Druids and Druidry
A Zoom talk by Dr Alan Jones to the Tamar Dowsers
As we have seen on previous occasions, Alan Jones’ range of specialist subjects is pretty impressive to put it mildly. On this occasion, it was particularly helpful for the speaker to be relating the story and the purpose of the druid’s way of life, when he is one himself.
Alan’s intro was disconcertingly simple and to the point. We know precious little about who the druids were, what they did, and why they were so significant in the pre-Christian realms of Panceltia. What little information we do have was penned by the likes of Tacitus and Julius Caesar – determined adversaries of the druids, and of the population they served.
In Irish-language literature, the druids – the draoithe, plural of draoi – are sorcerors with supernatural powers, who are respected in society, particularly for their ability to perform divination. Unlike the Irish texts, the Welsh term commonly seen as referring to the druids, dryw, was used to refer purely to prophets.
The druid ‘class’ in the centuries around the emergence of the common era appears to have been a specialist group of men and women, who were adept in the art or craft of divination which, although more closely aligned to the role of the oracle or the fortune-teller, would doubtless have included some aspects of divination familiar to modern-day dowsers.
However, their role appears to have encompassed other fields of social and psychological activity, such as the interpretation and dissemination of laws. In this role, they would have taken on the functions of both the Teacher and the Priest.
Contemporary descriptions indicate that they were visually distinctive and definitively ritualised in behaviour. They seem to have been particularly terrifying to would-be opponents, as they seemed to have had a very well developed outlook on the meaning of life – at least from their own perspective – and consequently had absolutely no fear of death.
The well-documented account of the Roman subjugation of the last major druid-led population – on Anglesey, off North Wales – was of a tribal group, so fearsome that even the heavily armed and rigorously trained Roman legionnaires thought twice about even attempting to cross the Menai Strait. While the result of that conflict was the ethnic cleansing of Ynys Mon, the druidic outlook and mindset probably persisted in various British and Celtic enclaves across Europe for centuries thereafter.
Indeed, when there was a resurgence in the concept of Druidry in the 18th Centruty, it was very likely that those folk memories in the information field were in some way responsible for the inspiration that was gleaned and reinterpreted for a new era.
Between the end of the Roman occupation and the late Middle Ages, the druid tradition was probably kept alive in the tales and songs of the storyteller and wandering minstrel. During this time, we see characters such as Merlin and Taliesin emerging as seer-poets, living on the edge of society. Much of modern druidic teaching comes from the words of the ancient bardic tales, and the poetry of these latter-day magicians.
The start of modern druidry occurred around the time of the antiquarian William Stukeley, the poet William Blake, and the Welsh folklorist Edward Williams 1747-1826 (aka Iolo Morganwg).
Morganwg’s first Welsh Gorsedd (official gathering) was in 1792, followed by the Breton Gorsedd (by Jean Le Fustec) in 1899 and the Cornish Gorsedd (by Henry Jenner) in 1928.
In terms of ‘neo-druidic’ bodies, the Ancient Druidic Order was initiated by Henry Hurle in 1781, The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, by Ross Nicholls in 1964 and the British Druid Order by Phillip Shallcross in 1979.
Modern druids are philosophically distinctive in their acceptance of being an active and integral part of nature – as opposed to being just aware of, or friendly towards, Gaia. As AJ noted, in that sense the druid is even more at one with the natural world than the more generalised, and more separatist, approach to the planet and the biosphere of the Green Movement.
Perhaps one of the defining elements of the druidic approach is the acknowledgement off Awen (roughly translating as inspiration) – the concept of essence or divinity, which is believed to be a flowing spirit, and can be invoked by the druid. In many rituals, this spirit is invoked by chanting the word ‘Awen’, to shift the consciousness of the participants involved.
Today, a practising Druid would seek to embody and to enact the principles of wisdom, compassion, liberalism (as in liberty), abundance, non-conformity, learning and idealism. Not many of us would disagree with that as a canon of intent.
Many thanks to Dr Alan Jones for another trademark engaging and informative presentation, which will have encouraged his fellow travellers and probably inspired those dowsers for whom druidry, up to now, may have been something of tangential interest.
Nigel Twinn, Tanar Dowsers
Emrys is the chosen Bardic name of Dr Alan Jones PhD FRSA.
A Member of British Druid Order, Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, Arch Druid with the Reformed Druids of Gaia, Ancient and Noble Order of the Knights Templar and The Fellowship of the Knights of the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur.
Co-Founder of the Cornwall School of Mystery and Magick, Fellowship of Merlin.
As a footnote to the above – according to Wikipedia:
In 1996, it was estimated that there were approximately 6000 members of Druid groups in England. In the 2001 UK Census, 30,569 individuals described themselves as Druids, and in September 2010, the Charity Commission for England and Wales agreed to register The Druid Network as a charity, effectively giving it official recognition as a religion. A study of 75 members of the UK-based Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids found ‘a clear preference for introversion (61%) over extraversion (39%), a clear preference for intuition (64%) over sensing (36%), a clear preference for feeling (56%) over thinking (44%), and a clear preference for judging (68%) over perceiving (32%).’