What do Druids believe in?” I asked Matt McCabe, spokesperson for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. There's no easy answer, it seems. It's hard for all Druids to agree. There's no written book of rules, you see - that would make it an established faith, and Druidry is far too nature-based for that. “Druidry is about exploring your own faith within the natural world; so the natural world becomes your textbook”, explains Matt, a clean-cut, thoroughly modern office-y chap. “If we go back to the beliefs of the ancients Druids, we've got re-incarnation, the sacredness of nature, working in tree-groves, the natural world as your temple” - but nowadays different people have differing beliefs.
What Gods do Druids worship, then? Who are their main deities? That's when it gets a bit complicated. Those of a Wiccan background see divinity as male and female, those of Christian background are monotheistic, with deity manifesting on different levels. “Personally”, says Matt “I feel it's about doing and exploring your own faith within the natural world. I've been a Druid since the 80s and have never stopped exploring my faith. My deities change with experiences as I get older.”
Historically, all modern alternative Western religions started last century around the same time (1930s-50s), and came from the same type of traditions. The characters at play were schooled in the spiritual traditions of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society etc. Where Gerald Gardner developed those beliefs into Wicca, Ross Nichols started OBOD, and those two heavily influenced one another as they grew. Matt himself started out, spiritually, from Starhawk Wicca, a feminist witchcraft branch.
Druid morality, again, is influenced by the individual Druid's origins. The threefold law and the Wiccan Rede (harm none) are the moral guidelines for the Wiccan-influenced Druid, ‘Do unto others' is the line for Christian Druids. In essence, Matt explains that as you explore the relationship between you and the world, and understand that everything is connected, and every action you take influences you on your path, you can't help but perfect your morality to the best of your ability.
Matt took nine years to complete his course of training. “The ancients Druids would take 19 years of education”, he tells, “but, as they were the educated class, meaning they could read and write etc., our schooling system makes us all Druids.”
OBOD's course, comprising of correspondence material and a tutor, has got 3 years' worth of material in it. “The thing is”, explains Matt, “if knowledge is the greatest gift you can give yourself (which is a very Druidic attitude) - why would you ever want to stop?”. Each of the subjects can take you in exciting tangents - Matt himself spent six months doing a piece on the nature of evil, which was supposed to take a week.
Education is just one of the streams of modern Druidry. Some, thanks to Druidry's interest in all things nature, turn to the ecology for their inspiration. Others find themselves in the Bardic stream for life, with poetry and prose to express their creativity. Each holds a key to the spiritual journey experienced by the individual.
If it sounds curious for someone to choose to stay a Bard for eternity, although it is just the first grade of the training, Matt is quick to clarify: “Bardic training is the grounding that every Druid should undergo; the cycle of the year, holding a ceremony and learning to celebrate nature. It is also about manifesting divine inspiration. The Ovate is the seer, who immerses themselves in divination, magic, healing and the goddess. When you reach the level of Druid, the philosopher, the teacher, you look again to your community, to see what you can give back to those who surround you. Then, you can go back to Bardic work, if that is your gift, or to Ovate. It's a personal choice. You should now know where your own talents lie.'
Matt now helps run the Belmont May Day Festival in north London - that's his gift. How refreshing to encounter a philosophy so focussed on the beauty of people's individuality - it appears the only thing you won't find in Druidry is being one of the crowd.
For more information on the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, go to www.druidry.org