I need to emphasise straight away that modern paganism – at least in the UK – has no direct links with the ancient pagans, there is however a large ever growing body of lore & texts coming to light as serious research looks at our Celtic Magickal past.
We don't know what the original Druids did, except through Roman writing of questionable accuracy, & although the presence of cunning men & women (descendants of the Druid traditions) is by contrast relatively well documented from medieval times onwards, the set of folk magick practices, & more sophisticated grimoire-based magick, was firmly rooted within the Celtic Coptic Christian tradition before it became Romanised & temporal (approximately 1500 years ago), it is unlikely to reflect any earlier form of the true practices of the Druids, except in a very tenuous form.
Modern paganism's roots are in part embedded in the late 19th century, with the rise of organisations such as the Golden Dawn & the Ordo Templi Orientis.
Whatever flavour of practice you care to name, however – Wicca, Druidry, heathenism, or ceremonial magick – there are some common themes: romanticism, classicism, a hearkening to the historical & mythical past, magick, & a focus on the natural world & the passage of the year.
The majority of pagans these days do not dwell in the countryside, but a yearning towards nature is marked.
Religion is a set of variously organised beliefs about the relationship between natural & supernatural aspects of reality, & the role of humans in this relationship. Many religions have narratives, symbols, & sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life, to explain the origin of life & the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos & human nature, people derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle.
While religion is difficult to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies, simply says it is a "cultural system".
Druidism is not a set sacred-text based religion, & arguably not a theism or set of theisms per se; modern Druidism is diverse, fluid, & individualistic.
There are hints & clues in the documents of the times, hints in the writings of their enemies, hints in their mythology & so on, but it leaves holes in our knowledge.
So, for the most part, Druidism of today takes what we DO know, uses what is hinted at, fills in with logic, archaeology, research & creates the parts that are still missing from new cloth – as much as some may wish in a romantic way there is no authentic Druidry left, Druidism is eclectic today.
But just because this is what we have to do, even though we don't know exactly what was believed, that does not mean that we are not close in what has been practiced in the past.
Each Celtic clan, tribe, or kingdom had its Druids (this includes the powerful cults of females too, who due to the rising influence of patriarchy had been side-lined in the texts of the day), who, in time of war, assisted their hosts by magick art.
This is reflected back upon the groups of the mythological cycle, each of which has its Druids who play no small part in the battles fought.
Though Pliny recognises the Priestly functions of the Druids, he associates them largely with magick, & applies the name magus to them.
First things first, Druidism is a way of life, it is also a magickal practice, & a religion (spiritual philosophy).
You cannot separate the philosophy from the spirituality from the magick, without invalidating the way of the Druids. THIS IS AN ECLECTIC PATH.
No man is an island – all peoples, all religions/cults (they are the same thing, it is only a matter of numbers) have influenced each other – they are all nothing but an eclectic path that is forever changing. Change & development at any given rate & local becomes known as culture – that culture then influences another & is in turn influenced by another – the eclectic path.
So what is real Druidism??? The truth is no one really knows – would a Druid meeting a Druid, separated by four centuries, know each other???
Druids are believers in reincarnation. They believe that the soul is immortal & after a person dies, they are transported to the 'Otherworld‘. They also believe that, that persons soul will come back again in another human body over many life times until they had learned & experienced human life in all of its aspects.
Druids seek above all the cultivation of wisdom, creativity & love. A number of lives on earth, rather than just one, gives us the opportunity to fully develop these qualities within us.
Druidism is a nature based religion (it is through observation of nature that one learns the secrets of the Universe) that has many elements in common with New Age & Wicca, but with a focus on ancestry & nature.
It has no official dogma or sacred Scripture (the root of all religious wars, suffering & oppression of the past as well as in our modern world of today).
They are Pantheistic & adaptable, they affirm the presence of God (One & All – the Living Universe), as a force, that exists in all things – there by allowing one to be individualistic in one’s own personal relationship to the Universe, anything from monotheistic to polytheistic to animistic – the emphasis being a personal relationship through direct practical & spiritual experience.
Druidism practices a tolerance of many different philosophical & spiritual traditions & teaches that no one system of thought is truer than any other.
Druidism emphasizes the "spiritual nature of life”.
The main elements of Druidic belief are:
Sacredness of all life: A philosophy which deals with the sacredness & divinity of all life in which all life is equal in value. Therefore, humanity is on the same level of importance as plants & animals.
The Otherworld: A place of existence beyond our physical senses. It is a place we are supposed to go to when we die but can be visited with the help of meditation, altered states of consciousness, visualisations, chanting, hypnosis, & shamanic journeying.
Reincarnation: Ancient Druidic practices taught a type of reincarnation in which the soul went to "The Otherworld" between incarnations, which could be in human or animal forms. Most modern Druids hold to this as well.
Nature: It reconnects us with nature, our ancestors, & ourselves, by "working with plants, trees, animals, stones, & ancestral stories."
Healing: It brings healing using holistic means for both body & spirit.
Journey: Life is a journey from one stage to another; birth, marriage, children, death, etc. The goal being reintegration of the self with the Self.
Potential: Developing one's potential for the development of our creative, psychic, intellectual, & intuitive abilities.
Magick: Where ideas are brought into manifestation (see blog on what magick is) & divination is used to predict the future – a personal moral compass, not ‘fortune telling’ but for personal spiritual development (all spiritual paths are about self-awareness leading to becoming an ‘individuated spiritual individual’).
Modern Druidry offers ways to reconnect with the cycles of life, the spirits of nature, our ancestors & their gods.
Like all spiritual traditions, its ultimate goal is unity with the infinite. It is free of dogma & any fixed set of beliefs or practices – this doesn’t mean that you do nothing, beliefs & practice (techniques to connect you with the Living Universe) are to be individually explored, are they yours through direct personal experience or are they the tales of another???
In this way it manages to offer a spiritual path, & a way of being in the world that avoids many of the problems of intolerance & sectarianism that the established religions have encountered through becoming temporal & servants to Mammon.
So how can we begin to practice (the act of doing) this reverence for the sacredness of all life – all sentient beings; it is by no means the only way…we begin to let in the light when we open doors & windows – having an open mind & through trial & error we learn.
It is only by gaining knowledge, & then doing something practical with it – to experience it first hand, that we develop Gnosis, our own personal & unique relationship with the sanctity of life – The Living Universe.
To gain a greater depth both spiritual & practical from Druidism, or for that matter, any spiritual practice, it behoves one to fully investigate, acquire & expand their knowledge base & daily practice of the techniques that open up their spiritual & psychic nature – to develop one’s self into the best that it can be & achieve unification with the divine.
Back in the early 1800’s began the long process of creating modern Druidry, from an industrialised culture that had become disenchanted from its spiritual connection to the planet we live on. They watched the birth of the Industrial Age & for some saw the environmental crises looming. For these founders of the Druid Revival magick was the last thing on their minds, or perhaps they thought society inundated with logic would repel from such a fantasy of thought.
Faced with a Hobson’s choice between dogmatic religion & material science, they took a third path, drawing inspiration from the legacy of the ancient Celtic Druids to craft a new spirituality of nature. The ancient Celtic Druids who provided the original inspiration for the Revival, & whose example still guides it today, had a reputation all through the ancient times as first-rate magicians. It took most of a century to become a significant part of the modern Druid tradition. Yet even today, some of the more conservative Druid Revival Orders will have nothing to do with magick.
Magick belongs in Druidry because the core principles of Druidry & magick are the same.
Both unfold from the awareness that the world around us is a community to which we belong, not a commodity we can own.
Both recognise that subtle connections weave every part of the cosmos together & offer us unexpected ways to sense & shape the flow of events.
Both realise that our fate is a co-creation of our actions & the patterns of space, time, & meaning that define the world around us.
That these principles also form the foundations of ecology stands as a sign of their wider importance.
Of all the subjects that comprise what nowadays is called occultism, the most misunderstood of all is Magick. Even Alchemy, which to some is annoyingly dark & obscure, evokes far more sympathy & understanding as a rule than does Magick.
“It would be an unpardonable depreciation of value if we were to accept the current view, & reduce the spiritual striving of the alchemists to the level of the retort & the smelting furnace. Certainly this aspect belonged to it; it represented the tentative beginnings of exact chemistry. But it also had a spiritual side which has never yet been given it true value, & which from the psychological standpoint must not be underestimated.”
Magick, simply & briefly concerns itself in the main (it has many other aspects of interest) with the world of modern psychology. It deals with that sphere of the psyche of which normally we are not conscious but which exerts an enormous influence upon our lives. Magick is a series of psychological techniques so devised as to enable us to probe more deeply into ourselves.
To what end?
First, we shall understand ourselves more completely.
Apart from the fact that such self-knowledge in itself is desirable, an understanding of the inner nature releases us from unconscious compulsions & motivations & confers a mastery over life.
Second, that we may the more fully express that inner self in everyday activities.
It is only when mankind as a whole has reached, or perhaps when more advanced men & women (not in status, we are all created equal but rather in ability) in the world have evolved, some degree of inner realisation that we may ever hope for that ideal utopian condition of things – a wide tolerance, peace, & universal brotherhood.
It is to such ends as these that magick owes its raison d’etre.