Spirits Of The Circle – The Mystery Of Identity

by Philip Carr-Gomm

From the trees Teut draws out many beautiful spirits with healing, cathartic and defensive powers, whose chief is Esus. Into the stones Teut writes the records and infuses the messages of the higher worlds.

Ross Nichols, The Book of Druidry

When first approaching Druidry it is natural to think of it as something ancient – as a phenomenon of the past that we can examine as we would an exhibit in a museum. But a spiritual tradition should not be treated like a fossil – if it is to be of value it needs to grow and evolve, and adapt to the needs of the people and of a world that is constantly changing. Some critics believe that the kind of Druidry practised today is not ‘authentic’ or ‘pure’ since many of the ideas or practices were introduced since the seventeenth century. But this belief is based upon the mistaken idea that there is such a thing as an ‘original’ or ‘pure’ form of a spiritual tradition: an idea that is no longer taken seriously by historians. Purity is hardly ever a natural phenomenon either – instead Nature offers us wonderful examples of richness – of diversity and plurality and constant change. The idea of searching for purity evokes, as the historian Ronald Hutton says, ‘the smell of disinfectant and the sound of jackboots.’ So rather than seeking purity or a mythic ‘original form’ of our subject, we are practising instead something that is natural and growing, and that is relevant to our needs today, not yesterday.

If a spirituality is presented as a fait accompli - an inflexible set of beliefs and practices, however ancient, then automatically we are forced into the position of a consumer. We simply have to accept and follow. The kind of Druidry discussed here, and as practised by groups such as The Order of Bards Ovates & Druidstakes a very different approach. We see Druidry as a living and evolving spirituality that we can actively participate in, and that as a result is different today from what it was thousands of years ago. We are chefs in the kitchen, working with ingredients handed down to us by tradition and with the spirit of inspiration and our own creativity. We are not customers in a restaurant expecting a ready-made meal.

When I met my old Druid teacher, he had spent years studying mythology – the old gods and the old stories – but he wanted to make his knowledge relevant to the world he found himself in. He had lived through two World Wars and the Depression. He saw the alienation of young people from the Natural world, and he saw the ravages that industrialisation that were causing in the land and in the souls of the people around him. He studied the psychologies of Freud and Jung, and involved himself in social work, and the idealistic youth movements of Woodcraft Chivalry and the Kibbo Kift. He saw Druidry as holding the potential to bring people back into touch with the land and the seasons, and with the purpose of being alive. He wanted Druidry to draw on its historical roots, but he wanted it to be relevant to people’s lives today, and not simply a subject for escapist fantasy or exclusively historical speculation.

I have continued his work and the work of the Order in this same spirit, because I believe that the old ideas can be enhanced and made more relevant to our modern lives if we work in this way. As an example of this approach, which combines traditional and recent knowledge, let’s consider one of the most central questions that confront us as human beings: ‘Who am I?’ Spiritualities, if they are to be of value, need to address this question, and if we combine the insights of modern psychology with the informing ideas of historical Druidry, we discover a potent mixture that can offer much of insight and value.

The power of the circle as a symbol

In the last chapter (of The Druid Mysteries- details at end of article) we saw how the circle acts as a central symbol for Druidry, representing as it does the cycle of our lives and of the natural world. We have seen how this understanding translates into a spiritual practice which honours the seasons as it honours our periods of growth and change. Soon we will learn how we can relate this symbol to the old stone circles and sacred groves, but first let us see how this same image, in conjunction with the concept of the ‘Spirits of the Circle’ can illuminate our understanding of who we – the fundamental Mystery of the Human Being.

Jung discovered that the circle represents the Self in the Unconscious, and that painting circular mandalas can help towards the healing process of finding a sense of wholeness or completeness in our lives. Within this sense of wholeness, this sacred circle of awareness, he postulated four functions - thinking, sensation, feeling and intuition - which can be equated with the four elements of air, fire, water and earth, and also with the four cardinal directions within the circle of east, south, west and north.

These functions represent what we do in our lives: we think, feel, sense and intuit. But who is doing all this? What is the nature of this mysterious being known as ‘me’ or ‘you’? To explore this further, into the circle of the Self we need to invoke what we can term the five Spirits of the Circle – five sources of power that together both influence and actually help to construct the Self. Science currently only recognises two of these, saying that our identity is formed through a combination of genetic and environmental influences. But let us see whether keys provided by the ancient Druids in combination with a modern understanding can provide us with another perspective.

Our Genetic Identity – the Spirit of the Ancestors

We know that ancestor-worship was a key component of Druidic practice. We can be sure of this because of the archaeological evidence of the megalithic culture - which lies at the foundations of Druidry. Anthropological studies also show us that reverence for the ancestors is a key component in nearly all religious and shamanic practices.

Today we do not worship our ancestors - we may well be interested in our family tree and in the outer achievements of our ancestors - individual or national - but we have no way of, or apparent interest in, connecting with who they were at the level of 'soul-essence'. Here we find the key to a way that modern Druidry can work with the practices of ancient Druidry in a way that is totally relevant to our times.

By consciously connecting with the World of the Ancestors, we can draw on a wealth of accumulated wisdom and experience that grows rather than diminishes with the passing of each generation. Druids today see the World of the Ancestors not as some shady half-world of the dead, but as a radiant realm which represents a treasure-house of wisdom that can be accessed if you are able to travel there, or you are able to receive visitations from that realm.

Almost certainly the Druids of old, and their predecessors, believed likewise, for that reason placing their burial mounds - the chambered cairns, the round and long barrows -near to the sacred circles of worship. We know from archaeological evidence, that many of the cairns were kept open so that either the shaman-priests or perhaps the relatives were able to visit the burial site and commune with their departed ones. Bones have been found pointing in symbolic ways - showing that they were used for ritual purposes - as indeed bones have been for thousands of years by cultures throughout the world.

How can this understanding be of value to us today? Although lip-service is paid to history and tradition, there is in many people a conscious or semi-conscious belief that once you're dead, you are truly 'gone' - 'dead and buried' - somehow no longer existent. This belief has a peculiar relevance to the environmental crisis we face. We used to believe that once we had buried something it disappeared and somehow ceased to exist. Now we discover that we can't get rid of anything! Waste tips by housing estates leak hazardous methane gas, nuclear tips leak radiation, and the sea harbours vast floating areas of dumped plastic. The same holds true for the dead -though the body decays or is burned, we don't get rid of them! They continue to exist at another level and are often keen to counsel and protect us.

Druidry does not advocate spiritualism in the sense of communicating with the dead through trance-mediums, but it does teach us that we can look upon our ancestors, not as dead-and-gone, but as a rich resource that can provide us with a sense of connection to the world and to the life of humanity. When each generation stands on its own, and doesn't feel connected to its lineage, then we have the problems of alienation and disconnection that are so prevalent today. When we know about our ancestors, when we sense them as living and as supporting us, then we feel connected to the genetic life-stream, and we draw strength and nourishment from this.

In the Druid circle, the place of the Ancestors lies in the North-West - the place of the setting of the Mid-Summer sun and the place of Samhuinn - when we celebrate our connection with this ancestral realm. Symbolically, or metaphorically, we can call this influence on our identity, on who we are today, the Spirit of the Ancestors – a Spirit which connects us to who we are as genetic beings. We can sense ourselves and our generation as one link in a long chain stretching far into the past and far into the future.

Cultural Influences - the Spirit of the Tribe

It is not only our genetic inheritance which influences us and which is a rich resource. We are also strongly influenced by the culture in which we have been brought up. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and educationalists have debated long and hard over the differing influences that our genes and our environment have over us - the debate is known as that of 'nature versus nurture'. Which is the most important? Which has the most powerful impact on our character, our behaviour, the illnesses - physical and psychological - that we might develop? Although in the past some have argued for the idea that we come into life as a tabula rasa - a clean slate - on which society and education can write their programs, and others have argued that we are almost totally guided by our genetic programming, the most sensible conclusions that have emerged from this debate revolve around different weightings being given to both influences - depending on the individual and the particular physical or psychological feature being considered.

How does this relate to Druidry? Today Druids are aware of the importance of cultural influences, and seek to influence culture in a positive way themselves. It is also likely that in ancient times the influence of culture upon the individual was considered important, because we know - again from archaeological evidence - that the cultures that Druidry flourished within were highly developed. We have the evidence of the stunning achievements of the megalithic culture, with their stone constructions of engineering and mathematical skill, and we have the evidence of the Celtic cultures with their beautiful artwork in jewellery, stone carving, pottery and metalwork. A reading of the Brehon laws and the reports of the classical authors speak of the cultural sophistication of the Druid system. It was not only the Spirit of the Ancestors who influenced the Druid and those around him or her, it was also the Spirit of the Tribe who conveyed the cultural as opposed to the familial heritage.

The Spirit of the Ancestors connects us to our individual genetic life-stream. The Spirit of the Tribe connects us to the life-stream of our culture, our tribe, our people. Today we have an interesting phenomenon taking place throughout the world. on the one hand there is a move towards a sense of one Humanity, one Tribe, one World. This has been brought about, not only by the advances in global communication, but also by the common threats of nuclear annihilation and the environmental crisis. At the same time, paradoxically, we see individual national and tribal groups trying to establish more clearly their unique identity - wanting recognition, autonomy and independence. These two trends need not be mutually exclusive. At one level we need to know that we are unique, separate beings while at another level we need to know that we are one with all beings. So it is with tribes - at one level we need to know that we belong to a particular nationality, cultural group or tribe and to enjoy its particularities, customs and traditions. But at another level it is essential that we also know that we are one humanity, one people.

In this understanding, therefore, the Spirit of the Tribe is seen as the tribe of all humanity as well as the particular tribe we may identify with. It is easy for us to feel at odds with this Spirit. Cultural conventions, unpleasant experiences of parenting or education, restrictive or repressive cultural codes often make us rebel and live in a different manner or different country from our place of upbringing. Just as we can experience anger with our ancestors for their influence upon us, so we can also feel anger at the way our society has conditioned us. It is important that we recognise this anger and that we are able to say ‘No!’ to aspects of our ancestral or tribal influences which we find unhelpful or indeed harmful. But having done this, there comes a time when we can separate the wheat from the chaff and turn to the Spirit of the Tribe, as we did to the Spirit of the Ancestors, and ask to be shown its treasures, its qualities. We don't have to accept all that these worlds offer us - we are free to pick and choose. Every society has commendable aspects which we can use as nourishment and to provide us with a sense of connection to the world. If we don't approve of its mores, for example, we may still be able to feast on its art.

The allocation of the different spirits to points on the circle or to the lines of the dynamics that operate between points is not too important, and is not to be taken too literally. But in considering the Spirit of the Tribe, the obvious associations are to the times of Imbolc and Lughnasadh and along the dynamic that runs between them, for it is between the points of the young child and the family that environmental, tribal, influences start to work. Likewise in considering the Spirit of the Ancestors, we can associate this with the times of both Samhuinn and Beltane, and the dynamic that runs between them, since the whole process of incarnation cycles between fertilisation at Beltane and death prior to rebirth at Samhuinn.

The Influence of Past Lives – the Spirit of the Journey

Those familiar with spiritual teachings will know that the two influences just discussed, and recognised fully by Science - of heredity and social environment - do not represent the whole picture that determines who we are. There is another factor which is supremely important, and yet which is not recognised by Science, although transpersonal psychologists and certain anthropologists are beginning to research this field. This factor is the influence that our past lives have upon us.

We know that the Druids believed in reincarnation from the classical accounts. Recognising that a powerful influence over us is the accumulated experience of previous lives, we can call this stream of being or soul-essence the Spirit of the Journey. This Spirit represents the part of each one of us that journeys from life to life - bringing forward each time the distilled wisdom and accumulated knowledge and experience of lifetimes. For many this Spirit lies in the unconscious. For very good reasons they are unaware of it, until such time as it is awoken when they reach that point in the journey when it is safe for an awareness of its reality to emerge in everyday consciousness.

The influence of the Spirit of the Journey could explain why some people are able to surmount seemingly unconquerable obstacles of genetic or environmental origin - how people born with tremendous physical handicaps or in horrendous physical conditions can emerge from them, displaying abilities and talents apparently unrelated to their genetic and cultural programming.

Part of the Druid work involves turning to the Spirit of the Journey and making connection with it, so that it can guide and counsel us. This is a subtle work which involves great care, for the Spirit of our Journey also carries our personal karma, just as the Spirit of the Ancestors carries our family karma, and the Spirit of the Tribe carries our racial or national karma.

The genetic and environmental influences will change with each life, even in the unlikely event that we are reborn into the same family-stream, and even if we are reborn into the same cultural environmental stream. But the past-life influence represents a continuous dynamic that carries us through each life, and for this reason it is best pictured as an arrow or spiral that rises up, moving from the past to the future, to meet the centre of the circle, which defines our Being in this particular life-time.

The Influence of the Spirit of Place

It may be thought that we have covered all possible influences on our identity, our sense of Self: our genetic and past-life inheritances together with our social, cultural, and educational conditioning. But we need to consider two more influences to complete the picture.

Where we are born, the locality and country in which we live are powerful influences on who we are, and on how we think, feel and behave. If we live in the desert we will be different from the person who lives in the marshlands or the forest. Someone who lives in New York will have different influences playing upon them from someone living in a village in Cornwall.

The Spirit of Place is of enormous significance in Druidry. In ancient times, although the whole earth was undoubtedly considered sacred, particular points on its surface were clearly felt to be especially connected to certain aspects of divine power. For this reason these special spots were honoured with sacred circles of stone - with avenues or groves of trees, with monuments and with ritual. The landscape was seen as a living temple, and worship often occurred, not in enclosed buildings, but on the sacred earth and before the open sky.

The acknowledgement of the sacredness of the landscape is a central feature of modern Druidry - we visit sacred sites, walk the ancient tracks, attune to the different earth-energies and landscape temples, and open ourselves to the teaching and inspiration that comes when we commune with nature. Hill walking and camping, wilderness trekking and individual or group retreats in places of great power and beauty all provide us with a sense of deep peace and connect us to the nourishment that comes when we feel ourselves as belonging in the world - as children of the Goddess. In the Order today we hold camps three times a year in the vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire – an area of countryside that has been held sacred for thousands of years, and whose chalk horse and earthworks bear testimony to the artistic and engineering skills of our ancestors. We have also held retreats in Avalon, Glastonbury, and on the sacred island of Iona in Scotland – an island that was once called Isla na Druidneach – the Isle of the Druids.

The Spirit of Place can influence us profoundly, and such is its tangible power, that it has in itself has become a term in common use. We know when we have found the right place to live or work. When we experience difficulty in finding our place, attuning to this Spirit and asking for its guidance can be helpful. Deciding where to have a picnic, where to place one's bed or personal shrine in a room, or where to buy a house are all examples of ways in which we can open ourselves to the spirit of Place for guidance.

Each place has its spirit. Think of the spirit that lives at Avebury or Stonehenge, at the Great Pyramid, or in the mountains of the Himalayas. Even the corner of our garden has its spirit, and these spirits all form part of the great Spirit of Place. In astrology, our chart is determined by the time, but also by the place in which we are born, as determined by its longitude. Being born at noon in Perth produces a different chart to one made for a baby born at noon on the same day in Edinburgh. It is the conjunction of a particular time and place that creates the chart and which produces the planetary configurations which influence us. When we celebrate the festivals, we likewise work with a meeting of a particular time with a particular place. Our sacred circle of working, whether for a festival or for individual or group work in a grove, has its Spirit of Place, and by being aware of this, we heighten our sense of its sacredness.

Some people are drawn to working with the Spirit of Place to help purify the environment. There are now groups who pray, visualise, dowse and meditate to cleanse and clear particular areas. They claim considerable success with reduced incidents of crime and accidents in areas worked upon. Dowsers, also, often work on an area which is renowned for its high incidence of accidents - an accident 'black spot' on a particular road, for example. Here too they are working with the Spirit of Place.

Those who visit sacred sites with intent are engaging in an age-old activity which honours the Spirit of Place. They make pilgrimages to holy sites - and this activity is known throughout the world and at all times - it is a fundamental recognition amongst all peoples of this spirit and of the necessity to honour and respect it, and to draw sustenance and encouragement from it. With Islam, pilgrimages are made to Mecca. With Buddhism to such places as Mount Kailas in Tibet, and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. With Hinduism to the Ganges and to Benares. With Christianity pilgrimages are again a strong feature of religious life - whether for healing, as to Lourdes, or for spiritual nourishment, as to the Holy Land, or Canterbury, Rome or Glastonbury. Leaving aside the major religions, we see amongst the earth religions such as Druidry a similar feature - wells and rivers, hills and mountains, burial sites and stone circles, lone trees and clearings in the forest, all these were and are considered sacred and were and are the goal of conscious, dedicatory pilgrimage.

An interesting exercise is to become aware of the Spirit of Place in your room or as you read this book. What does it feel like? What is its quality? Then become aware of a wider area - your town or surrounding countryside. What does it feel like now? What is its quality, its vibration? Then widen your awareness to include the whole country, asking yourself the same questions, before sensing the whole world in the same way. You can even continue it to include the whole universe, for the Spirit of Place is indeed Space Itself. Science currently estimates that the Cosmos contains three trillion galaxies - enough for each one of us to evolve to being responsible for a galaxy of our own. The Spirit of Place is truly vast for she counts all this for her realm.

In our circle we can allocate this Spirit to the line that links east and west - for our sense of space is governed to some degree by our awareness of the rising and setting sun. The East represents those lands which are far distant and from which enlightenment comes. The West represents the 'Isles of the Blessed' - that place to which we go after death, and which is the Summerland, a haven and a place of rest and contentment.

The Influence of the Spirit of Time

What else influences and helps to create who we feel ourselves to be? Time. The times we live in represent a fundamental influence upon who we are. Just as ‘The Spirit of Place’ is sensed so strongly by so many people it has entered our common vocabulary, so too we talk about the Spirit of the Times, and it is clear that someone living in the twenty-first century is under an entirely different set of influences than someone living in, say, the fourteenth century.

There is every evidence that Time was, for the Druids, and the megalithic culture out of which they emerged, an immensely important factor. Many of the stones in the stone circles are positioned so that they act as time-stones - marking the rising or setting of the mid-winter or mid-summer sun, for example. Groups of stones act as systems for other measurements - so that they can be used for predicting the times of lunar or solar eclipses, for instance.

One of the likely tasks of the Druid was to calculate the times for the festivals, and the times of impending eclipses. The calendar was considered extremely important, and from France we have evidence of a Druid calendrical system in the Coligny Calendar, although scholars are divided as to the degree we can consider it purely Druidic, since it is engraved in Roman letters, leading some to believe it represents the product of an attempt to Romanise the native religion. Dated to the first century AD, it consists of fragments of engraved bronze which have been carefully pieced together to show a system which reckoned the beginning of each month from the full moon (a sensible idea, since a full moon is always noticeable when it appears). Each month was divided into two periods of a fortnight, rather than into weeks. To account for the extra days which always accumulate in any calendar (we use leap years to absorb ours) they had a thirteenth month which appeared in some years and not in others. The names of the months are wonderfully evocative of a time when humanity lived closer to nature :

Seed-fall October-November
The Darkest Depths November-December
Cold-time December-January
Stay-home time January-February
Time of Ice February-March
Time of Winds March-April
Shoots-show April-May
Time of Brightness May-June
Horse-time June-July
Claim-time July-August
Arbitration-time August-September
Song-time September-October

The first eight months' names are self-evident - from the Seed-fall month of October-November when the nuts and seed-cases fall from the trees, to the Time of Brightness - when the sun reaches its maximum power at the Summer Solstice in June. Horse-time indicates the month in which people went travelling - in the good weather, and Claim-time indicates the month in which the harvest festival of Lughnasadh falls, and at which time marriages were contracted and disputes presented before the judges. The following month, Arbitration-time in August-September, represents the time when the disputes and claims had been adjudicated and when the reckonings were given. At Song-time in September-October the bards completed their circuits, and choose where they would settle for the winter season.

A study of the Coligny calendar gives us a good feel for the Celtic peoples' attunement to the life of the land around them - and of the way they integrated the human affairs of travelling, adjudicating and entertaining within the yearly cycle.

Each of the eight festivals that we looked at in the previous chapter marks a conjunction of Place and Time, and it marks a special moment in the yearly cycle when the forces of nature are at their strongest in a particular way. At the Winter Solstice these forces are accumulated deep within the soil - the seeds are fertilised by the reborn light in the darkest hour. At Imbolc the forces of growth begin to be called upward by the sun, and by the time of the Spring Equinox they are blessed with equal durations of day and night, and equal intensities of earth and sky power. At Beltane the call is to couple and to repeat the inexorable demand of nature that the species might flourish and continue. At the Summer Solstice the forces of the sun are at their most potent - bringing forth a burgeoning of growth at the time of maximum light and energy. At Lughnasadh, the in-gathering begins, the first of the harvest is brought in, and we accept that the energies of nature are drawing themselves back into the earth in preparation for the coming winter. At the Autumnal Equinox we sense a continuing of this process - we attune to the setting sun and the golden leaves of autumn, and feel the warm glow of recollection as we survey our lives and our year. At Samhuinn, the forces gather in completely and open out into the Other World. Time is no more, for if time was important to the Druids, then No-time, the world beyond Time, was vital too.

How do we honour the Spirit of Time in modern Druidry? Firstly, by working with the eight festivals, and by relating our own life-cycle to the natural life-cycle. In that way we slowly begin a process of reconnection to and synchronisation with nature. That harmony which our ancestors once had with the earth we can build again. once this new sense of time and of our place within the Scheme of Time is firmly established during our period of study as Bards, we are able to move on to the Ovate Grade, in which we approach Time in another way. one of the purposes of working with Time is to discover not only how to cooperate with it, but also how to transcend it, or travel within and through it. Why this work should be the sphere of study for the Ovate becomes clear when we realise that it is the Ovate who works with divination and prophecy - both skills which require a particular familiarity with time and an ability to render it transparent.

Time is often considered our enemy - so often we are racing against it - trying to fulfil our seemingly endless commitments within the limitations imposed by the day and its schedule. The Druidic approach suggests that instead of treating Time as our enemy, we should befriend it, so that it becomes our ally. In the training of the Order we learn how to create moments in our day or week when we can enter the peace of our Sacred Grove and move out of time for a moment into the vastness and depth of No-Time and No-Thing. And although it takes a while to learn how to do this, the benefits that we reap are enormous.

In the sacred circle we can relate the Spirit of Time to the vertical line travelling from the Winter Solstice to the Summer Solstice - the line that bisects the horizontal line of Space. Where the two lines meet - there is the moment of transformation - of infinity and eternity - for the Spirits of Time and Place are manifestations in the physical world of the Spirits of Eternity and Infinity respectively.

If we are keen to be of value, to be of service to the world, we can discover what is needed from us, by becoming aware of the agenda that the Spirit of Time has for humanity and for the world during our lifetimes. Each period of history has had its agenda in relation to the evolution of human consciousness. We tend to think of certain individuals who stand out as great innovators and as agents for the advancement of humanity - but they have become so precisely because they have been aware of the needs of the time and have succeeded in articulating what was already fermenting in the collective psyche.

The Spirit of Time clearly has a powerful agenda for us at the moment - events are moving at an astonishing pace. By attuning to the Spirit, by observing what it is that is needed, and where humanity has reached in its evolution, we can follow the advice of Bernard Shaw, a friend of the old Druid Chief, George Watson MacGregor Reid, when he said: "Find out what the life force, the creative force, is working for in your time and then make for it too. In that way you become more than yourself and a part of creative evolution."

The Five Forces and the entrance to the Mystery School

So there we have it - five Spirits which are perhaps not really spirits at all in the way that most people would understand the term, although some of us may sense them as mighty Beings. Who are we to say, after all, whether or not they are spirits? Is there a being - a Spirit of Time - or are there several: Lords of Time as some call them?

The purpose of working consciously with the idea of the Spirits of the Circle is to fulfil the injunction written on the portal of the entrance to the Mystery School at Delphi: “Know Thyself”. By coming to know ourselves better we gain the ability to be self-directed, and feel less driven by forces that we do not understand. In summary we become more conscious, more self-aware, more responsible. Psychologists have found, through research, that people can be roughly grouped into two categories: those who are outer-directed, who feel that their lives are controlled by outer circumstances, and those who are inner-directed, who feel that they are in control of their lives and for whom outer circumstances are subordinate. Bernard Shaw, again, provides us with a splendid quotation for inner-directedness: "Circumstances?" He once said, "I don't believe in circumstances. If you don't have the right circumstances in life, go out and create them!" If we can come to know the Spirits of the Circle and the part each one of them has played in the creation of who we have become, then we have a greater chance of being inner-directed, and of creating the circumstances we need around us.

Working with Druidry can help us become sensitive to the influence that each one of the five forces has on our lives, and it can also help us to overcome any difficulties we experience as a result of their influence. It would be a mistake to view the rites of the ancient Druids as undertaken solely for propitiation - trying to make peace with the gods of Time and Place, Lineage and Environment through sacrifice and offerings. The sophistication of Druid philosophy points to the fact that whilst propitiation may have been a feature of their relationship to these forces, it must also have included attunement and the acquisition of power and wisdom. It is one thing to engage in propitiation as a kind of bribe in the hope that the spirit will not harm you, and quite another to make offerings in the spirit of thankfulness and respect - recognising and honouring a potent force, and hoping too that you will be energised and empowered by them.

Many people are not fully conscious of these forces, which shape their identity and destiny, and as a result their conscious minds are disconnected from the sources of their power. The Druid, however, relates to them as storehouses of energy - acknowledging these Spirits and observing their effects, recognising the limitations they have imposed upon them and their negative influences, as well as the riches and benefits they have given. The Druid connects themselves back into the genetic life-stream of the Ancestors, the cultural life-stream of the Tribe, the power of the earth through the Spirit of Place, the power of the times through the Spirit of Time, and the purpose of their lives through the Spirit of the Journey.

This work cannot be accomplished in a day. In the Order, it is part of the training of the Druid that is undertaken with the method that has been called 'fractional analysis' by Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, who built on the work of Freud and Jung to develop a psychology that includes an understanding of the spiritual dimension. With fractional analysis we do not attempt to understand, face and integrate everything at once. We periodically face a particular aspect of ourselves, or in this case a particular Spirit, and gradually, fractionally, come to analyse and integrate more and more of its riches. In the course of this we move from being at the mercy of the family and culture we were born into, and of our geographical and temporal location, and instead we become increasingly empowered, as we are fed by

The Richness of Place
The Richness of Time
The Treasures of the Tribe
The Treasures of the Ancestors
The Joy of the Journey
 

EXERCISE

Which do you think has had the most influence upon who you are today – the genetic influence of your parents and ancestors, or the influence of your upbringing and the culture that you have lived in? Or has the spirit of the times had the most formative influence, or perhaps the spirit of the land beneath you? Or is it your sense of your own inner self that has travelled through many lives that gives you your strongest sense of influence on who you feel yourself to be? To get a sense of how you perceive the varying strength of these different influences, try drawing a circle and without too much interference from your logical mind, turn it into a pie-chart, apportioning slices to each of the five influences. Let your intuition guide you to work out the size of each portion.

If this way of understanding your identity appeals to you, you might like to spend some time exploring the gifts of each of the five Spirits. Start with the one that appeals to you the most and over the coming days think over the influence it has had on your life – you might want to write about this, or even paint a picture or write a poem that illustrates the part it plays in your life. Notice points of difficulty – with some effort these can provide gateways to transformation. A common point of difficulty has been mentioned already - relating to the Spirit of Time as an enemy. With this, or any other, you could hold in mind the question ‘How can I transform this relationship?’ Gradually, over the coming weeks see if you can work with each of the Spirits, bearing in mind that just insight is not enough to make a fundamental difference, and that insight needs to be followed through with specific and often practical changes to one’s way of being in the world.

An excerpt from Druid Mysteries, by Philip Carr-Gomm