Druids and resilience

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The photo shows two letters from the Coelbren y Beirdd alphabet: ‘d’, and ‘dd’. The first is pronounced in the same way as in English; the second is pronounced like the English ‘th’ in ‘this’, ‘that’, or ‘there’.

John Williams ab Ithel, who had access to Iolo Morganwg’s papers, explains in the Dosparth Edeyrn Davod Aur that in Coelbren divination the meaning of ‘d’, spoken as ‘di’,  is “expanding, spreading, unfolding, laying open, distribution, or division“. He tells us that it is “a term used of old for the Deity, also for day—what unfolds, lays open“. The concept seems to me identical to the Chinese concept of the Dao, or Tao (道),

The Dosparth does not discuss “Dd”, or “ddi”, which is a separate and distinct letter in Welsh orthography. However, the meaning of the Coelbren comes from their sounds. In Welsh, the sound ‘dd’ rarely appears as the initial, defining, letter of a word in its own right; more often, under the rules of Welsh grammar, it is a mutated form of ‘d’, influenced by another element.

Thus, we could say that “d” represents division, expansion, laying open in its own right, following its own nature, whereas “dd” represents the shaping of this energy by another force: a limitation, or confining.

And… this is my starting point for a process of musings on how to act on the material covered by the Post-Carbon Institute’s Think Resilient online course, which I reviewed here.

This blog is me thinking aloud. I’m trying to determine what this polytheistic pagan path of Druidry means: to me as a person – but also to myself as part of a greater whole: human society, and the natural world in which we live, and the world beyond that. I’m trying to work things out; what I write here is exploration, not exposition. So, having clarified that, I want to think out loud about division.

Division seems to be an unpopular concept in today’s mainstream culture, which is strange. Division, and discrimination, are essential. This kind of mushroom tastes great fried in butter; that kind of mushroom will give you a slow death in great agony. That kind of animal can be eaten, but this kind of animal will kill me and eat me (run away!).

When it comes to human beings, division seems to be built in. One only has to look at the phenomenon of English football hooligans. These are groups of people who are often indistinguishable in terms of ethnicity, education, income, language or even accent; people who might live in adjacent streets in the same city – but they are willing, even wanting, to engage in street–fighting involving hundreds or even thousands of people, simply over which sports team they support. It’s true today; it was true during the rule of Justinian over the Eastern Roman Empire, when the army had to violently suppress what we might call “chariot-racing hooligans”. It just seems that people need to find something to belong to – and just as significantly, to not belong to.

(There’s a joke about a solitary Welshman, shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island. Years later, he is rescued by a ship. The ship’s captain is astonished to discover that the man has built an entire village to live in, and asks to be shown around. “Well”, says, the Welshman, “this is my cabin, where I live. Here’s the neighbour’s house, if I had a neighbour. Here’s the pub, and the village shop, they’re a bit quiet like, but I like to have my routine. And this here is the chapel, where I pray every Sunday”. “But what’s this other building?”, asks the ship’s captain, “It seems to be a second chapel just across the street from your own”. “That? That’s the chapel I don’t go to. Don’t you pay them no heed”, replies the Welshman).

Science cannot function without distinction and differentiation: the periodic table, or the categorisation of plant and animal families, are fundamental, and they depend precisely on categorisation and the ability to say, with as little doubt as possible, this is not that. They are different. They have different properties. It may be that the differences are minor; they may be dramatic. Either way, our ability to make sense of the world, and to function in it depends on differentiation. Consequently, human society involves the drawing of many lines. Our lives are full of divisions, of ‘is’ versus ‘is not’. “Do this” but “do not do that“.

Sometimes the line of division is selected on provable, demonstrable, and indisputable grounds. Sometimes it is chosen in error. In some cases, it is chosen on an arbitrary basis for good reasons. In other cases, the reasons were bad. And, at other times, the lines were drawn on the basis of prevailing conditions, and were appropriate for that environment. When the environment changes, the lines must be re-drawn.

This is the moment of division: we are in a transition period.

Right now, we are in the last stages of a period of abundance which, powered by finite reserves of cheap fossil fuels. has brought historically unprecedented levels of freedom and prosperity to large parts of the human population – which has increased in size exponentially.

Soon, before we are really ready for it, we will be forced to live much simpler lives. There will not the energy or the resources to sustain the lifestyles, the economy, or the society which we have taken for granted for several generations now. This is inevitable, based solely on the issues of energy supply. Unfortunately, the situation will be made worse by climate change and its consequences, including desertification, rising sea levels, the weirding of weather and its effects on food production, locusts, mass migrations, pandemics, wars waged over dwindling resources, and so on. All of these are already in evidence, and they will get worse.

I’m not saying that to advocate any of these things, or to take pleasure in being a bearer of bad news. People have been warning of these things since the 1970s, but we – collectively, as a global society – did nothing of any consequence to avoid them. Now, in sadness, it is probably too late. We can’t avoid the consequences of our actions. There’s no longer any point in engaging with people who deny climate change and hoping to change their minds. There’s no longer any point in arguing with people who still insist that some magical new energy source will be discovered. All that we can do now is look objectively at the new environment, the new set of conditions in which we will have to exist, and, with those willing to work with us, decide what kind of society we will build

This brings us immediately to the question of values. If we, as contemporary Druids, are to contribute to building a new society as the old one collapses, what core values must our vision promote? What will be the shared values which will enable our people to cohere; to stick together and remain strong as they face challenges and endure suffering? How will we find our way through radical cultural change? This blog is, of course, my attempt to answer that from the perspective of the Welsh druid tradition.

Here again, we must recognise and accept division. We must recognise and accept that if our society is based on Druidic values, and that our social bonds are based on those values… there will also be people who do not share them; who have other belief systems. Some of those values will be incompatible with our own. Who belongs, and who does not belong, will take on a new importance.

This doesn’t mean that very different groups cannot co-exist and be good neighbours to each other. The Christian (formerly Catholic, now Eastern Orthodox) blogger Rod Dreher wrote about “Crunchy Conservatives” who live a life based on:

 four basic areas that are touchstones for crunchy conservatives: Religion, the Natural World, Beauty, and Family.

A Druidic society could live easily alongside a Christian society based on these values; both would probably be more comfortable with the other than with, for example, an Evangelical fire-and-brimstone Christian sect. Similarly, both would find shared values with the Muslims who were my friends in Singapore and Russia, or with the Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs I’ve known.

So, perhaps we can now make a further division. What are the general principles and values that are necessary to for coexistence with people of goodwill, even if they differ from us in the specifics of their belief? And, separately, what are our specifics of belief? What do we believe that has the power, and the inspiration, to hold us together as a specifically Druidic culture and community, even as we endure hard times and suffering? What will inspire us to go into battle, to struggle together to establish, protect, and sustain the values that we believe to be right, against those we believe to be wrong?

This is the principle of “ddi“: of self-imposed distinctions and limits. We choose to have certain values and to live our lives in accordance with those values.

Tricycle, a Buddhist publication, suggests that:

Religious traditions—at least ones that are vital—anchor individuals in a meaningful collective life. They provide a framework that links individual spiritual aspirations to communities extending deep into the past, far into the future, and outward into the long present.

Both Druids, and Dreher’s “crunchy conservative Christians” could live with that. There are differences and distinctions in our beliefs and doctrines, but we can all agree on the principle of ‘di‘: of the holy and creative principle unfolding and expanding, and of the value and need to live in accordance with it – even if the forms beliefs and limitations – the aspect of ‘ddi‘ we take upon ourselves are different.

This focus on family, and community, and nation is contentious these days; there is a tendency to view such feelings in the light of its worst exponents: the xenophobes and racists who undoubtedly exist. But these extremists cannot be allowed to  take ownership of these principles. There are also natural and healthy manifestations: family, neighbours, our own land where we grew up and were nurtured. It’s what people seek in hard times. Even today, as Tim Marshall comments at UnHerd:

Our instincts, while basic, aren’t always base. It’s entirely natural that we should seek to serve and protect what is most familiar to us. This is why individuals who were living and working in other countries rushed to get home as the virus spread around the world. It wasn’t only to be with close family at a time of crisis, but to be with their own tribe and tribal systems.

Our own tribe and tribal systems. In some quarters, these concepts are now taboo. Those of us who come from the developed countries of the West live in societies whose values have been shaped by the economic prosperity enabled by the post-WW2 resource boom, by an economic and cultural trend that has promoted the individual above the group; by a desire to end unjust discrimination based on arbitrary definitions; by an increased self-definition enabled by consumption.

The boom unleashed by cheap fossil fuels freed individuals from their dependency on family and community for survival, a dependency that has been a human truth for as long as there have been humans. It brought us self-expression, and mobility, and jobs that paid for shelter and comfort and more. It brought social systems that could look after our very young and very old, so that we no longer had to depend on family and community to do it. Society, in the West  – or certain sections of it at least – became definitively about ‘me’, not ‘we’. Everyone must be allowed to be who and what they choose for themselves, to do what they dream, to live where they choose, with no restrictions, no limits.

This is the religion of Progress, (so identified by John Michael Greer). It tells its believers that life will inevitably become better and better. Improvements in medicine will allow us to live longer and longer, ever more healthy, until we become immortal. Our physical bodies will be reshaped to suit our desires. Ever-improving technology will free us from all labour whilst providing for all our material needs. We will reach the stars and live amongst them. It’s a beautiful dream, and it has a very powerful hold over some of the most powerful and influential people in our culture.

Druids, and Daoists, and Buddhists and crunchy con Christians, and many others accept that there is a divine force far greater than us, unfolding and revealing itself, in response to which we limit our behaviours, defining us against not-us in ways which need not be negative.

The followers of Progress are different. They are materialists; for them there is no divine, no cosmic order. Instead there is only human ingenuity and the human spirit: Man as his own God, fashioning the universe, and himself, according to his own will. If, as the religion of Progress believes, each of us is transformable, mutable, destined to become whatever we choose to be, in a world with no ‘di‘, then there can be no ‘ddi‘; the very concept offends.

But the religion of Progress is running out of time. It is based on the assumption that the human experience of the past three centuries can and will continue – but it cannot and will not, because we are running out of cheap energy.

The culture wars of the last two decades are, in many ways, a conflict between the true believers in Progress, and its apostates: those who once believed, but no longer can, because prosperity began to disappear for their class and their communities around the time of the 1970s oil shocks. Prosperity became a fiction for them even as globalisation brought ever more of it to the privileged classes and groups who are the loudest proclaimers of Progress.

As the resource crises outlined in the Think Resilience course intensify, Druids – along with our comrades in other faiths – will need to be guides and advocates in the establishment of a new, sustainable, and resilient way of life. There will be disputes even with those who generally agree with us. There will be intense resistance from those who believe passionately in Progress – and from those who no longer believe anything at all.

To distinguish ourselves from both groups, and to provide a foundation for the communities we will need to once again care for young and old, and to support one another in hard times, we will need to build a new culture. We will need common rites and rituals; we will need shared stories. We must have culture heroes to remind us how to live. We will need a body of lore.

What’s more, if we understand that difference and distinction are inevitable, we must find ways to live alongside those who do not share our ways or beliefs. To the extent that friendship, peace, and cooperation are possible – and they usually are – we need people who can establish common ground, seek the shared ways, and end division.

If life is the outcome of the great cauldron of Annwn, the emergence of Awen fractally expressing itself in myriad forms, then differentiation is natural, and inevitable, and good. In accepting this, though, we must also remember, and accept, the common source, and the underlying divinity, which all these different forms are reflecting. In the many, there remains the one.

Di: “expanding, spreading, unfolding, laying open, distribution, or division. A term used of old for the Deity, also for day—what unfolds, lays open.”

Iolo Morganwg, who lived during the birth of the age now coming to its end, understood much of this. Read Barddas, and you will find that there the wisdom we need for what is coming.

The three offices incumbent upon a Bard, according to the need and occasion of country and nation, namely: to celebrate worship; to be an ambassador between country and border country, and between nation and border aliens; and to promote peace and concord where there is contention, whether between native and native, or between nation and border aliens.

Barddas: The Triads of Privilege and Usage

This is the calling  – the duty and the privilege – of the Druids. In the ancient days, we are told, two armies in full charge to battle would stop in their tracks if a Druid walked between them and called for peace. The Druids would organise great feasts, where the different tribes would feast together, and where grievances would be settled through the judgment of the wise, rather than through spilling of blood.

There are many today who call themselves Druids. They have different skills and approaches. The OBOD path is one of inner development, working on insight and learning. Such esoteric work is essential, needed to become the kind of person who can command respect, such as to be under the protection of the nation, needing no weapon to defend him or her self:

And his privilege is, that no naked weapon be borne in the approach to the place, where he holds it, because a Druid is a man under the protection of country and nation, and under the protection of God and His peace.

and

The three special privileges of a Bard: free passport in whatever country he may travel; that no weapon be borne against him in whatever place he may be; and that his word be paramount in respect of sciences in whatever place he may be.

(Both from The Triads of Privilege and Usage)

Many Druids are reclusive, it seems. They refuse any public role, going no further than “I’ll be here if somebody wants me“. It’s for them to choose, of course. Nevertheless, as a community, we must prepare for a coming storm in which we must be more visible.

Western society is dominated by a materialist, individualist culture which has become used to cheap energy and its products. We are approaching a time when everything will fall apart. Those who believe in Progress, and those who believe in nothing, will face the collapse of their world. They will now seek something; they will desperately need something to believe in which helps them to explain the world and to give guidance to their actions. There will be a vacuum, and many will seek to fill it.

We Druids will need to be there, arguing for our beliefs, lest something worse succeed, as it has before. Are we ready for this challenge?

 

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