(A shared post with “A Druid in the aeon of the child “)
I was recently working on an article when I found myself writing the line “not a typical Druid”. This stopped me in mid-flow as I paused to consider what I meant by a “typical Druid” and whether such a thing actually exists.
Historically “Druid” was a title with social standing attained through training and bestowed upon a person by their peers, and upheld by the general community. To reach the level of ‘Druid’ an apprentice had to go through years of arduous trials and training. A ‘Druid’ held a special place in society with accompanying benefits, but also responsibilities and duties. Everyone knew what a Druid was and what they did. Modern Druidry, however, is a lot more nebulous and ill defined. It doesn’t have the level of recognition or respect as its historical counterpart. Nor does it have any of the agreed structure or support in the general community. Outside the realms of Paganism, occultism and the ‘new age’ the title Druid is little understood or rarely used. And within the wider pagan community the term Druid can cover a wide range of practices and beliefs.
When thinking about a what would constitute a “typical Druid” I tried to imagine what the word “Druid” would mean to someone with little or no knowledge of the Druid Path. I quickly realised this meant more ‘what are the outward signs of Druid practice’. Probably the most obvious outward aspects of Druid practice – Divination, poetry, herbalism, solstice ceremonies, healing etc – are just parts of Druidry as a whole. And most of these stereotypical activities are actually the skills and practices of the Ovate, or are the storytelling, poetry and music skills of the Bard. The skills of the Druid grade are more subtle and less outwardly physical (teacher, philosopher, advisor, arbitrator, scholar etc) so are easy to overlook. The theme of ritual and magick runs through all of the grades.
The term ‘Druid’ can be nebulous, unspecific and confusing. Is someone who is actively pursuing the Druid path, who is practicing divination, a Druid or an Ovate? Traditionally the Ovates were the seers, healers and prophets. A modern Ovate is “one who studies or practices herbalism, healing and divination within a Druidic context.”* If person practicing divination, an Ovate skill, has achieved the grade of Druid then they are a Druid, if they have reached the grade of Ovate they are an Ovate. However, because they are studying and practicing on the Druid path, even if they have only reached the Bardic or Ovate grades and may be years away (if ever) from achieving the Druid grade, they are still in general terms called a Druid. And it’s very possible that a Druid who has completed the Ovate grade and has a rudimentary knowledge of divination, may never practice divination again but can still be recognised as both a Druid and an Ovate. Many bards, in general parlance, are Druids. All Druids have completed the Bardic grade so are technically Bards in the OBOD sense of “one who sees their creativity as an innate spiritual ability”*, although most won’t lay claim to that title because in general terms it refers to talented poet/storyteller or musician (even if you pre-loaded a tune into a deluxe easy to carry bucket I’d still struggle, although I flatter myself that at its very best my poetry might be classed as merely abysmal) However, some Druids are Bards. Most Bards aren’t technically Druids because they haven’t reached that grade in their training. … Bards are Bards; Ovates are Bards and Ovates; Druids are Bards, Ovates and Druids. Yet at the same time Bards and Ovates who haven’t reached the Druid grade are also referred to a Druids because they are on the Druid path.
Then of course there are different types or flavours of “Druidry” (reconstructionist or revivalist, Masonic, Charitable fellowships, mystical, Magickal, Contemplative etc). There are different Druid Orders emphasising different aspects and approaches. And there are many people who self ascribe their own spirituality as Druidry despite having only little or no formal training. Each individual on the path also brings their own spiritual history or influence into their Druidic practice such as Shamanism, Buddhism, Wiccan, Polytheism, Atheism, Christian, Thelemic, Native American and so on. Finally there is the question of is Druidry a religion, a spirituality, a living philosophy, or something else entirely….
In contrast to its historical origins modern use of the word ‘Druid’ is a strange mix of definitions and concepts. In one sense it is a specific title granted to those who have been initiated into the Druid grade. In another it is state of mind of the individual practitioner, lastly it is an all encompassing umbrella term used to describe anyone pursuing any of the large variety of flavours, expressions and practices of the ‘Druid path’.
Because the word ‘Druid’ is such an all encompassing umbrella term with countless nuanced practices and expressions, unless we use such broad and vague phrases as “holds nature sacred”, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint what constitutes a ‘typical Druid’ by looking at what they do or how they define and express their own beliefs and practices. Nor do I think we could discover a ‘typical Druid’ by trying to agree on a universal definition of Druid and Druidry as those on the Druid path would baulk at a restricted and limiting concept, and without limits the definition would be so vague and all encompassing as to render it comparatively useless…
So to define a ‘typical Druid’ we cannot look at what Druids do or what they believe. And we can’t give a clearer definition of Druidry without upsetting or alienating most of its practitioners. What we can do, however, is look at the character of the ‘Druids’ themselves.
This I’ll attempt in “A Typical Druid? pt.2 : “The secret of the Druids Prayer?”.
* OBOD Website