Christianity and Druidry: A Meeting Point
by Philip Carr-Gomm
One of the unusual attributes of Druidry is that it has links with both Paganism and Christianity. One of the most important tasks that faces us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions. Rather than polarising the Pagan and Christian viewpoints, Druidry serves a vital role in bridge-building between the different traditions, as can be seen from the following talk, which I gave at the first conference on Druidry & Christianity, held at Prinknash Abbey in 1989:
From the point of view of the collective unconscious we are placed at a disturbing point in the evolution of our consciousness as one humanity. We are faced, quite simply, with seeing our mother so ill that she might die. For decades we have tried to deny the gravity of the situation, some of us still do - for the pain we experience when we fully accept this fact is too great for many of us to bear.
Christianity has for the last two thousand years addressed the suffering of the Son - of humanity, of the human soul. The knowledge of ourselves as wounded is essential if we are to evolve as people - as not only Christianity but also psychoanalysis has shown. But we need now to urgently address another level of suffering - not of ourselves, not of the Son of God, but of our Mother, of the Earth and of all that means to us. (In another sense, we could see the Earth as the Daughter of God/dess, Nature being her mother. Understood in this way we need now to address the suffering of the Daughter rather than the Son).
I think that there are few of us here who would doubt the gravity of the situation. Particularly during the last year, the facts of the environmental crisis have been made abundantly available to us. It has also become clear that we are no longer faced with the possibility of a crisis that we could avert with precautionary measures: the crisis is now with us, and tragic though it is, it seems as if we shall be made to pay dearly for our refusal to heed the warning signs given to us for so long by the troubled earth around us.
But I believe there is still hope - and that the renaissance of interest in the natural spiritual paths, such as the native American Indian way, or the Druid way for example, is a sign of that hope, and that the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with this movement which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics.
I believe there is still hope because from every level of society there is a call for us to awaken. And that the very earth herself, as the raiment or body of God, is calling to us through her suffering.
I wrote about this in ‘The Druid Way’ (Element 1993):
...Thus saying the World Soul will look from his tear-stained eyes and I will see no longer a rapacious man hungry for death but a clear woman, tinged
with the pain of separation but yearning for union and burning with love.
And she will say:
“He has looked for me so long I was frightened he would destroy me in his searching. He paraded armies before me, not to terrify, but impress me. He sent rockets to the stars and built huge buildings just for me. But we never met. I was told to hide.”
“I have been told to hide no longer, or he will destroy the world in his search. I stand here waiting for him to approach.”
As the World-Mother appears from her hiding many of us find the need for a spiritual path which respects and honours Her and which also shows us the way to heal the separation, the alienation, that has developed between us and the realm of nature.
St Columba said “Christ is my Druid”, and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.
As you will know, Christianity in these islands built upon the foundations laid already by the Druids - their seasonal observances were developed as festival days, their sites were built upon with churches. The Druids welcomed Christianity, for with their powers of seership and connection to the Source, they knew of Christ’s coming, and allowed their practices to develop into what became known, at least in Scotland, as the Culdee church. [Note: I have been told by historians that this last sentence represents an outdated and unverifiable opinion].
The purity of the early Celtic church was startling and profound - because it had not yet lost its connection with Nature and with Nature’s mysteries held in such awe by the Druid sages. The religious poetry of those times conveys this sense of purity and clarity powerfully.
A book on child psychology summed up the central question posed by the author with two photographs and one caption. The first photograph showed a group of children playing in the sand. The second photograph showed a group of glum commuters gazing at the camera from their railway seats. The caption read “What happened?” Perhaps it is unfair to draw a parallel between the glum commuters and the state of the present-day Church, perhaps our view of the early Celtic Church as comparable to the joyful children who are at one with the Earth is naive. Perhaps instead, we as a society should compare our present-day state to that of earlier times before the scientific and industrial revolutions began the process which has led us to these desperate times. We know it is naïve to imagine that past cultures were blissfully at one with nature – we know of the dangers of the noble savage illusion, and of the Luddite heresy. But we are aware also of the undeniable fact that we need to drastically alter our behaviour in the world. The Reverend Thomas Berry advocates the systematic subversion of industrial society. He believes that those who are truly responsible should remove the dangerous toys and devices from the hands of those who would pollute and destroy our world, before they wreak any further havoc. Perhaps he is right. But it is also undeniable that first we need to work at the level of attitudes.
Druidry promotes an attitude of immense respect for life and for the interconnectedness of all things. It sees time and space combining to form the matrix through which the Divine is incarnated. In the celebration of its eight seasonal ceremonies, it honours the conjunction of a particular time at a significant place. The places are the ancient sacred sites - the hills and circles, groves and springs which seem particularly to convey a sense of the sacred to those who are open to it. The times are those of the Winter Solstice (Christmas), Imbolc (Candlemas), the Spring Equinox (Easter), Beltane (May Day), the Summer Solstice (St John’s Day), Lughnasadh (Lammas), the Autumnal Equinox (Harvest Day), and Samhain (All Hallows & All Souls Days).
Perhaps we can see, now, that Christian practice and Druid practice is not that different – we choose sacred sites – the Christian chooses one that is man-made, the Druid prefers the open sky. We choose special times: the Christian talks of Christmas or Candlemas, the Druid of Alban Arthan (the Winter Solstice) or Imbolc. Both mysteries deal essentially with the same mystery: the waxing and waning of the powers of light – its eternal triumph as it is continually resurrected from its apparent death, and its immanence within each one of us as the Christ Child or Mabon, as it is known in the Druid tradition.
Concepts such as the trinity, resurrection and redemption are not foreign to Druidry – they are the very stuff of it. But they are constantly related in Druid teaching to the natural world. To illustrate this, I would like to read to you an excerpt from one of the teaching discourses of our Order. In order to reach all of those who are interested in Druidry, we have arranged the basic Druid teachings in a form which is mailed in monthly packages, and I quote here from one of them:
‘When considering the ways in which we can help the planet, it is useful to consider the following trinity: God the Father, Nature the Mother, and Earth the Daughter. [In this context, the allocation of genders to the principles is made to further the following discussion, and is not meant as any absolute definition of divine principles in terms of particular genders]. Two issues of interest immediately arise when we contemplate this scheme: firstly it helps us to see that Nature is an entity distinct from the Earth. Often we tend to confuse the two principles - yet, if the Earth were to be destroyed, Nature would still exist. Secondly the allocation of the role of daughter to the Earth allows us to have a new vision of the Holy Family - we have been so used to concepts such as the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Return of the Prodigal Son, etc., that it becomes fruitful for us to see that concepts such as the Daughter of God and the Daughter of Humanity can be equally relevant and are perhaps essential for changing our view of the world in our attempt to help it. Could we also suggest that there is a parable of the Return of the Rejected Daughter? The Prodigal Son has been wayward - squandering and wasteful – and yet we know he will be welcomed by the Father. The Daughter, however, has been denied and abused, violated and exploited. What welcome awaits her? And is it she who must return or is it others, the family of Man, who must return to her, begging for forgiveness?’
I would suggest that both Druidry and Christianity would find fertile ground in examining the ways in which we can help the family of all Humanity return to Mother and Daughter, to the Earth and Nature, and that a creative meeting point might exist in a re-examination of the nature of the Culdee and early Celtic churches. Here Christianity and Druidry meet as the waves meet the shore, and at this shimmering point we can begin perhaps to connect again to that depth of communion with Nature, not in any regressive sense by harking back to the past, but in a progressive sense, knowing that our evolution is cyclical rather than linear, and that we always return again to the old places, only knowing them as if for the first time, coming to them at a new turn in the spiral.