Just thought up a fun topic. The Druid's Prayer (which exists in several slightly different wordings) is something central to OBOD's ritual practice but it isn't really a secret part of the gwersi, so we can talk about it here in the common rooms. The prayer originated ( in print anyway) with Iolo Morganwyg, I believe (please correct me if I'm wrong). So, it is something that a lot of traditional British Druid orders use, but something deemed insufficiently "authentic" for folks of the Reformed Druid bent, such as ADF. However, I have found it a fascinating prayer and one that is not at all easy to interpret. We've discussed it here on the message board in the past but I thought it would be interesting to take it sort of section by section, devoting a different topic to each. I'm sure this neat plan will fall to tatters as soon as we actually get talking, but that's the way it goes.
Here's the whole prayer, for those of you who don't know it:
Grant O God thy protection
And in protection, strength,
And in strength, understanding,
And in understanding, knowledge,
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it
And in the love of it, the love of all existences,
And in the love of all existences,
The love of God and all Goodness.
Now, in OBOD, the word "God" is left open for individual preferences for naming the supreme Being. Goddess, Great Spirit, etc. may be substituted for those who feel them to be more appropriate. God, however, really works best with the rhythm of the thing (although, I think Goddess works better in the first line, God works better in the last line. It probably only scans in Welsh.)
To start out this topic thread, I would like to suggest we take just the first line and explicate it (that is, explore its possible meanings and reflections). Then, anyone can start a new topic thread on the next line when they wish, until we've worked through the whole thing. Does that sound like fun? I knew you would think so!
So, here goes:
"Grant O God thy protection"
What does that mean? Well, the name "God" is the immediate tricky bit for many of us. Is this supposed to be the old Sky Father YHVH of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradiition? Allah, as the Muslims say? Well, probably not, but in a way yes, because the Druid revival on the whole accepts the idea of One Spirit that unites all things and represents the ineffable infinity of absolute Being. We don't tend to refer to this Entity as "the Allmighty" or with gendered language as "God the Father." Hence, OBOD's suggestion that one chose a name by which one feels most comfortable addressing Divinity. Nevertheless, what is being addressed is a kind of spiritual Monism, like the Neoplatonic One. And the Greek philosophers (beginning with Pythagoras at least) were really the sourse of this philosophical fascination with absolute underlying Unity. This is really where the Jews and Christians picked it up and adapted the older tribal sky god (whose priests had done away with the worship of His consort, Ashteroth) to this new idea of an ineffable supreme being. One sees it quite clearly in Jewish Kabbalah: the concept of Ayin, which means Limitless, and which implies the ground of all being that we cannot possibly comprehend because it contains every possible attrebute and is, well, limitless. This concept of the Limitless Light behiind all things -- manifest and unmanifest -- is, I suspect, what the Druids of the revival period were getting at. Whether this also reflects ancient Druid lore of the pre-Roman period is arguable.
For diehard polytheists, the monist language might pose a problem, but it seems to me that one can also bracket the whole question of whether there is a point to personifying Absolute Unknowable Being, and instead insert the name of your patron or patroness. I find it easier to pray to less infinite gods. Personification is all well and good, but it works better if the person has some personality. YHVH, after all, has always seemed rather vague, and even the more human Messiah or Jesus is a little too abstracted. Nice guy. Great to invite to a party, especially if you might run out of wine, but not the sort of real character we run into in the old Irish and Welsh stories. The Dagda with his big club and his huge cauldron and even larger appetite. Lugh with his vast number of talents and bi-racial ancestry. Nuada with his Silver hand. Taranis, the storm god. Or Greek Olympians, or the Norse pantheon -- these are great personifications with personality. You know who you are talking to and can picture them.
For example, let's try: " Grant O Arianrhod, thy protection..." Or Dagda, or Lugh, or Nuada, or Morrigan, etc. etc. You could also say, "Grant O Mighty Ones thy protection..." or "Grant O Spirits..." to be more inclusive and call on everyone and their mother at once. Some might like to call upon Mars, Ares, or Teutates as their tribal and personal protectors.
Does this change the essential meaning of the prayer? I don't know. What do you think?
The first word is "grant" so this is about asking for a boon, a gift. And the root gift from which everything else flows in this prayer is Protection. Why? Well, I'll tell you. I think it is because protection from attack, disease, misfortune -- whatever -- is the foundation of all spiritual work. It's a bit like when we give peace to the four directions in OBOD ceremonies. "Without peace can no work be." We might feel under direct and imminent threat, or we might be speaking more generally: that the protection of a higher spiritual being allows the other gifts to flow into us.
What follows then, is a series of "one thing leads to another." The seed of protection opens and blossoms into... strength (which we'll take up in the next thread). Each subsequent gift flows from the one before, like a series of water bowls positioned one above the other so that the one above pours into and fills the next below and so on. Or perhaps we could think of them as concentric ripples on the water's surface: Protection at the centerpoint, the others flowing outward, each still partaking of Protection, but each gift like a different crest of that pattern of waves...
But what else could that call for divine Protection mean? Tell me what I'm missing.
Blessings of Protection,