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Black Elk

Does God Exist? and The Crowning Achievement of Druidry

September 19th, 2013

Pen-on-TorA guest post by Penny Billington, author of The Path of Druidry

‘Does God exist?’ 100 Druids would doubtless give 100 answers, so it is helpful to start by addressing two questions. Firstly,  ‘What sort of people become Druids?’

As our earliest bards ritually replied; ‘Not hard to answer.’ We are those who wish to explore their spirituality through nature. And secondly, ‘Is Druidry a religion?’ Well, in the sense of belonging to a recognized organization with dogma and a belief system to which members must subscribe…. no. But many Druids do indeed embrace Druidry as their religion, so a Druid’s definition of and relationship to any God(s) comes from a very special place: Let’s examine it now.

Exploring spiritual connections through the landscape takes every Druid on a personal journey, through which they reach their own conclusions about deity. The start of that journey is acknowledging the spiritual realm: accepting forces that cannot be explained by the world of the five senses. Referencing this to the real world of nature, with its myriad ways of expressing that mysterious quality called ‘life’ leads us to an understanding of the commonality within the diversity. We intuit that there is a pattern which our brains are not big enough to perceive but which we recognize in some subtle way; and we observe that each living thing develops in accordance with natural laws dictating its size, shape, reproductive system and so on.

But nature lovers do this without calling themselves Druids of course. For the word ‘Druid’ to have any meaning, we take on in part the mantle of those ancient indigenous priests who flourished in Iron Age Britain; we research to understand the mindset of our ancient forebears. We are romantics, drawn at first by the glamour of ancient tales, seduced by the ideal of man in harmony and with a deep understanding of his native land; and we translate that not in any crude nationalistic way, for in the modern world we are all potentially wanderers around the global village. There are Druids worldwide making connection to lands far from the place of their birth, and the spirit of the land will acknowledge and welcome all who have the instinct to do that.

When we look at our ancestor Druids, we find that they were respected as judges and priests, diviners, skilled in herbs and star lore; all the natural sciences. The wonderful sinuous art and rich decorations from the Iron Age culture implies a love for the diversity of life; and the message is clear. We are here to understand and use the good things of the earth, respectfully, and to celebrate our human state, not to try to transcend it.

We have clues to ancient spiritual thinking, via archaeology and monumental remains in the landscape, the writings of the Classical commentators and the whispers from ancient history still singing through our earliest manuscripts – poetry, history and myths. What did votive offerings in water say about ancient beliefs? What are the lessons of the oldest mythic animals? How and why did ancient builders reference the directions and the patterns of the sky? With study, conjecture and practice we pursue an experiential path.

Most Druids will say that consciously observing the natural world with a spiritual intent – walking in the woods, watching the sunset – develops within us a profound trust in the essential harmony of the whole of which we are part. We sense that, beyond our rational understanding, lies the key to the pattern; that there is a creative force and that our world is coherent, not chaotic. And that creative essence, with its overwhelming urge to express itself in millions of diverse ways, is the nearest we can come to putting a label on the inexpressible – deity. The Druids of old were meant to be weather workers, conjuring mists to confound their enemies, and trying to explore the great mysteries of life – ‘Does God exist?’ through rational argument is like wandering in those mists without a compass. Attempting to pin down the ‘truth’ of that which exists in the realms of deep mystery is doomed to failure; we are simply not adequately wired.

All we can say is that from our experiences we develop an understanding of the patterns of the world and universe. If it appears to us as if all springs from a coherent creative impulse, then this implies the existence of deity – and, in a cosmic reflection of nature, that deity may manifest in more than one way. And when we act as if the Gods exist, events in our world seem to respond as if that is true. Only a fantasist persists in a world view which is not backed up by what he or she sees in ‘real life’, and only a fantasist confuses events in the world of the five senses with those of the imaginal realms; but, within the boundaries of accepted physical reality, most Druids have stories of wondrous occurrences, small and large, which seem to support our world view.

Can a wondrous occurrence be small? Yes, and this is the bedrock of Druidry; placing our attention on small, everyday happenings that show life as a magical path. We make relationship with our world, and see every aspect of nature as enspirited: every tree, every hill, every stream. And if everything has a spirit then we can make a connection. If we can have a dialogue, then we can interact. But although we have a magical approach to life, it is never one in which we are manipulative or ‘commanding’ a world that is forced to respond to us. Rather, it is we who are becoming sensitized and in tune with the tides of life, and living more harmoniously; and that is when synchronicities occur. To open your window just as a robin sings does not mean it is singing for you; yet the timing is magical, it has a personal significance, and you are blessed by the connection. And then, as a responsible person, you go on your way in the mundane world, to the job, the childcare, the washing up. No escape from real life, just an enriching of it. All we have to do is place our attention out into the natural world – present even in the middle of the city – and start to notice.

So our watchword is ‘connection’, not ‘worship’. For that creative spirit is present in us all, as our own spark of God/Godess/Gods – and we don’t want anyone to worship us. We do want them to respect us, to engage with us if our paths cross, to communicate. It’s simply a matter of politeness between life forms sentient in very different ways. The understanding our immediate ancestors had of the truth of this  is the root of superstition that, for example, some trees are kindly to man and some inimical; that those with hives should regularly ‘tell the bees’ the family news, or they will swarm.

There is a Druid prayer that is widely used across the world, by many different  groups. At its end, we reference Deity, and that is the point at which the combined voices of many Druids dissipate into a bee-like buzzing drone, as we quietly choose the word that speaks to us…

‘The love of ( God/Goddess/Spirit/another word ) and all Goodness.

That ‘drone’ is the crowning achievement of Druidry. Although connected by an ideology reverencing the land and celebrating our place in it, we retain the absolute right to autonomy in our way of envisaging and relating to Deity. I think of it as a gift to a world troubled by religious intolerance; it is a sign of a mature spirituality for the coming times. And, as environmental problems continue to escalate, it feels increasingly relevant: a spirituality rooted in respect for the natural world, which reveres a deity without an agenda, but is tuned into and responsive always to the basic harmony of nature.

If there is a God who actually has a personal interest in each of us, then I believe he/she/it will worry less about our muddled conclusions on these matters than on the intention with which we live our lives.

Around us is the enspirited world, just waiting for our contact. Viewing its most cinematically glorious moments – the moon over the sea and the stars burning down – has, simultaneously, two effects on us. The first makes clear our place in the greater scheme of things; we are tiny. But, rather wonderfully, this leads to the second effect: the realization of our own insignificance does not diminish us; rather, our appreciation invites and allows us to expand our sense of ourselves into the wonder we’re beholding. The creative principle, or deity, the pattern and plan, inspires us also to creativity, to be the best we can, to co-create our own world in harmony with what we see. To be ethical, responsible, sustainable, better. And we’ve come to this realization ourselves, not through gurus, instruction or dogma, but all through experience. That impulse might be ‘the spark of God within’ working through us. And a spiritual practice that encourages our expansion into the best that we can be, more than justifies the Druid path.

Penny Billington