Part of me wants to start this post by talking about Gandalf and Merlin, two figures from my childhood that inspired an interest in sagely wizards. But in truth, I can trace my interest in druidry back to three interests that have been a part of me since i was a child: nature and science, faith, and storytelling. The first two interests fell by the wayside when I got older, and the third gained prominence. Druidry offers a path that puts all three into balance.
I used to spend a lot of time in nature. Growing up, I'd go on hikes with my parents, as well as camping trips with my friends. I did this all the time, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This was always attached to an interest in science. I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy and Eyewitness Nature videos all the time. The life cycles of animals and plants fascinated me. I begged my parents to take me tot he natural history museum so I could learn about space and look at dinosaur bones. I got large picture books full of colorful illustrations and pictures of natural phenomenon, teeming with scientific facts.
As I got older, I was less able to spend time in nature. Moreover, I found the lab work I did in school to be tedious and boring. I was simply not cut out to be a researcher. As a result, I stopped taking science classes altogether and became almost exclusively focused on my writing. Even after graduating college, I never got back into the practice of studying natural sciences, being too focused on work and trying to get my foot in the door in jobs I truly liked. For similar reasons, I stopped having the time to go camping or hiking and enjoy the outdoors the way I used to. There is a natural science shaped hole in my heart, one that I've struggled to fill.
A similar hole in my heart has been left by faith. I was raised Catholic by a very religious family. I went to church every sunday, and actually became involved in one church as an acolyte (a gender neutral term for altar boy, sice we had women in my church who did the job as well) We went to a church downtown that was fairly progressive, and actually had some openly gay couples. The local pastor even spoke up in defense of scientific findings such as evolution. This environment engendered a belief in me that the divine and he material could be reconciled, and I began to grow in faith to the point that I actively considered becoming a priest myself.
Then the local Bishop closed my family's church, for reasons that clearly had more to do with my pastor's teachings than with money. This sparked a search for a new faith in all my family members. My mom and sister became Lutheran, while my father and I stopped attending church altogether. But the light that faith left in my life was never replaced, and following the path of atheism and agnosticism left me feeling hollow, spiritually.
Storytelling is something that has always been a part of me and always will. I've been telling stories since I was old enough to make full sentences, and though I've only recently begun writing them down, I get more satisfaction from writing fiction and poetry than anything else. This part of me has kept me going. But its not enough to build a foundation of self on, when the other two holes have been leaving gaping wounds in my heart for so long.
The internet is what first introduced me to the concept of neopaganism as a nature based spirituality and not as the satanist caricature my catholic faith had raised me to believe it was. I did research, and began casting spells and observing the Wiccan Sabbats. Then I found information about druidry, in particular the path of the bard, and suddenly things began to make sense to me. Here was a neopagan path that put an emphasis on the spiritual as opposed to the magical, where storytelling was a major part of the faith, both in terms of learning ancient legends and creating new stories to teach new lessons. A nature based path that embraced scientific thought, because ancient druids were practitioners of Pythagorean mathematics, alchemy, and other predecessors of modern science.
Neopaganism is not without many flaws. Many neopagans embrace colonial ideas, and appropriate native practices. Druids are among them. Some practitioners actively discourage people of color from joining, and reinforce ideas about gender or sexuality that are heteronormative and transmisic. I am not one of those druids, but it is only because I have taken the time to deconstruct the narratives that surround the faith, and look into the validity of my sources.
As for what I believe, the classical sources are biased in a lot of ways, being from Greek and Roman writers who saw the ancient Celts as barbarians, but there are two threads that have stood out to me and that almost every modern druid agrees is part of their practice and that seem to have a grounding in the pracitces on the ancient druids. The first is a reverence for and understanding of the natural world, as evidenced by celebrating the seasons, performing rituals for crop growth, using herbalism to treat sickness, etc. The second is a belief in some sort of Otherworld. Ancient druids were said to believe that there was an Otherworld of spirits. When one dies in the material world they are reborn in the Otherworld, and when one dies in the Otherworld they are reborn in this world. Furthermore, knowledge could be gained by traveling to the Otherworld in a trance state similar to modern meditation.
I do believe the Otherworld exists, because I feel a strong spiritual presence when I meditate. And I do revere the forces of the natural world, though I try not to anthropomorphize them. I consider myself a pantheist, and do no expect the gods to do things for me, or to be at my beck and call. I also practice divination int he form of tarot reading, which was not practiced by ancient druids but which has helped me to learn to trust my intuition. And I believe in the awen, the divine creative spirit that births new ideas and carries them into the world.
These are my beliefs, and they form the backbone of my practice, which is constantly evolving. I do not know where my spiritual journey will lead me, only where I have come from. I hope, though, that I can direct myself in such a way that my spiritual practice will inform my decisions and help me make the world a better place.