Druid Heart: Living a Druid Life
Living life from a Druid's perspective
Revenge of the Druids
Treat others as you would like to be treated. Such a simple phrase, yet so hard to comply with when we've been hurt or wounded in any way. Our first reaction is to hurt back, to wound in return. Yet is this how we would like to be treated? What if the person who hurt you didn't even know that they had? What if it was completely intentional? Is it then justifiable to perpetuate the cycle of hurt? How do we, as Druids, work with anger and wounding in today's society? How do we work with honour?
We don't really know how the ancient Druids worked with the concepts of honour or revenge. We have an account of how the Druids stood on the shores of their sacred isle at Anglesey, just before the Romans invaded, and called down their magic and their might, black-robed women with wild hair brandishing torches and running between the Druid ranks. What those men and women were doing we just don't know, but we can be fairly certain that they were protecting their land from invaders. Whether or not their magics would have been invoked without provocation is a total unknown, but here we have an example of defence, rather than offense. Boudicca wiped out Colchester and London in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Romans. Whether or not that great queen in history was a Druid or not, or advised by them, is debatable.
But that is ancient history. How do we, as Druids today, work with concepts of revenge? How do we deal with people hurting us, with our rights being taken away? How does the word honour factor into our everyday lives?
It's difficult, especially when we have such a quick means of communication in our world. Emails and opinions can be shared without a second thought. People can comment, cut down, undermine, say whatever they feel like in the virtual realm and not really suffer very many consequences in the real world. Government lie to us outright, and have been caught out in their lies, and still there is no justice. Even the most kind-hearted person begins the feel the anger and rage boiling within, battling with compassion and love for the world that they live in, for the world they would like to see. How can we deal with these emotions? If someone is attacking us, how do we as Druids protect ourselves and yet find justice? How can we ensure that the balance is maintained?
The first idea that we need to let go of is the idea of revenge. We do not need to hurt someone when they've hurt us. We would like to, we desire to hurt them in response, but we don’t need to in order to continue in our daily lives. We have to work out the difference between our desires and our needs, as with so many other aspects of our lives. It's perfectly human to want to hurt someone when they've hurt us, or upset us, or someone we love. It's up to us how we act on those feelings, however. We have to be emotionally responsible.
Pride is an oft maligned trait in the human race. Pride can be the reason many people seek out to hurt others, trying to "save face" or in an attempt to not to face those aspects of themselves that they so dislike, instead waging a war outside of their inner worlds so that they don't have to own up to their own shadow selves. Yet pride can also be a good thing. Our pride can be part of our self-respect. In this way, pride will not allow others to walk all over us, but neither does it seek to destroy others who don't agree with us.
As Druids, we work in service: to the gods, to the ancestors and to the community. We know that we have to give back, that we have a responsibility in this world to ensure that the ecosystem in which we live is functioning well. A balanced, diverse, healthy ecosystem is where there is a give and take, and where relationship is the key matter of the discussion. Those relationships must work together, must find a way to honour each other in order to flow smoothly, to be efficient and benefit the whole. It is this whole that concerns us, as Druids, the most. The whole is what we work in service to, rather than the self. When we heal the whole, when we work holistically, then we also benefit the self. It's not altruism, it just is.
When we are in positions of power, acts of anger and revenge can be even more devastating to the whole. We must learn how to work honourably with our power, out of self-respect and out of respect for the rest of the world. Without all those relationships, whether it is other humans, the bees, the mountains or the rivers, we would simply not exist. We don't live in a bubble or a vacuum. We need others in order to survive. We must learn to work with others, even if we disagree with them. When others hurt us, we need to ride the currents of emotion and keep the bigger picture to hand, in order to work honourably. We need to let go of our destructive sense of pride and ego, and build on the better aspects of both. We need to work from a strong and balanced sense of self, and yet be able to let that sense of self go into the light of utter integration for the benefit of the whole.
Author, activist and Wiccan Starhawk write in her book The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing and Action:
"We let go of vengeance out of love and concern for our larger community. To be a true leader, we must be able to look at each of our acts and say, "How will this affect the community? Is it worth dividing the community for me to be proved right? Would I not be destroying the very source of support and healing that I most need?
"And we relinquish revenge because we hold a vision of healing, for ourselves and for the world. Magic teaches us that the ends do not justify the means. Instead the means themselves shape the ends that follow. We cannot achieve healing through vengeance. We cannot serve a broad vision by being petty and spiteful."
If we are to be leaders in our community, allowing our actions to speak as loudly, if not more than our words, we need to relinquish forms of revenge and focus instead on healing. We don't need to make someone look bad, to punish someone, to destroy them or perform character assassinations. We can't push out people simply because they disagree with us. People will be annoying, will try to pick fights, will be aggressive or antagonistic. We don't have to respond like for like. If we are to work as Druids in the community, we need to let go of our desire for the above when we are hurt, and instead focus on the need for healing in the community as a whole.
This doesn't mean that we allow people to walk all over us. Whether it's an individual, the government, whatever, we can still stand up for what we believe in. We can speak out against injustices, we can march in protest or start a campaign, raising money and supplies to help those in need. When it becomes personal, we can simply ignore it and get on with our lives, doing the work that needs to be done, having compassion both for ourselves and for the person who is antagonising us. We know that the work still needs to be done, and getting distracted because of false pride or ego is not helping the whole. We can work with our feelings of anger and injustice, and then see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Will this benefit the whole?
It requires us to look deeply at ourselves first and foremost. When we are able to do that, we can begin to work honourably. We see our own failings, and we have compassion for ourselves. We see those same failings reflected in others, and we have compassion for them. We know that we live in an extremely damaged world, and that perpetuating the hurt and anger will only damage it further. We will stand up for what we believe in. We will speak out against bullies and those who would tout their privilege. We will seek political and social reform. We will endeavour to find the balance, to find a fairer system where the term justice actually means something. We will work to nourish and strengthen this planet that we live on, even as it nourishes us. And we will focus on working in relationship with everyone around us, deeply immersed in our own sense of self-respect and honour.
And in doing so, we relinquish the notion of revenge, and instead focus on healing for ourselves and for the world. That is the power of the Druid.
Joanna van der Hoeven is an author, Druid and teacher. She founded Druid College UK, and lives in near the coast of the North Sea in Suffolk. She has written many books on Druidry, including the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. Her next book, The Crane Bag: A Druid's Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices is now available for pre-order.
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