Review: Spirituality Without Structure by Nimue Brown

Spirituality Without StructureNimue Brown is a druid author and fiction writer living in Gloucestershire. Whilst Spirituality Without Structure is rooted in her experience of pagan Druidry it is written from an existentialist perspective. Directed at anybody who has given up on formal religions it holds relevance for theists and atheists alike. As an anarchic bard and polytheist who has avoided formal courses in Druidry I was deeply curious about what Nimue had to say.

Firstly, this is not a book about how to converse with God, the gods or nature. There are plenty of other books that do that. It is about discovering a spiritual path on your own terms. `This is not a structure. It’s not a map. This is a method for making your own map, building your own compass and ascertaining your direction.’

The style is conversational and engaging. It’s pitched at a level whereby the general public, students and academics alike could all understand it and gain fresh insights. I would have been inspired by it whilst studying philosophy and religion at college.

The core argument is that spirituality without structure is rooted in discovering what moves and inspires us in the real world- the spark of the numinous in nature and the treasure troves of myth and story- and honouring it by right action. Experience of the numinous has real effects, influencing us to change our lives and the world around us. I think many people would find this view enlivening and empowering.

Nimue deals with existential crisis in admirable manner. Admitting doubt goes hand in hand with the quest for personal truth, she shows that doubt and the act of questioning constitute the essence of the spiritual journey. They provoke us to create our own meaning day by day, living life to the full with no other authority than the questioning self. This kind of affirmation requires a lot of courage and isn’t something I can relate to fully as I put a certain amount of trust in the land and my gods.

On a critical level I thought the importance of the real world was stressed at the expense of non-cognitive / imaginal perception, leaving the possibilities of other realities unexplored. Also, positing the self and its desires as the central source of meaning seemed limiting. I would have liked to see more discussion of the potential of finding and developing meaning through interaction with others outside of formal structures. However I feel these criticisms stem from a difference in standpoint.

Overall Spirituality Without Structure is a resonant rewarding book with much to teach about the art of questioning and authentic living. It’s led me to consider how living one’s own path from an existential perspective contrasts with my polytheism. I think it would be of value to anybody interested in learning more about how to do spirituality their own way.

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