Way of the Druid by Graeme K Talboys
The writer of this book has been a druid for 30 years, both as a member of an order and as a Hedge Druid. He also has degrees in philosophy and education.
I read this book a couple of years ago and really liked it. I decided to re-read it again for a review on my website and to see just how much I agree with it two or three years later.
The way he organized his book really appealed to me. The first thing that really caught my eyes was the table of contents. He began with history, then culture then religion. He then goes into the Druids, Celtic metaphysics, the survival and revival of druidry, and whether or not the “Druid Way” was a religion. Next come the teachings, followed by the deities, cosmology, trees, and the structure of the “Druid Way”, the ceremonies and rituals of druidry and what it means to be a druid in this world. The table of contents seems to have it all. That was encouraging.
The introduction was his hopes for the book. He wanted to write a book to give the layman some idea on what the druids generally believed in. He also says he knows how hard that was going to be considering that the druid organizations now a days seem as different from each other as night and day. He hopes that his book combines history, theology, philosophy, and practices of what he calls the “Druid Way”. As it is with me these days I went into the book with a bit of skepticism because of just those two words “Druid Way”.
I was very impressed with chapter one. The history the author presented was very well researched and gave someone who has not historical knowledge of the Celts the minimum they need to know who they are and where they lived. He also traces them back to the Indo-Europeans and their possible homeland. The notes on this chapter were very informative and where necessary the author was not afraid to share his opinion, which is something I really appreciate in a book.
The second chapter discusses (and very well I might add) the Celtic culture and what the author believes it entails. I like the way he describes it and include things that now a days we don’t think of as culture like farming. He also briefly outlines the religion of the Celts and how much we really know about it as he considers religion part of culture.
Chapter three is an overview of whom the druids are and what they are thought to have done. The author really took his time explaining the misconceptions around them and really started from the beginning like the possible meanings of the word druids. This is one of the must read chapters in the book.
The following chapter looks at Celtic metaphysics; the author uses the Celtic culture and history to infer his conclusions. It is a short but informative chapter.
Another chapter that is short but informative is chapter six. It talks about revival versus survival and I think this is a must read chapter for all who want to follow the druid path. It is a good place to get a dose of reality about the druid orders and where they came from. If you want a book with more information about this subject please read Blood and Mistletoe by Professor Ronald Hutton.
The next chapter asks an important question and that is: is the “Druid Way” a religion? He begins his discussion by telling us why it is important to answer this question and I very much agree with his reasons. Then builds to answering the above question by first asking what is religion and then what is the “Druid Way”. His discussion is methodical and rational. I love the way he discusses how intellectualism is no longer associated with the druids and more associated with being divorced from the world we live in when in truth we perceive the world in many different ways and we should perceive it in many different ways both through knowledge and through intuition and creativity, one doesn’t have to be divorced from the other. This is an idea that I feel is missing from many in the pagan community and I have written about it in a post on Celtic Scholar (Anti-intellectualism and the Pagan community). As the author moves to talk about the “Druid Way” he discusses three paths that people following it take: the bardic path, which deals with keeping history and lore alive, the vate path, which is the seer and healer path of both people, animals and plants, and the druid path, which is keeping the law, officiating in ceremonies and rituals, counseling, investigate the Universe, and seek balance, intellect, and wisdom. These paths are not mutually exclusive though. The author ends as he begins by discussing whether the “Druid Way” is a religion or a philosophy and concludes that it is a matter of terminology. I don’t agree but that is me. This however, does not detract from the fact that he gives a very good description of what the “Druid Way” entails at least from his point of view and though I do not call myself a druid I find myself agreeing with the three paths he outlines. I view my religion in the same context, I think history and lore are important, the seer-ship and healing of the world and all that is in it is important, and the keeping of the law (I see this as ethics) and performing the rituals, investigating the universe and seeking balance, intellect and wisdom is also important.
Next the author defines the teachings of the “Druid Way” but really even if you don’t follow the “Druid Way”, these teachings are important. He starts with where they come from: there are five main sources, which are supplemented by the historical and archeological records:
- Myth work, wonder tales, poetry, and folklore of the Celtic People.
- The Natural World.
- Celtic Metaphysics.
- Collection of non-fictional writings that have come down to us, mainly the law of both Ireland and Wales.
- Language of the Celts.
The “Druid Way” is not a doctrine, as most religions would understand it, especially in ethical matters. There are no hard fast rules about behavior or ritual.
- Honor and Responsibility
- Unity and Identity
And if you look at these teachings they are really something that everyone who follows a Celtic spirituality path can follow.
Chapter eight is a discussion of deity. A Druid does not usually worship a remote figure or pantheon but rather he/she usually develops a personal relationship, often quite intimate, with a particular deity. This relationship will grow out of an honoring and working with that deity rather than out of worship. (I don’t understand the fear of most pagans of this word.) This relationship does not exclude work with other deities. Ancestral Celts were, and many modern Druids, are polytheistic. Even though it is known that there are 375 Celtic deities most were only mentioned once or are confined to a small tribal area. These deities are called teutates. It has been suggested that the main Celtic pantheon is made up of thirty-three deities. With what filtered down to us we may never know if that is true. We do know a few things for certain: the Celts did not always depict their deities pictorially or as statues. The Celtic pantheon is very much like an extended family or tribe, with all the concerns and conflicts that are experienced by mortal humans. The Celts considered their deities to be ancestors rather than creators.
The next chapter discusses cosmology. To the author the cosmology of the Celts reflects the real world. It is both complex and organic and it is made up of two parts. The first of these is this world, which is made up of three main elements. These elements are Land, Sea and Sky. The Second is the Otherworld, which is made up of a myriad of realms.
Chapter ten is about trees. Trees have always been an integral part of humanity’s existence. The cosmic tree stands at the center of the World, which it supports and nurtures. The trees were important to the druids and the Celts. The form of a tree presents itself readily for contemplation and learning of ourselves and the rest of the world. Roots deep in the earth speak of the past that nurtures us and the environment in which we live. The trunk is the soul, the self, and the great center, which must stand steadfast in the world. The branches of the tree are how it touches the rest of the world. He goes on to discuss the different trees.
The next chapter talks about how to become a druid, the druid orders and organization available and what is a Hedge Druid.
Chapter twelve is about the ceremonies and ritual practices. The author uses an eightfold year format, which of course some druids (if not most use). He does discuss the personal in those ceremonies and also talks briefly about meditation. Chapter thirteen is all about what it means to be a druid in today’s world and chapter fourteen is his conclusions.
I very much enjoyed this book. It has many ideas that can be included in personal practices that are not necessarily Druid. The teachings part of the book is so general that as an Irish traditional polytheist I see no problem in incorporating it into my own practice. The book is balanced and very well organized and there is something in there for everyone, and you really don’t have to be a druid to read it.