What Neopagan Druids Believe
(c) 1984 - Reprinted from "The Druids' Progress"
P. E. I. Bonewits
Here's a brief introduction to the basic beliefs that I expect will characterize most members of ADF (a Neopagan Druid organization). These spiritual beliefs are similar to most of those held by other Neopagans (see Margot Adler's book, "Drawing Down the Moon") and the similarities are far more important than whatever specific distinctions of doctrine or ethnic focus there might be between us and other Neopagans. I should also mention that not all Neopagans who consider themselves Druids will necessarily agree with every point of the following list. Nonetheless, these beliefs will be the roots of ADF's polytheology, the source of the spiritual grove we seek to plant.
- We believe that divinity is both immanent (internal) and transcendent (external). We see the Gods as being able to manifest at any point in space or time, including within human beings, which they might choose, although they may often have their preferences. Often this develops among some Neopagans into pantheism ("the physical world is divine") or panentheism ("the Gods are everywhere"). We tend more towards the latter position.
- We believe that divinity is as likely to manifest in a female form as it is in a male form, and that therefore women and men are spiritually equal. We insist on a dynamic balance between female and male deities honored and/or invoked at every ceremony, and a strict gender balance in whatever theories of polytheology that we eventually develop. We're "liberals" about women's rights and gay rights, but not "radicals;" that is to say, we're unwilling to subordinate all our other principles in order to promote this particular principle. People who wish to make feminism or gay activism the absolute center of all their spiritual activity will probably be happier in other groups.
- We believe in a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, all of whom are likely to be worthy of respect, love and worship. Sometimes we believe in these divinities as individual and independent entities; sometimes as Jungian "archetypes of the collective unconscious" or "circuits in the psychic Switchboard;" sometimes as aspects or faces of one or two major deities (the "High God/dess" and/or "the Goddess and the Horned God"); and sometimes as "all of the above!" We feel that this sort of flexibility leads to pluralism (instead of monism), multi-valued logic systems and an increased tolerance of other people's beliefs and lifestyles. All of these are vital if our species is ever going to learn to live in peace and harmony amid a multiplicity of human cultures.
- We believe that it is necessary to have a respect and love for Nature as divine in her own right, and to accept ourselves as a part of Nature and not as her "rulers." We tend to accept what has come to be known as "the Gaia hypothesis," that the biosphere of our planet is a living being, who is due all the love and support that we, her children, can give her. This is especially important in our modern era, when 3000 years of monotheistic belief that "mankind is to have dominion over the Earth" have come close to destroying the ability of the biosphere to maintain itself. Many Neopagan groups refer to themselves as "Earth religions" and this is a title which we believe Neopagan Druidism should proudly claim, and which we should work to earn. Thus we consider ecological awareness and activism to be sacred duties. If the ecology, conservation and anti-nuclear movements are ever to have "chaplains," we should be among them.
- We believe in accepting the positive aspects of western science and technology, but in maintaining an attitude of wariness towards their supposed ethical neutrality. The overwhelming majority of Neopagans are technophiles, not technophobes. We tend to be better scientifically educated than the general population, and thus we have a religious duty to speak out about the economic, political and ecological uses and abuses of science and technology.
- We share with most other Neopagans a distaste for monolithic religious organizations and would-be messiahs and gurus. Obviously, this places the founders of Neopagan religious traditions in a complex position: they need enough religious authority to focus the organizations they're founding, but not so much as to allow them (or their successors) to become oppressive. Since the pluralistic approach denies the existence of any One True Right and Only Way, and since Neopagans insist upon their own human fallibility, we expect to be able to steer ADF between the Scylla of tyranny and the Charybdis of anarchy.
- In keeping with this, we believe that healthy religions should have a minimum amount of dogma and a maximum amount of eclectism and flexibility. Neopagans tend to be reluctant to accept any idea without personally investigating both its practicality and its long-range consequences. They are also likely to take useful ideas from almost any source that doesn't run too fast to get away. We intend ADF to be a "reconstructionist" tradition of Druidism, but we know that eventually concepts from nonDruidic sources will be grafted on to our trees. There's no harm in this, as long as we stay aware of what we are doing at every step of the way, and make a legitimate effort to find authentic (and therefore spiritually and esthetically congruent) parallels in genuine Indo-European sources first. As for flexibility, Neopagan Druidism is an organic religion, and like all other organisms it can be expected to grow, change and produce offshoots as the years go by.
- We believe that ethics and morality should be based upon joy, self-love and respect; the avoidance of actual harm to others; and the increase of public benefit. We try to balance out people's needs for personal autonomy and growth, with the necessity of paying attention to the impact of each individual's actions on the lives and welfare of others. The commonest Neo-pagan ethical expression is "If it doesn't hurt anyone, do what you like." Most Neopagans believe in some variant or another of the principle of karma, and state that the results of their actions will always return to them. It's difficult for ordinary humans to successfully commit "offenses against the Gods," short of major crimes such as ecocide or genocide, and our deities are perfectly capable of defending their own honor without any help from mortal busybodies. We see the traditional monotheistic concepts of sin, guilt and divine retribution for thought-crimes as sad misunderstandings of natural growth experiences.
- We believe that human beings were meant to lead lives filled with joy, love, pleasure, beauty and humor. Most Neopagans are fond of food, drink, music, sex and bad puns, and consider all of these (except possibly the puns) to be sacraments. Although the ancient Druids appear to have had ascetics within their ranks, they also had a sensualist tradition, and the common folk have always preferred the latter. Neopagan Druids try to keep these two approaches in balance and harmony with each other by avoiding dualistic extremes. But the bedrock question is, "If your religion doesn't enable you to enjoy life more, why bother?"
- We believe that with proper training, art, discipline and intent, human minds and hearts are fully capable of performing most of the magic and miracles they are ever likely to need. This is done through the use of what we perceive as natural, divinely granted psychic powers. As with many other Neopagan traditions, the conscious practice of magic is a central part of most of our religious rituals. Unlike monotheists, we see no clearcut division between magic and prayer. Neither, however, do we assume an automatic connection between a person's ability to perform "miracles" and either (a) their personal spirituality or (b) the accuracy of their poly/theological opinions.
- We believe in the importance of celebrating the solar, lunar and other cycles of our lives. Because we see ourselves as a part of Nature, and because we know that repeating patterns can give meaning to our lives, we pay special attention to astronomical and biological cycles. By consciously observing the solstices, equinoxes and the points in between, as well as the phases of the moon, we are not only aligning ourselves with the movements and energy patterns of the external world, but we are also continuing customs that reach back to the original Indo-European peoples and beyond. These customs are human universals, as are the various ceremonies known as "rites of passage" -- celebrations of birth, puberty, personal dedication to a given deity or group, marriage, ordination, death, etc. Together these various sorts of observations help us to find ourselves in space and time -- past, present and future.
- We believe that people have the ability to solve their current problems, both personal and public, and to create a better world. Hunger, poverty, war and disease are not necessary, nor inevitable. Pain, depression, lack of creative opportunity and mutual oppression are not necessary either. What is necessary is a new spiritual consciousness in which short-sighted greed, power-mongering and violence are seen as absurd, rather than noble. This utopian vision, tempered with common sense, leads us to a strong commitment to personal and global growth, evolution and balance.
- We believe that people can progress far towards achieving growth, evolution and balance through the carefully planned alteration of their "normal" states of consciousness. Neopagans use both ancient and modern methods of aiding concentration, meditation, reprogramming and ecstasy. We seek to avoid being locked into single-valued, monistic "tunnel realities," and instead work on being able to switch worldviews according to their appropriateness for each given situation, while still maintaining a firm spiritual, ethical and practical grounding.
- We believe that human interdependence implies community service. Neopagan Druids are encouraged to use their talents to help others, both inside and outside of the Neopagan community. Some of us are active in political, social, ecological and charitable organizations, while others prefer to work for the public good primarily through spiritual means (and many of us do both). As Neopagan Druids we have the right and the obligation to actively oppose (physically and spiritually) those forces which would kill our planet, oppress our fellow human beings, and destroy our freedom of religion. Also, however, we have a constant need to evaluate our own methods and motives, and to make sure that our actions are coming from the depths of our spiritual beings, and not from petty or short-sighted desires for power.
- We believe that if we are to achieve any of our goals, we must practice what we preach. Neopagan Druidism should be a way of life, not merely a weekly or monthly social function. Thus we must always strive to make our lives consistent with our proclaimed beliefs. In a time when many people are looking for something solid to hang on to in the midst of rapid technological and cultural changes, Neopagan Druidism can offer a natural and creative alternative to the repressive structures of mainstream monotheism. But our alternative will not be seen as such unless we can manage to make it a complete lifestyle -- one with concern, if not always immediate answers, for the problems of everyday life, as well as the grand cosmic questions.
Obviously, there's a great deal more to Neopaganism in general and our version of it in particular. The details of Neopagan polytheology will take years to develop. The section of the "Druid Handbook" dealing with beliefs will consist of statements with commentaries (and even arguments) about the meanings of the statements. The purpose of this format is multiple: to emphasise that there are no final answers to the great questions of human existence; to express clearly that Neopagans can disagree with each other about subtle details of interpretation, while still remaining members of the same religion; and to allow the belief system to grow and adapt to changing cultural and technological needs. Neopagan Druidism is to be a religion of the future, as well as of the present and the past.
This article has been reprinted from "The Druids' Progress", issue #1, and is copyright 1984 by P. E. I. Bonewits. "DP" is the irregular journal of a Neopagan Druid group called "Ar nDraiocht Fein", founded by Bonewits (author of "Real Magic"). For more data, send an S.A.S.E. to: Box 9398, Berkeley, CA, USA 94709. Permission to distribute via BBS's is hereby granted, provided that the entire article, including this notice, is kept intact.