Perspective On Culture in the Celtic Paganism and Modern Druidry Community

This is the most emotionally raw article I’ve likely ever posted. Firstly, I should say I’ve been active in the modern Druidry and Celtic pagan community since I first got on facebook back in 2011. Before that I was completely solitary, living through books and my imagination since my teens over 20 years ago. I had little experience or interactions with many varied people from another country, let alone someone from Ireland, Scotland, England, France or any other place Celtic paganism has roots. I believe that social media has opened up a new world filled with a much wider variation of experiences and perspectives. With that in mind, it should be said that I write this from my own perspective, my own lived experience and what I observe in the modern Druidry, Celtic paganism and even wider… Wicca, Norse and generalized paganism forums. I’m not speaking for anyone, or speaking over anyone. I’m singularly speaking for myself, noting what I observe and some possible solutions, both in online and in person spaces and this is all singularly written with my fellow Americans in mind.

We’re all simultaneously reaching back as far as recorded history will allow us to go in order to recover lost parts of ourselves, recovering our pre-Christian, uncolonized ancestral selves. I think its beautiful and necessary to move forward into a better, healthier and happier world and one where our connections to nature are celebrated. In times of old, people had no choice but to be ‘close’ to nature or they simply would have perished. We are in our most basic existence, in a fight for survival. Modernization has been like an additional veil on our senses and experience, distracting us from any authentic mode of living that truly serves our own needs in a balanced and productive way as well as the rest of the world and wider animal and plant community.

I feel it’s worth noting I believe there are plenty of practices that are completely Native and unanimous the world over that anyone can feel free to celebrate and practice if we want to have a pagan practice based somewhat outside of ‘culture’. These are going to be generalized animism, believing in reciprocity with the land and achieving balance with the land, appreciating and supporting local ecology and environmental movements the world over, practicing herbalism, practicing personalized spiritual rituals, seasonal (solstices/equinoxes) or astrologically based celebrations and developing our extra sensory capabilities through meditation and journeying.

Carnac Stones, Brittany, France

While it’s merely my opinion, I feel that various forms of animism and paganism are at the core of the most genuine human journey we can experience. There are certain universal truths that all of humanity and living organisms share. That is the ultimate law of nature and one of keeping balance and one in which we cultivate learning and growth as conscious beings. We must mimic nature and aim in the generalized direction of keeping balance, not just within ourselves but how we interact with nature. The largest monotheistic religions of the world could attain this if enough effort was put in but it would take a fundamental reworking of many deeply entrenched fallacies, particularly, patriarchal tendencies and disconnect from the environment. Paganism and animism is our birthright here on earth. It’s authentic, political, spiritual, environmental, moral… it’s the entire framework we hold dear that permeates our every action. With all that said, clearly, most of the modern pagan frameworks widely practiced today are culturally focused. Yet, many people ignore that there are still living and breathing cultures that exist there, with lots of overlap in folk practices, not to mention, holding people with vast experience and knowledge regarding the living landscape of the Druids of old. Where does that leave all of us moving forward to uncover and recover that which has been lost to so many with the crushing wave of monotheism over the last 2,000 years? More to the point of this article, where does that leave those of us with ancestors that emigrated out of their Native lands?

What are the best practices when reaching back into our past and calling on our ancestors for guidance? Ultimately, nobody can tell another person what to do, least of all some random person from the internet (me). My hope is that by sharing my own experience and thoughts I may help someone find not only deeper meaning in this community but help us all exist together in a more positive and fulfilling space. If something here triggers you to anger or feel ‘put out’, please know that’s not my intention. It might come off as a rant and that’s not intentional but partially unavoidable. If you feel like lashing out, I just ask that you might sit with my words for a week and then revisit to see if you still feel the same.

Labyrinth and Cup rings in Galicia, Spain

Nobody Cares of Our Ancestry

Nobody cares about our ancestry but ourselves. It’s not a green card into cultural spaces nor is it required to appreciate those spaces, land, structures or culture. When we travel to Europe, France, Ireland, Scotland, England etc… I highly doubt anyone cares a whit that we have ancestry there or our 10th great grandfather was a king or even that our recent parent or grandparent was from that land or that ‘this was my ancestor’s castle’. We must realize and consider how many exhausting times they must have heard that from tourists. Not to mention, the same ancestor could have thousands upon thousands of descendants. It really isn’t relevant to anyone else other than ourselves. If someone was visiting America and visiting New York and said to you, did you know, my great grandmother was born in New York, would that be the most insightful thing you’d wished to hear from them? Instead, we could simply discuss the land, the structures or history of the area. I also don’t believe that ancestry should be used as gatekeeping or to invalidate or validate an argument in online spaces, (like Americans sometimes do) unless someone lives in a place and has very direct experience with the land and culture or otherwise great evidence for their argument. I’ve lost count to how many times I’ve read someone say “I know this is true because i’m a hereditary druid and have ancestors here and here yadda yadda”. We are all so mixed since time immemorial, there are no pure bloodlines, nor is this idealism healthy by any small means. I believe that more important to focus on… are lived experiences, facts and source material. I’m going to pose four scenarios all worthy of reaching back and accessing hidden knowledge or practices within the pagan or modern Druid framework.

  1. Someone researching their own country’s history and their ancestral past, to restore and recover Native practices.
  2. Immigrants from an entirely different place in the world that have moved to that country becoming a citizen and want to honor the land by learning and practicing the culture as fully as possible.
  3. Someone with ancestry from those places that are seeking to discover and recover what their ancestors practiced and want to honor them and live more in line with their Native ways of existing.
  4. Anyone interested.

I spelled these scenarios out simply to highlight that these are all very different and unique, but worthy paths. We are here, in this lived experience for a reason and I try to honor that path. What matters is how we move forward with our practice in a respectful and mindful way. On one hand, ancestry and cultural links have wonderful and powerful meaning (to ourselves) and is something to be celebrated but it also doesn’t matter, because cultures have always been fluid and are not racial. The ‘Celtic’ cultures that gave way to the Druids were varied amongst the individual nations and lands of old and this continues today in the remaining associated nations. They’re all unique and wonderful and the Druid legacy is still felt amongst the entire area. The reverberations of our ancient and Native past is there in the structures and the land. Everyone’s practices and traditions are a little different and this is as true today as it was back then. The way in which this quest and sharing of pagan, animistic or polytheistic knowledge is done is what is important. I find it so fantastically freeing to know that someone from another country isn’t waiting for me to declare my ancestry, that I’m instead judged on my merits or we’ve become friends because of our shared interests. It‘s already assumed and known without words, if you have interest in something, there’s a reason.

Speaking of Ancestry

It’s debatable what entails one to respectfully call themselves ‘Irish’, ‘Scottish’, ‘German’, ‘British’, ‘French’ etc. That’s not up to anyone else really but those countries to decide for themselves what it means to be called those identifications. Generally, I think it’s going to be having been born there or immigrating there but also actively participating in the culture or some mixture therein. We can have ancestry from those places but I think there should be some delineation in descriptors for ourselves. Our lived experiences are completely different. I don’t typically even discuss my ancestry online but if I’m asked, I respectfully say I’m in the diaspora or I’m American with ancestry from various places. Some people like to say I’m ‘Irish or Scottish American’. It’s not fair to those countries and cultures that have their own identity, cultural practices and most importantly again, lived experiences for us to say we’re flat out ‘Scottish’ or ‘Irish’ just because we have ancestors there.

If we flipped this scenario again, imagine someone was generations removed from America. They never lived in America or may have visited a handful of times. They knew a spattering of historical references and yet in online spaces they said they were ‘American’. See how odd that is? Even worse, many people in online spaces will speak over a Native person. Can you imagine how backwards it would seem if someone from another country, someone who possibly hadn’t even visited America was trying to teach you about your own way of doing things and folk practices where you live? I don’t think that means we can’t engage in conversation or debate but again it’s the way in which that’s done. Are we citing source material or just making something up and promoting a practice with little evidence? Are we mocking the cultures by supplanting stereotypes in a culturally inaccurate echo chamber? Are we debating with a Native person about the hypothetical meaning of an ancient structure in an argumentative or respectful and inquisitive manner? I think people forget sometimes how nice it can be to just relax, not take things so personally, to sit in the back seat for a time, and just listen and learn.

Stonehenge, Britain

Druidry is Cultural

Modern Druidry is not without roots despite a lot of people saying the modern Druidry movement has no ties from the past. When we start to read back, there is a continuous reference to the Druids of old. It wasn’t like the role completely disappeared either. There were Druid type people that survived amongst the entire area from times of old right up into the present. The modern witch for example may have been based off of this cultural and community role as were the Irish bards and Filí or fairie doctors. That’s not to say there was a continuous unbroken lineage, just that the community role continued by various names and function. I don’t think we should personally just take this role and make it whatever we want or begin to call ourselves Druids without at least doing some sort of course. We have enough evidence from the past to at minimum know the Druid’s role in Celtic tribal society and have a rough guide. I personally believe that to take the title without any real longterm spiritual work and reading, devalues the role.

Just as in Indigenous cultures that have survived today, everyone in the tribe believes in the same spirituality but the role of the healers and teachers were reserved for the well studied. This is echoed in the possibility that druids may have studied for twenty years as quoted by Caesar. While I also think to ‘each their own’ and people can truly call themselves whatever they want, I believe we’re denying ourselves the accomplishment of feeling like we’ve truly embodied the role in years to come after more studying and learning. I think it’s a wholly different connotation to say I’m studying Druidry, I’m a Celtic pagan, I’m a witch verses I’m a Druid. There’s a power in the title that I reserve for the elders in the community even if they don’t call themselves that, I see it and recognize it. I say this all of course mostly referring to people who just use the title out of the gate or out of its cultural context in a similar way that people may refer to themselves as shamans after one weekend retreat. I don’t say all this because I’m judging terribly, it’s just a thought on how to maintain the value of the roles that inspire us to seek knowledge and higher meaning.

Paganism is Intersectional

It’s in my opinion an impossibility to practice what I would consider ‘authentic’ modern Druidry or paganism and not care about other Indigenous and Native cultures the world over including for example, the First Nations of the United States or the Aboriginal people of Australia. If someone doesn’t care about Indigenous nations being murdered to clear forests in Brazil or support Indigenous efforts to restore their prior cultures to the best of their abilities, I’m not going to take them seriously. Period. We must consciously engage in standing up against political injustices and corruption in general wherever they may be, uplifting the down trodden and fighting for what is right and good in the world, or we’re merely just playing dress up. The same sort of characters the world over that eradicated the Druids of old are doing similar things today in various ways. That doesn’t mean online spaces need to be constant soap boxes, just that we’re each doing what we can and mindful of all the nuanced connections. Druidry is absolutely political as it has always been. It’s just again, how are we expressing ourself online? Tactfully or indignantly?

Being Mindful of Commercialization

I don’t personally believe that spiritualism should be heavily commercialized. I think creative works are in a class of their own and wonderful but just to sell cheap t-shirts, jewelry or other commercialized products based on any Native culture, spirituality or belief system with the sole goal of profit, feels very wrong to me. Can we not let capitalism destroy everything that feels true? Is there perhaps another way of surviving monetarily that isn’t selling out another’s spiritual beliefs? Also, I think it goes a very long way to support and promote Native artists, writers and crafters. Every time I go about wanting to purchase something for my spiritual practice, I search for a Native person making those items. Why? Because it’s important to ‘give’ to the living cultures and area where these belief structures were born. It’s important to give as much, if not more than we take by being able to flourish and exist happily and peacefully in such a culturally based spirituality and framework. We can uplift Native voices, resources, blogs… anything, so that our practice and community is filled with nuanced and relevant perspectives. Additionally, I think it goes a long way to donate if able to charities that promote the survival of old and new forests, of native wildlife and plants or for example, the safe keeping of Neolithic and Mesolithic monuments. With that said, of course our own creative endeavors are inseparable from our spirituality and I find that our own creative works are in a class of their own and it’s important and part of it all to express our creativity. Of course selling something mass produced verses selling our own homemade items are wholly different scenarios.

Drumbeg Stone Circle, Ireland

Speaking of Social Causes

While I think it’s wonderful to support causes by way of donations, is it really fair to voice a strong opinion on political matters of those countries because our 5th grandfather or whoever in our ancestry was from that area? Particularly, I’m referring to people who spout off and judge others for what a Native person might call themselves or the inner workings of matters of independence such as the ongoing debate regarding Scotland leaving Britain or debate of Northern Ireland. I once witnessed a cringeworthy dialogue ensue after a Welsh person was called a turn coat for choosing to call themselves British instead of Welsh. We don’t get to be ‘Celtic’ nationalists just because we have ancestry some place or take the symbols and culture (an issue in Norse community as well) and try to fit it into a completely false, incompatible or harmful agenda if that is someone’s goal. I believe whole heartedly in autonomy and surely letting those countries have their own opinions about their own identity and political issues. I figure if support is needed, it will be asked possibly by signing a petition just as an example. My opinion otherwise doesn’t mean diddly squat and I’m definitely not making it known in online spaces even if I did have an opinion one way or another unless, and only if, my opinion was asked of me. Which, it likely won’t be and rightfully not because, as much as I might love and appreciate the area, and value my ancestors from those places, I don’t live there here and now. End of story.

Using Authentic Source Material and Citations

There is a lot of misinformation floating around the pagan community today. It’s so prevalent in fact, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of what’s real and what’s not. I can imagine this is especially true for newcomers. I believe whole heartedly we need to be able to cite and use source material when sharing and debating information in online spaces. There are a lot of practices pandered as ‘Celtic’, ‘Norse’ or ‘Shaman’ when in reality, there is very little if any evidence behind some of these practices. This is damaging because it conceals and muddles the framework and belief systems that have long already been laid. It’s detracting from the very real and authentic sources that are available within those cultures and their source texts. Is it ok to just make up our own personal practices and rituals? Absolutely and we somewhat have to but I think it should just be stated for what it is.

If we made it up, and it worked, great! We should just own it and celebrate it for what it is but not call it something else, at the expense of integrity, to make it somehow seem better or more genuine. With modern Druidry, Celtic paganism and generalized witchcraft today, there is typically going to be tons of unique cultural overlap and I just believe that credit should be given wherever it’s due whether it’s to recorded practices that were relevant to Brittany, Ireland or Wales or a far reaching isle in Scotland. Maybe, let’s not group the entire area into ‘Celtic’ when referring to individual folk practices or pantheons although it is a uniting and umbrella term overall, I think the variations and nuanced way the culture evolved is important too and fantastically interesting to recognize. I make a point of the importance of citing information as well because this is surely its own unique path and not just eclecticism, nor do I think any of us want to see it lost in ambiguity.

Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Learning the History of the Area

I personally didn’t feel comfortable practicing modern Druidry and paganism, specific to myself, Irish paganism, unless I knew more than a spattering of historical references regarding the land. While it‘s speculative, the ancient Celtic tribes may have easily held some animistic or astrological remnants of an even older tradition practiced by the Neolithic and Mesolithic monument builders. Tree reverence, sacred herbalism, divining, journeying, reincarnation… these all link and connect with other Native traditions the world over. I think it’s important to truly understand the history of these places and to absorb the full picture and join the dance from a place of authenticity. If we are so lazy to not learn of the history of the lands in which the Druids existed, what are we doing? I feel this is especially relevant for people that claim their ancestry is important to them and that they have a right to Druidry or Celtic paganism spiritually because of their ancestry.

Is it truly important if we’re not willing to pick up a book and read about the historical timeline of events and of the trials, tribulations and wars that shaped the landscape, cultures or the extermination of the Druids themselves? It’s important to note that from the early 1000’s through the early 1900’s, the nations that were still culturally ‘Celtic’ and preserved the best knowledge, sources and living framework that would have been genuine, were being colonized by wealthy English aristocracy. Celtic languages and customs were outlawed. Land and resources were stolen. Millions were displaced, often forced on ships to leave their families forever or lost their lives and their livelihoods. The reverberations of this are still visceral. There are still social divides where certain descendants have access to generational wealth, land and resources others do not. I think it’s just important to recognize so we can recalibrate and adjust our learning material and way of doing things. For example, not calling the islands, the ‘British Isles’. Often, certain changes are so subtle but deeply meaningful, refocusing and widening perspectives.

All this to say and this is only my perspective, I get the impression it’s not a closed practice but not wide open either. This just means there is a framework there in place that I think should be respected and can be discovered when we take the time to learn carefully and selectively by finding good sources, people, books, courses and websites. For me, the role is a community role and one that is centered around having ‘sight’ in some capacity and very personal. The journey is going to be different for each of us, often completely different and there is a wonderful beauty in that. Each year, as we read and learn deeply, more self doubt falls away and so to, our practice and connection deepens into something more real and meaningful. When we make a goal of being a true learner of the old ways, most importantly within the framework of those well established cultures, countries and organizations, of being respectful, of truly listening and appreciating all the intelligent and nuanced voices we can, new doors will continually open. There’s no reason to feel put out. I think it’s just all about the way things are gone about, in a mindful, respectful and empathetic manner.

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