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Zen Druidry

May 23rd, 2013

978-1-78099-390-4 Zen druidry cov:Layout 1.qxdZEN DRUIDRY – WAKING TO THE NATURAL WORLD by JOANNA VAN DER HOEVEN: A REVIEW

The sign of a mature, cultured person is that they can mix well in a wide variety of social settings and can contribute to, and benefit from, interactions with many different kinds of people. So it is, one might say, with religion and spirituality, and by this criterion Druidry is a very mature and sophisticated path indeed. In the 18th & 19th centuries, Druid Revivalists found concordance with Christianity, and in the 1970s the Reformed Druids of North America experimented with combining Judaism and Zen Buddhism with their path. I don’t know how whether the Judaism combination survived, but the combination of Zen with Druidry struck a chord, and 33 years later the RDNA grove in Seattle is still going strong, forming a branch known as the ZDNA – the Zen Druids of North America – with its founder reporting that ‘hundreds of people have been through the Zen Druid experience’, and that they now have ‘a dance group, recording artists, choir, and other expressions beyond their ceremonial meetings. Now called the Emerald Grove, after the city’s namesake, it is alive and well; growing like a tree.’

In the 1990s a collection of essays entitled The Rebirth of Druidry, included an article that explored Druidry’s parallels with Taoism, and more recently in 2010, Jon Moore published his book Zen Druid: A Paganism for the 21st Century. That same year the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids pioneered The One Tree Gathering, designed to explore the connections between the Dharmic paths of the East and Druidism, and now in 2013 we have the appearance of Joanna Van der Hoeven’s book Zen Druidry affirming the richness of this particular combination, and offering an excellent insight into the ways in which the ways of Zen and Druidry can be united to form a rich and meaningful philosophy and way of life.

Joanna’s book is one of Moon Books ‘Pagan Portals’ series, which takes interesting topics and asks writers to cover them in 60 to 70 pages. For those of us haunted by the piles of worthy books we want to read, but simply can’t find the time to get to, a Pagan Portal book offers the tempting prospect of finishing an entire book in one or two sittings. This is not, I know, sufficient reason to recommend a book, but the format forces an author to get to the point and not repeat themselves or expand to fill their requisite 200 pages, and the result as far as I can see is that it works.

Joanna’s Zen Druidry is divided into two parts. The first, taking up 34 pages, sets the scene, providing us with a resumé of Zen and then Druidry. In the second part the chef then combines these two ingredients.

The first part of the book is a necessary preparation for the second, but the most interesting and novel part of the book comes in the second section. Here Joanna suggests ways in which the two approaches can be combined, showing us the connections between the Five Noble Precepts of Buddhism and Druidry, and then looking at how the two approaches can work together in meditation. As she writes: ‘Druidry, when applied with the [Zen] mechanics of non-attachment, allows for a total immersion in the present moment, where true relationship can be obtained and where the awen flows as freely as it ever could.’

One of the most interesting parts of the book is left to almost the end, when Joanna suggests a way of relating the Druid celebration of the Eightfold Year with a contemplation of the Buddhist Eightfold Path, so that – for example – one decides to focus on Right Mindfulness at the Winter Solstice, and Right Concentration at Imbolc. Although relating a specific spoke of the Buddhist wheel to a particular festival is arbitrary, Joanna points out some nice resonances, and the idea of an annual pilgrimage of contemplation around the Wheel is an attractive one – particularly to solitary practitioners and to those who shy away from the sometimes more ‘showy’ manifestations of Pagan celebration.

The best dishes are the ones that leave you wanting more, and Joanna’s book is like a perfect hors d’oeuvres. She shows you how well the two paths can weave together, and if someone were to ask me what books I’d recommend to those interested in combining Buddhism and Druidry, I’d say: start with Zen Druidry and then move on to Jason’s Kirkey’s Salmon in the Spring which continues the journey of exploration into the way the traditions of Celtic spirituality and Buddhism can complement each other, a journey wonderfully introduced in Joanna’s Zen Druidry – Waking To The Natural World

16 Responses to “Zen Druidry”

  1. I can heartily recommend Joanna’s book – a thoughtful and insightful read. I suspect there are many people pursuing a pagan path who find threads of meaning from several traditions and this is an excellent exploration of how Zen and Druidry complement each other.

  2. To the best of my knowledge, the first use of the term Zen Druids was coined by Issac Bonewits in the 70’s to refer to a Reformed Druids of North America grove in Seattle, Washington that I founded. The Greenwood Grove has been in existance for 33+ years now and continues to function with hundreds of people having gone through the Zen Druid experience. It is an alive group that has had a dance group, recording artists, choir, and other expressions beyond their ceremonial meetings. Now called the Emerald Grove, after the city’s namesake, it is alive and well; growing like a tree. I am happy to see that after so many years the name has caught on.
    In Service, Niyati Brown,Adr.

  3. Saw this work a few days ago and it piqued my interest. Thank you for this reveiw, I’ll make it a point to add it to the library.

  4. Thank you. It’s fascinating to find the links between these ancient wisdoms. It makes me think it could be interesting to explore the link between the path of Ovates, Bards and Druids and the Ten Zen Bulls. Depicted in circles, briefly described as:

    – In Search of the Bull (aimless searching, only the sound of cicadas)
    – Discovery of the Footprints (a path to follow)
    – Perceiving the Bull (but only its rear, not its head)
    – Catching the Bull (a great struggle, the bull repeatedly escapes, discipline required)
    – Taming the Bull (less straying, less discipline, bull becomes gentle and obedient)
    – Riding the Bull Home (great joy)
    – The Bull Transcended (once home, the bull is forgotten, discipline’s whip is idle; stillness)
    – Both Bull and Self Transcended (all forgotten and empty) Circle empty.
    – Reaching the Source (unconcerned with or without; the sound of cicadas)
    – Return to Society (crowded marketplace; spreading enlightenment by mingling with humankind)

  5. Yes, it’s a very good book! Philip summarises it well. A small book, it certainly deserves expansion and development, but maybe that is work of those who have read it and been inspired by it.

    I personally found it empowering, it makes me feel more at ease in being creative with spiritual traditions, and forging my own practise. While Druidry generally encourages this approach, Buddhist traditions can be very conservative here. Not that long ago many Buddhist journals often consisted of just transcriptions of talks given by monks and nuns, it seems lay practitioners are often cautious to express views, because they are not enlightened or ordained!

  6. Having followed Joanna’s blog for several years now, I preordered this book the minute I could and have not been disappointed in the slightest. Joanna’s approach to spirituality is both refreshing and inspiring.

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