Choosing a Path

Fairy LaneThe metaphor of choosing a path appears frequently within Paganism but can be applied to the journey of life, which in many religious traditions is seen as the journey of the soul.

I’ve walked many paths; riding instructor and groom, philosophy student, fantasy writer. Over the past three years I have been writing and performing poetry and exploring Druidry. The binding core is that in each I’ve been seeking magic and I’ve pursued all these paths with religious commitment.

Looking back, it appears I have walked one path with many names. This week I have come to question the suitability of the name ‘Druid.’

I have never felt any commonality with, or desire to join any of the systematic orders of Druidry where one can complete courses and achieve grades in exchange for coins. It’s my firm belief that the living landscape, the gods and ancestors are the greatest teachers. Their guidance, trust and respect are not bought but earned, and thus utterly priceless.

However, one place I have felt at home is The Druid Network. Hearing a talk by its chair, Phil Ryder formed a huge turning point in my life that led me to recognise and honour the divine in my local landscape. The Druid Network is the only organisation I know of that promotes Druidry as a religion. There are no set courses or hierarchies. Each member is encouraged to find and explore their relationship with whatever they hold sacred in their own way, and the social forum provides a safe area for discussing issues and experiences. However, there are guiding principles (1).

I’m in agreement with most of these principles, except that the native religion of the British Isles must nominally be called Druidry. I imagine Heathens, Witches, Shamans and many other Pagan groups would make similar claims.

This winter’s solstice I was gifted a name for my path- Awenydd. For Kristoffer Hughes becoming Awenydd forms the core of Druidry. For Elen Sentier it is a form of native British Shamanism. My path currently seems to sit somewhere in an unknown hinterland between two names I am equally uncomfortable with, ‘Druid’ and ‘Shaman.’

For me ‘Awenydd’ works a similar magic to that which others describe in relation to ‘Druid’ and ‘Shaman’. It opens the doors of perception and initiates connection with the Awen, divine inspiration. It is as Awenydd I truly serve my land, gods and communities.

I can see a future for myself as Awenydd; continuing to learn the stories and songs of my local landscape and its spirits; journeying more deeply the immensities of the otherworlds with Gwyn and learning his mysteries; bringing my insights back to my communities and thus learning to weave a magic between the worlds.

Contrastingly, I perceive ‘Druid’ as closing doors, leading to pointless arguments, in-fighting, and attempting to define myself against systems and practices with which I share little commonality.

If the journey of life is the journey of the soul, I want to choose a path that fills my soul with awe and wonder. I want to live a life true to my heart, in devotion to the land and gods who call to me. I want to sing their songs. I want to share their inspiration. I want to die knowing I have done everything I can to respond to their call.

I don’t want to remain a prisoner in the maze of arguments and contradictions which, for me, constitutes contemporary Druidry, and which will only lead me into greater negativity.

It is on this basis I give up the name of Druid and choose Awenydd.

And the consequences?

The biggest consequence is that the path of Awenydd is not classed as a religion. If I am no longer a Druid I no longer belong to a religion.

To anyone on the outside this might look like a massive change. However on the inside this does not change my relationship with my land and deities, nor with family and friends.

It has, and I think will continue to have some impact on my Pagan, Druid and other religious communities. I’ve already talked my decision through with some of the members of TDN who, for the most part, are happy for me to remain a part of the organisation on the basis of shared principles, and I’m hoping to discuss it with my grove at the solstice.

My local Pagan Society is inclusive of open-minded people of any faith or none, so no problems there. As for Preston Faith Forum and the further questions, if I’m not a Druid, then am I Pagan? And can I be an Interfaith Representative if I don’t belong to a faith? That’s another kettle of fish entirely and not one I’m ready to address right now!

I want to live a life that fills my soul with awe and wonder

I choose a path that fills my soul with awe and wonder, in devotion to the magic this land, its deities and spirits, my patron Gwyn ap Nudd and the ancestors. This path is Awenydd. Let their songs be sung!


11 thoughts on “Choosing a Path

  1. Léithin Cluan says:

    I think a lot of Druid Network people would feel similarly about Druidry to you. I do think a new form, much looser form of British Druidry is emerging, outside of the orders, which TDN is facilitating. I’m only a member of orders for very specific reasons – I don’t feel like an OBOD member – I do feel like a Druid Network member.

    But I also think it’s really important that people choose their own path. And Awynedd is a beautiful term. It doesn’t appropriate other cultures like shamanism, and it doesn’t have the baggage of druidry. If I were Welsh or Brythonic focused, I’d consider it 🙂

  2. Aurora J Stone says:

    Beautifully, passionately and powerfully stated Lorna!

    May your walk, dance, run on the path of Awenydd continue to challenge and engage you and us. May you continue to grow and mature into the fullness of what it means to be/come an Awenydd, and keep sharing that with us.

    On a personal note: I don’t have a problem with the title of Druid, as I have indicated before. I do have some lurking dis-ease with ‘shaman’ though I do, in my spiritual practise, use some of the the techniques of shamanism to go deeply into the essence of the land and landscape, to contact the Ancestors and Spirit forms of my Tree and other other-than- human kin, to journey to the Otherworlds. I have pondered this quite a lot since you first indicated this path and name for yourself. It resonates somewhere deep in my essential self and psyche. I don’t know where these ponderings will lead me. I will continue listen and be guided.

    You are opening to a much wider ‘audience’ a way of being that is more authentic to this land and borne of its inheritances from our ancestors. Rich blessings be upon you.

  3. S.C. Tanner says:

    ” It’s my firm belief that the living landscape, the gods and ancestors are the greatest teachers. Their guidance, trust and respect are not bought but earned, and thus utterly priceless.”

    Where do you think the Ancient Ones, the ancestors, learned their wisdom? You truly walk between worlds now. Blessed be.

  4. Charlotte Hussey says:

    Ah the ever spiralling path and its many names. I greatly admire your rootedness and commitment (bardic and otherwise) to the land you inhabit and to its ancient history and gods. This is huge. This alone bring richness and meaning to your life. Does it need a title? Or perhaps, one must stay ever open to revising/renaming ourselves as we travel along. I do feel each one has to make their own daily meaning, which means recovering again and again from innumerable meaning crises big and small.

    When the first white immigrants arrived in North America, the native peoples often called them tricksters. Although the trickster is a tradition breaker and cultural innovator, he/she is most often found on the road, between towns, clowning, conning, and playing his tricks. Trickster isn’t immoral, but at best an amoral, holy fool. At times, I wish we in North America had some god/goddess more grounded to aspire to, but Trickster with his coyote ears and pointy nose is a major influence. I remember talking with a Mohawk student about “home.” He said his was his ancient Quebec reserve,Kanesatake. I said mine was poetry. I guess I meant the poetry of the wanderer.

    Having just returned from Maine to Montreal from selling my family home in the area my family settled in the 1600s, I feel this deep sadness of parting and loss. But I have poetry in my backpack and knowing I can survive yet another meaning crisis, I trust my voice will return to sing again although it is presently silent.

    I have made it through Ovate in OBOD. OBOD and my earlier studies in Celtic Shamanism gave me a much deeper sense of the folklore my ancestors left behind in England for New England. Most ancestral records grow fuzzy when mentioning where North American settlers in colonial times came from in the British Isles. If lucky, you might find out what port they set sail from. But, I have put my OBOD Druid lessons to the side, because of time constraints, but also I felt I was becoming a ritualist who dabble in poetry, rather than a poet writing out of a near lost (to me), folklore. I have managed to construct literature courses to teach that draw on UK myths and Arthurian materials. I have meditated on this folklore in a lot of my past poetry, but I must say, again as I said to my Mohawk student, I could only experience/integrate this ancestral folklore into my poetry, not into the earth I tread.

    Some of us must live on the road, others like yourself are blessed with a land inhabited with ancient gods that you work with and love. The path of Awenydd sounds like a great way to explain to others what you are currently about. Other paths, other titles may come along as they are want to do in time. Regardless may your creativity flourish and may you sing as never before.

    Blessings, Charlotte

    • lornasmithers says:

      Thanks for your reply, and I’d agree the creation of meaning is a daily practice, that takes place in participation with the land and people one connects with. Awenydd fits at the moment as the core of those inter-relations as a name for what I do.

      Trickster sounds like a character 🙂

      The concept of ‘home’ is a topic that came up for me in a recent tarot reading, a phrase that caught me ‘home is the place you can go back to’ – a place where one can retreat, settle, recover. Perhaps not just one place but many places, including physical and spiritual homes, as well as virtual homes where people can gather and chat on the net. It must be a tough time for you at the moment, moving and selling your house.

      From your work I’ve read I think you do an amazing job reconnecting with the British myths, in America, and through your teaching reconnecting students with the ancestral river you mention in GS. I get the sense you walk this land and meet with its deities in your journeys and the dreamspace of writing, if not physically?

      But yes, I do feel blessed to live on the land of the myths that call to me.

      Best wishes in settling in Maine, and I hope you get your voice back soon x

      PS. During a set on ‘Myths of Ancient Britain’ I read ‘The Loathly Lady’ from GS. It went down well, and I particularly enjoyed the howl!

  5. stoatie says:

    This is a beautiful and very thought provoking site, it’s great to have found it.

    When I began to explore Nature spirituality twenty years ago or more, there were only really a few paths on the radar – Wicca, Druidry, Heathen, Shamanism. At the time Druidry resonated with me the most. It also seemed the most accessible. I joined the PF, BDO, OBOD and the TDN, I was eager to learn and connect! If the BDO hadn’t have taken a break, I probably would have studied their course, but in the end I opted to study OBODs. For someone from a Christian background, it was a real help in giving me the confidence to explore a wide range of esoteric subjects and spiritual paths. It taught me about holding and developing ritual, it allowed me to give myself permission to be me. I never felt it was prescriptive or exclusive, or that I had to do it in order to call myself a Druid.

    Although I’m still a member (and attended the Assembly) my own personal practice has evolved. I’m happy to have the opportunity to celebrate with others. The form of the main ‘official’ rituals doesn’t unduly worry me; I accept it as a means of forming common ground among a host of people with their own individual paths. The actual content depends on who has written it that year, on a different occasion another person may well address the Spirits of Place directly. (I must add that I’m sure there were quite a few who, like me, addressed and connected with the Fair Folk silently before and during this year’s Tor ritual as part of our own practice)

    Nowadays there is much more information on other spiritual paths and Druidry itself has developed into many different strands. I don’t think I’d know where to start if I began seeking today! I’m happy to call myself a Druid as I don’t consider it to be a religion (which to me implies rigid beliefs, liturgy, hierarchy and rules). I see Druid as an umbrella term containing a host of (mostly) wonderful people holding a mish mash of spiritual beliefs broadly similar to my own. I seem to have reached a stage where I don’t feel the need to give myself a label or be seen to belong to a particular group, although it was important to me in the past and may be again in the future. I continue to connect to the spirits of the local landscape, deity and the fae, honour the ancestors, live in a responsible and compassionate way and carry my spiritual practice into my ordinary life, my home, my work and the wider community. But I’m exploring my own path through the forest which is great, because I end up in all sorts of places I don’t expect!

    You have given a great deal of thought about which direction to take and the consequences of change. I admire your quest for spiritual integrity and I wish you well on your journey as Awenydd.

    • lornasmithers says:

      Thanks for your visit and words, Stoatie. I’ve followed a couple of your blogs and enjoyed them. On the whole I think OBOD do a good job helping people find their paths and promoting care for the environment etc. I just struggle personally to relate to the system.

      I’ve had quite a few messages here and on Facebook from OBODies saying in their private practice spirits of place always play a large role, and that they honoured Gwyn and the fay in various ways ‘outside’ the main ritual.

  6. Nimue Brown says:

    It saddens me that Druidry has manifested in this way for you, and makes me keenly aware that those of us who do cherish it as a word have a great deal of work to do. If we’re leaving folk like you feeling alienated… as a community we are failing, and letting ourselves down, and not manifesting what we supposedly believe. For me, the only answer to that is to try and do a better job of it.

    • lornasmithers says:

      Nimue, if it’s any consolation, I find your books and blogs an inspiration. I feel like you’re one of a few good people (see my blogroll) who are pushing boundaries with books like ‘Spirituality Without Structure’ and your reinterpretation of the wheel of the year. You’re a Druid who inspires me, and I’m also inspired by alot of the people at TDN.

      Although negative feelings about Druidry did play a part in my decision to choose my path as Awenydd, the real core of the choice is feeling the need to devote myself to a path confirmed by the land and its deities, to live fully with their guidance within my community.

      I feel like the huge weight that must have been occupying about 1/10th of mind for the last 3 years, a big bubble filled with voices arguing about whether I’m Druid, and if so whether I’m a good enough Druid has lifted from my mind. Something that has been holding me in hiatus has lifted. I feel like I can see far more clearly the road ahead, what I need to do for myself and in my communities. I feel like I will have alot more energy in the future now the exhaustion caused by those ongoing arguments are gone.

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