Druidry in a time of pestilence

coppicing

During the past few weeks of confinement, I’ve been engaging in quite a lot of divination, using both the I Ching and the Coelbren y Beirdd. I’ve been receiving a number of repeating patterns in the answers. Wait. Do not act now. The time is not right. This is a time of danger, of stasis; a time when one cycle has come to an end but the next cycle is not yet ready to commence. This is a time to rexamine, and re-commit to, one’s values.

Much of this relates to my personal situation, and the course of my own life. However, as the days pass, and the news gets grimmer, I understand that it applies to all of us, and to the society we have been living in.

Everything has changed. The world we knew has ended, and a new one waits to emerge. What that world will be is not yet fixed, and our actions now, as Druids, can help to shape it. We are all retreating into our homes, into isolation and quarantine, to spend time with ourselves and our thoughts. Let us use this time well.

As I wrote in my last post, the world we’ve known for the last twenty to thirty years is under assault from the COVID-19 coronavirus, an assault I believe is part of Gwyn ap Nudd’s war to restore balance, and to end the damage humans are inflicting on the natural world, and on the interests of the Tylwyth Teg.

I see some posts, even from people in the pagan community, welcoming this as a ‘cleansing’, that it is humanity itself that is the virus (shades of Agent Smith in The Matrix), and welcoming it. I don’t agree with this perspective:  humanity is one of the three peoples (these being humans, the Forest People, and the Fair Folk), and part of the world’s balance – but we have grown too greedy, too demanding, and we have upset that balance. Gwyn’s message is that he is acting only out of necessity, to restore balance. If we change our way of life, and live more harmoniously with the natural world and the Fair Folk, we can have peace.

As I write, though, the countries of the West are falling deeper and deeper into crisis. Countries such as the US and the UK are on the verge of crisis. Stock markets are already crashing; central banks seem to have already exhausted their options, to no avail.

And yet, if what is coming to them bears any resemblance to what happened here in China, and to what is happening in Italy and Spain… many, months of intense disruption and hardship are yet to come. Many millions of deaths are predicted. It is impossible to expect that this trauma can be experienced and then followed by a return to normality.

Indeed we are already seeing an astonishing transformation.

The response to the threat of the virus is seeing governments around the world abandoning policies which had previously been seen as unquestionable. Jonathan Freedland puts it well in The Guardian:

That represents a profound political shift. Just as there are no atheists on a sinking ship, there are no free-marketeers in a pandemic. Suddenly the old arguments of left and right have melted away, as a Tory health secretary commands the British manufacturing industry to start making ventilators, explaining that only government – not the private sector – has the clout to fight this menace.

As they act to ‘bail out the people, not the banks’, governments are ending practices which made life difficult for ordinary people – policies on making difficult to obtain social security; policies which made access to healthcare ruinous; policies which left the needy unable to feed their children. And we’re hearing more and more people asking Why were we doing that in the first place?

The airline industry is in crisis; people are not travelling – and so one of the single biggest sources of greenhouse gases has been shut down. Similarly, the vast industry of container shipping, another source, has been dramatically reduced. People are not driving as much. We are already seeing atmospheric pollution falling to levels unheard of in recent years.

Shortages in the shops are making people consider, often for the first time, where all their stuff comes from. Where their food comes from. Many more people about growing food in their gardens. The threat of contamination makes people fearful of touch-screens in their supermarkets and medical clinics – reminding them that having human staff is preferable to the automated self-service that destroyed jobs.

Policy-makers are being forced to confront the vulnerability imposed on their nations by international just-in-time delivery from outsourced and off-shored production – making it more likely we’ll see a revival of resilient, local manufacturing which will breathe new life into communities, rather than the current system, designed to extract every last penny of value for the benefit of the rich while more and more people fall into the precariat. The similar threat to food supplies must surely mean a new focus on local food production – and a concern for the soil on which it depends.

Change is possible. Change to a way of life, an economy, based on local production, on nurturing the land, and nurturing people. A way of life based on cultivating human talent and happiness rather than ever-increasing ‘productivity’ that benefits only the wealthy. A simpler way of life, but one that is healthier in every way – for people, for the natural world, and for the Otherworld.

This is a way of life imagined by David Fleming in Lean Logic, and by Shaun Chamberlin in Surviving the Future. It’s a way of life that Rob Hopkins tried to bring into existence with the Transition Town movement. The Transition Towns have had their successes, but they seem to have essentially stalled. To me, it seems that this is because they didn’t have a sufficiently compelling narrative that would draw together a sufficiently strong movement, one that would grow, and convince new people through its successes.

We have to remember that reality is created by the stories we tell ourselves and that we tell each other. Of course, the physical world exists independently of humans. Nevertheless, the sheer complexity of the natural world is overwhelming. The human brain, and mind, are not capable of processing all of the inputs to which we are exposed. We survive by filtering it; we decide what we wish to pay attention to, and we filter out, and simply don’t see, that which we have decided is not important, so that our minds are able to deal with the issues we have decided are important. 

What is important? What is not important? That’s a cultural decision. That’s why languages and cultures have very different understandings of ‘blue’ and ‘green’, for example. It’s why some cultures see the inhabitants of the Otherworld much more easily than other cultures.

And this is where we come to Druidry, because establishing the values of a society, and creating the tales which the society tells itself in order to maintain those values, is precisely what a Druid is meant to do, in the Welsh tradition at least.

Iolo Morganwg, a very practical man who understood human life very well, tells us:

There are three cogent necessities laid upon a Bard, according to the necessity and occasion of truth and justice:

  • to tell what he knows, where nothing else can be found which is right and just;
  • to raise the cry of re-assertion, where oppression and lawlessness take place;
  • and to exercise judgment over devastation and spoliation.

Barddas

and

The three successful objects of a Bard and Bardism: to polish and civilize a nation; to render a country socially inhabitable; and to improve sciences.

Barddas

The pandemic has thrown the values of our globalized, free-market fundamentalist, society into disarray. People now see that the stories we have been telling ourselves are not true.

But those values, and those stories are only wounded, not dead. It is still possible for them to recover, and to return more dangerous than before. Now, while they are weakened, we Druids must act.

We must be telling new stories while people are ready to hear them. Even now, during the darkest days, we must be telling stories celebrating the sacrifices of the front-line workers. We must be telling stories about how communities are re-learning to help each other, and condemning the selfish individualists who endanger everybody else. We must spread the stories of how relocalising can create more satisfying jobs. We must spread the stories of how nature is rebounding as the factories shut down, and how the canals of Venice are cleaner than they have been in living memory.

Let people know that in China, it may well be that by cutting pollution, the COVID-19 virus may actually have SAVED more lives than it took. And… if the way we have been living was more injurious to us than the virus… why were we doing it that way in the first place?

Druids: it is our task in these days to be implanting in the minds, the Facebook and Twitter feeds, of everyone we know, that a better, and more sustainable world is possible. During this time of shutdown and isolation, we can see aspects of this world more clearly than before.

As a farmer plants seeds at the start of winter, so that they can sprout with the return of spring, now is the time for planting the seeds of a new culture. Get busy, Druids, and plant the seeds of a better, greener, world in the minds of those around you, because those minds will establish reality once the pandemic passes.

Excercise judgement over devastation and spoliation. Tell what you know. Make your country socially inhabitable.

 

 

 

Image credits: Coldfall wood coppicing by Mark Hillary on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

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