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Newsletter of the Reformed Druids of North America
Winter Solstice Y.R. 40
(Dec. 11th, 2002)
Volume 18, Number 8
||CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE:
Yule, a minor Celtic High Day, the Midwinter Solstice's sun shines info the mouths of cairn graves and the openings of hill tombs. The day was of obvious importance to these megalith builders, and associated with the dead and with regeneration. This is the bottom of the year, and the coldest months are still to follow. Bonfires are lit on hills to call back the Sun, and kept burning all night to celebrate its return. This Celtic tradition may be a cognate of the Norse Yule Log tradition, which is still carried on in the Nordic countries. This use of fire to recall the Sun's fire, (the name for the Sun in Gàidhlig is thought to be derived from the phrase "of the nature of fire," greine, and is of the feminine gender) is an instance of one of the most ancient religious ideas, that of reciprocity.
This concept goes back to the beginnings of religion in the Old Stone Age, as well may the fire lighting ceremonies. As C. Rachel Levy explains, these rites were "the culmination of the Stone Age religion of reciprocity, in which, by ritual attunement to the rhythm of seasonal change, man shared with Divinity the responsibility for its maintenance, so that the ceremonies first introduced to guide the birth and death of the hunter's quarry, were replaced in natural succession by those considered necessary to assist the new year to he born, the very sun to return, (and) the harvest to be cut down." This correspondence "was also understood conversely, so that early written documents record (Le Titre d'Horus d'or, by A. Mort, translator, Rev. Arch. xxiv) that the rising of the Young Year God from his winter sleep in the subterranean chambers held hope for the resurrection/reincarnation of man. Such a belief would seem to have been naturally transmitted from the ideas concerning the cave as mother of rebirth, now reinforced by the lesson of the seeds, through Neolithic ceremonies in which the sense of mutual causality was so compelling. It is demonstrated in the monuments of the dead."
News of the Groves
Carleton Grove: News from Minnesota
The Carleton Grove has had somewhat of a sleepy term. A number of factors, the weather including, have conspired to give us low turnouts on a number of occasions though we managed to attract a number of new members none the less. Samhain was a fairly simple talking 'celebration' which we do annually where each person has the opportunity to talk about endings of the past year that have and are affecting them.
We won't be in session for the Yule season so there are no rituals planned however we are gradually planning for a 'Hunt for the Golden Frisbee.' Normally at the Fall Equinox we have two loves of marriage bread each with a ring in it and whoever gets the ring has a ceremonial marriage at Beltane. This year, following in the tradition that whatever couple gets the ring never actually gets married, the recipient of the women's wedding band pleaded having had to many previous marriages. So this year we are offering the hand of the fair Prince of Greenhouse to whoever finds the Golden Fleece. We're hoping to have the hunt shortly after the snow melts but we are still in the planning stages.
Side Note: Note: Barrie Osborne '66, producer of the "Lord of the
Rings," is giving a sneak preview performance for Carleton students on December
13th. Perhaps this contemporary of David Frangquist '66, received some
subliminal inspiration from the RDNA?
Akita Grove: News from Japan
All is good here
the snow is deep,
lots of warm beer
Earth is asleep.
Looking with forward to Mike's visit for Christmas. Wish all you could also.
Amazon Grove: News from Brazil
Research is done. Now anonymously going to an undisclosed location for an unspecified time to drink generic booze for unknown reasons. Perhaps I'll meet you there?"
Digitalis Grove: News from DC
Things are quiet here. Mairi sent a cryptic e-mail stating that she and Sine are doing well. Eric will graduate in December, and I in May 2003, so it is the end of my official academic training in many way. Two years preschool, 12 years public school, 11 years of College and University. I feel educated enough now to know that I don't know very much.
Earl, our Labrador retriever guide-dog puppy, is now a year old and ready to return to NYC for a more intensive phase of training. We'll receive a labradoodle hybrid puppy in January, so the training begins again.
I'm considering taking pastoral training classes at Howard University on a part-time basis starting next fall, and that could stretch for a few years at low intensity. I've been considering leaving the embassy next summer, and starting a new job in government service.
ARDA 2 is slowly coalescing into its final format, as I'll review with Mark. The plan for next May's 40th Anniversary reunion (and June one also) are moving ahead, as the article in this issue will address further. Make plans early to come to Carleton if you can, or start to plan a local event, if you wish.
Eurisko Grove, News from Virginia
We celebrated both Samhain and Halloween this year. Samhain and Halloween have many points in common but are actually different holidays. Halloween is an attempt to manifest nightmare imagery on the physical plane as a way of defeating it. Samhain does not view dark aspects with fear, but rather with acknowledgement. Death can, does and will occur. That dark shape in a darkened corner may in fact be more than just a shadow. Halloween gives rewards for facing what we're afraid of. Costumes are used to confuse and frighten, both the physical and non-physical beings that travel about. The Grove also recently received an Avocado seedling.
Samhain eve, saw the last harvest from our window boxes of herbs, mini roses and mums. Samhain helps to psychologically prepare for the hardship of the coming winter. Samhain is the time to honor the dead and the ancestors. The veil between the worlds is considered to be the thinnest, which brings up the obvious question of when are they the thickest. Secular Halloween is a hodge-podge of Celtic folklore and Goth commercialism. Food should be left out as an offering to the spirits. We left apples and candy.
On Halloween we eagerly awaited trick or treaters. Trick or treaters are an exercise in showing hospitality to strangers. This hospitality has a few variations of reward. The more you give the more you get back from the universe. The threat of trick or treat should not be challenged. Having a neighbor's kid angry with you does not help to build community. Various myths tell us of gods and demi-gods appearing as strangers to test the virtue of a person. As human beings we are in a constant state of dying. we also experiment with trying to record ghost voices, to no avail.
Our ancestors always faced the prospect that some of them might not make it thru the winter. This darktime of the year is appropriate to face and explore the fears and phobias within us. Fight those battles till the light of the newborn sun shines on you. I carved a pumpkin guardian with a psychic third for protection, painted a turban squash to look like an exposed brian. The apartment has been decorated in fall foliage. We watched quite a few horror movies. We also rode on a ghost train. This featured such things as the "spirit of the woods," an evil witch, a fire crystal and a "warrior/naturalist" who guarded the woods, wearing a dark blue robe with stars and moons on it.
Now we can't wait for Yule. It's still the most pagan friendly of the secular or religious holidays. For Eurisko Grove, Yule marks the New Year cycle. I know very well that Celtic and Wiccan traditions believe the New Year is celebrated on Samhain. Yet I feel we are as much a part of the culture we live in as the culture we are attuning with. Keeping this in mind, the end of December is the end of the year. Historically, both the Norse and the Romans just to name two also looked upon the winter solstice as the yearly demarcation point. Soon we will start shopping for a potted dwarf spruce, who will end up being with us for the next two years and then planted. this has been a tradition of ours for six years now.
There is also an extreme amount of cross-pollination of secular and religious imagery, most of it falling under the category of pre-Christian. What better way to begin the New Year than with new stuff? Also by having the year change halfway through winter, it helps to put the harsh times into more manageable segments. If we make to the New Year than the remaining winter won't be so bad because we are magically farther away from it. The scent of cinnamon, apples, and evergreens unite to evoke memories long forgotten.
I have to admit I've been conditioned since childhood to enjoy this time of
year. It's also a relief after the somberness of the Samhain season. We plan on
a sunrise ritual for yule. Another long standing tradition is "Dark Christmas
Movies". So far we are planning on "The Murder of Edwin Drood" and "Eyes Wide
Shut." Yule dinner will feature goose and Dickens on "Books on Tape."
Bamboo Grove: News from Delaware
Samhain was a mystical, reassuring experience for me. I have always felt awkward with rituals; I'm still trying to figure out how to approach spirits/deities in a formal situation since I'm more used to interacting with them on a more daily, intimate basis. So, I took a bit of my neo-pagan background from my past and did a little quasi-formal ritual, sort of ad-libbing as I went. Everything had to be inside, unfortunately, but the spirits have a sense of humor and gave this uncertain Druid "proof" that they were there and listening!
During the ritual, I talked to the spirits of my ancestors. I was a bit sad because I do not personally know my family line beyond my grandparents, and have only seen a picture of my great-grandmother who lived in a remote part of China. I reflected on the fact that my family tree is basically Christian for as far back as I know, and I wondered if any of my ancestors had ever followed different paths, such as Buddhism (Zen or otherwise), Taoism, etc.
I had taken time a few weeks before Samhain to write out a list of things that I wanted to release from my life, and things I wanted to affirm for the upcoming year. As I read from the sheet I whispered my hopes for the upcoming year to the spirits. After I was finished I gently ripped the paper into strips and lit them in my small cauldron; I burned every piece down to ash to send my requests "on their way." When I got down to the last piece, I gazed into the cauldron and watched it burn brightly and then flicker down into embers. As I watched I noticed a portion of an affirmation on part of the paper that hadn't burned yet, and to my amazement, the flames flickered out before burning three of the words. It was a significant "sign" for me, and I mentally laughed as I realized that the spirits were indeed listening (and definitely have their own ways to communicate clearly with me)! It was a much needed reassurance, and will make for a Samhain I will remember for a long time to come.
As for this winter, I don't have any particular "projects" in the works for the Grove, other than making sure that the Arch-Druid gets enough sunlight, water, and doesn't get too cold. (Any suggestions for keeping a bamboo plant happy during the winter indoors? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org). Even though this is the Time of Sleep, I have a small personal project in the works to prepare for a possible academic advancement after I graduate this spring (otherwise known as getting applications, recommendations, transcripts, etc. done as well as taking the dreaded GRE test). I like to think of this as nurturing the seed of my future ambitions during this Time of Sleep, and hope to see the results in the spring.
May you all have a Blessed Yule!
Oaken Circle Grove MOCC: News from KY
The Oaken Circle Grove of Northern Kentucky would like to congratulate a grove couple Tara and Brandon on their handfasting on October 19,2002.It was a beautiful ceremony and there are photos at http://oaken_cirle_grove.tripod.com/oakencirclegroveky/ on the grove photos page. Our grove has finally gathered the paper work for articles of incorporation to become incorporated and then we will be on our way to becoming a not for profit organization. The grove is moving along in many aspects , check out our site to keep informed.
Founder of the OCG
Swamp Grove, News from Florida
As the Swamp Grove prepares for Solstice, we enter the refreshing cool season
that draws so many to our area. Walking through the forest in the everglades is
unlike any other place in the US, cypress trees show their roots in the dry
autumn and moss hangs heavy on large Florida oaks. It is truly a magical place,
worthy of preservation and filled with strange and abundant life. Our small
group of Pagans are truly fortunate to be able to experience this sub-tropical
wilderness. A happy Solstice to all the reformed Druids in their own magical
We had an extra special Samhain with a lot of effort put into both the ritual, and accoutrements. Also it was mutually agreed upon to officially dissolve the protogrove. A number of us did attend the local Humane Society Bowser Boo Bash which was a great success, and a lot of fun to boot. We've all decided to at least meet each year to do the Boo Bash together (most of us are neighbors and see each other a lot anyway).
MOCC--Muskogee/Mother Grove: News from Oklahoma
Samhain night. It was time for potluck and partying Go figure, even the
church down the block from us was having a rousing game of bingo. Yippee!!! More
than one of the MOCC attendees also grabbed a card or two and sat in on a round
of the age old Samhain favorite. There was a fabulous potluck feast featuring
brisket marinated in wine, hot dogs and rigatoni, and it was topped off by
everybody bobbing for apples. Even those among us who were frozen by fear of
their makeup being messed-up by the water joined in the fun of trying to get an
apple. The youngest among us, ages seven and nine, were among the most
intelligent at this contest of skill and wit. They simply chomped down on the
stem and brought it up, free of the water's icy chill.
Grove of Ancient Oaks: News from Utah
I had this e-mail request for New of the Grove forwarded to me by my dear friend Inion. She suggested that I send news to you of a our new grove being formed here in Utah. It's name is The Grove of the Ancient Oaks. My name is Zack Faust I am the Arch-druid. We became a grove in early November. We are part of the Missionary Order of the Celtic Cross. We are not a large group, we only have five members. We are happy with what we have. I can be contacted at LLYRBRAE@yahoo.com I am soon to create an e-mail for our group. Thanks for you time and please e-mail me any questions you might have.
With all the blessings of Brighid,
Poison Oak Grove, News from California
Publisher of "A Druid Missal-Any"
Samhain, a time to remember and honor the ancestors. I can't help but think of Emmon at this time, more so than any other. I arranged a trip up to Mt. Shasta the following week to visit his grave. During the last week in October the Shasta Abbey celebrates the Festival of the Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts which is much reminiscent of our Samhain. Past relatives and friends are remembered by offerings of favorite foods of the deceased placed upon the altar. I was invited to send my offering since I was not able to be there for the ceremony. In the box I included walnuts from a friend's tree, hazelnuts, an organic apple, a small pumpkin, and a beeswax tea light.
Samhain eve was spent up at the cabin. The wood stove had remained untouched
and still set for a fire since before his death nearly three and a half years
prior. It seemed the fitting occasion to light it. I had thought I would cry
when doing that but didn't. I had no special plans or expectations for the
evening, no vigil this year. The evening meal consisted of similar foods I had
prepared for the offering sent to the Abbey as well as a cheese sandwich. As I
was setting it out it struck me as the right thing to do to set two plates and
split the food in to. Keeping with the RDNA Samhain eve tradition of drinking
the last of the waters-of-life before the oncoming Season of Sleep, I poured two
goblets of the Grove whiskey normally used in the red Ben Franklin chalice. I
put on a cassette appropriately entitled "Through the Veil" and lit candles.
With the fire glowing and the impromptu feast the evening took on a decidedly
festive air, reminiscent of parties Emmon used to hold at High Days. It suddenly
occurred to me that this had become what is called a "dumb supper," the Samhain
custom in Ireland and Scotland of a meal eaten in silence to which the dead are
invited and the dead are present as invisible entities. It was at that point I
started crying because I could feel that Emmon was happy again.
Some 40th RDNA Anniversary Celebration
By Mike Scharding, Digitalis Grove
If it is meaningful and convenient for you, we ask you to commemorate the upcoming anniversary in May 2003 by holding a simple service of some type where you live on Saturday, May 3rd or by joining us at Carleton College. Either way, we are both standing on the same Mother-Earth, merely out of sight of each other, and partaking of the same air and feeling the roots of our common past. Keep us in your thoughts that day, as we will towards you.
My simple plan is to surmount poor records by spreading the burden of reaching members to people like you who are reading this letter; even if you won't be attending. By using Alumni records or personal contacts, please just relay this message to a few other people who interacted with the Druids, or who might be interested. I've already reached most of the past Third Orders and Archdruids. There would necessarily be some overlap and redundant efforts involved.
If you do come to Carleton in May, you'll have the unusual chance to interact with current students, something that isn't possible at most Alumni Reunions. Students usually enjoy the chance to hear advice and trade stories with old-timers during this intense time of their spiritual journey. Since it's cooler, there are no annoying mosquitoes. We also promise the largest four birthday candles you are ever going to see!
No reservations are needed, just show up and jump in. Everybody should BYOB, BYOF and BYOMI (musical instruments) so we can have a fun potluck, no matter how few (or many) arrive. Until you arrive, you won't know who's there, including yourself. The Beltane (May Day) activities are still loosely scheduled, and will be quite simple, and alternative activities will occur in case of rain. Friends and family welcome. If you come earlier on a weekday, you can peruse the extensive Druid Archives during business hours.
May 2nd (Friday): Interviews, Cooking and other preparations.
May 3rd (Saturday): Walks in the arboretum, maypole dance, a Beltane 40th service (with the requisite deep and meaningful speeches), more folk-dancing, a picnic, silly games & contests, an evening bonfire sing-a-long, and some vigils perhaps.
May 4th (Sunday): Farewell at Dawn
If you cannot make it in May, you could always choose to attend the probably larger Annual 2003 Carleton Alumni Reunion, which is on the Midsummer, conveniently enough. I couldn't decide, so I will attend both (since other research commitments bring me to Northfield then), but please choose the more convenient date for your schedule and budget. Either will be fun.
June 19th (Thursdat) People arrive, folk-dancing may break out.
June 20th (Friday) Late night bonfire & singing (or perhaps Sat?)
June 21st (Saturday) Dawn walk, Noon-ish 40th service at Hill, vigils
June 22nd (Sunday) Sunrise farewell at the hill.
details on location/times will firm up in April at:
Our events will be listed in the standard schedule of Alumni activities (we may also attend related groups' activities like arb-walks and folk-dancing). The difference for June will be: no current students, more Alumni events, more mosquitoes!, 95F weather, & cheaper on-campus housing. Non-Alumni should carefully arrange lodging, & contact me if they're puzzled (email@example.com)
Suggested Websites for the Reunion
Dundas (an adjacent town)
A Sociological Look
at the RDNA at Carleton College
The Epistle of Irony
Part Three and Last
Is Reformed Druidism a Religion?
There is an unwritten rule that any whatever any Druid may say about him or herself, no one is to make categorical claims regarding the entire movement. Druidism can be and has been a religion for its individual members. It has never claimed itself to be a religion. Druidism is above all a system of inquiry into life, nature and meaning. Depending on how one takes that the movement could be viewed either way. The official Druidic statement has been that the RDNA does not affirm or deny the validity of any religion, including itself.
The founders of Reformed Druidism certainly never intended to start a religion. Indeed, the persistence of the movement beyond the elimination of the Chapel requirement took many of the founders by surprise. David Fisher left the movement early on because he had begun to fear that he had helped to start something that was becoming dangerously close to a real religion. Its function as a protest was fulfilled, and yet the group remained. "For a great many Druids, the RDNA had introduced the possibility of taking personal responsibility for understanding and believing one's own faith." 1
Druidism continued because people continued to find it meaningful and useful beyond its initial function as a creative protest. Still, did that make the RDNA a religion? The founders were careful not to call it such, though they wished it to appear as one for political purposes, and the movement has remained deliberately vague on this question ever since. Part of the reason for this vagueness is the fear of the "fossilization theory." If the RDNA had indeed found something meaningful in the realm of religion, it was felt that it had done so through its very simplicity. If defining themselves as a religion--or anything else--would engender the complexity and rigidity that people had joined the movement to avoid, they wanted no part of it.
One of the consequences of this refusal was the gradual splintering of the original RDNA into innumerable branches. Every so often someone would enter the movement who felt that it should be further defined. Each time this happened, after a brief struggle to change the whole RDNA, a new splinter group would form centered around the rebel and his or her followers. At present, so far as I can tell, there are nearly two dozen separate and related branches, all bearing the name "Druid," all spawned by definition or methodological disagreements. The first and most drastic of these schisms began in 1974 over the question of whether the RDNA should declare itself and its members exclusively pagan. This was exactly the sort of thing that many of the Druids--especially those for whom the Carleton grove had been influential--wanted to avoid. They loved the fact that one did not have to renounce any religious beliefs to become a Druid, and that the Druids brought together people of all different faiths to search together in a friendly, healthy manner. Others felt differently though, and a new group was formed.2
The old RDNA remained as it was, happily undefined and unsettled as to the religious question. Even in their second great interaction with authority, which seemed to hinge upon whether the RDNA represented an actual religion or not the Druids managed to escape without really settling the issue.3
From a research perspective the question remains. Is the Reformed Druid movement a religion? Is it a "real religion," whatever that means? Is it something to which one can legitimately apply the theories of Weber, Marx, and Schleiermacher as I intend shortly to do? It is apparent by now that I, at least, regard it as, if not a religion per se, at least something to which many of the great religious theories and debates are applicable. If I did not, all the time I have put into this project would be seen as wasted.4
In what ways can the RDNA be considered a religion? Eliade defined the base of all religious experience as the personal experience of sacred reality or Other. Schleiermacher followed him in stating that it was the encounter between the finite and the infinite, which is the origin and object of all religion. To my mind, it is with exactly this encounter that Druidism deals. It is almost beyond question that on any functional level human beings are finite creatures. Through Druidism they engage freely in the spiritual search- the individual quest for understanding of the sacred. Certainly Druidism can and has dealt with all of the classical religious problems of ontology, metaphysics, soteriology, and eschatology, not to mention that of theodicy, the celebrated "question of evil." It has done so, however, on a purely individual level. Druidism never teaches that any particular thing is or is not the case- it simply teaches people to learn and decide for themselves.
All of the classic problems and issues of religion are discussed at Druidic meetings and debated at great length from a variety of views but in the end it is up to each individual to decide what to believe. What the RDNA does is to create a place where people of many different religions can come together to share their traditions and learning. Scharding credits this persistence to the delight in the possibility of taking personal responsibility for one' s own faith. The movement had shown people experientially "the benefits of learning from people from other faiths in a non-hostile forum of interaction."5
The insight of the Druids, Scharding writes, "was that if the same story about, say, a bird making its nest, can be interpreted by all religions as a useful analogy for their own religious beliefs, then people of all religions could benefit from getting together and hearing that same story...As long as dogmatic theological statements remain out of the stories, the group can enjoy each other's company."6
It has often been denied that Reformed Druidism is a religion because it boasts no dogma or theology. "How can that be a religion," we often hear. "It doesn't teach anything!" The short answer is that Druidism teaches people how to learn, not what is true. It will show you how to walk--not where to travel. In this it is exactly as much a religion as are the Zen Buddhist schools, or, for that matter, Taoism. The theories of the great sociologists of religion are usefully applicable to these systems. I believe that, even if it denies being a religion itself, they are no less applicable to Reformed Druidism.
There is one other problem that ought to be addressed. The question of what it would mean to declare the RDNA a religion. In a sense the question is academic because the movement intentionally never claims to be one. But from a certain perspective the question remains. If Reformed Druidism declared itself to be a fully fledged religion like any other, would it in effect be denying all religious validity? The argument runs vaguely as follows. Reformed Druidism affirms and denies no religious validity by its own admission. But the essence of religion seems to be a profound respect for the importance and validity of a personal encounter with the sacred. If the RDNA calls itself a religion just like the others, is it stating, in effect, that religious experience is not worth validating? The essence of religious tolerance is not unconditional acceptance of differences but rather an abiding respect for the sacredness of the other's Other. Druidism appears not to contain this. To put it differently, if Druidism includes itself in the set of Religions, is it saying that a religion does not have to affirm or deny anything at all? Druidism does not appear to contain any sacred. By calling itself a religion is it saying that there is no sacred to religion?7
I do not believe that this is the case. First of all, Druidism never declared itself, as such, to be a religion. If its members do so, that is their own affair, but almost invariably Druidism mutates and develops into something subtly different and much more complex as soon as it is adopted by a lucid individual rather than a group. Secondly, Druidism does hold an abiding respect for other experiences of the sacred. It simply holds their expressions, through theology, poetry, art, and philosophy as secondary portrayals of that primary experience. The experience of the sacred is holy and respected, whoever happened to have it. Their depiction of it is granted only as much validity as anyone else's. It is taken as one of many fingers pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. The validity of any and all experiences of the sacred stand. Religious expressions are viewed as mutable. Finally, Druidism itself would never--nor would any Druid that I know--state that there is no sacred in religion. It would merely insist that we each critically and honestly examine our own experiences, religious and otherwise, to seek out and understand the sacred within them.
Sociological Theory and the Reformed Druids
Of all the classical social theories, those of Friedrich Schleiermacher seem to most accurately describe Reformed Druidism. 8 Schleiermacher divided the depictions of religion in his time into those reducing it to functions of the will, reason, and imagination. When viewed as such, the primary vehicle for religious expression became morality, philosophy and art, respectively. Schleiermacher believed that each of these conceptions left out something crucial about the nature of religion and so posited a fourth category. The primary faculty of religion, he felt, was feeling. Religion, he posited, was the encounter of the finite to the infinite. Feeling was that by which we experience this encounter. As pure feelings are essentially incommunicable between sane humans, other means of expressing the encounter must be utilized. According to Schleiermacher, morality, philosophy, art, theology, rituals, laws, legends, and even history are all secondary means of trying to express this primary experience. As such, have no final or absolute validity in the domain of religion! Only feeling can convey the primary experience, and feeling is essentially impossible to communicate.
Schleiermacher's view of religion is a profound call for tolerance. If all theologies and dogmas, all morals and rituals are only secondary expressions of the sacred, then even religious beliefs that completely antagonize one's own can be tolerated. People can realize that it is only the details of expression that they are fighting about when there may be no real disagreement over the feeling of the sacred. This view is almost identical to that espoused by Reformed Druidism. They too regard all expressions of religious truth to be equally valid as secondary indicators of an inexpressible reality that is never the less to be sought by each individual. They too exhibit a unilateral tolerance for all systems of religious belief and practice. 9
Because no single expression of sacrality can be seen as being its primary experience people interested in approaching that sacred must engage in a constant process of interpretation of these secondary expressions. This hermeneutic circle of translation and interpretation is inherent to the Druidic search.
It is interesting that by both of these views religious experience and validity must remain forever a uniquely individual phenomena. Until it is possible to accurately communicate pure feeling, neither the Schleiermachers nor the Druids of the world will ever be able to convey to another what exactly their encounters with the Other--the infinite--were like. All forms of expression prove not only inadequate for the searcher's understanding of religion, but also for the sage's communication of religious understanding. The consequent of this, were everyone to operate within this model of religious understanding, is a plurality of completely unique experiences of the sacred, where each person honored the validity of other's experiences, and realized that no one's expressions of that feeling were any more adequate than their own.
Karl Marx had rather different conception of religion. Unfortunately his understanding of the phenomena was rather stunted by his hatred of it. Marx' s insights into the nature of economics and political theory are profound; it is a shame he could not apply the same clarity of thought to the study of religion. It has been argued that Marx's statements on religion are inconclusive and contradictory, making it rather hard to discern what he actually thought on the subject, but from his critiques of Feuerbach, and of Bauer in On the Jewish Question a synthesis of sorts can be made. It seems that Marx held that the ideas of religion emerged from social powerlessness. Religion served, in his mind, as a superstructure to maintain and perpetuate the economic base, which gave rise to it. It did this by maintaining the social class structure and placating the lower classes with promises of something better to come- so long as they held their peace for the time being. At the same time it seems that Marx held that religion emerged from alienation in the realm of civil society- the same force that produced divergent political and economic systems. Alienation leads to the objectification of an expression of one's self--or one's culture--which then is imagined as being independent of the thing it is an expression of. This is idolatry on Marx's view--the worship of something you yourself have created. 10
It seems, though, that none of these ideas shed any particular light on Reformed Druidism. Druidism did not arise out of social powerlessness, does not maintain any class structure, and has no economic bearing what-so-ever. It also posits no higher being, objectified or otherwise, that could be viewed as a created and forgotten idol of civil alienation. Instead it seems that the RDNA emerged and has been sustained primarily through curiosity. Furthermore, Druidism does not seek--or serve--to maintain any authority, including its own, other than that of intellectual honesty, which is operative on a solely personal level. Druidism does take a certain delight is frustrating the authority of others, especially that which is seen as arbitrary, restrictive or simply absurd. In this sense it could be seen as a reaction to authoritarian structures, but not at all in the way that Marx envisioned. The RDNA has had only two major interactions with authority, and while one of them was the purpose of the movement's initiation, the struggle against an authority has never since proved a motivating factor in the movement's continuation. 11
Another sociologist whose theories mesh oddly with the RDNA is Emile Durkheim. Durkheim held fundamentally that religion is not irrational- not at all a function of superstition and error as others have often maintained. All religious experience is the experience of the power of society in his view. The immediate fascination of this view is that no society can ever exist without religion. He also believed that to understand religion we must go back to its base: totemism. On at the same time he held that as a society changes, its god must too. In totemism the individual identifies and becomes one with the totem, which in turn unifies and expresses the nature of his or her social group. As societies advance this identification becomes intellectualized and disguised. By the time a society reaches a reasonably advanced stage its conception of the totem has evolved into a fairly abstract, usually singular god. Along the way this conception of the sacred has been purged of all definable qualities. To adequately represent and unify a very simple social group was easy--they could all be seen to manifest attributes of the bear, for instance. As people specialize and society develops, one definable vision of "god" can no longer depict them all equally. By abstracting more and more--and by removing all human characteristics--a society's god becomes more philosophic, beyond all description and understanding, all in the attempt to represent as many different objectified people as possible. The eventual and evident end of this so far as religion goes, is that a society will either have to simplify itself drastically to preserve its conception of god, or the individual itself will become seen as sacred--bypassing the objective representation of the individual as a totem, god, or anything else.
Druidism seems to be an exemplification of this second course. The very conception of god has been objectified away to nothing, and we are left with the individuals again, knowing that the sacred is important, but realizing anew that it is basically unknown. Each individual must seek out their own understanding of the sacred and, in doing so, it appears that each individual actually becomes in some sense sacred. While Reformed Druidism itself certainly did not begin as totemism and evolve to something else, it is entirely possible that the society from which it arose did. It may be that the emergence of the RDNA is the exact fulfillment and continuation of Durkheim's theory on religious evolution. It emerged at a time when society had diversified to the extent where not even a completely abstract and indescribable god without any qualities could represent every member of that society--for people are not themselves abstract. A specific conception of a personal deity could represent individuals better than an abstraction.
In this case the theory does shed useful light upon the RDNA. The movement is seen as the natural result of societal change and the forerunner of a greater degree of individual awareness and responsibility for religion soon to come. Indeed, as one looks at the kinds of religious movements that have been emerging since the 1960s when Druidism began one can see that many of them embody just this individualization of the sacred- though none of them do so as simply and carefully as do the Reformed Druids. I need merely instance the vast neo-pagan movement, the Church of All worlds, and other similar organizations where any non-socially murderous religious belief is tolerated, and where the church will ordain anyone as a legal minister for the asking.
On the other hand, Durkheim insists that all religious experience is the experience of the power of society. The Druidic path is one that can be followed without reference to society at all. t is useful to talk to others, to read the writings of sages past, or to ponder the teachings of other religions, but the essence of Druidism is clear and careful thinking about the world- a skill that could be practiced by the last man on earth. In addition, most, if not all, of the religious experiences reported by Reformed Druids have taken place in utter solitude. It is in their aloneness with nature that many of the Druids find themselves closest to the sacred. One could argue that if the individual itself has become sacred it is only natural that he or she would feel closest to the sacred when alone with themselves, but this argument smacks strongly of sophistry. It is also possible that the religious experience a person feels when alone is simply the transcendental power of society that they have absorbed and carried with them manifesting itself like a voice in the wilderness. Given the feeling and noetic content of many of these experiences I must seriously doubt that this is the case. I have yet to see a clear and convincing argument in its favor, but mention it because I cannot refute it completely.
Finally, Durkheim's description and justification of the social contract meshes nicely with Reformed Druidic thought. For him it is the inherent sacrality of each individual that makes it important for us not to break our promises to each other. For the Druids, an inviolate respect for the rights of each individual is inherent to the movement. Life is inherently sacred, many of them hold. No one has the right to violate that.
I hope that I have at least demonstrated that the Reformed Druids of North America, while not being a religion in the strictest sense, comprise a movement to which the sociological theories of Schleiermacher, Marx, Durkheim and others are applicable. I believe that much can be learned about the movement by seriously applying the theories of these and other writers, and by examining and developing the philosophic background of the RDNA. I hope that others will continue this search, and if they ever find from within the movement that they are acting against its spirit, that they will listen to the dictates of their hearts before forging ahead or dropping their studies. What I am not sure that I have demonstrated is that the Reformed Druids actually embody a definable and distinct set of people that could be studied as a religious group. I think that what binds them together is the spirit of their search, the shared history of the movement, and their individual acceptance of the simple tenets. If that is not enough, to convince the reader, I ask you to consider how the worlds Christians can be considered part of one movement, embracing as they do both the Catholic chur ch and the Quaker meeting halls.
Finally, let me say that for the most part, the confusion as to who is and isn't a Druid shows up on paper more than it does in life. This seems to be because, despite the changes, there has never really been any doubt as to who the Druids amongst people were. As Isaac Bonewits writes,
|"The role of the Druid has always been clear- scholar, and artist, poet, and priest, philosopher and magician- the one who seeks, preserves and expends the highest wisdom her or his people are capable of handling safely, and who uses the knowledge and inspiration for the benefit of their community." 12|
The Canny Conifers
By Sam Peeples
Pine Trees, Firs, Spruces, Yews, Larches. How wonderful these trees
are, the evergreen (except for the larch) that have survived not only millions
of years of munching by dinosaurs, but have held their own through bitter
winters and ice-ages. Coniferous trees generally don't lose their needles in the
winter, and house seeds in cone-like structures, thus their name. Their narrow
leaves and flexible branches let snow fall off easily, and conserve moisture in
The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is known in Irish as Giuis, Scots Gàidhlig as Giubhais (also known as Peith), and Pin in Welsh, but it is actually found from Spain to Siberia. Its nickname in the timber trade is "redwood" or "deal." The Yew is from the family Taxaceae and is known in Irish as Iur, Welsh is Ywen. Juniper is of the Cupressaceae family and found mostly in Southern England, US and Europe, and has no Celtic name, anymore. Sometimes, the name "pine" is used loosely for any tree in the pine family Pinaceae. In North America, that family contains larch, true fir, spruce, hemlock, and Douglas-fir. A tree with needles is not a Pinus if:
By the way, the verb "to pine" has no direct connection with the tree, but when pines die they often remain standing long after the life has left them, just like unrequited lovers who die of a broken heart. According to Mirriam Webster (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary );
|Main Entry: pine
Function: intransitive verb
1 : to lose vigor, health, or flesh (as through grief) : LANGUISH
Scots Pine is the only native pine in Britain, it reaches 40 meters and lives about 150 years, with some as long as 520. Sometime you get the tall narrow type, but often it splits trunks. The paired needles are about five inches and last about two to three years. Their spread to the British Isles from the continent preceded the disappearance of the land bridge 10,000 years ago and reaching Scotland by 6,000 years ago. It only inhabits 1% of its original range of 1,500,000 hectare, and is primarily found in the West Highlands, having been supplanted by faster growing trees on tree farms. It has naturally been more common in the mountains and areas of elevation. Male and female flowers appear on the same tree, with the female often a bit higher on the tree, using wind pollination. They flower in May, but the seeds must wait two winters to germinate (on the third year after fertilization) and the seeds are tiny, about 120,000 per kilogram. They travel about 70 meters from the tree, and then can skip across the snows for a few more kilometers. They like to find exposed soil, such as that dug up by a rooting boar or a forest fire. The trees are often coated in lichen, which helps to fix nitrogen and then nourishes the soil when it falls off the tree. Some fungi also work in harmony with the tree. Another 45 types of insects, plants and animals (like the Scottish crossbill and Capercaillie) are only found near pine trees in Scotland. Several larger species like (wild boar, beaver, brown bear, moose, lynx and wolf) used to be denizens of the Caledonian forest.
By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries vast quantities of pine were used for pit props, telegraph poles and railway sleepers. Coinciding with this relentless timber extraction came the Highland Clearances in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Since much of the countryside was denuded of people, there was nobody to manage the regeneration of the pine woods; instead the often absent landowners introduced huge flocks of sheep and herds of deer which soon held sway across the old forests, systematically munching through the emerging seedlings. As old trees were removed wholesale, the source of seed disappeared; and, unlike broadleaf trees, cut pine stumps will not regenerate new growth but simply die in the ground. What little management there may have been was totally inadequate. The result was that by 1970 only an estimated 25,000 acres of native pinewood was still standing.
The Yew is only a medium sized tree found naturally in dense shade of Oak woods. It is often used for hedging or making weird animal topiary shapes. It is found across the European continent and British Isles. Its flowers are in March and red fleshy berries are in October. Almost all parts of the Yew (except the red fleshy berries) are EXTREMELY POISONOUS, so great care should be taken before messing with this plant. Birds swallow the aril (red part) and then deposit the seeds in the course of their work. The seeds go dormant for about 18 months in the ground, but it works well by planting cuttings from the tree. The tree is best known for its extreme longevity, some specimens living two or three thousand years and becoming simply enormous in girth.
Juniper is a small tree or bush. With a whitish bloom in May and whose ripen seeds are distributed by birds in October, and then goes dormant until spring before germinating.
The pine is a strong, general purpose timber with natural preservative qualities, making it very suitable for use outdoors, fencery, joinery, flooring, boxes, telegraph poles, fiberboard, ship beams and masts (witness Beinn nan Sparra, Hill of Spars, in Glen Affric). The pitch from the tree was used to fill cracks in planks and beer casks. For higher resin content they were harvested on the waxing moon. The resin content is so high that some pine trees will remain standing for 50-100 years after dying without decay.
Yew produces a very durable, beautifully smooth, gold-colored wood with a wavy grain that is often used for furniture, weapons and tool handles. Sometime used as an expensive veneer, when of good quality. In Europe, yew wood was used for making bows, while on the northwest coast of North America, the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) is used by the Haida and other tribes for making masks and boxes.
The Juniper is a very aromatic sapwood that is fairly strong and durable. And can be used for charcoal and pencils. Juniper oil can be distilled, and berries are used to flavor meats and Gin.
In The Golden Bough, James Frazer relates various stories involving pine trees from classical mythology, which may or may not have been Scots pines, such as how the ancient Egyptians buried an image of the god Osiris in the hollowed-out canter of a pine tree. He writes that "it is hard to imagine how the conception of a tree as tenanted by a personal being could be more plainly expressed." As a symbol of royalty the pine was associated with the Greek goddess Pitthea, and also with the
Dionysus/Bacchus mythology surrounding the vine and wine making, probably as fertility symbol. Worshippers of Dionysus often carried a pine-cone-tipped wand as a fertility symbol and the image of the pinecone has also been found on ancient amulets as a symbol of fertility.
For the Romans the pine was an object of worship during the spring equinox festival of Cybele and Attis. As an evergreen tree the pine would also have symbolized immortality.
The pine was held sacred to Pan, the Roman Faunus, and in his Eclogues Vergil describes the pastoral god's home on Mt. Maenalus in Arcadia. Propertius stresses the god's fondness for the tree, and Horace, for his part, dedicates a pine to the goddess Diana in a famous ode.
The Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a fest called Saturnalia in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their houses with greens and lights and exchanged gifts. They gave coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light one's journey through life.
The Scots pine groves or "shaman forests" scattered over the dry grasslands of eastern Siberia were considered sacred by the Buriats, a Mongolian people living around the southern end of Lake Baikal. These groves were to be approached and entered in silence and reverence, respectful of the gods and spirits of the wood.
While learning about the habits of a bear, I learned the following American
Indian saying. "When a pine needle falls, the bear smells it, the Eagle sees it
and the rabbit hears it."
All parts of the Yew tree are poisonous except the fleshy covering of the berry, and its medicinal uses include a recently discovered treatment for cancer.
Obligatory Food Reference
"Alba", the name is Gaelic for Scotland. Introduced by the Vikings,
spruce and pine ales were very popular in the Scottish Highlands until the end
of the 19th Century. Many early explorers, including Captain Cook, used spruce
ale during long sea voyages since it prevented scurvy and ill health. Shetland
spruce ale was said to "stimulate animal instincts" and give you twins. Alba is
brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots picked
during early spring. Pure malted barley is boiled with the young sprigs of pine
for several hours then the fresh shoots of the spruce are added for a short
infusion before fermentation. Tawny brown strong ale with spruce aroma, rich
Malt texture, complex wood flavor and lingering finish. Described by the
Scottish press as "Light pale ale with champagne."
Quotes and Notable Literary References
Who leaves the pine-tree, leaves his friend,
Unnerves his strength, invites his end.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Woodnotes
I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the
deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an
old acquaintance among the pines.
--Henry David Thoreau, 1817 - 1862
The pine tree seems to listen, the fir tree to wait: and both without
impatience: they give no thought to the little people beneath them devoured by
their impatience and their curiosity.
--Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, # 176.
You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so
venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes
you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.
--Denise Levertov, Threat
Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets. To plant a pine,
one need only own a shovel.
There was a handsome male mockingbird that sang his heart out every morning
during the nesting season from the top of a tall Norfolk Pine tree. Last week
the tree was cut down. The mockingbird and his song are gone. I can't put a
dollar value on the tree nor on the mockingbird nor on his song. But I know that
I--and our whole neighborhood--have suffered a loss. I wouldn't know how to
count it in dollars.
Two Coniferous Songs
Filked by Patrick Haneke,
(Spoken Intro by William Watson)
Old emperor Yew, fantastic sire,
Only yew is found near every church.
Only yew can live o'er four thousand years
Only yew can guard the graves at night.
Words by Ernst Anschuetz
Melody: Tradtional folk tune
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
Druidical Diet Decision Dilemma Discourse
By Mike Scharding, Digitalis Grove
After reading Eric's article (see A Druid Missal-Any Samhain 2002), I felt inspired to write about my only eating decisions. There are no precedents in the RDNA regarding vegetarianism, so it seems to be a personal choice. Of course, I will try to offer a balanced view , from my own perspective. The choice(s) by the esteemed reader (in either direction) may be made easier by a familiarity with all the issues involved.
There seems to have been little doubt that the ancient Celts enjoyed meat, eggs, honey and dairy products. Examination of ancient trash dumps near ancient villages has shown a healthy multitude of bones, shells, and clay hives. Feasts, at least for the elite, were the highlight of year, and many a ferocious competition ensued for the choicest part of a deer. The Celtic descendents still love them, perhaps too much for their own good. Certainly harvest conditions may have hindered choice of farmed animal products, but hunting and fishing in communal lands continued well into the 19th century. Crofting, as mentioned before, still provides food and income for many tens of thousands in Celtic lands; enjoying a close link with the creatures that would become dinner.
After numerous fitful attempts at vegetarianism at Carleton, I eventually cut out mammalian meat during my stay in Japan, three years ago, but continue to eat poultry, fish and reptilian dishes (I call it a dinosaur diet). While Japan is changing to a more Western meat-based approach in meals, you can still get balanced meals, especially if you permit seafood in your diet, as I have chosen. I don't think about it too much anymore, except for considering the "next-step," removing my beloved cheese and milk, and substituting soy products.
There are, in fact, several forms nowadays; ranging on the "carnivorous-vegetarian" spectrum, that have increasingly filled the gap between extremes. The educated mind is said to understand two opposing viewpoints, and come up with a third. Most Druids naturally gravitate towards a moderate choice in the middle.
From my conversations with Druids over the years, I've deduced the following top ten reasons why people continue to eat meat.
There are, of course, several counter-arguments, on behalf of the Vegetarians;
One acre of land (two acres equals one hectare):
To me, both arguments can range into the moral high ground and practicality. I don't expect you to change your diet or follow my own choices, but I hope I've opened up a new area of your life to examination and contemplation.
The Barbarians of Ancient Europe Conference
Dear Fellow Celts,
The University of Richmond's Department of Classical Studies is hosting a conference on "The Barbarians of Ancient Europe," March 21-23, 2003. The conference will be hosted by Larissa Bonfante, Visiting Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Richmond for the second semester of this academic year. Please visit our web site to review the program, the speakers, and how to register: http://oncampus.richmond.edu/academics/as/classics/Barbarians/home.html
If you have further inquiries, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We cordially invite you to be a part of this important conference.
Session I. Friday, March 21, 2003, 7:00-10:00 PM, The University of Richmond, Jepson Hall 118
Paul Keyser Ancient Geography of the
Nancy de Grummond Myth on the Fringe: The Case of the Talking Head
Session II. Saturday, March 22, 2003. 9:00 AM-12:00 PM, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
June Aprille, Provost Welcome University of Richmond
Larissa Bonfante Introduction
Renate Rolle The Scythians
Askold Ivantchik Herodotus and the Scythians
Ivan Marazov The Thracians
Session II. Saturday, March 22, 2003. 2:00-5:00 PM, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Barry Cunliffe The Celts
Peter Wells The Germans
Larissa Bonfante The Etruscans
Otto Herman Frey Situla Art
Session II. Conference Feature. Saturday, March 22, 2003. 6:30-8:15 PM, The Omni Richmond Hotel
Norma Goldman Barbarian Fashion Show Designer
Session III, Sunday, March 23, 2003. 9:30 AM-12:30 PM, The Omni Richmond Hotel
Ann Farkas Barbarism and Barbarians
Guenter Kopke Observations on Hellenisms
John Marincola Romans as Barbarians
Walt Stevenson The Later Barbarians
Barry Cunliffe Final Words
Yule, Winter Solstice, Midwinter, when the Sun enters Capricorn, will occur
on December 21, 2002 at 5:51 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. At the Winter Solstice
the Sun rises to the most southeast and sets to the most southwest of the entire
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A Druid Missal-Any is an RDNA publication that began in 1983 by Emmon Bodfish and ran until 1991. This newsletter was re-established by his student Samhain 2000, Day 1 of Geamhradh Year 38