Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Druidry

Druidry is the ancient oral doctrine of the Celtic people. People from a variety of traditions and cultures gather to celebrate the druidic way of life and meet Druid sympathisers at outdoor camps in honour of the seasons.

I attended one of these events and was very impressed by the quality of spirituality. About eighty people come together in a large circle to honour the sun at the summer solstice. Firstly, we got together in smaller groups to design a role we would like to play in the ritual celebration. This communal activity gave us all an opportunity to get to know members of our smaller group, then we all came together in the larger group to re-enact the passage of the sun in relation to the earth. For those who are not very visual, this clearly explained about the movement of the sun, earth  moon, our solar system and the stars beyond. It was creative, enjoyable fun, and we learnt about the seasons also. There were many workshops from eminent teachers on offer. Each day there were a number of activities to choose from, including walks, talks and arts projects. In the evenings, there was poetry, music and dance. There was an emphasis on caring for the environment and also being aware of the needs to other people. I met many interesting and likeable people and returned home rested and more connected with nature and other people.



We do not know very much about the Druids of antiquity. It is thought they originated in India as learned and holy men, known today as Brahmins, and that they travelled with the warrior Celtic people through Western Europe to settle in Britain and Ireland in the millennia before Christianity. Some information has been handed down to us mainly by Roman historians. They tell us that the Druids were an aristocratic priesthood who believed in re-incarnation. They had a primitive form of writing called ogham (pronounced oh’m) and they memorised all their history and laws during many years of training and handed on their knowledge by the oral tradition, recording little in writing. After the many invasions of Britain by Romans, Anglo Saxons, Vikings, and others, the Druids retreated to the peripheral areas of the country, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.

The word druid (pronounced droo’wid) is believed to originate from two words. The first part of the word means ‘wood’ (truth, trust, truce, tryst and betroth are believed to derive from this word), and the second part means ‘to know’ (wit, view, vision and visa are believed to derive from this word). The Druids worshipped the oak tree as it provided shelter, furniture, warmth, acorns to feed the pigs, and for its fertility, as from just one oak tree a whole forest could be created.

The Druids had three professional classes. The top class were intellectuals, judges and astronomers, the next were seers and philosophers, and the last were minstrels, historians and poets. Both males and females could train for the priesthood. They celebrated religious festivals at full moons and at the sun’s turning times, by building fires on hill tops. These festivals were Imbolg (or Oimelc) the lambing time; Beltane, which was spring time; Lughnassah, the harvest festival; and Samhain (pronounced Sow’en) which was the beginning of winter. 

Druid groups hold their celebrations at Tower Hill or Primrose Hill in London. Today, there are hundreds modern day Druids. Clad in white, they arrive at Stonehenge to honour the sun’s lowest and highest points, and its rising and setting. In the time of the ancient Druids, people believed that all life began in darkness and moved towards the light. Their year began at the start of winter and their New Year’s Eve was celebrated on the 31st of October each year.

The Druids were fearful of all places and times of transition, such as beaches, verges, bridges and twilight. The leaving of the Old Year and the entering of the New Year was a dangerous time when the shades of the dead would roam and dangers lurked in ordinary places. Prayers for the spirits of the dead would be said at this time to ensure safety for the living and peaceful rest for the dead. 

31st October is now known as Halloween because it is the evening of the Christian All Hallows Day but the earlier tradition of the Druids New Year’s Eve is still maintained. In many countries of the world, this is the time of the year when the dead are remembered.

The origin of begging on this day dates back many hundreds of years. Hungry people would walk from house to house requesting food in return for prayers for the spirit of anyone who had died. The present day equivalent of this tradition is when children dress in costume and go from door to door performing an entertainment in return for a gift. This is sometimes called “guising”.

A similar custom began in the United States and has spread to the UK. It is fashionable for children to go from house to house dressed in masks and colourful costume saying “trick or treat”. If they are not given sweets or money, they perform an act of vandalism, such as putting something through the letterbox! This irresponsible behaviour should not be encouraged or condoned by adults, as it could be dangerous for children and is upsetting for elderly people or those who are unwell.

If you want to honour spirits of departed family members and friends on 31st October, you will need a white candle.
Recite these words whilst lighting the candle:
The veil between the worlds grows thin. We devote this time between the worlds to you, ancestral spirits and dear friends. You have travelled before us through the door which separates life here from the eternal realms, and we ask that you please bless all the good we do in our lives here until we meet again. Amen.
Meditate on your love for those who are now in the spirit realms. Blow out the candle.  

Wendy Stokes is the author of 'The Lightworkers Circle Guide - A Workbook for Spiritual Groups'. Her royalties are donated to The Durrell Wildlife Trust. www.wendystokes.co.uk














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