Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Druids: What Could They Do?, Part Two.

Back again for speculations about the abilities of the druids... the previous blog entry presented Henry Rowlands' view that the major college of the druids on Mona/Anglesey was divided into three areas of ascending prestige: Beirdd in the function of bard "historians" and legal council, loaning out druidical knowledge and wisdom to petty tyrants in the interest of preserving peace between potential combatants; Offwyr of the school of the study of natural arcana [the deep secrets of the physical world], most particularly the secrets of living things; and Druda of the school of study of ethics and morality, and the contemplation of Divine and Hidden Things.

We can be certain that the "job description" of the Beirdd [memorizing and putting into poetry and even song the political histories of local petty kingdoms, and then serving to clarify contentions and offer council towards non-conflict compromise] is well within the capabilities of intelligent humans. We can be fairly certain that intelligent Offwyr, given relative peace and time, could achieve a great deal of natural knowledge about plants, animals, inorganic materials, and actions of nature, AND know many things which could be done with that knowledge, and thus appear to the ignorant as not only valuable but "magical". For many centuries such pre-scientific knowledge was call "natural magic" in the Greco-Roman world and post-Empire. All this without going to the paranormal.

Could the high druids, the druda, the contemplators of Divine and Hidden things, know more?? Well, the druids must have thought so, or they certainly wouldn't maintain a third tier of their college based upon no conviction. What sort of things were they "contemplating"? Did it get them anywhere?

I can't promise anything very good on this, but let's look at it from an odd angle.

During my last visit to my home in Kalamazoo in February, I was straightening up some of Ivan Sanderson's SITU collection in hopes of being ready in April to build new shelving in the garage to finally organize it. It was definitely lower tier druidical work. One aspect of this is getting the chaotic mess of journals at least into sorted piles to be ready for periodical boxes pre-shelving. One such periodical, which there was quite a tall stack of, was The American Dowser Quarterly Digest. I've covered dowsing before in this blog way back in 11/11/09 and 11/13/09 and there stated that dowsing was initially for me one of the more foolish-sounding of the anomalistic claims. This was despite the fact that a VERY good friend of mine, and one who buys into almost none of this stuff, is absolutely convinced that dowsing works. The two blog entries express my excursion into those mysteries, and my conclusion that there does seem to be a lot of reason to believe that something lies behind this, but NOT a mere physical force somehow undetectable but subconsciously sensed. Rather, dowsing seems to me to be something more akin to clairvoyance, with the "ritual" of the water-witching wand being ritual trapping for getting the mind right.

The "ritual of the water-witching wand"..... hmmmm.... sounds like we may be in druid country to me. Well, I never made the connection. But here, in Ivan's old stack of American Dowser's, shouting out at me from a cover was "Druid Divining In Ancient Erinn". Well now.

The author retold the tale [allegedly written in the just pre-Arthurian era, c.450AD] about Edain, the femme fatale of ancient Ireland, who was so beautiful that she bound the hearts of kings in multiple centuries. This particular tale was of a foolish king who bet a stranger "anything one wants to the winner". The bonehead king of course loses and the stranger shocks him by demanding Edain --- what an idiot. Married to the most desirable woman on the planet and the thought never crosses his mind that it would be she that the stranger wanted. Edain would probably be better off without that bonehead. BUT apparently no one saw it that way, and the king resorted to his only hope of locating her and bringing her back --- the druids.

The king's chief druid was told to leave the court and not return until he had found out her location. The druid knew that the perpetrator was a preternatural being from the land of Faerie, due to the way he was able to pixilate all of the court into not seeing the "theft", except the paralyzed king, and because of the description of the land and the people to which he said he was taking her. Even knowing that, locating the faerie criminal was no easy task. Wearied with lack of success, the chief druid sat on a mountain under a yew tree. From that tree [no doubt with proper supplication for the gift], he "cut four wands". Using these wands, and the powers of his ogam alphabet [this refers to apparently the concept that the druids used the ogam alphabet in some "runic" type of way to attempt to clairvoy the unknown and get advice], he was able to determine that Edain had been taken "underhill" at Bri Leith, the land of the Faerie chieftain Midir. [Midir and Edain had a long dance across the centuries by the way, and this final dance was supposedly in the rule of an Irish king of the c.100BC-100AD era --- thus within Rowlands' version of the druids.]

The writer sees the story as indicating the druid as using yew tree divining to locate a lost treasure [Edain]. He also hints that this sort of divining had a ritualistic paranormal aspect to it [ogam rune casting]. The whole thing sounds as if the chief druid had to resort to paranormal ability/ arcane ritual knowledge to pull off his quest. The yew tree divining rods are the correct species for such probing into the spiritual, so maybe it hangs together a bit. Believing that the Rowlands' druids tried water-witching and forms of divination is not much of a stretch to me.

Oh, by the way: the druid reported back to the king, who promptly rounded up every able-bodied man in the kingdom [finally getting his priorities right] and marched on the mountain. The faerie king of course knew that he was coming, and that his intention was to dig out the mountain in an attempt to break into the kingdom. Though this probably wouldn't have worked, it was just as bad, as it would have fatally desecrated the natural link to that kingdom and destroyed it. Midir therefore resorted to the subterfuge of presenting to the offended king several dozen women looking very much like Edain. To restore her, the king would have to pick the true Edain out. Apparently Edain liked the king better than Midir, and flashed a glimpse of a present which he had given her [a piece of jewelry --- always give your favorite girl lots of jewelry, boys] and the king accurately chose her to the great irritation of the defeated Midir. [that's Midir taking Edain in the picture above].

So, what could a druid do? He could remember history and try to make peace. He could display astonishing knowledge of the natural world. He probably had "inventions" that others had not yet seen [though claims of gunpowder and telescopes seem devoid of factual support]. And he seemed to believe that he had means of achieving insights into things in a "divinatory" ritual way. That last to me means clairvoyance, whether highly accurate and accomplished or not. Dowsing could easily have been one such "ritual". It can hardly be any coincidence that the device is called a divining rod and the act water-witching. Other rituals like casting ogam runes or any of the other "----mancies", could easily have been part of what these druda tried to do. And, as said in the last entry: the Roman Church did NOT view these rituals as ineffective. The Church viewed them as effective and dangerous, possibly leading one into the clutches of the Devil. [The reasoning behind this is not simple competition-with-the-other-religion rhetoric. The wiser Church religionists {there were some} saw these forms of rituals as conveying power to the hands of an individual and thereby dangerously swaying the person towards enhancing his own goals with that power to the detriment of others. Such behavior then leads right to manipulation by the Dark One. This in a far less dramatic way, is why martial arts masters demand a good soul and a clear mind from their students or they are not worthy of the gifts of the powers that the arts give them].

And for me there is something else about the story that we've been telling. The druid hunting Edain knows perfectly well about Faerie. If Faerie were real, how could colleges of forest-meditating priests NOT know? Moyra Doorly encountered the Faerie crowd on Arran while practicing meditation even in the 21st century. Could centuries of "professionally meditating" monks, sitting beneath their favorite oak and yew trees have completely whiffed for a couple of thousand years? Did the druids know of Faerie? I'd bet so. Was some of that interaction similar to Native American vision-questing? Why not? Did druids gain any sacred wisdom about the wholeness and integrity of Nature through such visions/encounters? ....... Did they learn how to DO things because of that?

In a possibly irrelevant sidelight, I'd like to reflect for just a moment on a very unusual character in Catholic history: St. Kevin.

Kevin was an early [pre-Patrick, even] Irish monk. He was however very different. Instead of raising fire and brimstone, throwing down the symbols of other peoples' beliefs, and generally trashing everything sacred to the invaded societies, Kevin seems to have quite loved the closeness-to-nature of the Irish druids, and almost became one, in spirit anyway.

Kevin, instead of continuously insinuating himself and the new Christian ideas into every household, went into nature and into communion with it. [left is the traditional cave in which he stayed]. His life was relatively solitary and produced a profound closeness to the creatures of the Irish forest. Miracle tales, some seeming much too far over-the-top to be literally true, are happily told in Catholic recountings of the life of this saint. I wonder if those doing the recounting were aware that that they were essentially describing a solitary druid in monks robes? Kevin WAS Catholic Christian, but a very unique variety. He found God and the spiritual in Nature communing as much as in the scriptures... and I'll bet moreso. Wisdom was to be had there. There was Presence.

From Rome's [doubtless puzzled] point of view, Kevin's life "worked". Local people from all about began to see the strange "natural" man who was visited by the animals as a holy man, a good soul. So, Kevin was ordered to bring that reputation out of the deep woods and to begin to function more publicly.

This he reluctantly did, setting up what was to be viewed as one of the holiest churches in Ireland at Glendalough.

I cannot help myself but to view Kevin as anything other than a Catholic monk with a Druid's heart. And, although I'll reserve some doubt about the specifics of the animal-related miracle stories, I cannot bring myself to doubt that he had a special communication with the animals and even the spirit of the forest itself. When the bird or the boar or the deer came to visit, was it "just" the bird, the boar, the deer? Or was it, just as the Native Americans believe, THE bird, boar, or deer? Was it in fact the good element of the "world alongside", the realm of the paranormal of Faerie?

All that is by now far Out Proctor.

I've walked a little way on the forest paths with Kevin and the druids, and of course do not well understand them. It's probably unlikely that I ever will. But there are a few more existing paths [in my Olde Bookes] that I can try before simply wishing them blessings and waving them on their way. But I have nothing more that I can pass your way for now. When some little possible flicker of light emerges from that Old Forest, I'll let you know.

And... As the faeries from their haunt in the ancient yew tree might say [if you treat them respectfully]: Blessed be until we meet again.


  1. Well done! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I enjoy your blog,especially posts like this.

  3. Thanks for in parting your knowledge of the Druids, it has helped me to understand some of the things they mat have done in the past. I am studying to become a Druid but first I have to go through my Bardic level than the Ovate level and if I am still alive at the end of this the Druid class. (I'm 55 at the moment ) so I pray I get there. Thanks again.

    1. Well, good luck and peace. Modern concepts of being a druid have been largely invented by us moderns [since the middle of the 1800s] but if you pick the right approach then it doesn't matter whether it accurately matches the ancient ways or not. Honestly, we do not know the ancient ways. But any school of thought/behavior which inculcates honoring of the cycle of life, peace, kindness, meditation on the spiritual [especially in natural surroundings], is on a wholesome path for humanity and the Creation. The key for ourselves is always a humble diminution of self-centeredness. ... and stay open to new thoughts.



Blog Archive