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.”

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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!