I wrote the following for a church magazine at my Grandad’s request. I tried to be respectful of the Christian readership.
Druidism, just like any other pagan belief system, is difficult to define. The temptation is to view it as a religion similar to Christianity, with regular meetings and rituals similar to church services, and chants and spells similar to prayer. In some cases you may even be right. There are those who chose to practice their beliefs in this way, though in my personal experience, trying to get a group of pagans, druids and witches to agree to agree to a set format, a consistent schedule or even which deity to pay homage too is very much like herding cats.
Druids in particular have no holy book to consult, no manual of any kind to guide them. Any surviving accounts of pagan beliefs and practices were recorded by Christian monks after the fall of the Roman Empire, over 200 years after the Romans first annexed Great Britain. As a result, modern day Druids, and other Pagans, have little choice but to go with their gut. There are many books available, but all of them are based on the author’s personal experiences, the conjecture of other Pagans, and Christian historical sources.
To clarify, Pagan is a collective term, originally coined to identify all non-Christians. It’s been adopted by those that believe in the old gods, the spirits of nature, and the personal power to change their lives for the better. The way I’ve chosen to explain the concept of ‘old gods’ to most Christians I speak to is this:
The Christians see God as the Father of all the things. The Creator and only true God. He is vast and unknowable, beyond the comprehension of his creation. Communication with the divine requires a conduit, or a messenger. These messengers exist in almost all belief systems. Angels, Saints, Prophets, etc. These divine avatars are similar in many respects to what Pagans, including Druids, call gods. It’s easy to imagine when you look at this way, that the ancient pagans were simply trying, and failing, to understand and define Almighty God. Most modern day Pagans wouldn’t thank you for pointing this out though, and might even suggest that the opposite is true.
Druidism specifically refers to a reverence for nature and the spirits that guard and protect it. It has many things in common with Shamanism. One such spirit is the Green Man of the woods. He protects the forest, rules over the lesser spirits and fairies, and punishes those that disrespect his kingdom. He is seem both as a localised deity, and as aspect of a greater being. If we remember that Great Britain was once very densely wooded prior to the Roman occupation. Some people, those that didn’t respect the potential dangers, would get lost in the misty woods and never return.
These the thick foggy forests of the past are long gone. As are the dangers that dwelled within them such as bears and wolves. Yet there are still those that acknowledge the trees and forests as places of spiritual significance. If you’ve ever taken a stroll in the woods alone and listened to the breeze whisper through the the branches of the trees, it’s easy to see why they might. The only real difference here is that a Christian would acknowledge God or the Holy Spirit, while a Druid would pay homage to the forest itself, personified by the Green Man.
A modern Druid’s respect for nature might lead them to become avid campers and woodsmen, though that’s far more likely in America and Canada where they still have some large wild forests. Here in the UK, most are content to lay their hand on a tree in the park and eat organic foods..
-Antony M. Copeland