Every Thursday for the last 30 years members of the Aetherius Society have gathered in a small room in a shop in Fulham Road, to charge up their radionic prayer batteries. Once they are charged these batteries are strapped onto a gun which is pointed in the direction of trouble – I suppose Syria right now. The button is pressed and healing vibes soar through the air to bring calm and stability to a troubled region.I don’t know if it works, but I think a similar device developed by the maverick psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich might have had more success since its aims were more modest – Reich’s gun was designed for making rain, and shot a blast of accumulated orgone energy (the sort of energy we discharge in love-making) towards any poor cloud that happened to be passing. Unfortunately all of Reich’s equipment was destroyed by the FDA in the 1950s – in a nanny-state Health & Safety-gone-mad moment, so we aren’t able to make use of his technology.So there you have a couple of examples from the world of the whacky fringes. But it’s often from the world of the fringes, of the eccentric, the not-yet-accepted-by-the-bourgeoisie, that innovative, creative ideas arrive, which slowly drift into the mainstream. Prayer guns and cloud-busters may never get into the mainstream, but there is something out there on the fringes that just might, and that is the apparently eccentric movement of modern-day Druidism.
Imagine we’ve got a kind of cloud buster, that we can also point at myths to burst them – not the myths peopled by Greek gods but the myths of misconception.
So let’s point our myth buster at those crazy people: modern–day Druids.
In our sights: Myth No.1: Druids today are practicing an ancient religion that became obsolete two thousand years ago. How crazy to be practicing an Iron-Age religion in the 21st century! Except that it’s not true! Much of what is Druidry today was created in the 1960s with the advent of Flower Power, still more was introduced in the 90s with the mounting ecological crisis. The rest of it was developed in the 18th & 19th centuries during the time of the Druid Revival. So in fact Druidry is an incredibly contemporary spirituality that draws its inspiration from the ancient past. The upside: 250 years – that’s a good enough pedigree, and much of it is Post-Freudian so it actually likes sex, as opposed to being a religion that was fully developed before we understood the dangers of repressing sexuality. The downside: if it’s lacking the patina of age it can’t be much good can it? Which leads us to:
Myth No 2 –It’s all been made up. It’s all fake and pretend! Poof! Goes our myth-buster to reveal the fact that it isn’t fake. In one sense every spirituality is ‘made up’ – somebody has an inspiration, others like it, so who cares about when the moment of creation occurs? But in reality Druidry, although it only has a written history of 250 years or so, is rooted in folk tradition, mythology, and story that can be traced back to the time over 1300 years ago when the Christian scribes wrote down the Pagan stories and preserved them for us. It is part of our heritage. Druids today are reclaiming that. If others want to be in denial of that heritage that’s their privilege but it doesn’t make the reclaiming of it somehow invalid.
Myth No. 3 – It’s only practised by a few nutters and old hippies who camp about Stonehenge at the solstice in white robes and pretend to be Gandalf. Not true! Most people who follow Druidry today don’t fit that description and don’t go to Stonehenge, but let’s not judge those who do. Traders screaming on the Stock Exchange floor look equally nutty to me, and judgements based on observation without any more information aren’t worth considering. In reality people who are Druids today come in all sizes.
The number of people inspired by Druidry today are equivalent to the number of Bahai’s or Zoroastrians in Britain. It’s been called a ‘boutique faith’ in a derogatory way, but being a fan of boutique cinemas which are independent and friendly and show better films than the big chains, I have no problem with the term.
Our group has 15,000 members, we publish a training programme in 7 languages and the people who follow this represent the whole spectrum: about equal numbers of men and women, university professors, farm workers, doctors, teachers, psychologists, ordinary people, remarkable people.
Druidism is actually pursued in three different ways: as a cultural enterprise to foster the Welsh, Cornish and Breton languages; as a fraternal pursuit to provide mutual support and to raise funds for good causes; and as a spiritual path. Each of these different approaches draws upon the inspiration of the ancient Druids, who were the guardians of a magical and religious tradition that existed before the coming of Christianity, and whose influence can be traced from the western shores of Ireland to the west of France – and perhaps beyond. Caesar wrote that the Druids originated in Britain.
If we want to go down the ‘Anyone who calls themselves a Druid is barking’ route, consider this: the Queen and Prince Philip, and the Archbishop of Canterbury are Druids. Winston Churchill and a million other members of the Empire considered themselves Druids between the wars. This can’t be true! I hear you cry. But it is! The Royal family and the Archbishop are involved in cultural Druidry, Churchill was involved in the fraternal kind that spread all over the Empire as a kind of Freemasonry cum Rotarianism.
Let’s now bust the final myth. You might be thinking by now: well this is all very well, but it’s so irrelevant isn’t it? What value or use can it possibly have in this modern age?
A wonderful psychologist – Viktor Frankl – during and just after the war, developed a theory that makes supreme sense: that we, as human beings, need meaning as much as we need love and food and air. Religions and philosophies offer meaning and they offer hope, and for this reason they can be seen as utterly sensible and pragmatic. A sense of hopelessness and a belief that life is fundamentally meaningless paralyses us and leads us to depression. Feelings of hope, and that (sometimes despite all evidence to the contrary!) there is a meaning to life, make us happier and more effective, and of more use to others. So it’s a no-brainer. But the question is which philosophy or spiritual path do you choose?
People choose Druidry because it is an approach that is free of dogma, that is rooted way back in our past, but since it has been developed in the modern era it is uniquely suited to a world that desperately needs life-affirming, nature-loving, ideas and practices.
Druidry today appeals to people who want to celebrate their connection with the Earth, and they do this by following a pattern of seasonal celebrations, by communing and meditating with trees, by being interested in the Bardic arts, which is why many storytellers, poets and musicians follow Druidry today, and by exploring alternative methods of healing – working with Nature and particularly with plants.
The way that Druids today work with ideas inspired by folkore and tradition in a thoroughly modern way can be discovered easily if you can browse the web. Just spend a few minutes looking at www.druidry.org or if you have an iphone or ipad, go to the app store and download the Druid Oracle. Very quickly you will see how Druids today take the old wisdom and combine it with a contemporary understanding to find better ways of being in the world.