Personal Religion?

Glastonbury Tor Beltane 2013 102 - CopyA couple of days ago I read write-ups of the OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) 50th anniversary gathering on Glastonbury Tor, on the blogs of Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne.

It sounds like they had a grand time. Although one of the things Robin acutely pointed out was the irony that although the main topic was peace, the powers of place, including Gwyn ap Nudd and the Tylwyth Teg (the People of Peace) were not addressed or involved.

Why should that bother me? OBOD aren’t all pagans or polytheists. Hundreds of different religious groups use the Tor for various ceremonies- that’s part of its power and draw, and the eclecticism and chaos that constitutes the spirit of Glastonbury.

It was not until this morning I perceived my vexation was the symptom of an approaching realisation; I awoke with an image of the OBODies on the Tor in my mind combined with an overwhelming gnosis clear as the dawn; THIS ISN’T MY RELIGION.

I know the OBOD doesn’t pretend to be a religious organisation… however my discomfort about the lack of commonality I feel with Druids outside The Druid Network has been growing for a while. I’m beginning to feel the distinctions between my path and those of some other Druids are so huge that there is no meaningful common ground at all.

Plus… I recall Nimue Brown mentioning to be a Druid you must walk your path with conscious intent as a Druid. Looking back, I have done this as a Bard, and now do so as Awenydd. I believed these paths fitted under the umbrella term Druid but now I’m not so sure.

And I’m not so sure I did the right thing in claiming the name Druid for my religion pretty soon after joining TDN, on the ground I was a member of the network and a grove. It was much later I was gifted with the name Awenydd by Gwyn ap Nudd and the spirits of my local landscape.

So I’m beginning to wonder now whether my path as Awenydd, which is based in these relationships and expressing them through poetry, is not the religion of Druidry but a personal spirituality I live religiously?

I also wonder, because my practice focuses more on ‘anthropomorphised’ deities and spirits than most Druids whether I’m more of a polytheist? In answering that I find myself drawn back to the issue of commonality… I once wondered whether I was a Brythonic polytheist but decided I wasn’t as I don’t know enough about all the deities and their lore in depth, haven’t made enough effort to learn Welsh, and don’t follow a joint ritual structure.

So I wonder now…

Can polytheism be religious without commonality?

Must religion have a name?

Is personal religion a contradiction in terms? And is it possible to live a personal religion?

View from Glastonbury Tor Beltane 2013 120

32 thoughts on “Personal Religion?

  1. Catriona McDonald says:

    Those are really tough, but necessary, questions to ponder. I would also have been disheartened to attend and not have Gwynn and his Folk acknowledged. :/

    My personal practice diverges from official OBOD quite a bit–polytheist, bone-loving ecstasy–yet I quite enjoy the camaraderie of my community for festivals and rites of passage. “Druid” seems to be almost as big a tent term as “Pagan”, in some ways. It’s both a strength and a frustration.

    And here ends my not-so-helpful comment!

    • lornasmithers says:

      Thanks for sharing- I feel a very similar way- as I have my own polytheistic / ‘shamanic’ practices on the one hand, which are mainly private but which I share in poetry, then at festivals I meet up with a grove. I like the tent analogy 🙂

  2. corvusrouge says:

    I recognize this! Several things here that I may be able to provide a perspective on. Firstly, OBOD Druidry never has been and never will be my form of Druidry (and I say that with no disrespect to OBOD and it’s followers). It’s structure and the almost dogmatic adherence some people seem to assert is Druidry once engaged within the OBOD structure is anathema to me (again without particularly wishing to be disrespectful to all the people who practice OBOD Druidry).
    Next, the question of suitability of Brythonic Polytheism. I don’t speak Welsh, I don’t particularly study the Welsh myths and I have rare interactions with named deities. But I self identified as such (and to a degree still do) because Brythonic Polytheism connected in a way that transcended any suposed traditional structure. It was, and again to a degree still is, a personal religion to me. And now in ways I could not have forseen.
    Can you have religion without commonality? I would say not but that depends upon the context of commonality. Because commonality could be defined, frankly, as living on the same planet. The commonality I suspect you speak of here is more cultural and localised but the advent of the internet allows us to connect with people which we could never had imagined even just 20 short years ago. So commonality is contextual and sometimes that context is subject to change.
    Is personal religion a contradiction in terms? I would say that splitting the two is a contradiction because in my experience, you can’t have one without the other.
    Finally onto the Awenydd. If ever a title suited an individual that I have witnessed in my years around paganism, that title and you have been the best, almost symbiotic match, I have had the good fortune to come across. Just because that path doesn’t fit some other external path, shouldn’t negate it.
    My own re-engagement with the Druid title, I have been told this very morning, is tied to my now living up here in Scotland. I have engaged with the land up here without resorting to any form of externally derived religious structure but that engagement has resulted in religious experience and an internally driven personal religious structure. It doesn’t match the “classical” Druid framework but then again, why should it? We all experience existence through our own lens. We acknowledge the ancestors and the other than human entities we engage with, but our stories are our own.

    • lornasmithers says:

      Thanks for your words. I’d agree personal and religion can’t or perhaps should not be separated. And this is partly what I feel is wrong about in scripted / staged ritual, the other part being that it doesn’t leave room for spirits of place.

      ‘engagement has resulted in religious experience and an internally driven personal religious structure’ – I can relate totally to this.

  3. angharadlois says:

    Important and powerful questions to ponder, which resonate deeply with my own recent (though very different) wonderings at the moment… But two immediate thoughts came to mind on reading this post: the first is that TDN manages to define druidry as a religion in terms clear enough to be accepted by the charities commission – and yet encompasses enough tolerance for difference that members are able to find common ground based not on their beliefs and practices but rather on their approach. When I call myself “druid” it is this approach I am describing; not my role or status, or even my rituals. Though I am fully aware that others will understand the word very differently, this is the commonality I claim.

    And the second thought is that a path which is informed by direct spiritual experience, inspiration and personal gnosis will never fit all that comfortably within any kind of religious orthodoxy, even the least orthodox! As I see it, this is no bad thing. Long may you continue to challenge and inspire, wherever your path as Awenydd takes you!

    I would love to share some of my more personal thoughts on these issues, if I may – maybe in a direct message?

    • angharadlois says:

      p.s. as an aside… I have never heard the Tylwyth Teg referred to as “the people of peace” before now. Do you know where that term comes from? It’s very intriguing, and as most of my recent reading has taken me in a more Scottish direction I’m feeling quite out of touch with the Welsh sources.

      • lornasmithers says:

        Neither had I, I always thought Tylwyth Teg meant ‘Fair Family.’ Robin’s blog was the first time I came across them referred to as the People of Peace, which also leaves alot to reflect on.

      • Robin Herne says:

        It does mean Fair Family. People of Peace is a term used for the fairy folk, used (I suspect) in much the same way that Little Grandmother is,meant to be a respectful way to refer to Baba Yaga. It seemed to fit with the general emphasis on peace within the OBOD ceremony.

      • angharadlois says:

        In modern Welsh (sorry, I have been sitting on my inner pedant, but she’s shining through!) the direct translation would be ‘Fair Folk’ – folk carrying the same dual sense as in English, of relatives (my folk) and of a group of people (the folk); so there is a definite sense of belonging, but it is somewhat looser than family. Not sure whether there has been a change in emphasis since earlier times, but I will certainly enjoy the excuse to get my books out this evening!

    • lornasmithers says:

      Yes- it was the TDN approach that I felt comfortable calling myself Druid within, but I do find it a big problem that this is not the common understanding of Druidry, and its because of this that I’m wondering whether I’ve mis-identified. Must ponder more.

      Sure- email me at

  4. syrbal-labrys says:

    I live a personal religion, and I’ve tried naming it and nothing seems quite ‘on’. Of course, I do tend to use the term “spirituality” more than I do the word “religion” — but that seems a bit semantics-like to me.

  5. Aurora J Stone says:

    This was a courageous statement and you raise challenging and quite fraught territory here with your questions. I too felt that whilst looking at the photos from the OBOD 50th gathering it did not fully represent my understanding and practise of Druidry, though I certainly wished them well and am grateful for their part in beginning me on my Druidic journey . . .

    Partly this is because I too have a hard time with the more rigidly constructed (and I began to type ‘constricted’, which itself is quite telling) avenues becoming a Druid. I am quite comfortable with Druidry as a religion as TDN uses the terms. I consider you a valuable and active member of that community, from whom I have learned a great deal.

    The struggle to understand and practise a unique and idiosyncratic form spirituality religiously, of practising a religion without a name may well put you outside of commonality/human community for interacting specifically about the issues surrounding how you approach and understand your path if you choose to allow that — it will of course not have any real effect on the results of your journey as an Awenydd, your poetry. As I think about that last statement though it is sometimes through sharing the journey that the journey is shaped or that the shapes already there can emerge from mists in to the light of the Awen — just a thought, complete contradiction perhaps again I babble and talk rubbish . . .

    From my personal understanding of ‘religion’ as the term has come to be used it does take adherents (plural), but that does not mean that how we have always understood the term is the only way to understand it in the future. In the past as well as today, religion has been both a binding force and one that divides. There are so-called purists and fundamentalists on any religious path — and Druidry is no exception. Dogmatitions, to invent a word or misspell one already out there, are everywhere. And as I realised after a moment of insight, as far as I’m concerned: Dogmas are for puppies!

    Some people doubtless use names of religions for the benefit of others who would not understand. As I said at the beginning I have no trouble with the either Druid or Druidry, but I have a spiritual role that is my own, it has a name, that is more of a title, that was given to me that has no history or equivalent in any language that I know of, it came from a journey and it is mine. But I am able to function with this role quietly under the wider umbrella a Druidry. I have not yet written about this or publicly claimed it and it could well be role that no one will recognise or authorise, as it were, but that does not mean that it is not mine and not a part of my spiritual and religious practice. I would be willing to discuss it with you in a different, more personal communication.

    In the meantime I hope I have not muddied the waters unnecessarily, but what you wrote obviously got me thinking and for that I thank you.

  6. James Badger Stott says:

    Lorna, as you know, I’m an OBOD Bard. I was in attendance at Glastonbury. Just a few observations, if I may, in defence of the ritual on the Tor: Firstly, whilst it’s true that not absolutely every member of OBOD would describe themselves as a polytheistic Pagan, a clear majority would, in my experience. I don’t doubt that there is also some diversity of individual belief within TDN; I certainly hope so! The second point is that the Spirits of Place were honoured on the Tor, rightly so, as they always are. Quote: “Oh Spirits of this Place, Spirit of this circle, Spirits of our Ancestors, we ask for your blessings, your guidance and inspiration……..” The fact that Gwyn ap Nudd and the Tylwyth were not addressed by name in this particular ritual, is because the specific theme was ‘Past, Present and Future’, this being the 50th anniversary of OBOD splitting off from the Ancient Druid Order. So Ronald Hutton spoke for the Past, Philip Carr-Gomm for the Present and a young person for future. The theme was not ‘Peace’, though peace to the quarters and the wider world was entreated.
    There are not many of us in a society still full of hostility and misunderstanding, so it just seems a shame for us to be dividing over the Pagan equivalent of how many angels can balance on the head of a pin, instead of uniting around the many things we hold in common. Finally, The Setantii Grove are recreating last weekend’s Tor ritual in Heaton Park, Manchester at 12.00 on Saturday 21st June. It’s absolutely open and if any members of TDN or UCLAN Pagan Soc would like to come along and speak for Gwyn or Tylwyth, you can be assured of a very warm welcome. Furthermore, there will be cake. Badger /|\

    • lornasmithers says:

      Hi Badger, thanks for your reply and making clear that the spirits of place were addressed etc.

      Hope you didn’t take this as a personal attack on OBOD, I respect the right of all religions / traditions to practice what they do in their own way. I just got the sense that I would be unable to relate to this kind of ritual, and these insights have led me to see the religion I practice as perhaps being different to Druidry.

      As I said, it was mainly the image of the Tor and the gnosis I had that prompted these feelings, on a personal level, rather than any desire to split pins.

      I can’t make next Saturday as I’ll be with the Oak and Feather grove, and will probably be talking these issues through with them. I hope it goes well, and if you feel like mentioning Gwyn, the fairies, or any of the other deities of connected with the Tor I’m sure your words would be appreciated 😉

  7. Nimue Brown says:

    Having a name can be a really helpful focus, and the quest for the right one is a powerful thing – not always comfortable, or easy, and there isn’t always a single right answer. It’s a funny thing – I’m OBOD trained and volunteer for them, but rituals that don’t engagewith the spirits of place are not rituals I’d be comfortable with at all. One of the many reasons I don’t like scripts is that none of the residents of a space have seen the script, and may have other things they want expressed…

    • lornasmithers says:

      I’d agree the quest certainly isn’t easy, and ritual only works for me when the emphasis is connection with place / season and there’s room for both humans and other-than-folk at the ritual to speak as they wish.

  8. joannavanderhoeven says:

    It seems like you’re trying too hard to find a label that fits – and not all do. OBOD are one school of learning. Nature is another. BDO yet another. TDN the same. The ancestors – ditto. There’s always a great discussion/argument whenever the topic of when to call oneself a Druid arises ( I was thinking about this earlier today, and how some classical sources state that 19 years of Druid training were required, etc. etc. Well, I’ve had 16 years of schooling in the Canadian school system, learning history and geography, geology and ecology, biology and physics and chemistry and English and Maths. I’ve also learned more about the Celtic worldview on my own. I’ve studied the teachings of others, and found my own place where I fit in the world. I am comfortable with the word, Druid. Some Druids may not see me as such. That matters not to me or my path. What matters most is that I walk it, with honour and integrity. Blessings on your journey! x

  9. joannavanderhoeven says:

    P.S. Without a copy of the Tor’s ceremony script, and by not being present it also hard to judge just how well the spirits of place were honoured. It’s difficult to comment and form an opinion of someone else’s experience, to which we were not present. I think we should be careful in the consideration of second and third hand accounts – mine included! It nice to see various people’s points of view, but more difficult and tricky to base our own opinions on them, without personal gnosis or experience of the event itself. That’s one thing I’ve learned through the years, and which I now try to see the other side of, and work through. x

    • lornasmithers says:

      Thanks for sharing, I’d agree it’s impossible to know without being there. Just know I woke up shaken with that vivid image and words in my mind, and that was my gnosis, a couple of hundred miles and two days distant!

      • joannavanderhoeven says:

        Another thing, which I didn’t mention in my blog, and I don’t know if Robin knew about it, was that before the ritual a group of Druids went up to the Tor to get the space ready for the coming ritual – what they did there I don’t know, as I was below, but they very well may have honoured the spirits of place in preparation. I spoke briefly to one of the Druids who had held and prepared that space – it just wasn’t mentioned in the grand scheme of things.

  10. Cheryl says:

    OBOD will never be my kind of Druidry either. Although I think we worry too much on if what we are doing is ‘pagan’ enough ‘druidic’ enough without really focusing on ‘feeling’ it. Being truly lost in the moment. OBOD tends to bombard with facts and stories which albeit fascinating do not always leave us feeling truly connected. Without deep moving feeling whats a connection worth? A feeling that takes root and takes you over. That very very rarely happens to me in a group ritual. Because naturally there are others that will not share your views. And who cares for labels? Yes they can steer you and give you a general idea but who is the boss telling you yay or nay don’t do this do that to be this or that. Its your intention that matters. It is your personal journey, your personal feelings and emotions.
    It looks as though everyone who was at the celebration had a blast though, and good for them.

  11. S.C. Tanner says:

    We should speak to the spirits that speak to us. It is only polite and respectful. It is also important to remember that not all spirits are disembodied. I speak to you now because you have spoken to me many times through this blog.

    I do not follow your blog because you claim to be a Druid or due to any name you have taken for yourself. I follow your blog because of the content; it speaks to me. Should the time come that your spirit no longer speaks to my spirit, I will probably move on. This is what people do; it is what spirits do.

    There is absolutely no reason to assume that the same spirits (embodied or disembodied), that speak to us, speak to everybody… or even in the same manner. This seems an insidious belief that worms its way into our subconscious by way of social constructs (constricts?) commonly called religion. It seems a common characteristic of religions or (perhaps more accurately) the religiously-minded to discourage individual, and therefore, personal relationships with spirits.

    The only difference between a human being and a pile of dust is the spirit that animates the human being; spirit is life. One of the most notable characteristics of life in this world is its diversity. Even the ways humankind interacts with themselves are quite diverse. Why do we seem to expect greater uniformity on a “spiritual plane?” However, if we do accept individual spiritual diversity, how can we possibly congregate to celebrate life in a religious/spiritual manner that will be acceptable to all… or, at least, most?

    You have written another thought-provoking post. The responses you have evoked speaks highly of the caliber of your audience. May all be blessed, regardless of any solution in the matter.

  12. Mark Rosher says:

    It’s taken me a while to come to some vacillating conclusion about this matter, for myself. I realised a while back… I am Druid for a given value of Druid. I am A Druid, within a breadth of Druidry that is ungoverned, or perhaps governed by many agenda driven governments. OBOD is not the holder of the definition of Druidry; nor is BDO, or ADF or TDN or any other current or past organisation. We know almost nothing of the original Druids, if indeed there were original Druids… I suspect there were not, and that the label has such an intangible origin that it is kind of quantum and kind of kin to Schrodinger’s cat. 😉 That doesn’t mean the label has no coherence, it does. But its coherence is also non-relativistic and holds meanings applied by those who choose to use it. There is magic in words, and the magic in Druidry is individually experienced and manifest in individual action. If mine is Druid then yours is Druid. If yours is not, that is either your choice or the death of mine. I choose Druid. Your turn.

    • lornasmithers says:

      ‘I am Druid for a given value of Druid.’

      I can relate to this, in that each individual and group define their values in terms that are meaningful to them. As Druidry has no set values, this is essential.

      ‘its coherence is also non-relativistic and holds meanings applied by those who choose to use it. There is magic in words, and the magic in Druidry is individually experienced and manifest in individual action.’

      No arguments here.

      ‘If mine is Druid then yours is Druid. If yours is not, that is either your choice or the death of mine. I choose Druid. Your turn.’

      I’m not sure I follow your logic. It seems like you’re saying

      1) Because we both agree with the principles of TDN we must both be Druids.

      2) To disagree would either be a personal choice or a negation of your beliefs.

      Please could you confirm whether I’ve read this right.

  13. Mimsy says:

    thank you James Badger Stott, I was also there , and yes the Spirits were honoured and they were abundantly happy …

  14. Laurel Grove says:

    Fascinating post and the replies are also great. I just finished the Ovate grade in OBOD. I call myself a Druid because that’s the closest label to what I feel I am. My path is my own. I usually say that there are as many different types of Druidry (or paganism) as there are Druids (or pagans). Everyone has their own spin on it, and that’s one thing I love about the tradition.

    For me, OBOD, like all the resources I consult (lots of books, including some written by commenters here) is a piece of the whole. I take what works for me and make note of the rest (it might resonate at another time–or not).

    The more I study and think about my path, the more important are the Spirits of Place. It really all comes down to my relationship with the Land, and how I interact with it on practical and spiritual levels. The labels may or may not help that. Personally I don’t feel the need to reconstruct what the ancient Druids did or believed (if we could ever really know that). I don’t feel the need to follow “instructions” on how I do ritual. Ritual is my own interaction with the Land and the Spirits who are there. That’s one reason I don’t do the scripted OBOD rituals is because they don’t speak to my own circumstances — where I am and what I’ve experienced. But I still consider myself a member of OBOD and following a Druid practice.

    Great comments, everyone.

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