Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Do Druids Believe by Philip Carr-Gomm

What Do Druids Believe by Philip Carr-Gomm is a short and easy to read introduction.  It's not a guidebook that will help you get started on your druid path.  Rather, it's something you read to decide whether you want to start to walk that path. If you do make that choice, you'll want more books to help you find your way.

The first four chapters had to do with what druidry is, and what its history is.  For me, that was pretty straightforward.  I liked the point at the end of the 4th chapter commenting on famous druids in the past few centuries.  Basically, it's a bunch of eccentrics.  Carr-Gomm says you might think that a spiritual movement needs its famous people to be pious, wise, saintly and so on, but when you look at the famous people from other paths who supposedly have those attributes, you find that they were eccentrics too.

One thing that I thought was interesting in the history was the connections with the Universalist and Unitarian churches.  

Chapter 5 tells what druids believe.  For me, that did not go down as smoothly as the preceding chapters, because there are things in there that I don't believe.

What it lists that I do believe
  • learning from experience rather sticking to doctrine
  • that life is spiritual
  • acceptance of diverse theologies and beliefs within druidry
  • reverence for nature
  • trying to grow in wisdom, creativity, and love
  • history and ancestors
  • trees
  • community
  • reverence for life
  • peace
  • interconnectedness of the universe
What it lists that I don't believe
  • existence of the Otherworld
  • reincarnation
  • Law of the Harvest
The book makes some very definitive statements about the things that I don't believe in.  "A cornerstone of Druid belief is in the existence of the Otherworld....Different druids will have different views on the nature of this Otherworld, but it is a universally held belief,"  and "although all druids would agree that physical death does not end our existence, there is no set of universally recognized Druid teachings that offer details."  If this were my first exposure to druidry, these statements might make me decide that druidry was not the path for me.

If I twist it to my own understanding, I can say I believe these things.  I can say that for the Otherworld, I believe that we can reach a transcendent state of mind, and for life after death, I can say that we live on in the legacy we leave behind -- our writings, the things we create, the things people remember about us.  But to me, that is stretching it too  much.  It is like when I attend a Christian service, I can re-interpret the words to a pantheist meaning, but the fact that I can find a way to accept the words doesn't  make me a Christian. 

The Law of the Harvest is that you reap what you sow.  I believe that it is often the case that if you are kind to others, you will have friends, and if you are cruel to others, you will find yourself alone.  However, it's  not always the case.  Sometimes your kindnesses are never repaid.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people. You get sick or injured.  People betray you.  That doesn't mean that you brought it on by doing a bad thing.

I like what he says about reverence: "Druids treat the body, relationships, and sexuality with respect and as sacred.  Reverence should not be confused with piousness or lack of vigorous engagement -- true reverence is strong and sensual as well as gentle and kind."

The next chapter talks about mysticism, shamanism, and magic.  It says that mysticism is connecting with deity and shamanism is exploring the Otherworld.  It talks about how the diversity of druidry means there is room for people interested in one but not the other.  But to me, both are predicated on the idea that there is something else out there.  To me, there isn't an Otherworld, there is only your own head, where you can enter a different state of mind.

I liked the discussion of magic.  He says that magic includes "adopting an attitude of awe and reverence towards life and the world," and "becoming aware of the creative power that we possess simply by being alive, and then consciously using that creative power in the service of our values and ideals.

Chapter 7 is on ethics and values.  There's a list of 11 principles of conduct from Athelia Nihtscada.  They seem like something I could live by.  I could post them in my home, and meditate on them.

Chapters 8-12 went down pretty easily for me, same as chapters 1-4 did.

Chapter 9 mentioned that birch is often the first tree that grows when a forest is starting, so in ogham divination, it is associated with birth and beginnings.  That sparked in me an interest in learning this divination system. It is an interest that has been sparked other times in the past.  I don't believe that cards foretell the future or anything like that, but that it's a way of tapping into  different part of the self.  He says this at the beginning of chapter 9, talking about ritual: "A psychologist would say that this appeals to the non-dominant hemisphere of the brain that processes art and music as opposed to logic, language, and mathematics.  A mystic would say that ritual opens us to an experience of the spiritual dimension of life."

In chapter 8, Carr-Gomm describes some of the diverse types of druid practice.  One thing he mentions is a daily ritual "to connect with the energies of Earth, Trees, Sea, and Sky."  I want to think about that combination.  I've heard about earth, sea, and sky, and I've heard about earth, air, fire, and water.  In my own Sphere of Protection ritual, I've chosen sun, earth, air, trees. 

Chapter 8 also says, "The  most valuable and life-changing practice of all, though, evolves gradually and simply as a different way of being in the world.  Through working with Druid teachings and cremonies, changes occur in our attitudes, feelings, and behaviour which enable us to live more and more frequently in alightnment with our sense of purpose and meaning, and with an awareness of the inherent spirituality of all life."

I don't think this is unique to druidry.  It is what we get from any spiritual path. 

Overall, I liked reading the book.  There were a few things that were maybe a little different from what I've read before, but most of the material was familiar.  Still, I like reading this kind of stuff.  I find some spiritual inspiration in it.  I like the way it provides examples of the range of druidry, including Christian druids, pagan druids, people who see druidry as a religion, people who see druidry as cultural. 

For me, some ideas from the book that I might want to further meditate on or study:
  • Athelia Nihtscada's principles of ethical behavior
  • The idea of Earth, Trees, Sea, and Sky
  • Divination, with The Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray
And I just want to keep reading books like this.  This book, and others I've read such as The Path Through the Forest, Druidry and the Ancestors, and Druidry and Meditation, are books were you can read a bit and then meditate on what you have read, and you can keep coming back to them.

Druidry is not a path were you read a book and then you are done.  

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