For many people, myself included, Druidry and Animism go hand in hand. Since the Age of Enlightenment and perhaps even further back in history (perhaps with coming of Christianity) Animism has gotten the reputation of being somehow backward, a superstitious and childish view of the world wherein everything is “alive”. This belief is completely biased in that it is totally from a human-centric point of view; those who believe it to be silly would say that believing a stone has a soul is absolutely ridiculous. This point of view is a projection of our human perspective, of what is alive and what isn’t, what is ensouled and what isn’t. It doesn’t take into consideration differences in the metaphysical. This perspective is often derogatory of Animism, yet it fails to actually understand just what Animism actually means, and what living with an Animistic perspective can bring to human consciousness.
Druid Heart: Living a Druid Life
Living life from a Druid's perspective
Around the winter solstice is the time of year when many people get together, families and friends, to celebrate the holidays. If we are fortunate, we have some time off to be together, all together in one place – we may not have such an opportunity until the next solstice season rolls around. It can be a wonderful time of loving hugs, good conversation and deep, belly filled laughs. It can also be a trying time, when the bonds of friendship or family can become tested as we are all thrown together, our usual routines and habits left behind and we are faced with situations that are perhaps out of the norm.
My home is usually very quiet, filled with deep silence and stillness. In that silence I find my personal sanctuary, where peace is around every corner. I’m not a big fan of crowds or noise. However, at this time of year, I leave behind my little sanctuary and venture out into the world of lights and noise, family and friends when I’d really rather be sitting on my meditation cushion in the dark, with a candle and some incense.
It’s quite a shift to deal with. There is constant noise around me, different noise to that of my own home. It’s the noise of other people, which I am not accustomed to. Loud televisions, conversations, arguments, laughter – it’s a bit of an assault on my senses. Dealing with other people’s behaviour when there is no opportunity to “escape”. I have to confront everything that upsets me head on, or lose my temper, say something in anger as my “sanctuary” is thrown out the window.
Or is it? Yes, it’s difficult. Even as I type this blog, there are interruptions by people walking in and out of the room, asking me what I’m doing and other various questions. Nemetona, my goddess of sanctuary, has taught me that she is ever within me even as she is without – I take her with me wherever I go, and where I go she is always there.
With the Winter Solstice approaching, and in the cold dark months of the year, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the deeper parts of our existence, those shadowy elements that seem to fade away so easily in the heat of the midday sun, those thoughts that require darkness and the teaching that it can bring. Thoughts such as life and death, darkness and light and the cyclical nature of existence are all excellent themes to meditate on at this time of year, with a natural introspective element to this season allowing us to perhaps go further, deeper than we could or would in the warmer, more outwardly focusing half of the year.
This season, with the increasing darkness and the lack of light here in the UK brings more sharply into focus thoughts of death and dying. It is often said in Western Paganism that the Sun God dies at Samhain and is reborn at Yule, when the days begin to lengthen and the light in our lives is increased. However, lately my thoughts have abandoned the concept of death, as well as birth, into a more Zen-like “No Birth, No Death” frame of mind.
Having meditated on this for a couple of months now, and seeing it reflected in nature around me, as a Druid this is how I internalise the teachings. For me, nature is the greatest teacher. I look to no other authority other than nature. It is the core of my religion, the core of my being. Having looked deeply into the nature of death and dying, of birth and living the concept of no death, no birth makes a lot more sense to me right now. Let me explain.
Winter in Britain – it’s dark and it’s wet. Not very cold, compared to what I grew up with in Canada, but the damp just seaps into your bones. It’s a different kind of winter, one that I still sometimes have trouble getting to grips with.
The darkness is the first thing that my body has difficulty coping with. If it’s dark outside, my body wants to sleep. I’m very much a daytime person. Here in the UK, at a latitude of 52.0594° N (where I grew up it was 45.9500° N) it gets dark a lot earlier than what I’m used to, and it’s not light outside much before 8.30 or 9am in the darkest part of the year. Hibernation mode kicks in. I struggle to get out of bed even though I’ve had a great sleep if it’s still dim out. Come summer, and it’s light at 3.30am, I can get out and greet the sunrise no problem.
The darkness has a real thick, heavy quality to it sometimes, with overcast skies and damp air all around you, sounds hushed in the shadows. Like a blanket, it can completely cover you and, if you like your head above the covers, can seem stifling. I’ve had to learn to work with the darkness, to enjoy it, to see its beauty.
1. the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
"a lack of proper parental and school discipline"
2. a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.
"sociology is a fairly new discipline"
Wow. No wonder people hate the word discipline. It’s often equated with punishment, correcting a perceived disobedience. We are free people, we should be able to do what we want, when we want, so long as it harms none. Life is for living, right?
Of course, I would agree with the above, that we are free, that life is for living. However, I’m also here to reclaim the word discipline into something that is positive.
We live in a world filled with instant gratification. We have IPhones and tablets that can “connect” us with people anywhere, anytime, so that we never have to be alone (even in a crowd of people). We have hundreds upon hundreds of television channels that tempt us into thinking that something better than the current moment we are living in is on the tube. We have internet to answer all questions at the push of a button. We have access to food 24/7 (most of us) – we’re usually never too far away from our larders or a shop. We love to “treat” ourselves. Marketing has told us that “we’re worth it”, or making us feel that we’re not good enough, and with their product we will be. Problems solved, instantly.
Now, this isn’t a blog post about self-denial, asceticism or anything similar. It is about truly seeing and understanding our needs versus our desires. Our modern world has twisted our desires into needs, and it is up to us to rebalance, to rejig our way of thinking in order to live a life filled with more intention.
I work three jobs, alongside my work as a Druid priest. Time can be in pretty hard demand sometimes, but planning makes it all work. It takes effort, but that is what discipline is: effort made in order to improve a situation, to live a life of intention, to learn more about integration and compassion.
The still centre.
Outside, in the dark, the air is finally still. Like rich swathes of fabric, the darkness hangs around me, enfolding me, wrapping me in its exquisite embrace. I sit, breathing in the night air, the smell of cedar and dew wet grass filling me with pure awen. The last of the crickets are singing in the remnant of summer’s growth, owls hooting softly in the distance and underneath the beech tree near Caia’s grave I let the songs of the night wash over me in waves of indigo and black.
The quiet is shattered by the call of a stag just on the other side of the hedge. Calling to the does, he is in full rut, looking for the ladies in the shelter of the night. He is maybe four feet away, and his bark and rumbles excite me with the power that he is emanating in following his soul’s truth. I can hear the slight shuffle of leaves and grass beneath his hooves as he paces up the track and then back down towards the nature reserve and farmer’s fields.
Here in the UK, the weather has turned and the colder air sweeps down from the North. Nights are longer, as the sun jumps along the horizon with each rising and setting, heading further and further towards the south. Trees are changing colours, and plants are beginning to die back, the green fading into golden and tawny hues, foliage less dense and earth beginning to peek through the underbrush.
The tide of Samhain has begun, when, after the autumn equinox we prepare for the darkness to come. The balance has been tipped, and we have tipped with it, our internal clocks trying to adjust to new temperatures and light levels. Often, we try to establish our centre, attempting to find some foothold or handhold in the coming darkness, our egos crying out the great rallying cry of “I AM!” The darkness, however, knows the folly of this, and smiles as it creeps ever closer.
In the darkness there are no guidelines. There are no boundaries. There is no up or down, no left or right. There is only impenetrable night, a sweet release from the constraints of the known.