The Seers of India and Druids – Thoughts on Similarities
After submitting my first draft of this paper, I was asked to elaborate on a small sidenote I’d made regarding my background. I’ll let you all know I’ve got some sort of inner repulsion against talking about myself. But I was asked, and it is pertinent to my qualifications for giving this paper, so…here goes.
I am third generation Scot/Welsh. I spent my teenage years looking for answers to questions regarding states of consciousness I had experienced since I was very young. This was pre-internet. I couldn’t find the answers at the local library, at the church, from my parents or relatives. I came across a transliterated copy of an excerpt from the Mahabharata, and said to myself, “Ahah”. I ordered books from little publishing houses in India, started spending all my record money on pricey imports, and learned Sanskrit on my own. I always immediately doubted the biased Western scholar’s translations of Hindu works, and it turns out I was right to do so. I dove right into the Upanishads, then Samkya-Vedanta. I then came across some works done at the time of the Buddhist’s first incursions into northern India. They had been done as a response to the Buddhist philosophies, and they were, to me, fascinating. Here were words speaking to my soul. They were just at that time being translated into a partial English, and I got ahold of the translator/author. We corresponded briefly before his death. He was astounded he had an audience so far from the material’s homeland.
About two years later I found in the local newspaper a tiny announcement for a Vina concert, to be given by a master of the Vina who had played in the now defunct royal courts of India. Much to my amazement, it was to be held at a new Hindu temple in the same county in which I lived. I attended the concert, and found that the temple had been built with funds from a new small community of Indian doctors and their families. The president of the temple noticed me, the only sandy-haired, green-eyed Westerner, lol, and we talked about ten minutes. He for some inexplicable reason immediately invited me to stay, live in the community centre, and help the imported priest learn English. Being a self-designated ascetic with no ties, I did.
I had always wanted to learn the mechanics of ritual, especially the Shaiva rituals of the Shiva Puranas, and as a sort of recompense for my help I was allowed to learn. I ended up being quietly, very quietly, initiated as a pujari, or priest, and in time I was invited to serve in the largest Indian community in America in New York City. I was the first in that particular line of orthodox Vedic Hinduism from the west to have been given that title. Having the spiritual side already taken care of, so to speak, I took priesthood up as a job. I did do much counselling for members of the community, not only Hindus but also secular Westerners, the Jewish community – anyone who came in seeking a little more solace and a little more magic then they were getting in their lives. I wrote for magazines in India and America on philosophy. I learned a vast amount about the difference between religion and spirituality, about the difference between custom and original roots. I was invited to maintain a temple in Southern India, and I declined. I also had several invitations to various ashrams, and I turned those down too. Eventually, I left New York, bought a piece of land, and started planting trees.
That was damned hard to tell! OBOD has a way of dragging things out of us, doesn’t it?
My reasons for leaving were simple. First, I had learned all of ritual I had wanted to learn. Second, religious services for money had from the very start turned me off. I know, it was naïve of me. Organized religion is about money, but I was only in my early twenties when I started. Third, now that I understood the ritual, and had the precise terminology for the states of consciousness and spiritual aspects I had been seeking, I wanted to find my own native gods and goddesses, their language, their ritual. Suffice to say at the time, I’d no idea if writings on them existed, or where they could be found. Over the course of a year I wrote a very cathartic type of stream-of-consciousness novel on what I had felt since childhood were my native gods. We’re still pre-internet here. I knew that planting my land and building my log cabin, and tending my trees, was as close to a temple as I needed. After the internet appeared in my life, I had already begun working and writing on comparative mythology and comparative ethics. I found a need for reprints of out of copyright materials on old or ancient subjects, set up a non-profit, and started doing this as a sort of hobby.
I did this for ten years, found OBOD again (I had run across OBOD in the early 90’s, corresponded briefly and became distracted), sold the non-profit, and here I am.
There is a stanza held sacred in the Vedic religion, and it has been such into the dawn of history, oral or written. It is used by the priesthood as a waking prayer, and in times of investiture. It is held to be so sacred it is not spoken aloud outside of a very few rituals, and never aloud during common situations. The vibrations of the sounds, the syllables, within it, are considered as holy as any words known by man. What might interest the Druid in this, is that it is not a mantra dedicated to one of the Trinity of Creator, Preserver, Destroyer, and it is not dedicated to the unified One, nor to any of the other gods or goddesses. It is held inviolable, supreme - and it is to the Sun.
The Sun as archetype of states of awareness, states of Consciousness, ‘worlds’, as an entity unto Himself, as levels of energy – I believe we share, or did share, these concepts, especially with early India.
Before the additions of local gods and goddesses began in Hinduism as it is today, and before the myriad local tribal customs were included or imposed into the original work of the Seer class of India, the basic underlying structure of ritual was uncovered and was passed through oral tradition until it was recorded in written word. A look at this original structure reveals just how closely aligned it is with most of the universally held principles of nature religions and natural magic throughout this world. Stripped of accretions it includes establishment and salutation to the quarters, sanctification with fire and water, attunement with the elements, observances of the major and minor seasonal turnings, and an ensuing direct communication with the natural order and its matrices of energy.
The Seer in farthest history performed the roles of what we in the west would recognize as the druid/ovate/bard. He or she lived between worlds, as a messenger, a conveyor. He or she could, might even be expected to, override the decisions of the ruling class, as we know the Druids did. He or she would be expected to maintain an open line of communication with the energies and powers of the natural world, through the use of song, manipulation of ritual, gesture, and much natural magic and healing. He maintained tribute to and memory of the ancestors. He would take the stories he learned of the natural energies, the gods and goddesses and their work and stories, and bring them back to the people to imbue the tribe with a sense of the noble, sacred, ethical, and definitely the mysterious in the ways of nature and the workings of the worlds.
This is not the case in this age. Even though the old aspirations are still wistfully recited, they are not always actively woven into a man’s life. These were virtue, love, wealth and enlightenment, and the Seer of old was able to aide in these stages and guide the lives of his tribe in attaining them. The role of the Seer has fallen to the job of the priest today, which is much as it is in any modern religion. He performs ritual in a language so ancient even he may not understand what he is singing, he officiates at ceremonies of the life-stages, and so forth, and it is a paying job. It is rare that he is spiritually inclined, as it is considered a profession, not a calling. He too probably aspires to the four stages of a well-lived life, and likely never has the luxury of the attempt. The more spiritually talented or inclined may work at divination, astrology, medicine, etc., eventually becoming Masters of their art, but they are few and far between, with many more taking up any of these professions merely for profit.
In the original form of ‘Hinduism’, each person’s personal inclinations, abilities and talents were recognized and he or she was placed within that line of work. There were no set caste-by-inheritance rules as there are today. ‘Caste’ truly meant individual talent, shaped by past lives. The Sanskrit word for caste can be translated to mean ‘colour’ - of personality, of soul. In fact, two men who would have been considered outside of Vedic law and ‘untouchable’ according to today’s standards actually became spontaneously enlightened and recited two of the greatest works of Indian literature which are today considered sacred. One was a hunter, the other, a butcher.
When the learned, Seer, class lost its connection with the spiritual aspects, as happened in many places around the world, the direct inspiration was cut off, the laws codified and set in stone, and decay ensued. Lacking direction from its source, the spiritual path became a religion. Local customs and social mores trumped the actual sciences of living. When a spiritual path is found less accessible, more opaque, less interactive and less directly instructive, humanity turns to outward forms, and religions are born. The later post-Vedic writings and philosophies are all attempts to get back to the original, genuine spiritual interaction, an interaction of man as a living facet of nature. It is as if the intellect over-rode direct experience and destroyed even its memory. Despite the entropy of the age, however, the underlying principles remain solid, and the old language still carries a very strong power; in a way one might consider this proving its genuine anchor in a higher reality. What is True is not subject to decay.
The earliest and more primal of the mantras prescribed for daily recitation are granted only to the priesthood now, sadly, and I say this because they are the most grounded and original, less dependent upon the active participation and awareness of the gods and goddesses, more dependent upon the locally manifest powers, and the more readily, personally, accessible realities. Many of them deal directly with plants, trees, wildlife, stellar and lunar aspects, and so forth. “Oh lord of the forests, originating from the hedge-rows….”, and “Oh Earth, giver of all that is good to us, I bow before thee.” All of these prayers were meant to be directed to the Higher Self within Nature, that it would direct the mundane self and illuminate it with understanding through an interweaving between worlds and states of consciousness.
It has been exasperating hearing common terms like karma and samsara (transmigration) being mangled, and I hope one day that such important terms and ideas are given their original definitions and meanings, because after all they are meant to communicate something very specific to us, therefore they should be understood precisely for what they are. As Druids we share these concepts with India, and this makes knowing their true import all the more pertinent. OBOD has thus far in my membership been quite good at trying to convey their original meanings.
I have found that several of the names of the Celtic pantheon share roots with the ‘divine emanations of sound’ that ‘created the world’, and feel this may stem more from the universality of apprehension of spiritual states than etymology. While I dearly love etymology, I’ve a dislike for the Proto-Indo-European language references, and would rather look to the strong, foundational writings that still exist in India and Europe, knowing that a thousand schools of philosophy and thought have come from them. I tend to believe that if a thing is true, it is strong enough to withstand several thousand years of wear and still stand strong. Anything before that is of little consequence or it would still exist in its original form, at the very least in its origin stories, myths or philosophies. (P.I.E. etymologists: my apologies).
Triplicity is a deeply shared concept between us as well. One simple example is that the symbolic form of Awen meshes with the cursive form of Aum, it is trisular. The trisul represents the precious triple aspects of Hindu philosophy in countless ways, for example as the three principles of creation, preservation and destruction, or the three principles of Witnessing Consciousness, or the three levels of existence, on and on.
There are several strands of thought that haven’t been fully threshed out if one looks into the books of genealogies and mythologies of India regarding their dispersion as well. For example, the books of genealogies written down in the post-‘bardic’ eras, between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, include several migrations out of India by various tribes. One of these was lead by a matriarch who brought her people to ‘islands and waters in the farthest north’ and her name was Dana, after which her tribe were referred to as the Danavas. Another tribe was sent away for following a ‘strange version of the religion’ and they were led out by the previous architect of the gods, whose name was Maya. They were sent ‘across the other side of the world’ and established a large kingdom, filled with marvellous architecture….just food for thought. There are many more examples of interest to the Druid community to be had. While I do not adhere to the evolution theories, tending to be a creationist in the pagan sense of the term and certainly believing in adaptation, I do believe since our creation we have travelled, intermingled, and re-acclimated as we did.
Looking at the common basic principles prescribed to hold man and nature on an interactive level, and noting that they mesh with the work of OBOD today, leaves me to believe that we will anchor ourselves back into Nature as the Seers of old, in our own languages from our own places, which is the cure for humanity’s crisis of soul, its separation from Self, and bring new stories of the gods and goddesses into this world. I know beyond a doubt that our own spirits of place, time and nature, and our own gods and goddesses, are accessed on the very same level as they always have been, universally - doubtless the work of our predecessors, and doubtless still available to us all.
Knowing that the highest most sacred phrase in Sanskrit is one that says, translated into English, “Earth! Sky! Heaven! We meditate on the adorable luminous orb of that Divine Sun, Irradiating Preserver, may He unfold our Souls,” does say something about our mutual understanding of the higher energies. There are many translations of this phrase, but I find this the most illuminating. It is actually considered untranslatable, as it is a pattern of vibrations meant to be deeply meditated upon. This phrase broken down into syllables manages to include all the elements, colours, directions, the three worlds, the physical, emotional, and mental levels…everything woven under the Sun.
Bendithion and Awen,
Some good sources:
The Daily Practice of the Hindus, by Rai Bhadur Srira Chandra Vidyarnava, 1918
Garuda Purana (good source for Vedic gemology, too.)
Yajur-Vedi Sandhya, Pandit Devi Datt Joshi, pre-1900
Vayu Purana (good source for genealogies/histories of the previous and present ages.)
Laghu-yoga-Vasista (for a very deep understanding of samsara and karma in a simplified, bard's tale form.)
Tantraloka of Abinavagupta