On A Modern Druid’s Education

Having an interest in The Druids, Nature and the Ancient Ways, I have from time to time been asked whether I could recommend any books for beginners or others to get a sense of what modern Druidry may entail…


The role of Druids in Celtic society was a broad and influential one that included Teachers, Healers , Bardic-Poets, Musicians, Shaman, Priests, Astrologers, Historians, Judges and Advisers to Kings.
Following the etymology of the name Druid, dru as ‘oak’ or ‘doorway’ and wid as ‘to see’ or ‘wisdom’, the name means ‘oak-wisdom’, although Irish druí and Welsh dryw could also refer to the wren, connected with an association of that bird with augury bird in Irish and Welsh tradition, thus the Druid is someone wise in the ways of nature, the seen and unseen.
Inspired by these traditions and the pre-Christian Celtic folktales, legends and mythologies which valued the spiritual within nature, some modern Druids commit to a guardianship of our environment and planet, to practise the ideals of the sacred and the spiritual by honoring the natural world.

In the past, a Druid’s education may have taken anywhere from 12 to 20 years, beginning around the age of five or soon after any person was deemed gifted by the divine, it began with a study of the tales and traditions, included Poetry, Nature and Law and continued with Communication and Music, a set of skills not unfamiliar to the teachings of similar cultural leaders in the classical antiquity of ancient Greece and Rome..

Today some Neo Druid and Reconstructionist Druid groups offer an education in these traditional subjects, giving tutored instruction progressing from the training of a Bard, moving through the Ovate grade to culminate in the ultimate achievement of becoming a Druid. Such tuition is naturally embellished by their own school of thought and necessarily funded by subscription to pay for the tutors guidance and support. But because there is no single sacred text or surviving body of doctrine upon which to base such teaching, whilst some of the books and course material used may be widely available from libraries and shops, others may be exclusive and available only from the organization involved..

Not all Druids today however believe the same things, or in the same routes of learning.
Some believe that the spirit is led by higher powers along its path to the gods, to apprehend the spirits and faerie folk, to travel the inner paths to the other-worlds, and to manifest healing and wisdom upon the earth.

Many who have not followed any formalized training nevertheless do also have powerful skills, and for them the distinction between the roles or formal acknowledgement of achievement is less important than the insight and abilities themselves.
The difference between these two approaches to Druidry could be considered the same as that between a college education and a vocational apprenticeship. In learning to practice such wisdom intuitively, they have learned the secret of setting aside worldly concerns and by embracing all that life has to offer have discovered the many truths transcending all.
Bringing this inner light back to the people, interacting with all things respectfully and as an act of devotion, this is the sign of a true Druid.

Central to modern Druidic belief is a love of nature combined with a pragmatic understanding that spiritual insight be expressed by responsible action in our daily life, shared with and on behalf of the community for its greater good.


To support an understanding of how we may continue to honor the ancestral spirits and follow the traditional paths of wisdom,
I have gathered here a short reading list for any who may wish to add an academic or historical basis to their insights and practice of Druidry.

However I would mention that whilst rooted in the traditional Druidic lore of yore, this list also establishes a clear link between reflection on the ancient paths and action in this modern world.


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Introductory;


”The Trials of Arthur” Arthur Pendragon and CJ Stone.

Detailing the return of England’s Ancient Leader, King Arthur.A Hearty and Heartfelt account full of derring do and of Down To Earth Druidry, following the path of Action and introducing the aims of the Loyal Arthurian Warband Order of Druids,The L.A.W. Arthur has risen to meet the challenges before him with delight and good humor, Recommended.
Reading Level: Standard


”The Apple Branch;A Path to Celtic Ritual” Alexei Kondratiev

Nicely written introduction to Celtic-inspired rituals and ceremonies. The author has done a lot of research and understands Celtic society and culture. It could be argued that Kondratiev’s NeoWiccan background throws things off a bit – but it’s still worth reading, because Kondratiev manages to avoid a lot of the overly-romanticized fluff that appears in many of the books purporting to be about Celtic Paganism.
Reading Level: Intermediate

”The Stations of the Sun” Ronald Hutton

Comprehensive and engaging, this colourful study covers the whole sweep of ritual history from the earliest written records to the present day. From May Day revels and Midsummer fires, to Harvest Home and Hallowe’en, to the twelve days of Christmas, Ronald Hutton takes us on a fascinating journey through the ritual year in Britain. He challenges many common assumptions about the customs of the past, and debunks many myths surrounding festivals of the present, to illuminate the history of the calendar year we live by today.
Reading Level: Advanced

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Historical;

”The Celts: A Very Short Introduction” Barry Cunliffe.

The Celts have long been a subject of fascination, speculation, and misunderstanding. From the ancient Romans to the present day, their real nature has been obscured by a tangled web of preconceived ideas and stereotypes.Cunliffe seeks to reveal this fascinating people using an impressive range of evidence, and exploring subjects such as trade, migration, and the evolution of Celtic traditions. Along the way, he exposes the way in which society’s needs have shaped our visions of the Celts, and examines such colorful characters as St. Patrick, Cu Chulainn, and Boudica.
Reading Level: Standard

”A Brief History of the Druids” Peter Beresford Ellis.

Contrary to the portrayal of them that we see in a lot of New Age books, the Druids were not a bunch of tree-hugging “get in touch with your feelings” peaceful clerics. They were in fact the intellectual social class of the Celts -Judges, Bards, Astronomers, Physicians and Philosophers. Although there is no written first-hand record of their activities, Ellis delves into the writings of contemporaries from other societies such as Pliny the Elder and Julius Caesar, whose Commentaries whilst politically partisan, do include frequent first hand references to the people he encountered in the British Isles.
Reading Level: Intermediate


“Women of the Celts” Jean Markale

Jean Markale takes an in-depth look at the society of the early Celtic tribes, and focuses on the role of women within that societal framework. There’s not a lot of information on Celtic mythology – but there’s a treasure trove of background on Celtic society, sociological theory, sexual standards, and economics. He also discusses legal issues that permitted the women of the Celts so much more freedom than their counterparts in other regions of the world, particularly the patriachalist Rome.
Reading Level: Advanced

”Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain” Ronald Hutton

This book is, quite simply, a tour de force. Interpretations of Druidry through the ages, treated to scrupulous scholarly dissection, in a masterly fashion. From Caesar, a truly machiavellian author, onwards, a succession of agenda-laden activists, scholars and authors have fashioned an image of druids for the popular imagination to suit the political and cultural points they are making. By examining all these written sources in the context of the social, economic, political standpoint of the various authors, a magnificent tapestry is gradually woven of English history and the men who have affected it; with. always, the misty figure of the druid just glimpsed to colour the narrative. Through the chapters we run – through the ages, and the gamut of emotional responses to the term druid; from disgust and vilification for a blood-soaked and savage priesthood to awe and wonder at the disseminators of the mystical wisdom of nature, pausing in admiration for them as radical freedom fighters along the way.
Reading Level: Graduate

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Poetical;

”The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales”

There are numerous translations available of The Mabinogion, which is the Welsh mythic cycle. However, Patrick Ford’s is one of the best. Many modern translations of the work are heavily influenced by a blend of Victorian romance, French Arthurian tales and New Age imagery. Ford leaves all of that out, and offers a faithful yet eminently readable version of the four tales of the Mabinogi, as well as three other stories from the myth cycle of the early Welsh legends. This is a primary source of Celtic legend and myth, so if you’re interested in the exploits of the gods and goddesses, as well as the mortals and demigods of folklore, this is a great resource to use.
Reading Level: Standard

”Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” Burton Raffel (Translator), Neil D. Isaacs

One of the greatest works of the Middle Ages, in a marvelous new verse translation Composed in the fourteenth century, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is as beloved as it is venerable, combining the hallmarks of medieval romance-pageantry, chivalry, and courtly love-with the charm of fairy tales and heroic sagas. Blending Celtic myth and Christian faith, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English masterpiece of magic, chivalry, and seduction.
Reading Level: Standard

”Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman” John Matthews

Taliesin, Chief Bard of Britain and Celtic shaman, was an historical figure who lived in Wales during the latter half of the sixth century. Encoded within his work are the ancestral beliefs of the Celtic and pre-Celtic peoples. In addition, his verse is established as a direct precursor to the Arthurian legends – and Taliesin himself, shaman and shapeshifter, is said to be the direct forebear to Merlin. Matthews sheds new light on the poems of Taliesin and on the vast body of allusion, story and myth that grew from his body of work and shamanic practice. This book reveals Druidic prophecy, methods of divination and the rites, rituals and beliefs that were essential to Celtic spiritual practice. It also features Taliesin’s works as keys to the Arthurian legends.
Reading Level: Intermediate


”The Bardic Handbook The Complete Manual for the 21st Century Bard” Kevan Manwaring

This complete manual for the Twenty-First-Century Bard contains all you need to know to start you on the Bardic Path. Here you will find inspiration and instruction, whether you want to dedicate yourself to the Way of Awen, or simply wish to improve your public-speaking skills and be able to express yourself with confidence. Learn how to enchant an audience with gramarye, through poetry, storytelling and songcraft, and how to use the magic of words to bless, honour, heal and celebrate your identity, community and heritage.With an easy-to-follow 12 month self-study programme and week-by-week exercises and mini-lessons about bardic lore, this book will lead you along the Way of Awen.
Reading Level: Advanced

”The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth” Robert Graves

This labyrinthine and extraordinary book-length essay on the nature of poetic myth-making, was the outcome of Graves’s vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explored the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry.
Reading Level: Graduate


”Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being” Ted Hughes

Might best be compared to Robert Graves’ book The White Goddess in terms of its scope and intent, it is a rich book filled with what I would call poetic as well as literary insights (like Graves’ work). The section where Hughes breaks down Shakespeare’s language showing how within each contrasting set of phrases he was communicating both to the rabble on the floor and the intellectuals in the gods is stunning. A worthwhile read for anyone who loves to spend time at the juncture between myth, literature and poetry, remarkable.
Reading Level: Graduate

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Spiritual;

”Way of the Peaceful Warrior” Dan Millman

You’ve learned body control and even some mind control, but your heart has not yet opened. Your goal should not be invulnerability, but vulnerability – to the world, to life, and therefore, to the Presence you felt. I’ve tried to show you by example that a warrior’s life is not about imagined perfection or victory; it is about love. Love is the warrior’s sword; wherever it cuts, it gives life, not death.’ This is a book I would give to anyone to read for pleasure and to those following the path of the spiritual warrior. It demonstrates that the true essence of a champion is indeed the culmination of a strong body, mind, as well as spirit.
Reading Level: Standard

”The Complete Illuminated Books William Blake” John Commander (Foreword by), David Bindman (Introduction)

In his Illuminated Books Blake combined text and imagery on a single page in a way that had not been done since the Middle Ages. For Blake, religion and politics, intellect and emotion, mind and body were both unified and in conflict with each other. There is no comparison with reading books such as Jerusalem, America, and Songs of Innocence and of Experience in Blake’s own medium, infused with his sublime and exhilarating colors. Tiny figures and forms dance among the lines of the text, flames appear to burn up the page, and dense passages of Biblical-sounding text are brought to a jarring halt by startling images of death, destruction, and liberation.Blake often spoke of Albion, England’s great, mythological past, ruled by Druids. To quote Peter Ackroyd: “All his life, Blake was entranced and persuaded by the idea of a deeply spiritual past, and he continually alluded to the possibility of ancient lore and arcane myths that could be employed to reveal previously hidden truths.”
Reading Level: Intermediate


”Sun of gOd: Discover the Self-Organizing Consciousness That Underlies Everything” by Gregory Sams.
“Sun of gOd presents a perfectly outrageous hypothesis: The sun is a conscious, living organism residing in a thriving galactic community, thinking stellar thoughts that span the entire universe. Surely this is nonsense. Except that the more you read the more a conscious universe begins to make sense. Gregory Sams’ book is a clearly written and persuasively reasoned argument to think about the sun in a radically new and refreshing way.” -Dean Radin, PhD, Senior Scientist, Institute of Noetic Sciences
Reading Level: Advanced


”Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics” Emma Restall Orr

Living With Honour is a provocative and uncompromising exploration of how Paganism can provide the philosophical guidance to live honorably in a twenty-first Western society. Part One explores the history of Paganism, its undercurrents of anarchy, heresy, environmentalism and animism, finding its place within the history of Western philosophy. Part Two addresses key moral issues from that animistic perspective, beginning with the foundation of human relationships and attitudes towards the Other. It book explores how we value life, and firstly human life, looking at dying, suicide and euthanasia, birth, abortion and IVF. It then examines the human abuse of nonhuman animals, discussing sentience, personhood and inherent value. Finally, it focuses on current global crises, exploring need as opposed to desire.’This is an excellent pioneering work, erudite, courageous and imaginative, that provides a new kind of ethics, linked to a newly appeared complex of religions, which are founded on some very old human truths.’ Professor Ronald Hutton, world expert on paganism and author of The Triumph of the Moon and many other studies.
Reading Level: Advanced


”The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion” Mircea Eliade

In the “Sacred and the Profane”, Mircea Eliade describes two fundamentally different modes of experience: the traditional and the modern. Traditional man or “homo religious” is open to experiencing the world as sacred. Modern man however, is closed to these kinds of experiences. For him the world is experienced only as profane. It is the burden of the book to show in what these fundamentally opposed experiences consist. Traditional man often expresses this opposition as real vs. unreal or pseudoreal and he seeks as much as possible to live his life within the sacred, to saturate himself in reality. According to Eliade the sacred becomes known to man because it manifests itself as different from the profane world. This manifestation of the sacred Eliade calls “hierophany”. For Eliade this is a fundamental concept in the study of the sacred and his book returns to it again and again.The “Sacred and the Profane” is divided into four chapters dealing with space, time, nature, and man. To these is appended a “Chronological Survey Of the History of Religions as a Branch of Knowledge.”
Reading Level: Graduate

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Environmental;


”Copse: Cartoon Book of Tree Protesting” Kate Evans

The rise of the environmental direct action movement in Britain in the 1990s is documented nowhere as well as it is here. Kate Evans was at most of the major protests, and tells her own story, but also uses interviews with more than 50 others who were there too. All the warmth, the drive, the integrity and drama of these extraordinary events is told with a disarming honesty and and involving humanity. It becomes clear that these were no heroes of the mass-media’s ‘eco-warrior’ stories; these were simply people with a will to affect the things that affect them, and who realised that morals and motivation are enough.The book does much to break down the barrier of spectator and participant, making you realise the ordinariness of the campaigners, and also encouraging you with a comprehensive ‘how to’ section at the back and a massive list of relevant contactsIf you want to understand what it’s all been about, this book is as accessible as it is comprehensive.
Reading Level: Standard

“Small is Beautiful” E.F. Schumacher.

Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered is a collection of essays by British economist E. F. Schumacher. The phrase “Small Is Beautiful” is often used to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as “bigger is better”. The point of this book is to assault what is meant by progress and try and understand what has gone wrong when we live in almost obscene wealth while large parts of the planet barely get by. This book is a call to arms, to understand things we all seem to have forgotten: what is value? what actually matters in life? should the means always justify the ends? what is work for? and who put all these economists in charge?
The Times Literary Supplement ranked Small Is Beautiful among the 100 most influential books published since World War II.
Reading Level: Intermediate


”This Borrowed Earth” Robert Emmet Herna.

Lessons from the Fifteen Worst Environmental Disasters around the WorldOver the last century mankind has irrevocably damaged the environment through the unscrupulous greed of big business and our own willful ignorance. Here are the strikingly poignant accounts of disasters whose names live in infamy: Chernobyl, Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, Love Canal, Minamata, and others. And with these, the extraordinary and inspirational stories of the countless men and women who fought bravely to protect the communities and environments at risk.
Reading Level: Intermediate

”No Logo” Naomi Klein.

In the last decade, No Logo has become a cultural manifesto for the critics of unfettered capitalism worldwide. As the world faces a second economic depression, No Logo’s analysis of our corporate and branded world is as timely and powerful as ever. Klein also looks at the workers who keep these companies running, most of whom never share in any of the great rewards. The president of Borders, when asked whether the bookstore chain could pay its clerks a “living wage” wrote that “while the concept is romantically appealing, it ignores the practicalities and realities of our business environment”. Those clerks should probably just be grateful they’re not stuck in an Asian sweatshop, making pennies an hour to produce Nike sneakers or other must-have fashion items.

Throughout the four parts (“No Space”, “No Choice”, “No Jobs”, and “No Logo”), Klein writes about issues such as sweatshops in the Americas and Asia, culture jamming, corporate censorship, and Reclaim the Streets.

Reading Level: Advanced

”Landscape and Memory” Simon Schama.

An extraordinary survey of European attitudes to and conceptualizations of nature over the course of the last 500 years or so, and how our ideas of nature have shaped how we interact with it. In a wide sweep of history that encompassess as unlikely a set of figures as Varus, a Roman general responsible for a catastrophic lost battle in the Black Forest and a 19th century French founder of the concept of “eco-rambling”, Schama has produced a stunning work that seeks to answer the central question: is our view of nature ruled by the mind, or by magical human interpretations? There are few books that could match this pyrotechnic display of learning and exposition of aesthetic views of nature that have shaped warfare,politics,religion and modern ecology. It is impossible to view today’s environmentalism before reading this provocative and insightful book the same way as when one puts it down. Reasonably scholarly but still quite readable.
Reading Level: Graduate

Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher.

William Wordsworth. ~


Compiled by Celestial Elf /|\

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4 responses to this post.

  1. So close. I agreed with everything up to "Central to Druidic belief is a love of nature," but if that's the only thing I take issue with that's leaps and bounds more than I agree with most other articles on being Druids. I think if you had put "Central to MODERN Druidic belief" I would have agreed with the whole thing.I do like the "beginner, intermediate and advanced" break down for the books. The White Goddess though I go back and forth with in relevance at all, but since you have it at advanced I am assuming you do so with the belief that by and advanced point those reading will know how to wade through the total lies to any little bits of good info. I'm not sure how much good info there really is in said book, but to each their own. 🙂

    Reply

  2. @Blackbird yes I think that the omission of 'modern' at that point was an oversight, I did however mention my intention a bit further along 'as this list also establishes a clear link between reflection on the ancient paths and action in this modern world' but your point is well taken and i shall amend that now, thank you.re White Goddess, yes that is why this book is not cited as a historical account but sits in the advanced section of poetical, purely for its inspirational qualities 😀

    Reply

  3. Hi Elf, I'm on here too! Nice write up, have now added it to the Warband website http://warband.org.uk/page40.htm

    Reply

  4. NoZ thats great many thanksBlessings By Stone and Star, Elf ~

    Reply

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