The Author's Corner
A Druid's Tale
For a general background of Druidism try this link.
A Druid's Tale
TWPT: All of us have heard the term Druid before but it could still use some clarification in many of our minds. What is Druidism and how is it that it has transitioned into the modern world?
CT: For most people when they think of Druids, they think of Stonehenge, the 'old men with white beards', Gandalf-images of ancient magicians. Those are largely Victorian inventions; the Ancient Druids kept no records that we know of, or which survive. The only information we have is from Roman writers, which naturally reflects their own beliefs and bias. But as I've often told my students, we don't practice many ways of life exactly as our ancestors did 2000 years ago! Our belief systems and life practices have to remain relevant, I think, otherwise we can end up just playing with meaningless traditions that could be laid to rest.
For me, Druidry is a spiritual path that is constantly relevant, as it's flexible enough to evolve with us as those who live it daily. It really isn't a belief system that's only brought out once a week in a certain setting! My Druidry is the constant exploration and practice of connection and relationship to the natural world which I am a part of. I recognise that through the sacredness, the intrinsic worth of Nature, of its uniqueness and what it has to teach us in every Thing - in my immediate environment, my Land, the planet, the Universe.
I don't believe that anything can truly be 'super'-natural - everything has evolved or birthed as it is, so even things that humanity has created come from natural components, fulfilling a need that was inspired in its conception.
As I was taught to practise, Druids are Priests of the Land. I represent this land of Britain as my birthplace, my home; but also my ancestors, through my blood and genetic connection. In ceremony I reflect that, acting in service to those participating (in body and in spirit).
TWPT: Do you feel that people have misconceptions or stereotypes about Druidism that persist into the modern incarnation of this path?
CT: I think there will continue to be misunderstanding so long as we allow it, but that's true of any belief system. Spirituality is a very personal thing, and I think we're only just realizing that as a society - even doctrine doesn't apply to everyone in the same way, after all, but is open to interpretation. We have to be willing to engage in discussion about it, rather than constantly worrying about causing offense just by asking questions to clarify and correct those misunderstandings!
I try to gently explain what Druidry is when asked, in ways that the curious can understand. I've been lucky not to experience much in the way of deliberate offensiveness, finding instead that people today are usually genuinely interested - which is a great place from which to start a discussion. Nine times out of ten, we quickly find common ground, as fellow humans trying to figure out what we're doing in life!
TWPT: What kinds of hierarchies/orders exist within the Druid organization and how is it that one gets to be a Priest in modern Druidism?
CT: Modern Druidry really doesn't have a central organization. Each group has its own particular ways of practice and teaching, which is great for diversity, but difficult when the wider world tries to understand exactly What Druids Do! Personally, I think it's all variations on colour that makes up a wider picture, or notes making up a melody.
Generally speaking, Druidry tallies with the divisions expressed by the Romans for the ancient Druids - Bards (storytellers, lorekeepers), Ovates (seers, diviners, healers) and Druids (teachers, lawkeepers). Priesthood, as far as I'm aware, can be bestowed within individual Druid Orders, but for it truly to have validity, I do think that you have to be actually called upon to act as a Priest in the community - otherwise it's just a label or title. You have to walk your talk, which really is a daily challenge. You never know what you'll be called upon to do, and the Universe tends to make sure you're continually tested!
TWPT: Has the Internet created any problems or opportunities for Druids as the technological aspects of our society continues to expand?
CT: This is a little point of contention among Druids (and Pagans generally) that I've noticed. Some prefer to remain comparatively Luddite, preferring traditional methods as having more value than technological. I have no problem with that at all, but personally, I believe that if the Ancient Druids had had iPods, they would certainly have used them!
Social networking and the Internet allows so many to reach out and explore, finding information, learning to be curious and discover what works for them in their personal practice. It also helps those who may be physically isolated and unable to meet up with others in person regularly to practice. However, it obviously allows for a lot of misinformation as well, and the inevitable flame-battles when strong personalities clash. That's perhaps a challenge of the modern age - to learn how to agree to disagree and yet remain friends!
TWPT: Tell me about the Druid's relationship with the Pagan Federation and how the two organizations have worked together to allow a greater understanding of what it means to be a Druid in the 21st century.
CT: The difficulty that the Pagan Federation constantly faces is that incredible diversity of Paganism in the UK (and the wider world) which it aims to represent. There is so much difference that it can be hard to work for a collective 'good', as each member (or faith path of members) has subtly different beliefs. This can lead to heated discussions!
Ultimately, the Pagan Federation looks to represent Pagans - of all paths - accurately, provide support on a pastoral and legal basis if needed, put folk in touch with others and allow for exchange of information. Druidry works within that when called upon to do so. I personally am a Trustee of The Druid Network and a Regional Coordinator for the Pagan Federation, so I try to straddle the line and represent all of the community accurately and honourably.
TWPT: When you have to interact with the media such as BBC Radio Derby or with others who don't share your beliefs what has been your experience as to how you are perceived as a Druid and how do you deal with it?
CT: I'm very glad to say that in my experience, national media is generally very interested in what we do, which is a great jumping-off point to explain Druid and Pagan practice. It's not really necessary to go into too much detail, but more debunking the silly ideas and explaining the general beliefs of this spiritual path. I'm aware that I may be the first Druid or Pagan that some folk have ever seen, so again, I try to represent the wider community accurately within the public discussion.
You have to be able to laugh at yourself, though. I've been asked (entirely seriously) if I can control the weather, whether I live in a commune/in Hobbiton/at Stonehenge, or if I can do magic like Harry Potter! I've found the best practice for this was giving talks at schools. If you're able to converse in Tolkien/Rowling-speak, the children love it - and it provides an opening to discuss actual practice and the differences/similarities between fictional story and 'real' story.
TWPT: Tell me about your spiritual journey to this point in your life and all the little forks in the road that offered you choices as to where you would eventually end up going.
CT: I think I was always spiritually curious, but Britain is quite 'closed' about faith matters in daily life these days, so it never really came up. We moved around quite a bit, though, so I was always the 'outsider' kid at school - and ended up playing in the hedgerows. I knew more about trees, wildlife, birds and such than any of my schoolfriends. I had no idea that this connection was anything 'weird', as it felt completely natural to me.
Then I ended up at a Catholic High School, despite being Church of England (Protestant), albeit non-practising. I remember my first Mass being utterly terrifying! The teachers took it for granted that we all knew what we were doing, but I had no clue. Lots of chanting, sitting, standing, responses that I just didn't know. I was very glad, however, to have a Religious Education teacher who was both open and happy with his faith, so I remember often sitting and chatting with him, asking all the questions that you have as a curious teenager. Even when he had no answer beyond 'you have to have faith', at least he was honest, which counted for so much.
However, I left that school pretty much an agnostic. My fellow students, as in any school, smoked, drank and got up to 'illicit activities', as well as bullying and such (I moved to the school late, so was an 'outsider') - but then they went to Confession, apologised... before carrying on as before! The hypocrisy that seemed rife in Catholicism, and the fact that nobody really seemed to wish to do anything to change it, completely turned me away from the Christian side of things.
Then in the late 1990s, at the end of my time at University, my then-partner gave me 'What Witches Do' by Stuart Farrar... and one trip to Borders later, I was engrossed. Lots of reading, a little practising, some investigation on the Internet and I was part of a fledgling Druid grove in the woodlands of Surrey. And then ultimately, here I am!
TWPT: Have you always had the desire to write and if so how has this been expressed in your life?
CT: It's been my dream since I was about 5 and realized that this amazing thing called 'storytelling' existed! Any excuse, I'd be writing fantastic tales; my favourite subject in school was always English. I love language, the amazing versatility (and occasional madness!) of English, the rhythms and flows of Shakespeare and the sheer fun of modern colloquialisms.
I never imagined that I'd be writing anything other than fiction, ironically. Certainly not the 'magic' of real, Pagan practice! But I'm amazed, honoured and still slightly disbelieving that I've had the chance to do so.
TWPT: I liked the title of your new book A Druid's Tale. Tell me about your book and what readers can expect to find there when they pick up a copy.
CT: The title came about because the original title I'd picked was already taken! I had to think of something in a hurry, and had recently been thinking about Chaucer, so grabbed my title from his 'Canterbury Tales' - a homage, not a theft, but I think he'd approve!
My book is a reworking of my blog, 'The Catbox', which has been active now for just over two years. The story of that is told in the book itself, but I think my publisher realized that there were no 'real' stories of how Druidry is practised in the world today. There's lots of history, practice styles, speculation, fiction, but not much about real experience and simply 'doing'. So each short chapter is a simple, contained topic in itself, but with lots of food for thought, questions for the reader to ask themselves, and hopefully inspiration to be gained by the exploration and continual evolution of personal spiritual practice.
TWPT: Do you think that those who read this book will walk away from it with a better understanding of what Druids are and especially of what Druids are not?
CT: I think Druids are so wildly different that they may have an idea - but it'll be based around me and my way of doing things! I don't claim to represent Ultimate Druidry, not at all. But I show how Druid practise can be taken and made your own. That does take courage, but I hope that my words will help to guide others along the path.
I absolutely do NOT want to tell anyone HOW to practise. My book tells stories of my own life and experiences; each person's will be their own, entirely unique and special to them. I don't really understand all these books that say 'Do it this way, or you're wrong/it won't work' - to me, you HAVE to form your own practice, way of worship, connection with spirituality. Without sincerity and truth, you're faking it, surely. I can't perform ritual reading from a book - I have to speak from the heart. Yes, it's more difficult. Who said this was easy?
TWPT: Do you ever think we'll see a time when people ask questions first before they jump to stereotypical responses to groups like the Druids or Pagans in general?
CT: I do think it's already happening, actually. While 'Druid' and 'Pagan' are just labels, people are more savvy these days. They have certain expectations, inevitably, but are willing to learn when faced with the reality. Curiosity is great; bravery is taking that step and asking those questions, overcoming shyness or fear in order to quest to find out more. The least I can do is reply!
I think that it's the overcoming of preconceptions that's the challenge. Druids don't really have a stigma; Witches, however, have a lot of negative press to overcome, based on the history and fairytale image of a 'traditional Witch'. That may be more difficult, but I have confidence that if people represent their path well, the truth will emerge as a reality.
TWPT: Was it difficult to step out personally and identify yourself publicly as a Druid? What kinds of thoughts went through your head as you made this decision?
CT: It was a huge decision. Rather than worrying about appearing silly in public, though, it was more the weight of responsibility that I felt by publicly claiming that title. By doing so, I was putting my head above the parapet, from a personal, private spiritual practice to a public representation of my faith - and the beliefs of many others who identify as 'Druids'.
Ultimately, I think that the answer kind of solved itself (fortunately) - enough people were calling me 'Druid' and 'Priest' that I was simply living up to that. You could give yourself any number of flowery titles, but if you're not recognised as having earned them in and by your Community, they're meaningless. I'm honoured that people continue to ask me to Priest for them in my capacity as Druid, and I will continue to do my best for them, and to live my tradition.
TWPT: I know you have a cleverly titled blog, The Catbox, so I am curious as to how you feel in regards to regularly sharing your life with readers of your blog? How do you set limits as to what you will and won't tackle on one of your blog entries?
CT: Generally speaking, I blog about events or topics that have 'snagged' in my head each week or so, enough to explore them in writing. It is a sort of public journaling exercise, but folk enjoy it, so I carry on! I do appreciate feedback too, good and bad.
I think the key is lack of self-censorship. I've not yet encountered a topic I haven't been able to handle; recently, I took a post down after some negative response, but that was due to my feeling that the writing was sub-par, and I wanted to do better. However, I then reposted it on request - if it's public, you have to be able to justify why you said those words, and I felt that I could do so.
I will keep writing as long as people keep reading. The blog was created to answer questions about Druidry, and it still is - I respond to public request, try to reflect mood as I perceive it, or to act as Bard and shed light onto topics that need reviewing. This doesn't set me up as an 'authority' at all (just one of many voices on the overcrowded Internet!), but I'm aware that it could be taken that way, so I endeavour to be responsible in what I write. And not be afraid to laugh at myself or admit that I'm sometimes wrong!
TWPT: With the environment on many people's minds these days, what does the Druid path offer to the world in terms of a holistic approach to living on this earth and leaving a minimal footprint so that it can be enjoyed by future generations?
CT: As a Postgraduate student of Environmentalism, that's a very loaded question! Basically, I think that society has acknowledged the necessity of understanding and exploring our relationship with the environment as a species - that's something above and beyond religion, as it's not a matter of choice. However, I think Druidry can help us to actively understand that relationship more effectively, through that connection with the wider world. Seeing life on the planet as sacred gives a whole new perspective to even tiny everyday actions (such as buying groceries). Encouraging ethical awareness rather than complacency can only be a good thing.
TWPT: Where do you see Druidism going for you personally and as a movement over the next few years?
CT: I think that's one of the most wonderful things about Druidry - it is constantly evolving. I think it is becoming ever more relevant, both in personal rites and relationships, and the wider political and societal world. We're blurring the line between religion and the everyday, redefining the nature of spirituality and deity. These are big changes, but they're coming about because people are searching for them, asking for them.
I aim to fulfil my vows as Priest and continue to help when called upon. And I have no doubt at all that the Universe will continue to challenge me!
TWPT: Will we see more books from you down the road a bit?
CT: I don't think my publisher will let me stop now! I've actually got two currently gestating: one fiction, one non. But the fiction is in the style of Brian Bates' 'Way of Wyrd', so it's Druid teachings contained in a fictionalised form. Both are intending to be helpful, inspiring and also fulfil a need that is currently absent in Druid/Pagan books.
TWPT: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers about your path, about Druidism in general or about whatever is important to you at this moment in time?
CT: My constant question to my students is 'What are you doing?' Constantly question, explore, be fearless and live your life in honour. Know that your ancestors are with you, and when you take your place among them, you want to be proud of what you too have achieved. Live, love, inspire and be inspired!
TWPT: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about your new book and the path that you follow. Wishing you much success with your writing and along your chosen path through this life.