This past week I have had to hold my tongue. Sometimes it felt like I was holding my tongue so hard all I could taste was blood.
A few people have told me that I should have spoken up, said my piece right there and then, never holding back. However, what I have learned in my own life experience and in my Druid path is that there is time to speak up, and a time to hold your tongue. It all relates to one word - peace.
It has often been said that the Druids were not only the political advisors and religious authority to the Celts, but that they were also the peacemakers within society. They had the power to walk between the battle lines without being harmed, such was their honouring of the notion of peace and their own personal authority and control. As a student of Zen Buddhism as well as Druidry, I have come to know the concept of peace from another worldview that blends in beautifully with what I hold to be true in my path.
Peace is when there is no need. Peace is when we are able to step outside of our ego and relate to the world with loving kindness. Peace is when we are able to find compassion, both for ourselves and for others.
Peace and truth are inexorably entwined within the Druid tradition. Only when we have discovered the nature of truth are we able to find peace. Truth is our natural place in the world, in its cycles and rhythms, the flow of life itself. It is in the riding of the currents of awen that we come to know truth in all its forms. When we know truth, we find peace.
The Druids were also famed for their ability with words. They chose their words carefully, knowing that words have power. It is with this in mind that sometimes I hold my tongue, for I could easily lash out and then have to face the repercussions of my actions. In the Celtic worldview, personal responsibility was very high on the agenda, and the notion of having to make something right when you have wronged another was essential. I simply try to not get into that situation in the first place.
Our society however does not live with that Celtic worldview any longer. All I can do is have total responsibility for my own actions. It is within my power to live with honour - I cannot, however, force others into that way of thinking. So it is that sometimes, when people upset me, I take a step back and gather my emotions to myself, exploring their source carefully before considering a response. Often I will find that when people upset me, they are merely triggering deeper issues. Other times, people are just crap.
By holding my tongue, I can preserve peace at that particular moment instead of exploding in a torrent of emotions that could have very negative effects both on myself and the other party involved. I could easily slice someone to ribbons with my tongue, but I have chosen not to in order to maintain peace, both within myself and the world beyond.
Some would argue that by restraining myself I am having a negative effect on my own self. Instead of harming another, by keeping it bottled inside I am doing myself an injury or injustice. However, it is not kept bottled inside; it is simply held for a moment while I take a detached step back in order to examine it fully before coming to a foregone conclusion. This is not harming myself in any way - in fact it is helping me to understand myself better, the reasons why I do the things I do, think the way I think and behave the way I do.
This is not to say that when it is required to speak out that I still hold my tongue; far from it. In Buddhism there is what is known as 'engaged Buddhism', a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is having personal responsibility for oneself, and also the ability to act in the world in a positive way. If we see people being harmed, we work to stop it. If we ourselves are being harmed, we work to stop that cycle and set ourselves on a new path towards enlightenment. We have the ability to respond - responsibility. We use it accordingly.
Not all situations call for such engagement. For the sake of peace sometimes we take a step back. When hurt or abuse is relevant, we engage. We pick our battles wisely. If there is one thing I have learned these last few years, it is that we don't have to attend every argument we are invited to.
So it is that sometimes I hold my tongue when all I want to do is lash out; to do unto others what has been done to me. It can result in moments of seeing red - but then those moments fade as I am able to explore the deeper issues. Having emotions is so very important to the human being; being in touch with our emotions ensures that we are in the driver's seat however, instead of being taken for a ride by the very same emotions. In very few situations when I see red it is appropriate to react then and there - if lives are at stake or people are being hurt. However, in the majority of situations in my life it is not. I will only make things worse for myself and others if I do not keep the peace, if I do not hold my tongue.
Taking a moment to step back when confronted by difficult situations is invaluable to me. I take a deep breathe, and think of the word 'peace'. This helps me to understand the situation better, in order to respond to it better. I feel it fits rightly in my worldview as a Druid, though others may disagree. All I can do is to live with peace, honour and truth as my guides.
But I do worry. Is this because nobody's listening? Am I actually trying to con people into following this mad 'cult' of modern Paganism? And of most concern, am I on the take?
I'm not - but it's easy to see why people would think that.
Spirituality is a deeply personal, heartfelt thing - a state of being, mind, emotion... so much contained in a such a complex state that it's virtually impossible to put into words. Especially, I might add, when someone asks me suddenly to explain my Druidry in two minutes or less.
(Yes, this is me - in the woods near my home)
Who are the gods in Druidry? There is no one answer to this question, as deity, like religion, is such a personal thing in Paganism. There is no single authority telling us who our god is, or what She is saying. There are books, teachers, Orders, Groves etc that can offer paths of a tradition that may lead to a relationship with the gods, but again they won’t tell you exactly who they are – we’re given a map and a compass but we have to find our own way.
There are so many classifications of deity in Druidry. Ancestral gods, those who have been revered by a particular tribe or people for a substantial length of time may still dwell alongside those who have formed a relationship with them in their original environment. Ancestral gods may also travel thousands of miles when people relocate to other parts of the world, bringing their culture and identity with them. These ancestral gods may be heroes out of legend and myth, elevated to godhood. They may be physical manifestations of natural phenomena. They may be real, or they may be archetypes.
Other gods can be found in the place wherein one lives. Where I live near the coast, the gods sing their songs in the wind and rain – sometimes warm and refreshing from the south, or bitter and cold from the north, swooping over the North Sea and communing with those gods. There are the gods of forest and heath, and also of farming and agriculture. There are ancestral gods as well, that we can see in place names. I often see Holle in the heathland, especially when at night the mist rolls in and everything is cast in its glow.
Then there are the gods of humanity – those of love and lust, of rage and anger, of compassion and fidelity. They sing deep within our bones, and are just as much a force to be reckoned with as the other gods. The Druid works to establish relationship with these gods as much as with the gods of nature – for humans are a part of nature. We need to understand ourselves before we can understand the world, and find our place in it.
Then again, there are many Druids who have no need of the gods, who live and breathe their Druidry without the need for reverence of deity. My own personal Druidry, my own soul, craves this ecstatic relationship with deity, and sees deity in all of nature around me. Perhaps it makes it easier for me to connect with the sea if I perceive it as deity – perhaps it simply is what it is. But to me, the gods are real, they are here, and we can communicate with them, building relationships and learning how to live on this planet with them and everything else.
My Lady, deep within the forest I honour you, deep within your sacred grove. Held within your embrace, here my soul sings with freedom. Blessed Sister, antlered one, deep in the forest I find you as well, and run with you through the trees and fern, fleet-footed and light-hearted. Gracious Lord, I hear your call in the autumn twilight, and move my swaying hips to your music. Gods of my ancestors, My Lord of the One Hand, befriender of animals, My Lady of the Snowshoes and Skis, My Lady of the Hearth, Lady of the Mists, know that you are honoured. To the gods of love, compassion and understanding, I hail to you! Blessed Gods of this land, of the little valley in which I live, of the wide sweeping skies, you are my love, you are my life. I am in you and am a part of you, just as you are in me and a part of me. By seeing the divinity within nature, we come to know the nature of the divine…
I’ve long been fascinated by the relationship death has with the four elements. Our methods for relinquishing the dead take us to all four of them, although different cultures favour some more than others, depending mostly on available resources and behaviour of climate. What I’m thinking about here is disposal of the body, not human sacrifice, although there are parallels. We can put the dead into the water. Most usually we’ll do that when at sea, in the absence of other means of disposal, and not wanting the danger of a rotting corpse on a boat. However, I recall reading about some ancient peoples who put their dead, or some of their dead into flowing water, by choice.
Returning the dead to the womb of the earth, we plant them, seed like. Natural decay processes will follow, but there is something strange about earth burial, the digging of the hole and raising of the mound. It accelerates and disguises what happens when we leave the dead upon the ground, but it tends to invite more complex ceremony.
Giving the dead to the fire is a rapid process, and I would imagine doing that outside with a big bonfire is both visually very challenging, and likely to smell…. tricky. I can’t personally imagine participating in a rite of that nature, and I would not want it for me. By all means, plant me, or weight me and drop me in the water, but don’t burn me, that feels very alien. Mind you, I know that for others, fire feels like a welcome embrace and a tidy ending while the squelchy decay of other options is an unwelcome prospect.
With the sun high in the sky, the winds blowing and air very much on my mind, this seems more like the time of year to think about air burials. In some places and times that has meant nothing more than taking the dead to a high place and leaving them for wind and scavengers to deal with. It calls for very little human intervention, just a placing of the dead, leaving them and letting nature take its course. I believe some Native American cultures raised wooden platforms for the dead. With this method you can most readily come back to reclaim the bones for other use, although timing that might be an interesting issue.
Evidence from barrows in the UK suggests they were used to store bones and that those bones would have been available to the community the dead belonged to. I am drawn to this, partly because I have a gothic streak a mile wide, partly because I like those more physical connections, the idea that the dead are still with us. I have thought about flutes made from ancestral bones, and I like the idea of being remade as a musical instrument. Current laws will not give you much scope on that score, but if the rules change, please do note for posterity that I would very much like to carry on the whole bardic thing as a dead person, and like John Barleycorn, rise up again in a tangible form that has some use to someone.
Because as human beings, don't we all wish to be inspired? From that 'light bulb' moment, the 'Eureka!' cry is sought after by any number of magical methods. From chewing the end of a pencil, to small prayers as you stare out of an office window, to the blinking cursor on a computer screen... Inspiration is to be sought. Inspiration is valued.
More drama has surfaced within wider Pagan community within recent weeks, particularly within the blogosphere between “polytheists” and “humanists”. I put those terms in quotes to blanket a lot of people under them, and because after all I’ve read regarding either camp, I’m not sure I understand what those terms really mean anymore.
My quest began before the Internet. My recollection is of picking up 'A Witch's Bible' - that lovely, slightly scary-looking black tome, scavenged easily enough from the shelves of Borders bookstore - and seeing the pictures inside. The photographs from the 1970s of Janet Farrar, beautiful and resplendent in ritual, performing the symbolic Great Rite proudly and publicly. And, of course, very very naked.
Then came that word: 'Priestess'. Not just in Wicca, but everywhere I looked, the goal of all Pagans appeared to be the Priesthood. You were still just learning until you had finally achieved the right to that title. This was just around the time when folks were starting to self-initiate, so the controversy was relatively new.