What does it mean to be a Druid in this modern day and age?
Being a Druid today does not mean trying to live in the same manner as our Celtic ancestors did in this land. We simply couldn’t – with our technology and changed world, our religion or spirituality must change. We can still follow the intention of our ancestors of blood, of the land or of tradition. We can honour the land upon which we live, work to live in tune with the natural cycles of life, and live a life that is filled with honour, integrity and truth. These latter three haven’t changed much over the course of millennia; they are still pretty much the same as they always were. Honour is living with great respect for yourself and for the world, for living a life filled with integrity and truth. Integrity is having the will to stand for what you believe in, even through the darkest nights of the soul. It is standing strong though buffeted by high winds; it is living your soul truth. Truth is living in accordance to the natural principle of life; it is finding your place in life and not working out of the bounds that our own bodies and souls are bound to in this life. It is living in accordance with the natural world.
The Druids of old lived their religion – it wasn’t just a matter for the weekend, or eight times a year during the festivals. Today we too can truly live our religion, allowing it to imbue our spirit with the inspiration to live a life that is wholly integrated between the spiritual and the mundane – in fact, the Druid would say that there is no separation, whether she be a Druid from the Iron Age or a Druid today. It is living in service, giving back for that which sustains us. We may not have the status of the Druids of old, which could be of benefit or detriment – power can corrupt, even as it can make the world a better place. Druids today show their power in their service and devotion to the natural world – from being a judge in the law courts to an RSPCA animal rescuer. Our love of nature, whether bestowed by ancient or modern Druids, guides our way of life and our worldview.
The Druids of old were of the Celtic peoples – yet today one can be called a Druid without any Celtic ancestry. Within Druidry, we honour the ancestors in a triad – ancestors of blood, of land and of tradition. Where we may lack in one, we may find inspiration and guidance from the other two. As far as I am aware, I have no Celtic ancestry in my recent heritage, however living in Britain and following teachers on the Druid path fill out two sides of the triad, providing me with balance. I learn from studying what the Celtic worldview was like, from politics and culture, art and history, archaeology and more. This fills in the last gap, which, all things considered, even those people who can claim Celtic descent should fully investigate. For those of Celtic descent living in other places of the world, their blood and tradition help to balance out their work with the spirits of a new land, and so on.
I do not try to reconstruct what the ancients did – that would not make sense in the modern world. I understand things that the ancestors did not about nature – equally they understood things that I never could. I use my knowledge, which is ever growing, to help me adapt my religion to better harmonise and be in balance with the world. I use the Celtic worldview, as stated above, to guide me to live in accordance with the time and space of the here and now.
Druidry is all about relationship, whether ancient or modern. While the ancient Druids may have tried to placate the gods with offerings or sacrifice, modern Druids may appear to do the same, but not for quite the same reasons. We can never truly know the reasons why the ancients did what they did, as they did not write it down. However, today we may offer daily gifts of thanks to the spirits of place in order to establish a relationship with them, to better understand and to show our gratitude. In relationship there is give and take – we seek the balance in all things. We may howl at the wind in an attempt to understand why we are standing in the rain, soaked to our underwear, and receive the most blessed inspiration in doing so. We may just get wet.
Ancient Druids were the educated class, from what we can gather from the historical accounts by others about Druidry. Today, Druids seek to sacrifice ignorance and to learn all that we can about our place in the world. A Druid might be inspired to heal with herbs, and learn all that he can about that path. Another might be a poet or author, and use words to convey the awen bestowed by the gods, the ancestors and the land. Yet another might be a park ranger, working to protect wildlife – the possibilities are endless. What links them all is in the continuous learning – we can never know everything about anything. Druids are constantly learning. Even teachers and priests in the community are always learning, and never afraid to do so, for to do otherwise is simply allowing pride and passivity to come in the way of our relationship with the world.
It goes without saying that all Druids have a love and affinity with nature. This love guides us in all that we do; it is our inspiration, our awen. To be a Druid today is to live in accordance with nature, honouring nature in all that we do, with dedication and devotion, in service to the land, our gods and the community. In that, it is not so different from what we believe the ancients did!
Joanna Van der Hoeven
Writer, Poet and Singer
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.