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" Seek the truth and run from

those who claim to have found it "

after André Gide

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

23 Responses to “Does God Exist? and The Crowning Achievement of Druidry”

  1. Wonderful words Penny, I especially liked,”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”. Seeing our own part in something much bigger and rejoicing in it as we know we are “it”. Well done!

  2. Beautifully explained Penny, and totally in keeping with each of us, following our own path, as Bards, Ovates and Druids.

  3. Beautiful words Penny. I have recently begun the Bardic course with OBOD and have not found the words to explain to friends how my heart/soul has been moved by Druidic perception of creation.I hope that you won’t mind if I share on my timeline for future reference. Many thanks.

  4. This was wonderful to read. I’m only just beginning to dip my toes into the world of Druidism, but this article really reaffirmed that I’m on the right path. I’ve never seen a more true explanation on how even I personally feel about nature, spirituality, my love and respect for my ancestors, and my beliefs when it comes to deities.

  5. I have just been in the garden to put out some currants for a fox. A bright moon is lighting the grass. I came inside, read these beautiful words and felt the spark of god within.

  6. Thought-provoking and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your wise words with us! The more I read about Druidry, the more sense it makes as a path both modern and ancient — one I’m so happy to have discovered.

  7. Absolutely brilliant piece of writing not only for it’s poeticism equal to Dineson or Hemingway but for marvelously capturing very difficult concepts and making approachable. Mark my word this is one of the new great essays of the modern age. People who read this should be able to see it is possible to be spiritual, religious even, without the dogmatism that most still think still goes along with it. Penny is holding the door open for those who want to follow this path into a modern life imbued with small everyday miracles, attunement with the natural world, harmony rather than wars little and big. Bravo!!

  8. Wonderfully written, reaches into each of us and expresses the often indefinable that lies at the heart of our path. As I am in the midst of the OBOD course this hits at the very essence of understanding our path and encapsulates the sheer beauty and depth of our connection with all. Thank you.

  9. But not all of us believe in deity in any form. Some of us are naturalists, not supernaturalists, and are with Douglas Adams when he asked, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?”

    • i have to agree with chairman Bill, why most, there be a God, It took millions of years, for the planet to make plants, many more millions , to come up with man. and you want to give credit to a so called God. Gods are mans way of controlling the masses. It’s been said,” In the Christian faith”, that God gave us this planet to use , till judgement day. What a neat, little excuse, for destroying the planet.

  10. Wise, measured, humane and totally enchanting – thank you, Penny. I had to print this out and put it in my counselling folder. In early days of training but am drawn towards the (magical) possibilities of eco-psychology and eco-therapy. This essay tells/reminds me why that is! Thanks again. And hail to the bard! 🙂

  11. You may be best asking “Do I exist?”, for rather than each one of us thinking we are a part of God, there is no ‘we’ only God. Is this not the point of Ceridwen and Taliesin that no matter what shape you think you see it is actually that which is without shape, that which is immortal and unchanging?

    We may think “I am one, I am that which is Holy” but then think that God recognises a separate ‘me’ and therefore I have purpose and destiny and He/She directs me somehow – but this is self-centred and not selfless. It is not Oneness.

    It is only our thoughts that create difference and make distinct that which is indistinct. When you are not thinking, what are you, what remains? If you say we are each a part of God, if you are God and other-than-you is God what is the difference?

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