The English word ‘Druid’ is derived from the Gallo-Brythonic word which has come down to modern Welsh as ‘Derwydd’. In turn, this is a compound word, drawing on ‘derw-‘, relating to the oak, and ‘-wydd’ (root word ‘Gwydd’), relating to ‘seer’ or ‘knowledge’.
An alternative word – ‘Gwŷdd’ – however, is also the Welsh word for a loom. This connection is worth exploring further.
The loom, and the process of weaving, is a two-dimensional process; you have the warp, and you have the weft. Add in the dimension of time, and we have the process of adding in threads of different colours. This allows the emergence of complex patterns – which adhere to an overall vision, transcending yet guiding the whole process.
This seems to be a useful metaphor for a key concept in Welsh Druidry: the journey of the soul.
Let’s call the warp, that’s the horizontal thread, the souls that are on Earth at any given time, moving through time in parallel. Some are incarnate; some do not have fleshly bodies (but we needn’t concern ourselves with these). Of those that have physical bodies, some are human. Some are cockroaches. Some are pond scum, and so on and so on. Each of these physical incarnations has its own virtues of strength, speed, adaptability. Each form of life has its role to play in the complex structure of the global ecological system. Hence, no form of life can be regarded as intrinsically better or worse than any other: each has its appropriate function. Looking at the world in this way, from the point of view of the overall global ecology, we can see that humans are no more or less morally important than a sparrow or an ant.
The weft, that is, the vertical threads which pass over and under the threads of the warp, can then be used to represent the passage of the spirit. This may be a useful model for understanding what Barddas is telling us, as noted in that earlier post.
As Druids, we revere the world of nature. We acknowledge that each species, and each individual existence, has its virtue and its value. Everything has its role to play in the great symphony of life.
If each existence, each spark of life, has value, then that obliges us to avoid killing, to avoid being the cause of suffering in others. It obliges Druids to share the Buddhist value of compassion, of metta, of universal loving-kindness. Here lies the root of the Druidic pursuit of peace; it’s why the Welsh tradition of Iolo Morganwg begins its ceremonies with “A oes heddwch? Is there peace?”
We acknowledge that many forms of life – perhaps many more than we realise – have culture. We acknowledge that culture is the response of a mind, of a community of minds, to the environment in which they find themselves, and that humans are not the only minds which do this. In many species of bird, for example, songs are taught by one generation to another, and genetically identical bird populations in different locations sing different songs. As Bards, we acknowledge that it is our duty and our privilege to deepen and enrich and defend the culture of our people.
As Druids, we acknowledge that humans are not unique. We understand that other species know how to use tools, for example. We understand that other species practice compassion and altruism, to members of other species as well as their own – as in this clip of a bear saving a crow from drowning:
Again, this demonstrates a mind at work: of evaluation, of decision, of a recognition of other life as being noteworthy. A mind at work; not mechanical, unreflective instinct.
If each species, and each individual life, has its own intrinsic value, it also has its virtues; those things in which it excels relative to other species. Leopards are faster than human beings. Does this mean that leopards are “better” than humans, or vice versa? Of course not; it simply means that leopards run faster than humans. Of course, if teeth, and hunger, are involved, then this matter may be of intense significance – but only for the individual leopard and the individual human in that situation, not for the species!
Of course, humans can run. They can run faster than many other forms of life, just as they do not run as well as many other forms of life. Fish swim well, as do dolphins. Snakes can also swim, though not as well – but they travel over land far more successfully that either fish or dolphins. Baboons and tarantulas alike climb better than most humans.
Is there something in which humans excel, more than other species? Of course. We excel at abstract thought, the facility which allows us to explore both tool use and moral philosophy, for example. Other forms of life can also make tools; other forms of life make moral choices, but we do it better than they do, just as we can run and climb and swim, but other species do these things better than we can. Does this human virtue of abstraction make humans intrinsically more valuable than other life forms? Some other religions, including the religion of militant scientific atheism and materialism, believe that it does. As Druids, we join other karmic religions in understanding that it does not.
Thus we have the warp of the fabric of the great Loom. These are the horizontal strands, each strand a species, each strand made up of the countless threads of individual lives. Each strand is varicoloured, reflecting the sub-cultures of species populations.
What does the weft represent? These vertical strands represent the journey of the soul; the individual spirits that pass through countless lives and existences, through ever-increasing levels of self-awareness, abstract understanding, and moral competence.
The great cauldron of creation, Anwwn, which contains all things, generates new life, and new spirits.
These begin with minimal self-awareness, and minimal capacity for abstraction and moral choice, and are incarnate as the simplest forms of life. Over countless lifetimes, they explore the virtues of the species in which they are embodied, including the moral and mental virtues.
As they come to fully understand and utilise those virtues, they move on to rebirth in other species – species which have wildly varying physical virtues, but always with a slightly greater ability to understand oneself and one’s choice, always with a slightly greater ability to overcome unthinking instinct to act consciously and reflectively instead.
Thus, the individual spirits form the fine threads weaving their way through the weft of different species, in a complex, and intricate pattern. Ultimately, though, each spirit will arrive in a human incarnations. As explained above, this is not because humans are intrinsically better or more important in terms of the corporeal, apparent world, or the ecosystems which we share with other species. It is because the particular virtue of the human species to have a greater capacity for self-knowledge, and for moral choice, than any other physical species. If a spirit can fully master this, it will have learned to completely master instinct; it will have fully broken the rule of flesh over mind. It will be ready to leave flesh behind, and to move on to further existences in the realm of spirit.
Of course, and sadly, the fact that a spirit has grown to the level of self-awareness appropriate for human incarnation does not mean that it is in any way ‘good’. In many cases, as we are all to aware, it simply means that greed, cruelty, and all the negative aspects of instinct can be expressed more powerfully than any animal would be capable of. This is why there will never be ‘peace on earth’; why ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ will never be achieved in this world. To Druids, being human is by definition to be in a state of learning, to be discovering ourselves and our spiritual capacity through trial and error. This takes countless lifetimes in human form, gradually learning to overcome base instinct and to develop the finer aspects of the spirit. Some people will come close, and can act as guides and examples for others, but they will necessarily always be a minority – because these souls are approaching the end of their time in human form, while new souls are constantly being born as humans for the first time, still dominated by instinct as animals are.
As Druids, we understand this – and we understand our role. As Bards, we use and develop the bonds of culture and community to enrich each individual mind whilst rooting it more firmly in a network of peaceful, mutually supportive relationships. As Ovates, we explore and communicate the nature of the world in which we live, so that humans may adore and revere it with greater understanding, whilst cultivating it to strengthen and sustain us. As Druids, we contemplate the cosmos; we muse upon order emerging from the void, and we guide the people on moral behaviour and their relationship with the Gods. We guide them on the path of peace.
If we do our job well, then the souls of those we teach will understand their own nature more quickly, and will cause less suffering to themselves and others during their journey to the world of spirit. The path of Druidry is one of service to community, of culture and knowledge, and of active engagement as leaders. This is the wisdom of the loom.