Below is an interview I gave to a Neuroscience graduate student who was writing about pagan religions as part of her minor in Religion and Natural Science. Originally she asked Bobcat to do this interview but Bobcat wasn’t available, hence the reference in the first paragraph and the reference to “High-Priestess”. I hope you enjoy and please feel free to send comments.
Be well and blessings,
Thank you so, so much for all of your help. I really do appreciate all of this and all the valuable aid that you and your community has done for me. What exactly is Bobcat? Does each Pagan have another name as well?
“What exactly is Bobcat?”
Bobcat is the name given to my teacher and mentor Emma Restall Orr. It is one of affection. People in pagan traditions often take or are given names that are Nature-based names. The name is a reflection of an aspect of Nature that rings true to the personality of the individual. The bobcat is very solitary, keeps no set schedule or pattern, and is extremely focused when in pursuit of something. This describes part of Bobcat’s personality perfectly well I think.
“Does each Pagan have another name as well?”
Not all pagans take and use names other than the name given to them by their parents at birth.
Here is a very important distinction between paganism and the established monotheistic religions. In paganism there is no set doctrine. Our way of being is the world is based on relationship and experience. Our sense of ethics comes from our relationship to the world around us. We don’t believe there is some omnipotent deity outside of Nature that gives us our morality and ethics. Nor is there a deity that sets doctrine for our religious traditions. Our way of being in the world, our ethics, our societal morals, our rituals and celebrations, the creative expression of our humanity, come for the natural expression of our realization of interconnection established through living in a sacred relationship to the world.
So we are free from dogma and whether we take a different name or not is up to the individual.
1. As high priestess, what are your responsibilities? How did you get to this position? Do you hold weekly meetings with the community and with how many people?
High Priestess is not a term we use in Druidry. That is a Wiccan or traditional witchcraft title. Some druid groups do however use the term Druid or Arch Druid. Both of these imply a title of authority and show hierarchy within the group. My take on this is that since Druidry is a nature-based religion, and Nature isn’t hierarchical, our religious groups shouldn’t be hierarchical either. In the grove (a group of druids) that I practice and celebrate with there is no hierarchy. We are a group of equals. While many groups with a hierarchical structure will say that they treat everyone as an equal, it is in my opinion that the use of titles creates separation which runs antithetical to a core goal in paganism, finding connection on a soul level.
I don’t think of the word “druid” as a title. To me it is an ideal and an invocation. It is the idea of human nature and the greater nature in complete accordance – In other words, the human soul living in truth, honor, and complete connection with Nature. I don’t like to call myself a druid except that it is a convenient word that does convey to people a certain understanding of where I am coming from. I don’t like to reduce the ideal down to a title.
“What are your responsibilities?”
All that said, I do use the term priest. Within the druid community, “priest” can refer to a man or woman. Our view of the priesthood is a bit different than many other pagan groups. Instead of the idea of being an authority and the leader of a group, in Druidry the role of the priest is one of service. The core principle of Druidry is to learn to craft sacred relationship (soul to soul) with the community, the land, and the gods. Sometimes people need someone to do this for them. This is the role of the priest.
An example of this is that I write to many pagans in prison here in the States. They are incarcerated; disconnected from Nature; removed from society. Through my letter writing, I help them retain that connection; I share stories; I share ritual; I share meditation and prayer. I help to inspire and spark their imaginations, to get them to reach for connection on a deeper level, to find that while they can not roam freely, they were (to use a Christian metaphor) never kicked out of the Garden. Nature is all around them and within them, in the air they breathe, the food they eat, in the clothes on their backs, in the gravity that holds them to the Earth. I listen to their stories, no matter how sad and harsh they may be, and I can tell you some of them are very pain-filled. This listening, sharing and acknowledgment makes a difference in their outlook and day-to-day living in the prison environment.
Responsibility comes for the words Response and ability. So those of us that have the ability to respond and heed the call are priests. Our soul in relationship to Nature lets us know where to place our energies. We do what we can while honoring our own process as well. It is rare that a priest has to sacrifice their own wellbeing in service for others. If it was the honorable thing to do, I like to think I would respond with all the energy of my being.
I often lead public ritual. Sometimes people do need to step up and facilitate or nothing seems to get accomplished. Within the ritual though, there is no hierarchy. It isn’t “my” ritual. It is always, “our” ritual.
A colleague of mine works with the dying as a hospice provided. For him this is a natural expression of his role as a priest. He helps people pass over and helps the families support the process and to accept and deal with the inevitable. He supports the family with coming to terms with their own grief over the loss.
There are priest that work with people, priest that work with the land, priest that work with the dying and the dead. There are many aspects where someone can be of service in the world.
Not all pagans are priests or consider themselves to be clergy. For those of us who take on this role, it is a lifetime of service to the community, the land, and the gods.
“How did you get to this position?”
It was a role I decided to take on. It wasn’t awarded to me. The role of service, my way of living in the world, is a natural extension of my understanding of interconnection. It was a choice but not really. The choice was that I sacrificed my ignorance and took a deep look at how I live. I fully engaged in the world as it is, and saw a way where I could make a positive impact. That impact though isn’t a reflection of my own desire. It is a result of being willing to look at, craft relationship, and touch on a soul level. When we do this we have a much deeper understanding of the dynamics in place, the currents of energy in a situation, and because we have touched on such a deep level, we understand what may unfold. I don’t try to force my will into a situation, but rather try to influence the situation so that there is honor. Honor is a very important word in Paganism. Defining it however isn’t simple. It is a lifelong individual pursuit.
2. Can you describe a little about your spirituality and your connection with gods, Nature, and the Earth? If you were originally of a different religion, how has being Pagan changed you?
There are many different takes on paganism, many different traditions, many different myths and theologies. Paganism means different things to different people. There does however seem to be a central theme that runs through it all and that is reverence for Nature. We all seem to recognize the sanctity of Nature. This of course isn’t exclusive to paganism. Where it steps over from a heartfelt view of nature, into a religious dynamic is when it becomes the source of one’s spiritual practices, experience, and theological foundation.
To me the gods are not entities and powers that control Nature. They are the powers of Nature. They are completely tangible. It is possible at any moment to recognize connection with the divine. It isn’t an amorphous concept of some humanized gods floating around in the heavens or swimming in the ocean. The gods are the heavens, the ocean, the wind, the rain, the forest, etc. What elevates an aspect of nature to deity is that these forces hold the power of life and death. So for example a bucket of water isn’t a deity but the ocean is. A sneeze isn’t a god but a hurricane is :>) The gods of paganism don’t require belief. They can be tangibly touched and felt.
From my experience these forces of nature have consciousness and self-awareness. They move along their own line of intention.
There are also gods of human nature. These are currents of consciousness that run through the human experience, love, anger, trade, birth and death, lust, greed, war and on and on and on. People certainly have died from touching these forces.
There are the gods of culture or heritage. These are the named gods, Cerridwen, Odin, Hecate, Pan, Branwen, Cernunnos, etc. These are deities that are rooted in a story, a theme of life that plays out again and again. If we look at the origin of the named gods, we will find they are rooted in a force of nature but that reference has been lost. The energy at play is caught up in their story, their myth. That isn’t to say they aren’t real. Many people who work with these deities find that their own life is an unfolding of the story. Looking at the Greek gods is an easy way to consider this idea.
One defining difference between paganism and other mainstream religions is that we don’t submit to our gods. We commune with them; we revere them; we honor them. We learn to craft a relationship with them that is one of mutual respect. We don’t submit. Submitting to the gods of nature is foolish. Submit to the ocean and you will be at the mercy of it. You will be smashed upon the rocks or drown in the depths. Submit to the cold of winter and you freeze to death. Submit to war and you will be at war. We don’t believe that someday we will stand in the judgment of the gods. Our relationship with them is one of immediacy.
Another important distinction between many views of deity and those found in paganism is that many pagans feel (therefore experience) that the gods don’t care. We don’t see deity as caring whether or not we have a life. Even if we look at the god/goddess of love, does the power of love care whether or not we have a life? Whether or not we live? Love to me is that power that breaks down all barriers of separation between two souls and allows true intimacy. Whether or not we survive this, isn’t taken into consideration by this deity. How many people have died for love? Our cultural stories are filled with lovers dying for love, Romeo and Juliet for example.
So as pagans we recognize these powers, we honor and revere them, and we craft deep soul level relationship with them. The question is: why? The answer is because when we touch such powerful energies of Nature on a soul level we are filled with knowledge, with wisdom, a deep sense of connection, and most importantly inspiration. With these things we can live with honor in the world. We don’t feel alone and separated from the world. The craving for connection and security is a deeply human need that all religious traditions try to fulfill. As pagans, we find security in our connection with the divine in Nature.
“If you were originally of a different religion, how has being Pagan changed you?”
I was raised a Protestant Christian in a very “lively” church (bordering on a cult). For me the deeper questions of life and my need for feeling connected was never fulfilled. The Christian theology made little to no sense to me and no one had the capacity to explain it. I was asked to go on belief and faith. These two things are just not part of my make-up. The beauty of Druidry and other pagan traditions is that they are not based on belief, faith, or doctrine. They are based in one’s own experience of the divine in Nature. This is a very threatening thing to most people, especially the established monotheistic religions. Someone with a pagan nature in a say Christian tradition would be looking not to follow and worship Christ (we don’t worship our gods), but rather to have the Christ experience for themselves, experiencing the great realization of not identifying with just the flesh but with the spirit, the soul, finding the god within. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” is a very famous statement from Jesus. A pagan would spend their efforts working toward that realization. If the path that led them to experiencing this truth ran counter to established doctrine, they would reject the doctrine as it would not agree with their own personal experience. Pagans value the freedom of the individual process of spiritual development. This is very different from what I encountered in Christianity. Where Christianity compressed my spirit, Druidry has set it free. There are no rules other than what our pursuit of the sacred shows us to be truths, and these truths are individual.
“Integrity has no need of rules” – Albert Camus
Paganism is ultimately about finding freedom, freedom to express the truth of our own soul. Because it is based in relationship to nature, the outward expression of that relationship can naturally be supported by nature. We naturally don’t have expressions that destroy nature. Certainly we take from nature, we kill to eat, we kill to build our homes and tools, and clothing, we even kill for our own creativity (i.e. woodcarving). What is different is reverence. The fact we live in sacred relationship to nature, we don’t take too much; we don’t kill until there is nothing left. Nature can support what we do or we don’t do it (at least it becomes an ethical dilemma). We learn to listen first and then act. We don’t allow our own desire to overrun the need for balance. My experience, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, leads me to the conclusion that unless the human race takes on a more pagan paradigm, we will not survive as a species. We will let our desire driven behaviors run unchecked until nature can no longer support our existence. Paganism was the first religion and I think it will be the last or else we will be no more.
3. Can you tell me your history with Paganism?
I started out looking. That is important. My curiosity and yearning for experiential religion and not revealed church dogma led me on a journey. I listened to “the call” so to speak. The call wasn’t outside of me. It wasn’t God calling to me. It was my own soul crying out from the pain of separation. So I started looking. I explored Taoism, Buddhism, Native American Spirituality, and Peruvian, Hawaiian, and Japanese shamanism. What I ultimately realized after attending the Lakota Sun Dance ceremony on Rosebud Reservation in 1992, was that I needed to find a living experiential earth-based religion within my own cultural context. While the Lakota people were generous and welcoming, I didn’t understand the cultural references. I was welcome among them but I felt unless I were to move there, to live with them, to be one of their community, I would never understand the true depth of their spiritual /religious practices and theology. It took many years but I found Druidry via my dear friend and teacher Bobcat. She showed me a living tradition within my own culture that could meet my need for connection and a way to live in a sacred manner. It offers me a way of living in the world with honor. I have dedicated myself to living this tradition. I am a priest of this tradition and I always will be.
4. Do you wear any special ornaments?
Many people in paganism are caught up in the props. I don’t wear anything special for ritual. For me ritual is an everyday, every moment pursuit (eating a strawberry, drinking a sip of water). It is a way of looking at the world where we try to see the sacred in all things. This doesn’t require tools. That said, there are times where I use tools. They can be helpful to snap people’s consciousness to the moment, out of the mundane and into the sacred. My grove (a group of druids) uses drums and smudge (burning herbs like sage or cedar), bells, and other ritual items such as feathers, photos of our ancestors, candles, fire. We usually create beautiful altars that are our expression of our relationship to the divine.
I have refrained from using ritual items for a long time. It is because when I work with people I want them to see that it is the crafting of sacred relationship to nature, the reaching for connection to the divine that is important. How can we learn to do this with a clutter of items around us when we can’t do it with just our own consciousness?
Interestingly though, I am actually in the process of creating a new ritual robe. I am making this for public ritual. While ultimately it isn’t important for my connecting to deity, it is important for my work as a priest. I can’t expect to conduct a handfasting/wedding or funeral rite, or rite of passage wearing jeans and a tee shirt or wearing my corporate clothing. A robe, costume, jewelry etc, is useful for others, for the community to recognize that we are engaging in a spiritual practice, we are working with the divine. It brings focus to the ritual. I choose to wear this for the benefits of others, not for my own gratification or to place myself above. It is a tool for focus. Of course as with all religions, as they are made up of humans, there are people who use these things to create separation and hierarchy. Like all human endeavors, there are those who are just there for themselves and for the experience, and those that are there for others and to serve the experience. It is the difference between eating a wafer and taking a sip of wine and that of really sharing in Holy Communion.
5. Have you ever faced any stereotypes? Do you ever have to mediate between conflicts between non-Pagans and Pagans? What type of conflicts have you had to deal with? Do you have to deal with religious conflict between the Church?
“Have you ever faced any stereotypes?”
I have to confess sometimes I am a bit embarrassed by pagans that insist on wearing robes and a huge pentacle in public just to draw attention to themselves. When I talk with the press or in an interfaith setting, or when presenting workshops or lectures, I wear what I normally wear in everyday life. It doesn’t help the general public understand us when we run around in stereotypical witch clothing. That said, I feel very strongly that people need to be able to express themselves in their own soul truth, as long as there is honor in that expression. Paganism is amazingly tolerant. I hope this tolerance will be extended back to us from the general public and other religious traditions. So if someone wants to dress in a flowing black dress and wear a pentacle and stereotypical black eye-liner, more power to them. Ultimately, it is just clothing, a reflection of our taste but it is just a tiny part of who we are on a soul level.
“Do you ever have to mediate between conflicts between non-Pagans and Pagans?”
Yes. My experience with this has been with my work with prison ministry. Prisons in the States are often woefully ignorant about paganism. Where they provide generous support, clergy, churches, mosque, and synagogues, for Christians, Moslems, and Jews, many won’t even allow pagans to gather into a group for the high holy days. They won’t allow them any ritual items. They basically infringe on their right to freedom of religion. I have written chaplains in hope of finding some common ground. My work as a druid priest is one of building bridges. It isn’t about saying, “Tolerate us”. It is about actually crafting connection human to human, soul to soul. It isn’t enough for one group to just find mutually tolerance of another group. We need to move past this and realize we are all humans and intimately interdependent whether or not we can feel the true depths of that interdependence or not. It is a process though and I would be very happy to just get to the place where pagans are merely tolerated in the prison environment. We have a lot of work to do in this arena.
Within the pagan community here in Maine there have been cases where a Christian Church group has slandered a pagan or written absurd fear-filled commentaries about pagans. A dear friend of mine was recently slandered by the Christian Civic League because she is pagan. They were very blatant about it. She is involved in politics and they wanted the Governor to remove her from office because she was pagan. Fortunately our Governor (at the time) is an enlightened individual and didn’t acknowledge the request, not that he had any power to do so anyway since she was elected by the community. They did this to make the news and moved on. It is sad. My friend however took it in stride and continues her work representing the people.
Sadly enough, there is sometimes conflict between pagans and pagan groups. Most of this comes from ego. People lead groups and get filled with their own self importance. As humans we often loose perspective of our interdependence and just how insignificant our views and opinions are in relationship to the greater universe. It is the same as in all religions. Again we are all human and move through life with our limited human consciousness.
“Do you have to deal with religious conflict between the Church?”
Most of my experience with this has limited to my work with the prison systems. Though once I did do a live radio interview with a conservative radio talk-show host in Pennsylvania. There was a conflict/scandal in Pennsylvania where a colleague of mine was both a Christian minister and a druid priest at the same time. The Christian church forced him to resign as they could not comprehend how these two things could not be in conflict. I tried to explain that being a pagan and a Druid doesn’t create a barrier or remove one from having faith in Christ and following the teachings of Jesus. From the Church’s perspective it was not possible and he was removed from his role as a minister in his community. Where as druids we tried to find common ground, to reach for connection and understanding, the Christian community however wasn’t interested in this. So from the druid perspective, given the situation, my friend needed to move forward and live with honor. That meant finding acceptance for the community’s decision to not allow him to be in the role of a minister, a priest for them anymore. He found acceptance and moved on.
Acceptance is a big word for druids. We don’t try to drive our will into manifestation. We reach for sacred relationship and let the truth of the relationship reveal itself. Sometimes this means letting things be other than the way we desire. Not all relationships are ones of peace and love. Nature can be merciless.
6. Are you familiar with ADF, another Druid organization? If so, do you have any comments on their practices and groups?
I am a little familiar with ADF. What I know of them consist of their web site and one ritual that was led by an ADF group many years ago. ADF considers itself a church. It isn’t a druid order. Nor is it an organization like the Druid Network, which was established to create a vehicle for connecting druids around the globe and providing a place for sharing inspiration and support for the many perspectives of Druidry. ADF is a church and like all churches they have set practices and try to set a level of consistency within the way their groups conduct ritual. They are very dedicated to scholarly research and insist that what is presented as Druidry has some basis in historical fact.
My approach to Druidry and that of many other druids that are part of The Druid Network or other druid organizations is very different. My approach is that Druidry is ever changing and dynamic, like nature herself. My practices are not those of history. They may be inspired by history but it is essential to me that everything I do have relevance to the moment, to the now, honoring the past but not a slave to it. I don’t feel I need to justify what I do, what I share, what I teach, and what I do in service as a priest with historical record. Firstly, there are scant historical writings by druids. It is and was an oral tradition. Any like all oral traditions, they change through time. So many druids are trying to recreate the religion as it was in the past. This leads me to ask these questions:
How far into the past do we need to go to find actual druid practice, 1500 year, 2000 years, 3000 years?
The practices of the druids of old were certainly different at different points of history.
Which region contained the “real” druid practices?
It is clear that druid practices were localized. The practices in Brittany were most likely varied from to those in Ireland or in Britain or in Wales.
ADF and other druid organizations are big on learning Gaelic. Other than this being a great intellectual pursuit, I don’t see the point. While it may enrich certain parts of druid ritual, I feel that again it creates separation instead of trying to find soul to soul connection with each other. Also the Gaelic that was spoken 1500 years ago would have little to no resemblance to the language of today. Also should we learn Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, or Welsh? My view of the role of the druid today is one of building bridges not putting up barriers.
Finally I would ask:
What about honoring the oral tradition?
The knowledge, lore, and theology of the druids have changed through time. To insist that something we practice today isn’t “true” Druidry because our ancestors of 2500 years ago didn’t subscribe to it, is a dishonoring of all of our ancestors after that, of all that passed down through time the stories, knowledge, and wisdom, changing it as it went so that it remained relevant to the culture of the time. There is no historical record of druid ritual. There is no book of theology. There is no list of gods and goddesses to be honored. There is no book that says what our relationship to deity should be. What we have are the bits and pieces of druid teachings, myths and stories, songs and poems that have survived being passed down from generation to generation to generation. What I gleam from this is that knowledge we have today are the aspects of our ancient paganism that each generation found of value. You can’t stamp out a truth. It always rises to the surface again like bubbles in a stream. If we had an ancient druid bible from 2500 years ago, I would find it fascinating; I would find it full of inspiration in that would be a marvel and hugely important cultural record. But I would not make it the foundation of my religious practices. Druidry is living. And like all living things, it is a piece of creativity and all creativity is temporal.
There is something in Druidry though that has popped up again and again throughout the ages and that is the concept of the sanctity of nature, of the druid crafting sacred relationship with the land, the people, and the gods. How this is done and to what end, is a living thing that is relevant only to the moment. We honor and respect the past. We give thanks to our ancestors and find inspiration in their creativity and expressions of their humanity but we don’t cling to the past as a doctrine for the moment. Tradition isn’t slavery. It is honoring what has been given to us and using it to forge ahead.
7. Do you follow any particular Indo-European Hearth Culture?
No I don’t. I honor all of my ancestors, all of my cultural heritage. This includes my Indo-European ancestry. Going back further, where did these tribes come from? They came across the ice bridge during the last ice age. They came out of Asia. My European ancestors came north out of the Mediterranean. If we go back far enough, most likely all of them came out of the foundation of humanity, out of Africa where the first humans came into being. I honor all of these lines as they make up who I am.
I don’t pick one to the exclusivity of the others. I do try to pay attention to and honor the lines that are closest to the now. I start with honoring the culture, stories, knowledge, and wisdom, honoring the gifts of strength as well as the weaknesses, finding acceptance for all of these given to me from my closest ancestors – my parents. Honoring Ancestry is hugely important to paganism as it is a way of honoring what has been given to us and a way to better understand who we are as individuals and as a community, a culture, as a nation, and as a species, here and now.
Ancestry starts with our parents. Diving into our ancestry can be hard work. I don’t find some famous ancestor from the mist of time and say, “I am descended from so-and-so” like that makes me someone more special than someone else. I may honor this ancestor at times but I don’t cling to it as a badge of importance. All the stories are important. All the ancestors are important. Picking a few ancestors to honor that were particularly cool may make us feel good but it misses the opportunity to really dive into our own story and that story is the story of humanity. To put this into perspective 100 generations is 2 to the 100 power. This is equal to approximately 1.1 million trillion people. How is this possible as this is more people than has ever existed? It is because our ancestors are all interrelated – a web of interconnection. Everyone on the planet shares the same ancestors. We are all distant cousins. In the face of this, I can not for the life of me understand racism. Hating those of another race is hating a part of own story. It is through working with ancestry we can heal this. We can find acceptance for the whole of the human story, all the wonder, all the creativity, as well as all the horrors of human history. The human story is our story. Go back 10 generations in anyone’s bloodline and you will find a murdered, a rapist, a pedophile, a thief, and a liar. You will also find a kind soul, a generous person, a creative genius, a loving mother and father, who all tried their best to live with honor in the world, who gave thought to the next generation. The more I work with ancestry on a spiritual level, the more I realize we are all in this together. The walls of separation begin to thin. Like all spiritual pursuits, it is a life-long process of learning and seeking understanding and wisdom. Ultimately it gives us inspiration. It is my time, my moment to live and express myself. “Now” is the holy moment. “Here” is the holy land.
8. From what I understand, Paganism is very creative; there’s a lot of individual creativity in writing songs, blessings, and rituals. Do you have any comments on this? Have you written any of this yourself and if so, where do you get your inspiration?
For me this is one of the core beauties of paganism, particularly so in Druidry. It is a religion of creativity. The defining word in Druidry is inspiration. It is the religion of seeking divine inspiration. We use a Welsh word for this – Awen. It means flowing spirit. It is that which the poet receives from the muse. When two souls move into true intimacy, relating on a soul deep level, energy flows between them. This is the energy of life. We call it awen or inspiration. When we receive this energy it inspires our creativity and we gift it back to the world hopefully inspiring others who will use it for their creativity, which in turn they will gift back to the world. I refer to this as the cycle of creativity. In this way we create the positive change we wish to see in the world.
We need to understand that creativity isn’t just poems and songs and paintings. It is how we live in the world, the way we express ourselves all the time. It is the way we dress, the food we cook, the products we spend our money on, the way we use language, the way we move, the paths we take in life, our approach to parenting, and so on and so on. It goes far beyond artwork. So in Druidry we seek Awen and use that energy to fuel our life. And we see our life as a sacred act of creativity. This is huge.
Also on a greater level, all that we know, see, and touch in reality is some thing’s creativity. We as pagans see every aspect of reality as the creative expression of a soul. All matter is some soul’s intention come into being. This is animism, seeing the entire world as made of spirit, having its own course and life existence. The main thing I see in my own life is that this way of seeing the world has profoundly changed how I relate to what most people see as inanimate objects. I see them as pure creativity. Take a plastic water bottle for example. When I look at it I see the genius in it. Some amazingly intelligent people were able to take hydrocarbons and turn them into an infinitely useful clear, flexible, ultra-lightweight material. Other people poured their creative impulse into shaping it into something easy to hold. The screw-cap is an amazing way to seal the container. Another’s creativity put a label on it with creative fonts, colors, and images to inspire us to think, “Hey water to drink. It’s excellent!” Still more creativity goes into it as the water itself is poured into the container, geniuses inventing pumps to get the water out of the ground. Creativity goes into being able to test the water on a molecular level to test the purity, ensuring it is safe to drink. Then more mind-blowing creativity is used to make trucks to transport it to the store where finally I purchase it, the purchase being for me an expression of the human gods of trade. All this creativity and sanctity tied up into a water bottle which will have its own life process and journey through time. So to me nothing is mundane. Nothing comes into being without it being an act of creativity. Creativity equals reality – and reality is a mind-blowing incomprehensible wonder. Druidry teaches how to learn to see the world like this all the time. As with so much of what I have mentioned already, it is a process of gaining consciousness and that takes work and dedication. It takes a willingness change as when we sacrifice our ignorance, there is no turning back.
9. According to the website, there are three types of Druids. Which one are you? Do you have any comments on the three such as the negative and positive aspects of them?
I assume you are referring to Bards, Ovates, and Druids?
In Druidry we have three crafts, three areas of work in which practitioners may focus, the bardic, ovatic, and druidic. These three crafts come from an ancient myth of the first bard, Taliesin. He received three great gifts from the dark goddess Cerridwen – Poetry, Prophecy, and Shape shifting.
Neither of these gifts/crafts is above the other in importance. Some orders teach these in the order that I have written. There is a good reason for this as working in this order brings us through a process of waking up the senses. Each craft has its skill and lessons to learn. Where an individual may choose to work as a priest though depends on their own gifts and tendencies.
The core skill of each craft is as follows:
The bardic work is learning the art and skill of Listening. We think of bards as people singing songs while playing a harp or reciting ancient stories, poems, and sagas. This is the outward expression. The skill is that these people have learned how to listen on a soul level. They can take in the story so that the telling of it is really not a tale but rather a telling of their own truth. They wrap us in a wondrous cloak of mystery and rapt with their words. They have mastered the use of sound. Historically the Bard would have held the history of the people. They would have been the storytellers and the satirist. No one else could insult or mock the lords and kings of old without consequence except the Bard. They held the great responsibility of speaking the truth.
In order to speak truth it must come from our own soul and this starts with listening. We have to first learn to feel our soul, our boundaries and edges, and then the boundaries and edges of another. Without this, it is impossible to craft relationship that is respectful and soul deep. We start with the tangible, waking up the physical senses, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. We work to bring ourselves fully present so that we are fully listening to the world around us. In this way we begin to understand what it is to craft honorable relationship. How many times have we all tried to talk to someone whose mind is elsewhere? How many times have people tried to relate to us and we just aren’t present? The Bard has mastered being present and opening to another soul. They are fully present, listening and sharing the creativity which is the gift they received from being able to find Awen, inspiration.
The Ovate is a healer. They are masters of working with energy. They have learned to “see”. They are the seers. They have learned to work with, guide, manipulate, and move the energies in play in an environment or relationship. Because they can see energy (by seeing I mean they can feel it on a soul level, not just a visual one), they are able to see where the currents are flowing and in this way predict the outcome of a situation. They have the gift of prophecy. Today Ovates work as healers, massage therapist, energy workers, dowsers, herbalist and the hospice workers that help the dying pass over to the other side.
The craft of the Druid is one of shape-shifting. We call this bridging. It is the skill of being able to create and find common ground between people. It is the ability to craft sacred relationship for the people to the land and to the gods. It is the role of the counselor, the adviser, the judge. It is also the work of the shaman. Where the Ovate may help people pass over to the other side, the druid can work with the souls of the dead. They can hear our ancestors speaking to us. They can walk between the worlds.
Not everyone has these gifts. It is best not to think of them as skills as they are potentials. They are in the moment and not fixed. They are always based in relationship. Personally I don’t see the dead but I do the work of a druid. I am a priest of nature. I help to build common ground by doing things like subjecting myself to conservative talk-radio :>). Serious though, there aren’t requirements so to speak, we all work on all of this using our personal gifts of body, mind, and spirit as best we are able.
10. How do you handle interested teenagers in the religion? From what I understand, ADF needs parental approval first. Do you ever have this conflict within families?
Some groups such as ADF insist on parental approval because this is the land of the lawsuit. Also they simply do it out of respect for the parents. I certainly wouldn’t like it if a child of mine was being taken to a church without my knowledge (I don’t have children but still…).
I have met young people whose parents certainly don’t understand why their child is “involved in paganism”. Christianity is so pervasive in our society that millions of people are literally fearful that their child is going to burn in Hell for all eternity if they subscribe to beliefs other than of their church. They can’t see that their child is looking for a way to reconcile their inner longings and needs with their experience of the world around them.
One thing I have observed is that pagan children are generally very respectful tolerant people. They have a religion that supports their creativity and they flourish. Of course what sort of adult a child becomes is hugely a reflection of the way their parents raised them. As with any religion there are follows who are lousy parents. Pagans are all just human, the same as everyone else.
Most of us stumbled through life until we found our pagan tradition. I am very enthused about the fact we have a generation of children being raised pagan. I believe this is going to bode well for society. Of course within paganism there is always the issue of walking the talk, living the ethos. There is at times, like in all other religions, a disconnect between the ideals of many pagans and their actual day to day living (myself included). Still though, the concepts of paganism are spreading out in the world and this gives me hope. And as someone who can not go on faith and belief, hope is essential for avoiding despair in the face of the destruction of the planet and for the endless wars we wage.
11. Many people are not born into Paganism; rather, they discover it. Is there any reason why they are drawn or is there any trend among the people that follow the group? Why is Pagan being revived?
I don’t like to think of Paganism as being revived. It has always been here and it always will be. Whenever anyone looks up at the rain and gives thanks, when they bite into a fresh apple and feel gratitude it is a religious act whether they call it that or not. They are living in relationship to reality, to the land. This is and always will be the case.
Outside of our Western culture there are strong pagan traditions, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism, Santeria, traditional Native American spirituality. These are pagan religions as well. So paganism is strong. It is the growth of it in our Western society that is new. Which leads to…
I think what you are asking is why are people turning to paganism? My opinion is that the mainstream religions have succumbed to dogma. Their teachings and values do not relate to the modern world. We are faced with situations and ethical choices that were not in the consciousness of those 1500, 2000, 3000 years ago. Anything that gets set in stone becomes irrelevant eventually. And this has happened to the mainstream religions.
Pagan traditions are living traditions. Where faith and belief come up short, paganism offers experience and acceptance. It offers freedom in place of an authoritarian God. I love the idea that Phillip Pullman dreamed up in the Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) series. One character in it is trying to bring down the power of the Church and the Authority and create the Republic of Heaven in place of the Kingdom of Heaven. Even the mythoi of the mainstream religions are out of sync with today’s world. We don’t live under a King. Most people don’t want to either, even a good and loving King limits our freedom.
Paganism isn’t looking backward. It isn’t trying to be as it were. It is offers a way to live in honor in the world and to find the sacred, to feel connected to Nature. It recognizes that we were never cast out of the Garden. We walked away from it willingly and we can walk right back into it. We are part of Nature, in the moment, here in the now. The mainstream religions fear this.
My teacher, Bobcat, said to us when I first met her, “Pagan was the first religion and it will be the last”. We are seeing the return to natural religion. People need this in their very souls.
12. One of the issues presented by anthropologists is, why do so many people associate with Neo-paganism when there has been such a bad history, e.g. the witch trials? Do you have any comments about why people still choose to follow despite history’s negative portrayal?
There is no more bad history in paganism than in any other religion.
The witch trials happened over many hundreds of years and were not an attack on paganism. They were Christian on Christian acts of terror designed to get the people to live in fear and bend to the all encompassing will of the Church. Also modern research shows that they were not as pervasive as once thought – perhaps 150,000 people killed over a period of centuries. Still this is a horror but these acts were not put into motion to destroy paganism. The people of Europe were fully Christian when the witch burnings began.
Perhaps a way to answer this question is to ask, why are there still Christians?
If you look at the early Christian church, there were several sects. One sect basically wiped out the other. The Romans killed thousands and thousands of Christians.
There are still Christians because there is something in the theology that rang true to many people. The religion fed them on a soul level. They felt propelled to follow their spiritual ideals even in the face of oppression. Fear is a powerful god that we must not submit to. That courage is part of the Christian heritage that they should be proud of.
People follow pagan traditions for the same reason – because it rings true to their soul. You can’t keep a good idea down. Truth always comes to the surface. So the truths in pagan theology are bubbling to the surface again and are being embraced by our generation.
One final thought on this; we need to remember that the ancient world was entirely pagan – Rome, Greece, the Celts, etc. These traditions are a big part of our heritage and these cultures were thoroughly pagan. Yes, as with all large cultures they experienced war, oppression, and slavery. But we need to acknowledge that much of our cherished modern thought (liberty, freedom, Democratic government, and the rights of the individual) was born in these cultures and they were pagan through and through. Paganism is a huge part of our heritage. It really isn’t anything new.
13. Harry Potter has a lot of Pagan aspects in it; do you have any comments on the book and its relation to Paganism? Has it helped/hurt your community in anyway? (Do you know of anyone who might be interested in commenting about Harry Potter’s effects on the Pagan community and non-Pagans in general?)
I love the Harry Potter books. I don’t see them as particularly pagan though. They are fantasy about people who can wield magic. They are great stories and express some beautiful ideals for people to live by, friendship, loyalty, and courage. To me they are more Christian than Pagan in that the crux of the story is that by Harry willingly giving up his life in sacrifice, he overcomes death and the evil of the dark lord is undone. His sacrifice protected those that were loyal to him. This sounds to me much like the retelling of the Christian myth.
The books are so popular with people of all walks of life that for me to say they are especially important to pagans would be inaccurate. They are wonderful though in that they inspire the imagination. They inspire people to think perhaps there is a lot more going on then what we can see with our eyes. This isn’t exclusive to pagans (Obviously since they sold millions and millions of copies and pagans are a very small part of society).
The reaction of the Fundamentalists is frightening though. This all encompassing fear they have of burning in Hell leads them to be irrational. Harry Potter is fiction. It is a story that has a message and it is a good message. These same Fundamentalist don’t seem to be phased by the modern Christmas stories such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, the Nutcracker, etc. These are filled with magic. Some of the magic is “evil” trying to undo the protagonist. The protagonist over comes this and helps other people. Harry Potter is the same thing in a different setting and story. I can’t understand the fear. I give children enough credit to see that these books are fiction. Are we supposed to remove any book that isn’t the Bible, Koran, or Talmud that involves any type of imagination of a world that is fanciful, any story mentioning something magical or supernatural? Are all fairy tales a dangerous device of the Devil? Some Fundamentalists actually believe so. It is sad they live in such fear.
Finally, we would all love to wield magic. But I think with humans being what we are, it is probably for the best not being able to flick a wand and have our will done. It is too easy to disengage from relationship and the effects of that are all too clear.
Well Tam that is all. It has been a fun process writing this. I hope it is useful. Please keep in mind these are the opinions of one individual. Pagans are notoriously independent and I am sure there are many who would disagree with what I have written. Please feel free to write back with any questions or comments.
Be well and many blessings,