Derwydd ym maes onnen

Discovering Druidry in and around Ashfield

Month: December 2019

The politics of a Druid

In this article, I would like to discus how politics fits into a modern druid perspective of the world. Many would say that politics should play no part in their Druidry, but I fundamentally disagree. The reason for this is that politics is the business of making decisions on behalf of a group of people, or organising society. But society can be organised and managed in many different ways. So how decisions are made is heavily influenced by the social and economic philosophies of the people making the decisions. Moral philosophy absolutely fits in with Druidry.

In the UK, it is not the party leader (the cult of celebrity) that we vote for. It is not even really the local candidate or party that you vote for. Nor even the policies in the party’s manifesto. The truth is, with your vote you lend your support to the philosophy the party adheres to. So when you vote for a local candidate who is a member of a specific party, you can be sure your are voting for someone who will perpetuate the philosophy of the party they are a member of.

Modern Druidry (as I understand and practice it) is also underpinned by a philosophy. Therefore, when engaging in national political debate it is important to look for parties and their representatives who’s philosophies are broadly inline with the philosophy embraced by Druidry. You want to walk the walk right? So with this in mind I would like to explore some of the ideas in Druidry and indeed most modern Paganism to tease out a basic philosophy, and see how it’s consideration might influence political choices.

If you ask 2 people to define either Druidry or Paganism, you will very likely get 2 different answers. To say that they are broad churches would be an massive understatement. Finding an agreeable definition is fraught with obstacles, opinions and challenges. But there are two things that almost all of these esoteric paths agree on. The first is a rejection of authority and societal norms, and the second is that “Nature is sacred” in some way.

By their vary nature, Druidry, Wicca, Heathenism etc are all “alternative” spiritualities. They are not the state endorsed Christianity and as such are a rejection of the norms, a rejection of the status quo. They are counter-culture movements rejecting the authority of the church-state machine to dictate the beliefs of the citizens. Beliefs that underpin the choices made by the society. The belief that God granted Man “dominion over the earth” for example, creates the mindset required to justify the exploitation of the environment for personal gain. And this “God-given right” to simply take from the environment, and shape it according to our whims is leading to the collapse of the ecosystem that supports our very lives. Further this mindset presumes then that any time nature “gets out of hand” and wrecks havoc, we look for someone to blame as it was clearly a failure of humanity to control the environment adequately that lead to the disaster. When a river bursts its banks destroying peoples homes, we ask who is to blame? Why did the council not provide better flood protection? How could the government allow this to happen? But the truth is that the mistake was building houses on a flood plain and believing we have any control over the awesome forces of nature. We fail to respect the river, to respect the fact that sometimes it will swell and burst its banks The river has claimed this land before, why would it not claim it again? Instead of respecting the river and working with it’s cycles and dynamics, we turn to fear and control which almost always backfires. In Druidry we do not seek to control nature through fear, we seek to understand, we watch the turning of the seasons and the patterns in the land and we aim to respectfully work with nature’s own rhythms.

Many people who turn to paganism do so because they are looking for something different. Something radically different to the self-destructive society on offer. There are some yes, to whom being pagan is little more than a fashion choice, or a way to rebel against conservative (with a small “c”) parents. And there are fewer still who are simply interested in seeking out romantic relationships. But to the ones taking it seriously, to the ones thinking “what does it mean to be pagan?”, it is very much about creating alternative communities, support structures and the sharing of knowledge and resources outside of the existing official structures of the society. Having failed to feel satisfied with the rigid status quo society has to offer, feeling that they do not fit the cookie-cutter template of a successful member of society, these people then seek other avenues that embrace and celebrate the change and diversity they feel they represent. First and foremost then, paganism is a rejection of any form of authority that would seek to curtail their individual expression, creativity and liberty. Personal autonomy and the freedom to make ones own choices are absolutely paramount to pagan paths, yet these are things our society seeks to restrict and control.

Closely linked to this rejection of authority is the concept that all of nature is sacred. Yet our society sees nature as little more than a resource to be exploited. Even today with all the scientific knowledge we have, and much more awareness of the destruction we are causing, we are still increasing the rate at which we extract the earth’s resources and convert them into profits in the hands of just a few lucky (usually simply lucky enough to be born to a certain family) individuals. And the fact that the global system of resource exploitation is intimately linked to how we operator our society, makes it very difficult to change one without changing the other. Especially when it is in the system’s best interest not to change. Because if it stops extracting resources for profit, how will it make profit? And so rather than risk radical change, it continues the slow march towards death, taking us all down with it.

The Pagan view of nature is very different. I am speaking very broadly here, but pagans see the world as alive. Every tree, rock, river, star, tall mountain and deep pool is alive. It has it’s own desires, needs and feelings. We talk about angry winds and raging storms. These are our gods. Nature is not there to be tamed and controlled. It is both bountiful and destructive, nurturing and indiscriminate. Far more powerful than us. But rather than fear the destructive power, we pagans accept it. Not in resignation but in reverence as we stand awe struck at the sheer magnitude, the complexity, diversity and the awesome power of it all. And from this position we try to craft respectful relationships with the aspects of nature we are drawn too. Relationships not based upon exploitation, but on mutual aid, trust and love.

If we see nature as sacred and we seek respectful beneficial relationships with the entities who inhabit our world (human, non-human, plant or whatever), then this should be the starting point of any pagan political philosophy. That any action that seeks to exploit nature is absolutely and directly an insult to the gods. Our entire mode of thought, and how we conduct our selves in the world should be based around this one simple truth. We can wrap it up in scientific terms if you prefer, in that any action that contributes to the decline of our ecosystem will lead to our own destruction and places the society as a whole in danger. If you see nature as divine, as sacred, then how could you do anything to harm that? Any form of pollution or environmental destruction you cause is an insult to your gods, to the earth, never mind counter productive for the survival of our (and most other) species.

So having established the core of a philosophy that underpins our pagan ways, how does that feed into our national political landscape? Well I would suggest that this personal pagan philosophy should drive the decisions on who to vote for and why. I.E. concerns about Nature should be first and foremost the driving factor in any decision undertaken by a person who calls them self a pagan. Every other issue is dwarfed to insignificance when placed against the continuing assault on the natural world. Yes. Even Brexit is irrelevant – utterly irrelevant – when the entire earth is dyeing.

So it was with absolute horror that I watched the result of the general election last week. Not because of the specific party or individuals that won, but because of the philosophy they advocate. But I would like to avoid party politics in this post, and keep my theme to the wider philosophies that underpin our choices.

Did we make our choices based on our pagan values? Did we make a choice that placed our gods, the natural world and it’s survival as the most important point? Or did we support parties who’s capitalist agenda necessitates further, faster, deeper exploitation of the Earths resources to deliver the economic growth we mistakenly use to measure our success?

If for some reason you call yourself a pagan, and yet last week you did not put the environment first when placing your “X” in the box, then you are no pagan at all. You are playing at it. Playing dress up and paying lip service. Basing your vote on any other issue but the environment is to betray all future generations. Worse still, if you voted for a party who’s agenda actively seeks to further the destruction of the natural world, either through policy or lack of it, then you have betrayed every living thing on earth, and the environment it’s self. Do you think you can insult the gods by supporting those who seek to destroy them, and still call your self a pagan? For the first time in a generation we had the chance to put the environment first. To see the radical change our community exists to facilitate. If we ever get chance to make a choice like that again, it will most likely be far to late to limit the damage we are doing to the natural world. And that is why any vote during this last election that did not put the environment first is unforgivable. A betrayal of the rest of the species, of every other creature, and the environment it’s self. I hope in the coming decade as our planet dies you are able to live with the decision you made last Thursday. I know I can.

The Brythonic villages of Rainworth and Blidworth?

These two villages have been discussed a number of times on this blog. Today, I would like to propose some new theories on the origins of their names. I believe it is entirely possible that both of these villages have their origins in the pre-Roman Brythonic speaking culture that occupied this corner of the territory of the Corieltauvi tribe.

In a recent post, I put forward the theory that Rainworth got it’s name after the death of King Raedwald’s son Raegenhere. The theory goes that after the battle, Raedwald renamed a ford that crossed the river Idle (where Rainworth water now passes under the road next to the bus stop) to Raegenhere’s wrath, which ultimately mutated to Rainworth as the village grew up around the ford in the river. If this is true, then it places the Battle of the Idle on the land known locally as “the bogs” and Rainworth Heath/Nature reserve.

The key point in this history that I would like to pick up on here is that Rainworth was nothing more than a ford where the river Idle (now Rainworth water) crossed the Roman road running from Mansfield to Newark.

Before the Roman invasion and until the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons, the tribal Britons spoke the Brythonic language. As the Anglo-Saxons invaded, they gradually pushed the Britons further and further west until they had been pushed into Wales. And it is here that they remain until this day, with the Welsh language developing from the Brythonic that was once spoken all across the lands. Brythonic/Welsh is effectively the native language of the British Isles, not English.

The study of place name entomology is also riddled with opinion and outdated information. With many place names assuming either no meaning, or that they are named after a presumed historical person. Blidworth is an example of this very lazy entomology, where the name is assumed to mean “the enclosure/land of Blitha”, where Blitha is a presumed historical person that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest ever existed. We see these assumed people in many place names, but there is no evidence for it. It is just one of those things that has been repeated often enough that it has become “fact”. The truth is, these place name meanings are often conjecture. Further, there seems to have been very little consideration of languages outside the evolution of English. Most place names tend to be credited to Anglo-Saxon, Old English, Norman (french), Norse (viking). Where we do have accepted older place names, they are often referred to as “Celtic” ignoring the fact that we have at least two insular Celtic language families. The first is the Brythonic family that includes Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric and Breton. The second is the Goidelic family that includes Irish, Manx and Scots Gaelic. I find it very interesting then, to look at our local place names through the lens of the Brythonic language that was once spoken here, and the closest we have to that is North Welsh.

With all of that in mind then, I find it very interesting that Welsh word for ford (around which the village of Rainworth grew up) is “Rhyd”. The letter “y” in Welsh (in this instance) is pronounced somewhere between “i” as in “is” and “ee” as in “bee”. Tag on the Anglo-Saxon word for enclosure (worth/worde from weorthig) and you have Rhyd-worde, meaning the enclosure of land around the ford, and sounding an awful lot like the word Rainworth we use today. Could it be that the name Rainworth has nothing to do with Raegenhere, and is actually derived from the Brythonic word for ford?

The neighbouring village of Blidworth can also be subjected to the same kind of analysis. Blidworth has already received much attention on this blog because of the Druid Stone ritual complex just outside the village, and the solar aliments with other important local landscape features. It is well known that the village was recorded in the doomsday book after the Norman invasion, so it is safe to assume there was a good water supply. And in fact there are over 30 recorded wells and a number of natural springs at the top of the hill on which the village stands, some of which were said to never dry up until the mine shaft was sunk in the 1920s which lowered the water table. It has also been suggested to me a number of times that some of these springs/wells would have been sacred, and very likely important to the local deities.

So what can we find looking at the place name? Well, there is the Welsh word “Blyd” which means “wet”. Once again if we add on the Anglo-Saxon worde then we end up with Blyd-worde meaning “wet enclosure”. And once again, given the nature of the geography of the area, I would suggest that the case for this theory is stronger than “the enclosure belonging to Blitha”. Of course we can never know for sure. But I am happy to contribute another theory for consideration, and if I am right, then we can clearly see that these villages have their roots in the Brythonic culture that once dominated this landscape.