The image of an ancient Druid suggests the archetypal wise person – a forest sage steeped in knowledge of the Old Ways. Even the etymology of the word Druid points to wisdom – with the first syllable – Dru – coming from the Proto-Indo-European root meaning tree, especially the oak, and the Id syllable coming from the term ‘wid’, meaning to know or to see, from which we derive the word wisdom. So the idea of wisdom is embedded in the very word and in the image we hold of the druid. But is there really any wisdom to be found in Druidry today? And if so, where does it come from, and of what use can it be to us?
In the type of Druidry taught by The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids, wisdom is one of a triad of qualities we seek to foster, the other two attributes being love and creativity. Here we are going to focus on just the one quality of wisdom.
Notice that in the Order we haven’t chosen the term ‘enlightenment’ as an aim, even though on many paths that is considered the most important goal for an individual to attain. This is because, from our perspective, if we choose to focus on enlightenment the tendency is for that to lead to provisional living – a state of mind that believes all will be well at some future date. For some, provisional living involves the belief that their ideal state will be achieved when they win the lottery or get married or divorced. If we have spiritual ambitions and hold enlightenment as our goal, we believe we will find fulfilment in the future when the moment of enlightenment occurs. But imagine for a moment our goal is not enlightenment but wisdom. As soon as we entertain that notion, something changes. The soul breathes a sigh of relief – it doesn’t have to wait. It is not currently inadequate or insufficiently evolved or awake. Wisdom grows slowly like an oak tree, and one’s aim becomes not striving to get somewhere, or waiting for illumination to occur, but instead a work in progress – a fostering of qualities that we already possess to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of seeking the bolt of lightning that hasn’t yet come, we find ourselves thinking in terms we associate with gardening: wisdom grows in us, it’s something we cultivate, nurture and harvest.
In Druidry, wisdom is symbolized by the salmon. There is a medieval Irish tale which talks about this Salmon of Wisdom – the story of Fionn McCumhaill’s boyhood exploits. Finn was reputedly descended from the Druids. Let’s hear T.W.Rolleston’s version of the tale:
“Now it is to be told what happened to Finn at the house of Finegas the Bard. Finn did not deem that the time had come for him to seize the captaincy of the Fianna until he had perfected himself in wisdom and learning. So on leaving the shelter of the old men in the wood he went to learn wisdom and the art of poetry from Finegas, who dwelt by the River Boyne, near to where is now the village of Slane. It was a belief among the poets of Ireland that the place of the revealing of poetry is always by the margin of water. But Finegas had another reason for the place where he made his dwelling, for there was an old prophecy that whoever should first eat of the Salmon of Knowledge that lived in the River Boyne, should become the wisest of men. Now this salmon was called Finntan in ancient times and was one of the Immortals, and he might be eaten and yet live. But in the time of Finegas he was called the Salmon of the Pool of Fec, which is the place where the fair river broadens out into a great still pool, with green banks softly sloping upward from the clear brown water. Seven years was Finegas watching the pool, but not until after Finn had come to be his disciple was the salmon caught. Then Finegas gave