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2014 Spring Issue 5 (May 9, 2014)

Demystifying the Druids

May 9, 2014
By Anna Schmiel

I had never heard of the Druids before I arrived at Carleton. When I found out about them, my first thought was that it must be some great conspiracy—a quirky idea that a few Carls had invented to make the Arboretum seem more mystical. Determined to uncover the truth about these Druids, I did a little research on the group’s history.

Details were scarce, but I did find that they were established in 1963 in protest of mandatory Christian chapel services. Everything else seemed shrouded in mystery. What I gathered from rumors was that members would meet in the Druid Circle in the middle of the Arboretum. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t more information, and I reached out to one of these elusive Druids to help shed some light on the group. To my surprise, she emailed me back. Carleton freshman Anna Smith was more than happy to share her experience in the Carleton Druids and dispel any rumors. They may still remain mysterious even after this interview, but I’d bet that if you want to join, they would be more than happy to bring you into their Circle.

AS: Before I begin, let me just say that Carleton Druidry, or the RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America), doesn’t really have much of a presence on campus to speak of. Adult members have told me that it goes through cycles every couple years, during which excited new freshmen discover the group, but it ultimately dwindles with the lack of any strong leadership. I’m not sure where I fit into all this, but I’m one of the few who have outwardly expressed interest in the organization, and the members of the greater RDNA have picked up on that.

Why did you decide to join the Druids? Were you a Druid in high school?

AS: I held a pretty casual interest in alternative spirituality for many years, but I didn’t really delve deeply into Druidry until last summer, when I saw John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook at Barnes & Noble. I read it in one sitting, and it had such a profound effect on me. It was almost as if it had been written to describe me, while still teaching some very universal lessons. It detailed the path with the perfect level of mutability—I could make it fit with my existing philosophies pretty perfectly. Upon finishing it, I proceeded to spend the entire summer educating myself in Celtic Reconstructionist philosophy and got a really solid sense of what Neo-Druids are all about.

The RDNA is pretty different from what I’m used to, though, because it draws its origins from a bunch of creative minds that gathered in the Druid’s Den here at Carleton in the sixties to protest our now-abolished religious requirement. Of course, it’s a nationwide organization now with many thousands of practitioners (it’s hard to get a good count because it spawned a bunch of offshoots), so it’s been thoroughly developed since then.

Is it simply a fun gathering of people or a spiritual community?

AS: I hesitate to call Druidry a matter of religious or even spiritual importance to me because it’s not something I take on faith. It’s more a philosophy and a lifestyle. I’ve definitely noticed that it has brought about a shift in my attitude. I notice things now that I didn’t used to. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I personify nature, but things start to take on unique personalities. I have a more acute awareness of changes in the climate and landscape. I have a greater appreciation for the cyclicality of the seasons. I feel less superiority over other forms of life. It’s all pretty humbling when you realize that you’re a constituent in this greater web of life, but it also means that you’re never truly alone.

What do you do during the meetings/what are some traditions you have?

AS: Most Druids celebrate a seasonal cycle of holidays known as the Wheel of the Year, which is based on ancient Celtic celebrations. Many of them have Christian equivalents. There’s really no single way to celebrate them. To me, they’re just ways of acknowledging the season and taking the time to recognize the interconnectedness of life. For the last holiday, Alban Eilir (or Spring Equinox), I just took a long, mindful hike to celebrate.

In your opinion, what binds the Druid community together?

AS: I don’t really think about spirits or divinity, and I realize that this sets me apart from other Druids a little bit. But the great thing is that there really isn’t any dogma that you’re held to. There are Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids, Wiccan Druids, Atheist Druids… you name it. If ritual helps you get in the zone, there are hundreds of pages of Druidic Liturgy at your disposal. If all you want from your practice is quiet reflection and meditation in the woods, that’s equally legitimate. Above all, this isn’t something that should be taken too seriously. I mean, if the philosophy speaks to you, of course you should take it to heart. The RDNA gave me this ankle-length hooded ceremonial robe, and that’s when I realized that we all have this mutual understanding that what we’re doing is pretty much straight out of a Renaissance Fair, and also that we’re allowed to have fun with it. We tell Arthurian legends around campfire rings. We call ourselves Druids, for heaven’s sake.

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