I remember when I first got involved with the Pagan community in the late 80s/early 90s I found a lot of people to whom the lineage of their initiatory line was very important. At that time the choices of the modern Pagan were to follow either a Wiccan, Druid, or Heathen path, and the idea of the Hedgewitch or eclectic Pagan had yet to gain in popularity. This past weekend I saw Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone at Pagancon in Preston, Lancs, and the main thrust of their presentation was a plea to drop the labels within the Craft, and not to be concerned about any lineage etc. It got me thinking about the modern Druid path and how I see it today.
When I first found modern Druidry the main way to get involved was through the course run by the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, so this was the route I took. As the years passed more Orders appeared and other courses were created by some of those Orders. Other groups concentrated on the protection of the land by organising road protests and being at the frontline of the Eco Warrior movement. Other groups grew from peoples’ enthusiasm for aspects of modern Druidry that they didn’t see being covered by some of the existing Orders. This creation of new groups continues to this day. In recent years Professor Ronald Hutton received a grant (and other funding) to fully explore the history of this modern Druidic phenomena that was growing with such force. This money resulted in the two books The Druids and Blood and Mistletoe (just published).
When we talk of modern Druidry’s lineage, there was once a wish to discover an unbroken link of initiation that lead back to the ancient Druids of the Iron Age, and a few groups have been known to make this claim. But now we know that any such claims should be treated with scepticism as we know barely anything about the ancient Druids, so the likelihood of any unbroken line of initiation is severely unlikely. So bearing this in mind, where does that leave us modern Druids? In truth I think most of us have moved away from this need for authenticity and approval. One of the great gifts of Ronald’s books is that they treat our most recent history (the last 300+ years) with a great deal of respect – exploring the twists and turns since the 1700s that have lead to today’s thriving spiritual tradition.
There have been people who have criticised modern Druidry, and there continue to be – I’m pretty sure there always will be. But like the Craft which has embraced it’s shaky foundations, explored where it actually came from, most Druids who have done the same are also still drawn back to their tradition, and still find sources of great spiritual nourishment within the land, the Otherworld, and the myths.
It’s good to see modern Druidry accepting it’s actual roots, rather than trying to justify its existence through dodgy historical claims. It’s good to know that most of us know where we came from, yet the popular image of that ancient Druid, even though it may have been borne from the minds of a few poets from the 1700s, is still something we yearn for, something that inspires us. And if it isn’t actually how it was, maybe the fact that so many of use are drawn to it means we have the ideal opportunity to make it real, now! Let’s face it, everyone that has ever lived did so in their moment, and they are all now our ancestors. We too will be ancestors in 200, 1000, 2000 years time, and to those living in the future we will be the ancient peoples of this island. Who knows what they’ll be doing? Who knows what life will be like? How they remember us will be our legacy. There are those who want to destroy modern Druidry, there are others who want to define it and fix it in a time long past, and there are others who want to do the same but define it for this age. I’m happy to think that none of these people will ever succeed, because modern Druidry is a hard mistress who moves like shifting sand, an independent individual who refuses to stay still, be in one place. Just as you think you know her, she changes, and I for one think that this is the healthiest part of any spiritual tradition today, and long may she continue to inspire and confuse us, and stir things up!