I wrote this as a contribution to a discussion that’s ongoing in the members’ forums of the Druid Network. Those are private, so I thought I might post it here so that a broader audience can read it and contribute their thoughts.
Please read this as a sequence of thinking aloud, not as dogma!
1. Every Druid is free to believe whatever they want to believe.
2. No Druid can demand that anybody else share or respect their beliefs.
3. Any given Druid and their beliefs will be evaluated by others by their effect. If the Druid professes certain values, and their life is observably a mess, for example, they and their beliefs can safely be written off by others. If they profess values, and those beliefs and values appear to be having a positive effect on them and those around them, others may choose to adopt the same beliefs and practices.
4. If the number of people adopting the same beliefs and practices grows, a community emerges.
5. For communities to operate harmoniously, rules and norms are needed. These can be formal, informal, or a mix, but they are needed.
6. As a community endures, a culture emerges. The characteristics of a community are values and beliefs, rites, rituals, shared stories, culture heroes, and a cultural network (Deal & Kennedy).
7. Related cultures may overlap and form a network. The Druids of the Carvetii probably did things differently to the Druids of the Demetae, and the Ordovicii were different again – but they were all Druids, they were respected and obeyed by the members of other tribes who had different gods and rituals, because the core values were the same. Similarly OBOD is not BDO is not AODA, but they coexist in respect, pursuing truth in different but related ways.
8. In any value system and structure, there will be those who have the opportunity and the ability to explore, develop, and communicate the philosophy and its meaning. There will be many more who do not have the opportunity, but who seek meaning in life and recognise the value of the ideas when they encounter them. In this way, some people become recognised as “thought leaders”, even if that wasn’t something they aspired to be.
9. When individuals encounter a value system, some of them have the mental training needed to critically evaluate it. These people are able to separate the ideas from the individual, and to evaluate whether the practice of the philosophy is consistent with its values. Other people have not been trained to critically evaluate ideas, and are likely to accept an individual’s directions without questions, and/or to put them on a pedestal, allowing no criticism. This is the difference between a valid religious movement and a cult.
10. It is therefore essential for people to be trained in critical thinking. In the past, this was more common: critical thinking was one of the three core elements of the Trivium, which formed the basis of education from Antiquity until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, it has been actively discouraged, the better to prepare children to be good, obedient, workers (see the late Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talks on education and creativity).
From here I am going to talk about Druidry as I follow it, which is based on Iolo Morganwg’s system as laid out in Barddas, and which (like or not) is the core of modern neo-Druid systems.
11. The functions of Druidry are to strengthen community and culture, promote the search of knowledge and learning and law, and to seek the Truth and promote the love of it.
12. The individual is a soul incarnate at a given time on the eons-long journey through Abred, the world. The journey began with the birth of the spirit in Annwn, and will eventually end at the higher levels of the world of spirit: Gwynfyd. As the spirit progresses on its journey, it will suffer all things, and so come to know all things. Spiritual development and progress depend on reflection, learning, and self-understanding, attempting to more perfectly realise the capacities of the human vessel for compassion, love, and moral thought.
13. The individual is not separate from the world around them. If we choose to belong to a community, we must subordinate our personal liberty to the needs of the community. As two people give up their perfect individual freedom when they choose to marry, so the member of the community must compromise their independence, and so as part of the community become greater than they could have been on their own. The voluntary acceptance of limits can be a new freedom (I recommend Neal Stephenson’s novel ‘The Diamond Age’ as an excellent philosophical discussion of this).
14. The Gorsedd of Bards, Ovates, and Druids exists to provide the moral and legal structure of society. They exist separately from, and in parallel to, the structures of temporal power. The King is at the head of the structure of the tribe. The Druid ensures that the King and his people obey the values of the Divine.
15. This is in contrast to the Western model, which derives from the Roman Empire. In the Roman Republic, the Senate ruled the people, and the High Priest ensured that the Gods were obeyed. When Augustus became the first Emperor, he made himself the High Priest and, from then on, religious authority was subordinate to imperial authority. This continued once the Roman Empire became Christian: the Bishops were obedient to the Emperor. In the Eastern Roman Empire, the most important Bishop was called the Patriarch, and obeyed the Emperor of Constantinople. The system endured even beyond the fall of Constantinople, ending only with the fall of the last Orthodox Russian Tsar in 1917. In the Western Roman Empire, the most important Bishop was called the Pope and obeyed the Emperor of Rome. When the Western Empire fell, the Pope assumed much of the Imperial authority and, in the name of God, commanded the lesser Kings of Europe. This explains a great deal.
14. Within the Gorsedd, Bards, Ovates and Druids are of equal status.
15. A Bard must master their language, and the poetic system of that language. The Bard has the duty to educate the people in the language and their culture, ensuring that it survives and that it is enriched with every generation. Celtic law was restorative: when a crime was committed, the King would pass judgement and impose a fine set by law on the offender, to be paid to the victim and the victim’s family. The fine would be contributed not only by the offender, but by their wider family. It was the Bard’s duty to know the genealogies of their community, so that the kindred might be known. It was the Bard’s duty to act as an envoy, and to create peace when quarrels arose between neighbouring communities. When the powerful departed from moral behaviour and the duties of their office, it was the Bard’s privilege and duty to satirise them, shaming them and ensuring that their shame would be passed in verse down through the generations. For all these reasons, the Bard carried no weapons, and was inviolable. Neither the Bard, nor anyone to whom they gave their protection could be harmed.
16. The Druids explored the heavens, the deep seas of philosophy, and the soul’s journey through the planes. They advised the Kings on how to conduct their rule in accordance with the rules of the Divine. It was for Druids to develop the moral thought of their culture, seeking Truth wherever it could be found. The thoughts and findings of each Druid would be discussed and debated by the Gorsedd; if they were found to be true and valuable, they would be disseminated by the Bards. Moral truths are not universal absolutes; they depend on their time and their place and their culture. For this reason, no-one can become a Druid without first having been a bard, gaining through that experience an understanding of human nature and of their particular culture.
17. The Ovates explore and develop learning, and our understanding of the system of the world in which we are incarnate. Their findings would be brought to the Gorsedd, and there discussed. If their claims were challenged, and tested, and withstood challenge and test, then they were accepted as Truth, and became part of the system of knowledge. Their fields are science, healing, and divination. Because the Ovate deals with the world outside human culture, an Ovate may be accepted into the Gorsedd without having been a Bard. However, remembering the slaughter of the Druids by the Romans, Ovates are encouraged to become Bards, gaining knowledge of the whole system, in case a time should come when all Bards and Druids have been killed, leaving only Ovates to rebuild the system.
Phew. I’ll stop there. Your thoughts?