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" Live out of your imagination

not your history "

Stephen R. Covey

J.M.Greer’s Work of Alchemy

Published by Philip Carr-Gomm

Foreword to Druidry A Green Way of Wisdom by John Michael Greer

A Work of Alchemy

When you die, only three things will remain of you, since you will abandon all material things on the threshold of the Otherworld:
what you have taught to others, what you have created with your hands,
and how much love you have spread.
So learn more and more in order to teach wise, long-lasting values.
Work more and more to leave to the world things of great beauty.
And Love, love, love people around you for the light of Love heals everything.
A French Druid Triad, François Bourillon

The story of Druidism can be divided into three phases: firstly of the ancient Druids who left only traces of their teachings, then of the Revival Druids of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who left a great deal of literature in their wake, and finally we have the work of modern-day Druids, who from the mid twentieth century onwards have developed Druidry into one of the leading alternative spiritualities in the world today.

Modern Druidry has had to face considerable difficulties in developing itself as a valid and viable spirituality: critics have suggested that its two earlier manifestations are fatally flawed as sources. The amount of material inherited from the ancient Druids is minimal, and the material inherited from the Revival Druids seems spurious and often incomprehensible. Despite these difficulties, contemporary followers of Druidry have managed to find inspiration and guidance from both these sources, and – to a great extent – have realised that a spirituality that works is one that is made rather than simply found.

Born into a consumer culture we might long for a ready-made spirituality, that is fixed and ‘pure’, but any study of the history of religions and spiritualities shows that even apparently ‘revealed’ religions are actually made up of a number of strands of influence that continue to change if that spirituality is to remain vital, and not succumb to the arteriosclerosis of fundamentalism.

It has been fashionable, particularly in the USA, to dismiss the entire period of Revival Druidry as an aberration which is best forgotten. The flamboyant and witty author of Real Magic, Isaac Bonewits, once Archdruid of the ADF, the largest Druid group in the USA, has named the three phases of Druidism Palaeopagan, Mesopagan and Neopagan. He believes that Neopagan Druids today must reject the Mesopagan (Revival) period altogether, and must instead attempt to research and restore as much of Palaeopagan Druidry as possible. A similar approach is taken by Celtic Reconstructionism, a movement also originating in the USA, which likewise rejects the contributions of Revival Druidry.

Bonewits’ and the Reconstructionists’ arguments are convincing: much of Revival Druidry is concerned with reconciling Druidry with Christianity, and much is based on the work of Iolo Morganwg, which was fraudulently presented to the world as authentic ancient teachings, when his manuscripts have since been proved to be forgeries.

But we reject aspects of our past at our peril. The search for an authentic Druidry that rejects Revival Druidry altogether makes a threefold error. The first error is to assume that all of Iolo’s contributions were generated in his own mind, when the evidence suggests that he may well have gathered scraps of authentic lore which he wove into the fabric of his creations. The second error is to condemn his contributions, and the writings of all Revival Druids, because they have probably been created in recent times rather than in the ancient past, when we know that age is not a determinant of value or wisdom. The third error is to reject all Revival Druidry because some of its proponents, and most particularly Iolo, have lied about the provenance of their offerings. But it is a curious feature in the history of spiritual movements that personal creativity and inspiration, which is valuable and helpful to others, has often been dishonestly presented as coming from what is perceived as a more authoritative source. European occultists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seemed particularly prone to this activity: the early histories of Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, Wicca, and some of the Rosicrucian movements spring to mind, and allied to this we find the phenomenon of falsely claiming authority through the flaunting of bogus doctorates.

Despite the problems presented by Revival Druidry, Reconstructionism remains the bastion of a minority, while the forms of contemporary Druidism that flourish in the world today include the Revival as one of their sources of inspiration. Why is this? What is there of value in its teachings?

We must look to America for the answer. Revival Druidry has been archived in America, it has been lambasted in America, and now it is being redeemed in America. The greatest collection of literature in the world on Revival Druidry is housed in the New York City Public Library. For a decade or more Bonewits on the east coast and the Reconstructionists on the west coast have dismissed Revival Druidry as an aberration. And now from a peaceful valley in Oregon John Michael Greer has taken on the task of redeeming Revival Druidry.

The art of discovering the gold that lies concealed within matter that appears to have little value is the art of alchemy, and in this book John Michael Greer has performed alchemy: he has managed to find and articulate the gold that lies hidden within the obscure texts of the Revivalists. In doing this he has performed a master-stroke. He has taken an aspect of Druidry which has long been seen as its core weakness as a valid spirituality, and with consummate skill succeeds here in offering us a perspective which redeems this core – revealing it to be a heritage around which we can grow and build a vital and dynamic spirituality.

Philip Carr-Gomm
Lewes, Sussex
Lughnasadh 2004