On the Modern Druid

Anytime one speaks of Irish religion it is expected that the druids would be discussed . Historically the
Druids were part of the social strata that would fall into the sacral function
of the trifunctional hypothesis . They were highly educated in mathematics, astronomy,
astrology, liturgy, poetry, law and many other areas that the common man, and
many nobles were ignorant of. They spent many years of their life learning what
they needed to know to be a druid. In today’s world anyone with a college
education has spent twenty years in school; does this make them a druid? Maybe
in a classical sense they would be, it’s up for debate, but for purposes of
being a druid in Gentlidecht, no.
I have waffled on this topic over the years.  Druids of antiquity are very much rooted in ancient Irish culture and were replaced by the educated sacral class of Christianity, the monks and priests.  The Druids had special schools they attended, held special status in the communities, and based on classical writers were very influential in inter-tribal politics.  To be honest we either have to reconstruct the social structures of the ancient world, or we have to adapt and modernize the function of the druid class.  These days I am very much a proponent of reconstruction of the religion and the religious structures in a modern context, so let’s look at how druids may look in 21st century western culture.
The modernization of the druids actually began with the incoming Christians.  While the monks and priests took over some of the functions, they allowed others to continue under other names.  The fili, the sacred poet is one such example of a druid under a different title.  This craft would have been taught in  rural oral tradition schools, known as hedge schools.  Hedge schools of various types survived unto the 19th century, including some for the purpose of teaching Irish bardic tradition or filidecht.  Today there are those who are practicing a reconstructed version of filidecht which is defined by Erynn Laurie as “the practice of sacred, ritual poetcraft in
early Irish and Scottish tradition.”  These folks could have a claim to the title of druid, but interestingly the individuals that I know do not do so.
Most of the other functions of the druids in ancient society are not considered sacral today.  Lawyers, judges, astronomers, teachers, or philosophers are all secular in nature.  Setting those aside as being ‘not druids’ in the modern context we are left with just a few functions for those who may have a claim to being druid, those who perform duties recognized as religious in nature; the priests.  For a moment we have to consider what this means in both a modern and historical context.  Priests of antiquity were not the pastoral counselors of today but strictly the servants of the gods. They fulfilled the roles of  performing all of the functions needed during religious rituals (ritual technicians) , they maintained the religious sites, and they may have advised kings and chieftains on matters pertaining to the gods.  Today most clergy are expected to perform the roles of the ancient priests but also act as advisers, counselors and therapists to those who come to them.  
Ancient priests required a specialized training for their jobs and we should expect our druids to have  specialized training for the religious functions they will fulfill.  For some functions this training will come through the organization or group to which they belong, such as the role of being a ritual technician and leading the religious services where rituals are to be done in a particular fashion.  For pastoral leaders they will have to attend specialized training courses and may even require a license from the government under whose jurisdiction they fall.  No role of a druid can be performed without some sort of education.  
None of this makes clear how one becomes a druid.  One can become a modern priest of some sort and, if their community accepts the term, call themselves a druid.  One can join any number of organizations that use the term druid for it’s membership.  One can be honored with the title of  druid by a community for services of a sacred nature to that community.  The fact of the matter no one can become a druid as the term is used in the Irish lore. 
In the tradition of Irish heathen practice I call Gentlidecht, a druid is simply one of the people who leads the rituals.  A temporary title for the purpose of performing a religious function for the group.  I expect and hope this will change one day when we have temples again and possibly full-time clergy but in the mean time this works well.

3 thoughts on “On the Modern Druid

  1. This is something I struggle with myself, John. As you said, most of those I know who would even come close to earning the title Druid, do not even consider themselves one. Yet so many will join a group, take a few courses and call themselves a Druid. I agree, according to Irish lores description, there probably is not one who could be. Putting it in a modern setting, however, I would add that aside from the priestly function, one should also be a teacher of the culture, history, and such. The Druids were the ones who studied and kept alive the living culture…the ones who passed on the stories, songs, language, etc. So, IMHO, a Druid today would be one who does just that…teaches their tribe, by example, and is given the title Druid by their community. Like you said, those of us with college degrees have had 20 years of study. True. But did that include 20 years of study of our heritage…20 years of studying the lore, the language, the history? Have we actively worked with our gods and then actively participated on behalf of our tribe and community with them for 20 years? I can count on less than 2 hands the people I would say have. And only a couple consider themselves a Druid.

  2. Personally I really don't care about titles. I've had so many that they don't mean much any more. What is is important is what I do, for the last 15 years I dedicated my life to the service of the gods, to the maintenance of a building and sanctuary dedicated to the gods, to providing public ritual opportunities for the community, to continued education, and to helping others who are trying to do the same kinds of things. Does that make me a druid, I don't know. It makes me who I am and that is really all that is important to me.

  3. I've always considered titles to be like chainsaws: In a few specific circumstances, they are absolutely the most efficient tool to help me accomplish what I want to do; the rest of the time, unwieldy and potentially dangerous.

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