As druids today are inspired by druids of the past in their contemporary druidic practices, the primary focus of druidic study centers on esoteric and metaphysical concepts and engagements, since historical druids functioned variously as priests, poets, and seers. As a part of Celtic tribal society, their role was not the role of either the farmer or the warrior, but those roles were vital to the communities of which they were part. The druidic rites helped bless the planting and the reaping, the hunting and the fishing, and the maintenance of sacred relationships with land and sea, cattle and deer.
These sacred relationships were the foundation of the ancestral Celtic way of life, and were maintained both through sacred rites, and practical livingways. While prayers were said and offerings were made, wild spaces were respected, animal hunts and plant gatherings were designed to not deplete their supplies, cattle were grazed in rotating fields, and crops were similarly raised in rotating fields, to allow the land to recover between uses. Fields enriched by cattle dung were used next for planting, and where communities lived near the sea, seaweed was gathered annually to replenish the growing fields. Communities didn’t grow beyond the land’s capacity to support itself, and technologies were internally implemented in ways which supported the land and people. All of this was evident up through modern times in Highland Scotland at the turn of the 20th century.
While prayers, rites, and offering speak one language to the Powers, which accords Them great honor and offers them thanks, thoughtful practical lifestyles speak another language, which not only express honor, but respect, recognizing the agency and sovereignty of Land, Sea, and Sky, and their myriad beings, by engaging with Them in mutually-beneficial ways which supported the well-being of all involved parties, and also protected the very life-support systems upon which all beings depended. When a people lived in such a way, their prayers, rites, and offerings were consistent with their livelihood.
But what of druidic practice today? While we continue with prayers, rites, offerings, meditations, and magic, our modern western lifestyles no longer convey our respect to the Powers, demonstrate that we honor their agency and sovereignty, that we are thankful for Their blessings, or that we consciously strive to live in mutually-beneficial harmony and balance with Them. Our lifestyles instead convey that They are objects to be used at our pleasure, heedless of depletion, suffering, and abuse, that we do not value Their agency and sovereignty or Their freedom to live according to Their own needs and purposes. If this is what our lifestyles and livelihoods convey, how effective then can we really expect our prayers, rites, and offerings to be? And how genuine and meaningful can our relationships with Them really be? Truly, how much can we honestly expect Then to be moved to continue offering us Their blessings when we are so thoughtless and ungrateful? It is not only our rites which must reciprocate blessings and respect, but our daily and ongoing livelihoods. We are trapped in a dualistic way of thinking which erroneously teaches that so long as our intent and prayers are pure, we shall be blessed, and our practical livelihoods are therefore of no consequence. This is not how our ancestors lived, though. This dualism is a modern invention, and it is dangerous in how it allows us to desecrate the life-support systems relied upon by all beings and the feel we may be absolved of responsibility if we just offer up the right gifts to the gods.
Shouldn’t our livelihoods and spiritual practices align with and support each other, affirming the same values?
Towards this end, I suggest Permaculture. While druids were not farmers in the past, our world of western development and values today requires us to each contribute to the necessary healing these things have harmed, which means working to recover some degree, indeed any degree of our livelihoods, so that we may return them to ways of integrity. Cartesian duality has disrupted and polluted our relationships with the Land and its beings, and our priorities in livelihood. Permaculture is a system of growing and raising food which works interdependently with all incorporated parties, including lay of the land, exposure to sun, soil nutrients, crops grown, and animals raised, so that all elements feed and support each other in a complete system which eventually comes to be largely self-supporting. These same ideas can be applied to community-building with people as well. Permaculture is called a design science, but unlike other forms of modern science, it is grounded in a set of ethics which undergird all it expresses, which are Care for the Land, Care for the People, and Return surplus gains to the Land and People for their ongoing support. These values are clearly consistent with modern druidic values often espoused today! Permaculture can express itself in different ways in different places with different circumstances and needs; there is no system to be locked into, but a creative process offering many creative options and opportunities to meet as many needs as possible. Druids have long valued creativity and the creative process. Challenges and problems are revisioned to become solutions. All beings are cared for, and life-support systems are respected and protected. Whole towns and communities could be revisioned and lived through a Permaculture lens, yet so might neighborhoods and streets employing its various techniques. In fact, Permaculture founder Bill Mollison extolled his students to begin right outside their back door, improving relations, functions, and benefits one step at a time, in ever-growing circles around one’s center. Proceeding in this way, through these values, and its many practical techniques, we could change our livelihoods individually and communally so that they once again reflect the same values our druidic spirituality imparts.
In addition to the three permaculture ethics, there are twelve principles by which the permaculture process is practiced, which each offer their own lessons can be appreciated and applied in ways which extend beyond gardening, into really whole life design. Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren is credited with authoring these Principles. You can read a list and brief description of them here: http://www.patternliteracy.com/resources/ethics-and-principles To read Holmgren’s more in-depth exploration of the Ethics and Principles, check out this link, which visually displays them in a flower mandala of symbols of each: http://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/
So, what would it mean to realign our daily livelihoods with our druidic values and rites? How would this improve our relationships with the Powers and the many beings with whom we share our lands? How would this improve our druidry? How would this improve our lifestyles? How would this impact our future generations?
I want to express gratitude to both Bill Mollison and David Holmgren for crafting Permaculture and bringing to the world; to the indigenous peoples and their wisdoms which largely influenced these men and who still remain today as viable guides to holistic and honorable livelihoods and lifestyles; and to our ancestors and their wisdoms which remain today recorded in historical and cultural studies- may we hear their voices and be open to their guidance. Moran taing, agus slàinte mhath.