Friday, September 13, 2013

Druidry and the Ancestors

I am reading Druidry and the Ancestors by Nimue Brown.  It's a great book.  It's readable, not too long, not too dense, and yet in another sense, it is dense.  I mean, it seems light in terms of the ease with which one can read it, but at the same time, it is so richly thick with intelligence.

I'm eager to read it all, and yet each nugget deserves time for pondering.  What I've decided to do is read it all the way through, giving rein to my eagerness.  Then once I've satisfied my urge to see what more she has to say, I can read it more slowly next time.  I can read just a few pages, and meditate on them.  I'm not yet done with my first time through, but I'm more than halfway there.  I'm on page 151 of 231.

Nimue has so much knowledge, and such an ability to synthesize that knowledge, and then to write it all in a way that makes her deep insights seem simple and obvious.

The title tells you what the book is about, but then when you read the book, you realize that the topic encompasses far more than you ever imagined.  It's about how we understand our past, and making choices about what from our past to take with us into the future.  "Our past" encompasses our family history, as well as the history of humanity and the planet.

At many points, there are things that remind me of some viewpoint I heard in the past that I knew I disagreed with, but I was not able to understood what was wrong with it with complete clarity and depth.  Nimue provides that clarity and depth.  I feel like next time I am faced with people who don't understand my viewpoint, I want to just hand them this book and say, "Here, this is it.  This explains everything about how I view the world."  Of course, that's not realistic -- when people don't understand me, I need to personally engage with them.  It's just a fantasy, that if only everyone would read this book, they would understand me.  Of course they wouldn't, because they would read the book through their own eyes, not through my eyes.

One thing I like is the way she talks about the history of druidry.  She's very realistic about historical fact, about the fact that we hardly know anything about druids, and that so much of what we associate with druidry is a mythology that people have made up over the years.  But she embraces mythology for its own sake.  I've always found it strange the way some modern druids think the only way to be genuine is to focus on the actual Iron Age druids, and ignore everything that was made up after.  What I find even stranger is when Reconstructionists seem to believe that Revivalists are foolishly believing that the stuff that was made up after is actually historical fact.  It's as if Reconstructionists think, "Druidry is about revering the way of the Iron Age druids.  Revivalists revere stuff that was made up later.  Therefore, Revivalists believe that the stuff that was made up later is historical fact about Iron Age druids, because the only reason a druid would revere something would be if they believed it was true of the Iron Age druids."  I also find it strange the way some Revivalists do try to believe that the Revival stuff is actually true of Iron Age druids.  Nimue expresses so clearly that a) the Revival stuff is not fact about Iron Age druids, and b) that's okay. It's mythology, and we can embrace it as such.

Another example of something I've long believed that Nimue explains better than I ever could: Once a pantheist commented that it seems that humanity is evolving toward pantheism.  This seemed wrong to me.  It seems to me that pantheists, atheists, and Christians all believe that their beliefs are the most enlightened state, and they feel sorry for the people who live without the benefit of that enlightenment.  It also seemed to me that she was speaking from a small knowledge of history.  It seemed that she was mostly thinking of how the United States used to be more widely Christian, and now more people seem to be turning away from Christianity.  It seemed to me that she was not thinking of the wider world.

One thing that Nimue brings to consideration of this comment once made by a pantheist is her consideration of the different ways people look at history.  Some people look at history and see that we  are progressing toward a more enlightened state.  Others think that our society is in decay, moving farther and farther away from the good old days.  Another way of looking at it is that there is no direction at all, it's just a bunch of people doing things and seeing how they work out.

I've always liked that.  I like reading things that describe the different outlooks people have had, and how those outlooks have varied across times and cultures.  It's as if my worldview is a planet, and seeing nothing beyond my planet, I believe that my planet is the whole world.  Then I learn there are galaxies, and realize that my worldview is just one of many.  I probably won't change my worldview, but it expands me enormously to see my worldview from the perspective of where it fits among many others.

Nimue's book is about how we build upon what went before.  For her, one of the people who went before is Ronald Hutton.  Like me, she has read his work and has been impressed by it.  In a sense, we could not be where we are today without him.  I  mean, he compiled such vast amounts of knowledge that were part of laying the groundwork for the ideas -- the ideas that have lived inarticulately within me, and which Nimue has been able to express so well.

Ronald Hutton is just one example.  Where any person is at today is a result of the past work of millions of people, stretching into the past for millenia.  It's something we don't often think about, but Nimue's book reminds  us.

Druidry and the Ancestors expresses a great deal about what it means to be a druid, and what it means to be human.  This is a book which I want to read, reread, and meditate upon.  This is a book that will inform my understanding as I read other druid books.

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