Ask two people who have adopted the label of Druid exactly what Druidry is and you are very likely to get completely different answers. If you ask the same person twice you are still likely to get two different answers. There simply is no clear definition, and the study of Druidry encompasses so many subjects, it is very difficult to pin it down. Having said that, one key theme that is likely to come up is a reverence for nature. Trees, plants and animals make up a good proportion of the study.
This reverence for nature is expressed in a myriad of ways. For some people it is simply enough to go for a walk in the woods every so often and “forest bathe”, feeling a connection to the environment that is not present in their everyday mundane lives. Lives in which they “carry on as normal” most of the time, as full participants in society with all the trappings and responsibilities that comes with. Mortgages, cars, single use plastic and the modern world.
For some, reverence for nature goes a little deeper. The question goes along the lines of: If I hold nature to be sacred, how can I allow any of my actions to contribute to its destruction. This inevitably leads to desires to reduce our own consumption and environmentally destructive behaviours. Perhaps even to consider growing our own food, living off grid or protesting environmentally destructive initiatives, veganism and so on. Whatever the actions, the result is a feeling of distancing from what is seen as the destructive consumption driven norms of society.
In short, a deep reverence for nature should lead to a questioning of our own impact on the environment, and hopefully a desire to change our ways. It should also lead to the realisation that civilisation as we know it is the direct cause of environmental destruction. What I would like to question in this article, is the response we as druids have to this realisation.
In many cases (not all) our reactions are introspective. Focused on our own actions and behaviours. We understand that it is the wider behaviour of society that is at fault, yet we seek the solutions at the individual level. What can I do? Be the change you want to see as Gandhi put it. There is nothing wrong with this, and as part of our spiritual growth it is an important step, but it doesn’t have the level of impact on the wider problem that we so desperately need in this time of environmental collapse and mass extinction. In part this is due to an individual feeling of impotence when it comes to affecting change on a large scale. Another option is to join a group and to try to apply pressure that way. The group at the moment is Extinction Rebellion, but groups come and go. Ten years ago it was the Camp for Climate action. Extinction Rebellion is no different, it is simply the latest incarnation of the movement to save our ecosystem. Some people will join, some won’t, and very quickly, the actions of a few individuals will cause the entire movement to be seen in an ill light. What idiot did the Extinction Rebellion logo graffiti on the standing stone? Well done that person.
Like everyone else, I do not have the answers to these problems. I am as vexed as everyone else as to how we may prevent this impending catastrophe. I am as frustrated by the lack of action as you, and indeed the backwards steps we currently seem to be taking with the increased destruction of the Amazon, and the appointment of right wing politicians who continue to put profit first, and hardly even pay lip service to the environmental armageddon we face. But perhaps we can look to our mythology for parallels that reflect our current predicament. And perhaps, just perhaps, we may find clues as to how to respond to the challenges we face now.
In early version of Arthurian legends, the grail is kept by the fisher king or wounded king, who suffers from a leg or groin wound and is unable to walk. He can only sit in his little boat and spend his days fishing by his castle. The wound cripples the king and effects his virility, and as the king suffers, as does the land, becoming barren and infertile as a result. Eventually Percival, a knight of the round table comes to the castle in search of the grail and restores the king and the land to health.
Like the land of the fisher king, our world is becoming a barren and infertile wasteland unable to support life as we know it. Or at least our lives. Like the land of the fisher king, the world’s poor health is a direct result of the impotence of its rulers. Their wounded characters, and their lack of action.
Percival was raised in the isolation of the forest by his widowed mother who purposefully hid the realities of the world from him keeping him ignorant and naive. When he reached 15 he came upon a group of knights passing through the woods, and decided to leave home to become a knight of the round table. Percival’s innocence and ignorance is then further compounded by his tutor in arms, Gornemant, who instructs Percival not to question the significance of the things he sees.
Like Percival we are purposefully kept ignorant by the lies of politicians. We are misled with oversimplified reactionary news articles, that do not reflect the reality of the situation. And we grow up in an education system that teaches us to unquestionably accept the instructions of authority above all else, and simply accept the “facts” we are given. We, like Percival, are taught not to question the significance of the things that we see.
When Percival remembers that his mother fainted when he first left, he decides to go and see her, but first comes across the fisher king who invites him to stay in his castle. While he is there he witnesses a strange precession of magnificent objects including a bleeding lance and a grail, but due to his instruction Percival remains silent and doesn’t question this. The next morning when he awakes the castle is gone. He continues his journey until he comes across a young girl who chastises him for not asking about the grail as it would have healed the fisher king. Percival resolves to again find the castle of the fisher king so that he might ask the right question and heal him.
Like the human population of the earth, Percival knows that something is amiss, he can see it with his own eyes, but due to his upbringing and conditioning, doesn’t feel that he has the authority to question the status quo. Like those who today deny the impending climate catastrophe, there are none so blind as those that will not see. Ignorance is bliss until reality gives you a good slap in the face. And this is where I feel humanity is stuck. The young girl has chastised us, but as a society we are yet to accept our mistake and resolve to correct the situation.
Our quest for the grail must now begin in earnest. We must seek the means to restore the land. There will be perils and pitfalls along the way, but that is the nature of a quest, it is difficult and dangerous. At stake is the life of the land and all who depend upon it. We must rid ourselves of the ignorance of the situation and continue on the quest with clarity and purpose.
How can we apply this understanding to the situation at hand? As I said above I do not have the answers, but I suspect that at least part of it lies in the symbology of the grail itself. The grail is of course the Christianisation of earlier Celtic symbology surrounding cauldrons. There are many cauldrons in the mythology of the British Isles, but it is generally accepted that it is a symbol of the feminine. The knights of the Arthurian tales are chivalrous. Many of their deeds and quests are concerned with protecting the honour of the ladies in their lives.
Today’s society is dominated by the masculine principle. We are a patriarchal society obsessed with dominating the natural world for our own selfish gain. Faced with the challenge of climate change, we seek to dominate and control further. We believe that if only we can plant enough trees and stop burning fossils we can once again manipulate the system to our advantage. But isn’t this failing to learn the lesson we are being taught?
Is the key to unlocking this conundrum the very relationship we have with our environment? If we as a society and individuals can build a relationship not based upon acquisition of resources, of exploitation and use. A relationship that embraces the feminine, that embraces community, mutual aid and compassion. Or at least a more balanced approach than we currently have. Then perhaps with a different perspective we may be able to find a way through these issues we face.
If we can find the grail within ourselves. Within our work places and communities. Our nations and our societies. Then I believe we can change our relationship with our environment. But I think we need to seek the grail in every aspect of our lives with honesty and integrity. And it will not be easy.
It is folly to try and control everything. We need to learn to let go and understand that we are entirely dependent on our environment. We must instead focus on fostering a far more respectful relationship. One that respects the ebb and flow of our weather patterns and the changing of our seasons. The natural harvest cycles. We must learn to take only what we need and to give just as much back. Landfill makes a poor offering to the gods!
Are you ready to embark on perhaps the most important quest we have ever had to undertake? I am not sure any of us are. But we must undertake this quest now if we have any hope of success.
Good luck brave knight.