On the final day of Paganicon 2023, as the year tilted towards the equinox, a group of druids from different communities gathered to answer questions from the conference attendees on a variety of topics related to Druidry.
The session covered a lot of territory, but four questions stood out as particularly compelling and timely. The panelists have graciously allowed me to share their responses to these questions here. I am especially grateful to them for helping me patch up some holes in my notes via email.
Jean (Drum) Pagano is a long-time member of ADF. He is a Senior Priest, a master bard, and the Archdruid of ADF. He is also a Member of the Third and Fourth Orders of RDNA, a Druid Grade Member of OBOD, and interested in Druidry in its many forms. He is the author of six books: two on poetry, one on devotional practice, two childrens’ books, a book on learning the Ogham, and the editor of a book of prayers and rituals entitled Beginnings.
Kristoffer Hughes is Chief of the Anglesey Druid Order in North Wales, UK. He is the award winning author of several books that focus on Celtic mythology and spiritual practice. He served as His Majesty’s Coroner for 32 years and is now a Welsh language television and radio presenter. www.angleseydruidorder.co.uk
John “The Verbose” Martens started on the path of modern Druidry in 2004 while studying abroad in Ireland. For many years he was a solo practitioner, and later joined the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA). He was ordained to its priesthood in 2013. He subsequently established Oakdale Grove, an RDNA ceremonial fellowship in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he is committed to his oath of service to the druid community.
Heather Roan Robbins is an interfaith minister, druid-grade member of OBOD, member of ADF, center post for the Shining Mountain Grove of Montana, astrologer and author. www.roanrobbins.com.
Laurie Froberg has been a practicing pagan since 2002 and Marketing Co-Chair for Twin Cities Pagan Pride and Paganicon. Laurie has served as the Elder and Scribe of the Twin Cities druid group Northern Roots Grove since July 2015. She is a 1st Order Reformed Druids of North America. Laurie is passionate about volunteering, her children, good friendships, and Mother Earth.
Q: What makes Druidry unique from other types of paganism or witchcraft?
Kristoffer: Druidry consists of ideas, philosophies and practices that are uniquely Celtic in nature, it perceives the world through a lens that has been 2,500 years in the making. Its diversity is exemplified in the rich tapestry of 6 related but individually expressive cultures, that have their own unique myths, stories, art and wisdom. It is not one note but a symphony.
At its heart is the sacred oak, the world tree, the axis mundi. We are a little obsessed with trees and their function as teachers. Druidry is part of a living narrative that has the ability to respond to the needs of people here in the Celtic nations and beyond. Its versatility is in its tenacity and capability of transcending time and locale, its ideas are easily incorporated into meaningful practice regardless of where an individual resides.
Whilst many Druids identify as Pagan and may also practice Witchcraft, Druidry is a spirituality and to some a religion that serves to seed the future with wisdom, the wisdom of those who strive to be oak-wise.
Heather: This is a question we’ve discussed a lot in our little grove. I can only answer for myself. I was involved in a reclaiming circle and mystery school for over a decade, and I still love and respect this path. But I was hungry for something more organic, less focused on will power and more focused on listening, aligning to and worshiping with nature.
I appreciate the stable ritual forms we’ve put together in Druidry so we are not reinventing the entire ritual every time. Though that can be a fascinating process it takes a lot of energy and makes it harder to draw into the heart and trance for me.
One thing I miss from other forms of Western paganism are the songs and chants. I am not a musician but I’d love to see us put together chants and songs that we can come to share and know, to weave into our rituals ways of singing or chanting the Druid’s prayer, singing or chanting the directions, or specific chants for the eight holidays.
I value greatly in Druidry the psychological soundness which underlies the traditions. I am both ADF and OBOD, and OBOD has been lucky to have great transpersonal therapists as our chosen chief for a few decades now. This psychological grounding, this building of good psychic foundations, is woven into the training.
I think what drew me most to Druidry — more than other pagan forms — was listening to the wild ways of the woods. While all pagan paths work with nature, I appreciate the Druid training to observe nature as our great sacred text, to look at the insects and tree growth, look at the wild animals and how they move, listen to what every leaf has to teach us, more than any human words.
Drum: I believe that Druidry is about finding our place in the natural world and being comfortable with what we find there. Druidry is about building relationships with the spirits around us, being thankful for what we already have, and being hopeful for what we will discover.
I don’t believe that any form of Neo-Paganism is specifically concerned with origins, but we have a strong sense of place, of belonging, and especially a kinship with the trees and the natural world around us. We are called to a nature-based practice because we see ourselves in the cycles of nature: we come into being, we grow, we flourish, we mature, we age, we diminish, we pass away, and … we return.
Laurie: For Druids, there is a very deep spiritual connection with Mother Earth and all her inhabitants. Many of us are animists. I am spiritually a pantheist as I believe we all share the same spiritual essence. Any spiritual work I do is for the good of the entire world.
We place a very high value on knowledge and wisdom that comes from serious study and research. Druid rituals are usually open to anyone who attends, and anyone is welcome to train as a Druid. That is not always true for other forms of Paganism.
John: Simply put, Druidry is a designation that you can choose to adopt for yourself. In my experience there are plenty of people, especially younger people, who don’t like labels. Their personal practice might overwhelmingly resemble Druidry, but if they don’t want to call themselves a druid that’s understandable and perfectly acceptable.
It’s much easier overall to be “out of the broom closet” as a druid, as there’s not nearly as much of a societal stigma as being a witch or calling yourself pagan. Lots of druids even practice witchcraft or various forms of magic, though some will refer to that magic as druidcraft. It’s the exact same thing as witchcraft, it just comes down to what you prefer to call it.
A number of druids might not feel the need for practicing magic. Some are of the opinion that we are in a world steeped in magic, and we’re just here to watch it and feel it, letting the magic do what it wants to do without us interfering with it. Last of all, it really has something to do with the trees. Druids are the “knowers of the oak.” It’s almost always our favorite tree. Oaks are strong, they grow slowly and reach immense size, and can outlive many other trees. We try to reflect upon these trees, perhaps almost literally.
The acorn represents our potential. We want to grow strong, we want to live life to the fullest as long as we can, and with grace. Over our lifetime we will acquire wisdom, and ultimately we will return to the Earth. For whatever reason, we’re drawn to the trees. Over 80% of druids will tell you that trees are sacred. We want to be around the trees as often as possible, even holding a number of conversations with them. Don’t get me wrong; plenty of pagans and witches love trees too, but for druids, tree-love is cranked to eleven!
Q: How do you balance personal practice with group practice?
John: Having both a personal practice of rites and devotionals and a group practice is a holistic approach to expressing yourself spiritually. Your personal practice can be perfectly tailored to suit your needs, never needing to be shared with anyone except you and whomever you are worshiping or honoring. An added group ritual can help build a sense of community with others, and provide a springboard of ideas for enhancing your individual customs.
In Reformed Druidism, the rituals are intended to be interpreted metaphorically so that everyone can get something out of it in a way that makes sense to them. Having such a holistic practice with both unique personal and group elements is encouraged, because it fosters a twofold path to Awareness, a western analog of Enlightenment.
Heather: To the members of my grove, each one has an active solitary practice that enables a deep connection to their work, their landscape, their guides, and to the larger spirit grove. We support this. Until a public or group ritual becomes familiar enough — and you feel safe enough within that group — to drop into deeper levels of trance, the self-consciousness and conscious mind observing and learning as you go along can interfere with that deep sense of wonder and connection.
But as the group rituals become more familiar, and this takes time, it can become less cerebral and more transformative — both as a ritual and as an experience of community-created bonding. I think this is one reason why OBOD and ADF each have a core order of ritual: once you are familiar with the core ritual of your tradition, it is easier to create ritual with strangers, in public, and still feel that core connection.
Laurie: The personal spiritual goals of a Druid are different for each druid, but when we meet with fellow druids in a group ritual, we have one common group goal. When we participate in a group ritual, we must pay attention to the needs of others. If I want to dive into a long period of trance or meditation, that is fine for my own spiritual practice, but I need to consider if it is appropriate for what we are achieving as a group.
Kristoffer: In the Anglesey tradition of Druidry this question is not quite as binary, our philosophy places our teachings on a three-spiral triskele, our practises are expressed as personal, transpersonal and transcendent. The communal aspect is reflected in the transpersonal component of the triskele. Each spiral is necessary and required, with no emphasis given to one over another.
My own personal practices are daily affairs that do not detract from the other two components of practice, but rather all three swim beautifully with each other. My advice to those who may struggle to find this balance is to prioritize time for each aspect.
Drum: Personal practice is what I do on a daily basis: it is the bread and butter of my daily devotional work. Group ritual is what I do when I get together with others. I will do my personal practice every day. I will do group practice when there are others of a like mind around to do so. That being said, in some sense we are all solitaries.
In ADF we emphasize building relationships with the spirits in our world. They get to know us better as we get to know them better. It should be a reciprocal relationship. We build relationships by making offerings. Offerings can be prayers, physical offerings, or just the words “I thank you”.
We all have different needs for establishing those relationships. For myself, daily devotion is how I conduct my practice. For others, it is less frequent, but I really believe that familiarity helps to bring us closer to the spirits that populate our own Druidry.
Q: What is the role of place in Druidry, especially with regard to those of us who live in the U.S. but who are practicing the religion of our European ancestors?
Drum: Place is where we do our work. The Kindred are not limited by location or geography. Borders are a human-made phenomenon; if people travel and their Gods follow, it seems consistent to opine that the spirits can find their own way and their own people, wherever they may be. I doubt that the first question that the Gods will ask is “Are you Irish?”
Druidry is our method of practice and worship. The religion of our predecessors is the language of our practice. It describes the imagery of how we see the world around us. The hearth cultures that we are drawn towards are the canvases upon which we carry out our practice. And the location of practice is where we are at that moment.
Kristoffer: Druidry is a wisdom tradition, and whilst I define Druidry as having its roots and expression in Celtic culture, with my own practice being specifically Welsh/Celtic, this does not limit its reach or applicability to other lands beyond the 6 Celtic nations. People carry their ancestors of blood and spirit with them regardless of location, and each locale, each piece of earth has its own inherent spirit that the druid can connect and create relationships with. Druidry calls for its adherents to become oak-wise, and it is up to each practitioner to find a meaningful way in which to embody that within their own square mile.
A druid is in a sacred relationship with various elements that go into the making of Druidry, one of those is ‘place’. Wisdom traditions are not static, they are not locked to one location, but rise like the steam from Cerridwen’s cauldron to inspire those who would seek the wisdom of oak to move and be in sacred relationship with their square mile.
Laurie: I follow the Norse pantheon mostly because of my relationships with my ancestors. It’s not so much that they are from Europe, but they are a part of my bloodline that goes back thousands of years. But as a druid, I have a very deep spiritual connection with the land I live on. Because of that — and like most druids — I feel a profound sense of allyship to the indigenous people who roamed this place prior to colonization, and with those who still live here. Our most important role in honoring them is being the caretakers and guardians of the land and all its inhabitants.
Heather: I see place as essential in Druidry, but not in a limiting way. Druidry connects to the world that I am in, at this point on earth, in these mountains, amidst these pine trees. My grove has Ponderosa and Red Osier Dogwood, Aspen and Mountain Ash, Fir and Juneberry; these are my teachers, there isn’t an oak tree for miles. Druidry gives me a format and a way to communicate with my land, with these rocks and birds, though the myths we work with come from a faraway place, land of my long ago kin.
I think the Druidic system and way of communicating with places works wherever we are, as long as we use it to tie into our own natural surroundings, breathe with our trees and feel the Nwyfre flow through us all. I live at the edges of the Flathead Reservation of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille. My mate has danced in a Lakota Sundance for years; I love these traditions from this Turtle Island landscape, they taught me a lot about indigenous ways. But I wanted to find an indigenous tradition that came from my lineage, and honored — but did not appropriate — Native American ways. Which is what brought me to Druidry.
John: I would always encourage a sacred pilgrimage to ancient places the druids and ancestors would have revered. But even in those places, there are a few things to consider.
First, even the ancient druids were once young in their traditions. Their sacred groves started out as mere acorns with no special plans. There was a time in the Bronze Age or Neolithic Period where there were no standing stones. Those places eventually became sacred to the people who frequented them.
For those of us who are part of the European diaspora, it doesn’t have to be any different. Places we visit can and will become sacred, or at least special to us. Watch a sunset or sunrise from any hill. Whenever you return, inevitably your thoughts will likely refer back to that time you saw the sun on that horizon. You’ve now made that place special in its own way. Share that with others, let it become a tradition. Who knows, that place might someday become a renowned sacred site for a thousand years or longer!
The second thing to remember is that modern druids tend to be eco-friendly. We encourage shopping locally and eating foods grown and produced locally in order to contribute to overall sustainable living. The same ought to apply to sacred pilgrimage. I’m not saying to cancel your flight to Europe, but also consider exploring the lands you call home. Explore protected lands that you’re allowed to visit, such as State or National Parks. If there are indigenous sacred sites that you are allowed to visit and potentially learn from, such as mound complexes, petroglyphs, ancient villages, and other places of power, we can pay our respects to the spirits and energies of that place, too.
The druids didn’t build Stonehenge. Any trace of common ancestry was distant and not known, since the Celts likely invaded from Continental Europe in the Iron Age. Yet they respected that place and regarded it as sacred in their own way. We just need to be mindful to not colonize already sacred spaces with our Druidry. We shouldn’t try to have druid rituals at Cahokia or the Serpent Mound or cliff dwellings. There is still plenty of “mundane” space where we can hold our rites and make them sacred.
Q: How we get people spiritually engaged with the ongoing environmental crisis?
Note: the attendee who asked this question compared this situation with the way evangelical churches have harnessed an interest in sanctity to engage and activate voters.
Heather: Re-wilding wounded land is one of our sacred rites, to a druid planting a tree is a sacred act. There is no break between our ecological work and our spiritual work. But how much we can use our views to affect the general populace is a good question. While we were in the druid party room at Paganicon, two evangelical Christians came in to talk, they wanted to understand so they could better proselytize to pagans in the future. They genuinely seemed to be trying to understand, and they honestly did not proselytize while they were there, but we did get into some rousing discussions.
In our conversation I tried to focus on our commonalities and they wanted to focus on our differences. They described Druidry as pantheistic, a philosophy which thinks of the entire universe as divine. I describe it as we (all sentient beings, all plants, rocks, creation) are all living cells in the body of the One. Therefore, to care for all sentient beings, plants, rocks and creations is to care for Spirit/Gods/Goddesses/Creator/Creation. They identified as being theistic: God created the world but is not the same as the world, God created every cell and creature, but is not inherent in them. The world is not sacred. Therefore, you can destroy the world and not destroy God.
So I do not think the sanctity of the natural world would work to excite the Judeo-Christian world into ecological sanity. I think here we can focus on how to honor God’s gift of the natural world, but not focus on the sacredness of it by itself. Though that is a true motivation to all earth-based traditions.
Laurie: Many druids have a spiritual connection with nature and it is this reverence that drives many of us to become environmental activists. We are the caretakers of Mother Earth. Being a caretaker is a daily task. If you do a daily devotional, wouldn’t your role as a caretaker be a part of it? As part of your devotional, examine what you are doing towards a life of sustainable practices. Look for guidance. Schedule a group cleanup, contact your elected officials, etc. Also highly recommend this book Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year Through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices – lots of great info.
Kristoffer: This again comes down to the nature of sacred relationship. When we consider the planet as nothing more than a commodity, our actions will reflect that. When we consider something to be sacred, our relationship and perceptions change. In the Western World, we are programmed by our societies to consider the earth as a larder of resources for us to use. Wisdom traditions imbibe a sense of the sacred into its adherents which leads to transformation of relationship.
The trick of course is, how do we get people to recognize the sacred in an increasingly secular world? We do this through visibility, druids practice in the eye of the sun, in the open, the wisdom of Druidry is not proselytized but shared by example. The concept of the sacred in Druidry can be expressed through a process called hierophany where the sacred or the divine expresses itself through the ordinary, apparent world, a druid’s task is to bring an awareness of this principle into action.
Drum: For me, a crisis of Earth is a crisis of not only my home, but of the Earth Mother herself. As druids, we are a part of earth, not apart from earth. To protect our hearth, we must protect the land as though it were a member of our family.
I believe this can happen when we start to see the earth not just as the place where we live but also as a sacred and holy being. The earth is not just where we come from, it is also the source from which we are nurtured, and it is the place we all return to at the end of our days. It is more than just a thing. It is alive, it is a part of us and we are a part of it, and it is OUR Mother.
John: Environmental activism in my druidry is something critically important to me, and therefore it has me treading a fine line to avoid environmental victimhood. With any religion it’s easy to slip into a victimhood mindset of “us vs them” when it comes to crises we face that have steep ideological implications. When we foster our activism, it’s natural to get emotionally worked up, but it’s important to keep an objective mindset and avoid any emotionally derisive language. It should really be about what we support, and not what we’re against.
All this in mind, this can also have the effect of watering down our words or give the perception of decreased emphasis. That is why it is important to involve your groups with healthy activities that put your words to use. Team up with any roadside cleanups in the community. Work with city parks to plant actual trees. Write some activism into your rituals, or create pledges for your initiates. We held a whole ritual by moonlight to spiritually aid the Water Protectors – and that one did get emotional. In all my own ceremonies we have a Declaration of Goals:
Now do we declare our goals: To grow as human beings, in joy and love and wisdom and strength; to promote in our actions, a human and interdependent society; to heal and protect the biosphere of this planet; and to further the process of Evolution in ourselves, and in our groups, and throughout all time and space.
It’s tame, and a little vague, but again, we also back those words up in our non-ritual activities. We picked up trash along a riverbank at a nearby college. We pooled money to plant 20 trees. We clean up the sites in city parks where we have our rituals, leaving them looking better before the start, and immaculate when we’re done. Do that consistently a few times, and very soon it becomes automatic. Do you have a photographer among you? A photo of local favorite landscapes can be printed into postcards. As a group activity, write to your congressperson, governor, or mayor, etc. on a bunch of those postcards about how much that green space means to you, and it will help inform them where the priorities of their constituents lie.
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Show some 💚💙❤
To learn more about the panelists, their communities, and their work, please visit their websites:
Heather Roan Robbins: Starcodes (Roan Robbins.com)
Kristoffer Hughes: Angelsey Druid Order
Jean “Drum” Pagano: Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)
John Michael Martens: Oakdale Grove, RDNA
Laurie Froberg: Northern Roots Grove