A syncretic approach to esoteric teachings - the golden threads that connect Pagans, Yogis, Rosicrucians and Masons.
What It Means to Be a Yogi - Or a Druid
The following reflections came to me gradually over a period of forty-two years. I offer them here because of their universal spirituality, and also because our 21st century culture has turned Yoga into something quite different from its original purpose—which was, in fact, very close to Druidry.
1971 was the year I took my first Yoga class. It was part of Actors' Training at the Stratford National Theatre of Canada. Our movement coach (Trish Arnold, http://www.teawithtrish.com/) presented yoga as a physical discipline—a means whereby performing artists could develop and maintain ultimate flexibility and endurance.
Immediately hooked, I went out and bought the only book available at the time: "The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga" by Swami Vishnudevananda. That excellent text covered all aspects of this strange Eastern lifestyle. While showing the Swami in hundreds of pretzel-like poses, it also explained Breathing and Meditation. Vishnudevananda made it clear that the physical postures were only intended as a starting point, from which we were to dive deeper into Philosophy and Spirituality. Yoga was, in fact, an internal system designed to teach individuals how to understand the levels of Creation, the mysteries of Life and Death, and how to cope with Existence.
No matter his country of birth or the religion of his upbringing (and regardless of whether or not he even knew the word "Yoga") a Yogi could always be recognized by the calm and balanced way in which he went through life. Extremes of success and failure had only a temporary effect on him; he would use the lessons gained from each experience to make better decisions the next time. He maintained a charitable attitude toward all he encountered, without ever sacrificing his own values. What the world valued as important might seem trivial and passing to him; yet he would not deny others whatever props or toys they might need to keep themselves going—the exception being if they came to him, sincerely asking for instruction and guidance! He respected other forms of life, and allowed other people to find their own paths.
A soon as this was made clear to me, it was easy to recognize famous Yogis throughout history. The Hindu ones were "a gimme": Krishna, Buddha, Gandhi, Neem Karoli Baba. But there was something extremely familiar in the image of small groups of men walking about in robes and sandals and having important dialogues on the meaning of life: of course! It was the same modality employed in the Academies of ancient Greece—Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (Socrates was definitely a Yogi).
But the tradition went even further than that—back to the prophets and holy men of the Old Testament, leading up to those elite little bands led by John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. The greater the leader was, the more he was in touch with the natural world and the secrets of creation, the more he could rightly be called a Yogi.
Those were not the only lands where such teachers existed. Though Celts did not preserve their history in writing the same way that Hindus, Greeks, Romans and Jews did, we know the image of the Druid seer, shaman or wizard. The only major difference is in the footwear, for Irish and British weather is more inclement than in sunnier climes.
Sadly, we know what happened to the Druids. But the Christian version of such teachers and followers—both male and female—continued into the Middle Ages, with Yogic luminaries like Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Teresa of Avila.
The Buddhist and Hindu branches still practice the same way today! While many Western religious orders have modernized their ritual costumes, or even done away with them altogether, our Eastern brothers and sisters have persisted in wearing the same traditional robes into the 21st century.
This is one of the reasons why technology-weary westerners seek periodic pilgrimages to healing backwaters in India and Nepal. Except for joining a western order yourself—such as the white-turban-wearing Sikhs of Yogi Bhajan—or those times when Pagans can gather privately or enjoy the social acceptability of a Ren Faire—in Dharamsala you can dress up without people looking at you sideways!
I've often wished that I had balls like Oberon Zell's, who would wear his full wizard regalia when shopping in Walmart. But I never felt comfortable doing that in public. (On stage, yes, when playing a character. But not in my local supermarket.)
Of course, we know that it's not really about how we dress. But maintaining an inner image of a robed fellowship can help us to feel less alone in the world. It connects us to our ancient traditions, and reminds us that our inspiration and values are supported by generations of spiritual ancestors.
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