an enormous effect on the structure of the house.

If we don’t understand the real possibilities and options present in life, how can we make effective changes? Haphazardly, that’s how. Sometimes, according to hidden patterns and forces, we may be lucky and get what we want to the letter, but sometimes we may be “unlucky” and it’ll work for a very short time and then fail, not work at all or blow up in our face. “Luck” is a word used to describe the vast swathes of ignorance and lack of control in our lives.

The basic work of a magician is to make changes, but the essential work of a magician is to enter into a process of expanding understanding and banishing ignorance, an effective magician will not base their work on “luck” but on a deepening understanding of the world within and without and also on self-transformation. Quite surprising, you wanted to change the world but you ended up transforming yourself! Not what we expected from magic,  eh?

With understanding we can make choices according to what we know and understand instead of falling prey to the vagaries of “luck”, but even more importantly the underlying structure of the magician’s mind is transformed by understanding, and the general trends and preferences it expresses follow suit. As we grow in understanding, life naturally changes.

A Triad of Creativity

Three things in the creation of art: the energy, the will and the form.
The energy of the unconscious in symbolic form; the will of the conscious to both allow and guide expression; the form of the medium into which it is expressed.

Druidic Triads

Old Welsh and Irish texts contain what are commonly called “triads”,  little phrases of wisdom and observations. They are popular in modern Druid circles for their succinctness and also for representing a possible link to ancient druidic wisdom.

Modern druidry is nothing if not up-to-date, so I’ve decided to add my own contribution to the Druidic Triads and share them here. And here’s the first:

Three things to percieve the truth: the certainty of the body, the courage to choose and make mistakes, and a flexible mind that expands beyond its own horizons.

In Search for Normal

There are many words that are misused, there are many words that are ambiguous, and there are many word that depend a lot on context for their meaning (who says it, why they say it, how they say it, etc.). One of these words is ‘normal’, and this a word that has always raised my hackles a bit, because it’s usually used in judgement of what people are doing and how they are. It’s a belittling word when used in the negative, and always carries with it a tone of what ‘should be’.

Here’s a few examples that are implicit and explicit in its use:
– natural
– healthy, sane, good
– usual, habitual, common, average
– conventional, general consensus
– acceptable, approved of

What’s normal in Spain isn’t always normal in England, and vice versa. And what’s normal in the natural world can be out of place in human societies, and vice versa. As definitions, they can be quite close, but at times there can be a great chasm between each one. Questions like “Do you think it’s normal?” are meaningless, until they define what they mean by normal.

In the dictionary, the two basic meanings are ‘natural’ and ‘habitual’, which I don’t think should be confused at all, since not everything that is habitual is natural. And in human society, many things that should be natural don’t have regular appearance in our lives. Perhaps my greatest objection is the idea that anything that is concieved of as average or conventional in society is somehow good, healthy or acceptable, where I believe this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In Spanish I can give a bit of leeway, because estar normal (to be habitual) isn’t confused with ser normal (to be natural), but even so, I tend to avoid it if I can, since there still seems to be an implicit social value of what ‘should be’, which doesn’t always coincide with habitual or natural.

One day, a rather eccentric lady and a friend of the family who didn’t see herself as ‘normal’ asked me “But what is normal?” My response was “Normal is whatever is normal for you, especially if it’s what you normally (usually, habitually) do.” After that I abandoned its use and substituted it with healthy or usual, which more or less matches the dictionary examples.

I’m not against the concept of ‘normality’ or the word, but it’s (mis)use makes it virtually senseless, unless it’s use is well defined. In the end, either we use it in a consistent and intelligent way, or we abandon it completely and search for more appropriate alternatives.

It’s (not) normal > I (don’t) like it

It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) usually like that

It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) healthy/good

It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) naturally occurring

It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) generally acceptable