Do those of us who call ourselves Druids have a right to use the name? Without clearly recognized standards of preparation and achievement does the term have any meaning? Is the name so tightly attached to the priests, healers and advisors of the ancient Celtic world that it is now impossible to become a Druid?
Alison Leigh Lilly of the Meadowsweet and Myrrh blog has a long essay on this topic that’s worth the time to read. It was inspired by another blog on the same topic and some Facebook conversation she summarizes but doesn’t (and probably can’t) link to.
I like Alison’s thoughts on this. Here are her final words on the subject:
We know that, in the most literal, original sense of the word, being a Druid today is impossible. We also know that as an archetype and inspiration, it holds great value and depth even despite its impossibility. As Druids, we take the third way: we leap ahead, we name ourselves what we value most, we celebrate in ourselves our capacity to become that which we aspire to be, and then we buckle down to the long, arduous, uncertain process…. of becoming Druid.
This is good. But I think authenticity of modern Druids may be stronger than many realize.
Let’s start with the idea that since the Druids filled a specific role in Celtic society and since Celtic societies no longer exist, neither can Druids. To address this, let’s consider a thought experiment: what if Christianity never became the dominant religion of Europe? Assume its role was never filled by Islam or Buddhism or some other religion and instead Europe remained pagan to this day. If that had happened, would we still have Druids? Almost certainly. Although the Romans attacked the Druids for political reasons they didn’t extinguish them, and it is likely Druidry would have rebounded after they left Britain.
So if we still had Druids and those Druids were part of an unbroken lineage, would today’s Druids be advisors to kings? No, because today’s Europe and the former European colonies in the New World are almost all democracies. Perhaps the spiritual leader of England would be the Archdruid of Avebury instead of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I’m pretty sure the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the President of the United States wouldn’t wait to speak until the Chief Druid declared the cabinet meeting open. Our political structure would have changed regardless of religion and the Druids’ relationship to that political structure would have changed as well.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture – if Druids hadn’t disappeared they still would have changed because the society in which they lived and worked changed. So to say that there can be no “real” Druids because there are no more Celtic societies is an oversimplification.
Still, the ancient Druids were pretty much wiped out, and we have very little direct knowledge of who they were, how they trained, and what they did. How can we legitimately say what we do is a contemporary version of Druidry when we don’t really know what the original version looked like?
I can only speak for myself – thought I’m confident many others have had a similar experience – but I didn’t decide to become a Druid because I thought it was cool or because I thought I would become powerful or even because I thought it would be helpful and fulfilling. I decided to become a Druid because I was called to Druidry. When I first read about it, something inside me clicked – I knew this was what I was supposed to be and do.
If I was called to Druidry, then who or what issued the call? Might it be the very same goddesses and gods, the very same ancestors, the very same spirits of nature that called the ancient Druids? Might they call us to learn similar skills to fill new roles in this new place and new time? Might these roles look very similar to what Druids would be doing if they had never been wiped out and had instead continued on in lines that were unbroken but in roles that had evolved to meet the needs of contemporary society?
We can and should debate “what is Druidry?” both at the core and on the fringes. Various Druid organizations will maintain their own criteria for membership. Historians will continue to tease out what few facts they can find about the ancient Druids and form hypotheses and theories about who they were and what they did.
This is valuable work and I support it all. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I know what I’ve been called to do and what I’ve been called to become. Name it what you like. I like “Druid.”