Thoughts on The Druid's Prayer
by Alferian Gwydion MacLir
The Prayer or invocation known as "The Druid's Prayer" is a part of traditional British Druidry. No one knows for sure how old it is, but it probably dates back to the Druid revival and the Welsh visionary Iolo Morganwg. Iolo is sometimes accused these days of being a "forger" because he passed off his own writings as genuine antiquities. In the antiques business, and among students of ancient manuscripts, this is, of course a big no-no. However, Iolo Morganwg was more a poet than a scholar and poets and fiction writers have a long tradition of this sort of thing. It annoys scholars when they get fooled by it. Regardless of its origins, the Druid's Prayer is a fascinating document and as central to OBOD Druidry as the Lord's Prayer is to Christianity.
In OBOD the Druid's Prayer is a part of nearly every celebration ritual, so I wanted to share some of my own thoughts on it. There is a series of discussion threads about each section of the prayer on the OBOD message board, the Druid's Head, in the "Discuss Druidry" forum. Here's the prayer:
Grant, O God thy protection
And in Protection, Strength;
And in Strength, Understanding;
And in Understanding, Knowledge;
And in Knowledge, the Knowledge of Justice:
And in the Knowledge of Justice, the Love of it;
And in the Love of it, the Love of All Existences;
And in the Love of All Existences, the Love of God and All Goodness.
and in Welsh:
Dyro Dduw dy Nawdd;
Ag yn nawdd, nerth;
Ag yn nerth, Deall;
Ag yn Neall, Gwybod;
Ac yngwybod, gwybod y cyfiawn
Ag yngwybod y cyfiawn, i garu;
Ag o garu, caru pob hanfod;
Ag ymhob Hanfod, caru Duw.
Duw a phob Daioni.
The name "God" (Dduw) in the first line is sometimes replaced with "Goddess," "Spirit," or "Great Spirit" for those who find "God" too Christian or monotheistic. This causes metrical problems in the last long line, so it is a matter of taste, and in truth Welsh Dduw shares the same roots as French Dieu and Latin dieus, so that the Christian application of this particular Indo-European word (via Latin which was adopted as the official language of the Roman church) extends back into pagan polytheism. We might might consider that we use the word as Cicero would have - to indicate godhead in general, or as we might say, the Divine. It is quite true that the medieval and early modern Welsh bards were Christianized and so accepted the idea of praying to one god as the Great Spirit or Great Mystery. Some suggest that the ancient Druids may have had monist ideas just as did their contemporaries among the Greeks. This Druid's Prayer (or Gorsedd Prayer) has been adopted by the revival Druids and Bards as a center of many ceremonies rather as the Lord's Prayer was in Christian worship services. It is worth considering how the two differ as we take each part separately and give it a close reading.
"Grant, O God, thy protection"What does that mean? Well, the name "God" is the immediate tricky bit for many pagans. Is this supposed to be the old Sky Father YHVH of the Abrahamic religious tradiitions? Allah, as the Muslims say? Well, probably not, but in a way yes, because the Druid revival on the whole accepts the idea of One Spirit that unites all things and represents the ineffable infinity of absolute Being. We druids don't tend to refer to this Entity as "the Almighty" or with gendered language as "God the Father." Hence, OBOD's suggestion that one chose a name by which one feels most comfortable addressing Divinity. Nevertheless, what is being addressed is a kind of spiritual Monism, like the Neoplatonic One. And the Greek philosophers (beginning with Pythagoras at least) were really the source of this philosophical fascination with absolute underlying Unity. This is where the Jews picked it up and adapted the older tribal sky god (whose priests had done away with the worship of His consort, Ashteroth) to this new idea of an ineffable supreme being. One sees it quite clearly in Jewish Kabbalah: the concept of Ayin, which means Limitless, and which implies the ground of all being that we cannot possibly comprehend because it contains every possible attrebute and is, well, limitless. This concept of the Limitless Light behind all things -- manifest and unmanifest -- is, I suspect, what the Druids of the revival period were getting at. Whether this also reflects ancient Druid lore of the pre-Roman period is arguable.
For devout polytheists, the monist language might pose a problem, but it seems to me that one can also bracket the whole question of whether there is a point to personifying Absolute Unknowable Being, and instead insert the name of your patron or patroness. I find it easier to pray to less infinite gods. Personification is all well and good, but it works better if the person has some personality. YHVH, after all, has always seemed rather vague, and even the more human Messiah or Jesus is a little too idealized. Nice guy. Great to invite to a party, especially if you might run out of wine, but not the sort of real character we run into in the old Irish and Welsh stories. The Dagda with his big club and his huge cauldron and even larger appetite. Lugh with his vast number of talents and bi-racial ancestry. Nuada with his Silver hand. Taranis, the storm god. Or the Greek Olympians, or the Norse pantheon -- these are great personifications with personality. You know who you are talking to and can picture them.
For example, let's try: " Grant O Arianrhod, thy protection..." Or Dagda, Lugh, Nuada, Brighid, Morrigan, etc. etc. You could also say, "Grant O Mighty Ones thy protection..." or "Grant O Spirits..." to be more inclusive and call on everyone and their mother at once. Some might like to call upon Mars, Ares, or Teutates as their tribal and personal protectors. Does this change the essential meaning of the prayer? Probably, but that's okay. We are making meaning here, not slavishly trying to figure our someone else's meaning.
The first word of the prayer is "Grant" so this is about asking for a boon, a gift. And the root gift from which everything else flows in this prayer is Protection. Why? Well, I think it is because protection from attack, disease, misfortune -- whatever -- is the foundation of all spiritual work. It's a bit like when we give peace to the four directions in OBOD ceremonies. "Without peace can no work be." We might feel under direct and imminent threat, or we might be speaking more generally: that the protection of a higher spiritual being allows the other gifts to flow into us. Certainly, as we shall see, protection is a first order need which must be met in order to allow "understanding" to flower.
What follows is a series of "one thing leads to another." The seed of protection opens and blossoms into... strength. Each subsequent gift flows from the one before, like a series of water bowls positioned one above the other so that the one above pours into and fills the next below and so on. Or perhaps we could think of them as concentric ripples on the water's surface: Protection at the centerpoint, the others flowing outward, each still partaking of Protection, but each gift like a different crest of that pattern of waves...
"And in Protection Strength"So the protection afforded by the Divine -- whether we think of it as God, the gods, the Goddess, the spirits of nature, The Mighty Ones, the Shining Ones, the Dé Danann -- this protection gives us strength.
What does this mean?
It might give us strength of body, of course, if we think of how peace and safety are the roots of a productive life, necessary for raising healthy food and attending to our bodies. However, it seems to me particularly to suggest strength of character, a spiritual strength that permits us to grow, the inherent strength of the Oak tree rising tall toward the Sky, delving deep in the Earth, drawing up the Waters of the Land to transform them into Life.
Strength can also be thought of as the basis for life and survival. It is our fundamental sense of security -- that first order need. But it isn't only security, it is also activity. Strength is set off here as distinct from Protection, and so, we receive the gift of divine protection that allows us to develop in such a way that we can protect ourselves and go forth into the world to slay our dragons. Strength is a warrior virtue, in the sense of the old Celtic class system. The Warriors were the elite and their strength was not only the bodily strength of the farmer and smith, nor was it only the mental acuity of the Druid class. It joined those two strengths into bravery - the ability to face danger and challenge unflinchingly and persevere. This "warrior mentality" is not about killing as such. It is not blood-thirstiness. It is a deep ability that combines strength of body and of character with skill and training to be fearless. Strength, thus prepares us for anything, it is the prerequisite to all kinds of training, and training is the remarkable thing that sets human beings off from other species of animal. We are like the beasts in being born with certain abilities and talents, but we can also be trained, educated, and our skills honed far beyond what comes naturally.
And in Strength Understanding...
Again, the verb operating throughout the prayer is "Grant" We are granted the boon of protection, which leads to strength, and now this strength gives birth to understanding. Now that is interesting! One doesn't usually think of strength leading to understanding. But here again, I think the former lays the foundation for the next. Strength, as we have said, is physical and moral strength, the ability to act, to stand up for oneself and one's principles, to engage the world and wrestle with challenges. I think of the Arthurian Knight as the emblem of this strength -- nobility might be another word for it -- the ability to be powerful and to use power wisely and with justice.
So, in Strength [grant] Understanding. What exactly is understanding and why does it come before Knowledge? This puzzled me at first. Doesn't one accumulate Knowledge and then arrive at understanding of how things work?
Words are slippery fish. I came to think that maybe "understanding" means something more basic -- the very act of consciousness and cognition. The faculty of sapience that must precede formal learning and the acquisition of knowledge.
If this is a fair reading, then Understanding is like another sort of Strength. Built upon strength of body, mind, and character, this new power is the power of human reason, insight, intution -- the ability to see patterns in the world around us, to solve problems, to see cause and effect, to envision complex systems. If one looks at Iolo's Barddas and the six versions of the "Gorsedd prayer," as he calls it, one sees that in four of them, the word here is "Reason" (Pwyll) rather than "Understanding" (Deall). Now, I'm not a Welsh linguist, much less a native speaker, but according to my Collins-Spurrel Welsh dictionary, pwyll implies discretion and consideration or contemplation, while deall implies intelligence, the root faculty of understanding -- which is to say, the ability to understand what one sees and hears. "Pwyll" incidentally, is the name of one of the great heroes of the Mabinogion, who through his adventures becomes Pwyll Pen Annwfn -- Pwyll the Head of the Otherworld. That "discretion" and, as we may say, "contemplation" or "thoughtfulness" are the qualities of the "head" of the Otherworld offers a wealth of ideas to ponder.
If our Druid's prayer represents something along the lines of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then protection or security are the foundation for the strength to act and do, and understanding is the Divine gift of human imagination and language that distinguishes us from those animals who do not have much or any of this ability to understand. Understanding is the root gift of the Bards, for it is the ability to see into past and future, to understand the causal relationships between events and the complex relationships among people in human society. Bards, it seems to me, not only evolved into the medieval troubadours and Renaissance playwrights. They also evolved into the medieval clerks and secretaries who created modern organizational structures and institutions. Their abilities with words, history, and records -- the understanding and imagination to manipulate what is not visibly and immediately present -- created the modern world we see today. Broadly, then, Deall is Reason, what the Greeks called Logos.
And so, then, next we will have to ask -- so what is "knowledge"? The Welsh word gwybod shares a root with Gwydion, another of the chief heroes of the mythic cycle known as the Mabinogion. Gwybod carries a connotation of scientific knowledge or lore. Without reason and understanding we cannot come to accumulate formal knowledge. We humans exist within not only the biosphere, but what we might call the logosphere, a sphere of words and languages that enable us to create knowledge and meaning out of the raw materials of experience. Language, for the bard, is the primary tool of homo sapiens. We reason and we make knowledges, creating discourses to explain to ourselves the meaning of what we perceive, and what we imagine. The Druid's Prayer goes on to suggest that the flower of Knowledge is one particular kind of knowledge - the discourse of justice.
"And in Knowledge, the Knowledge of Justice"This was a line that I had to ponder a long time. What is Justice anyway? Sometimes we think of it as punishment, or the doling out of punishment to wrong-doers. This understanding of the word seems to come to us from the harsh ideology of the Old Testament religions in which a tribal god engages in a series of punishments against his "children" for their disobedience. But the flip side of that notion of Justice is that Justice, were it to rule everyone's heart would result in no wrong-doing. Were Justice to prevail in human society as an abstract spirit of god (rather than as a secular system or institution of courts and judges), we would administer it to ourselves before we did any injustice.
For modern liberal thought, the idea of social justice is very important -- the idea that all human beings have the right to be happy and treated with empathy and compassion. The tough side of justice is that those who fail to treat others with compassion and empathy must be corrected in one way or another. Social justice is based on the realization that emerged in the late 19th and 20th century, a realization that the social structure itself may lead to injustices. The most egregious historical example has been slavery. Societies and economies that include slaves are inherently injust, if we believe that every human being has the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (as the U.S. Declaration of Independence puts it).
If we think of the context of ancient Celtic culture and the Brehon laws that formed the basis (we think) of Druidic justice, then we see a system in which wrongdoing is always associated with compensation. Even murder was not necessarily punished by death (much less imprisonment, which was seldom an option in a tribal society). Such infractions as killing your neighbor were compensated by a fine, a payment of money or livestock set by law in proportion to the social value placed upon the person who was killed. Nobles were worth more than farmers, who were worth more than slaves, etc. It was a complex system of stratification in which every member of the tribe literally knew his worth.
To the modern sensibility, setting a price on each person might seem crass. We are used to thinking that every person is precious and no one individual is worth more than another. This is a nice philosophical sentiment, but of course it is not carried out in practice. In practice every person in our Western societies is valued according to his or her net worth, insurance policies, and value to larger institutions such as corporations and the government. We feel people's deaths very differently if they occupy some kind of iconic space in our culture -- John Lennon, for example, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Presidents are surrounded by Secret Service agents because the life of a president is considered to be so much more important than the average citizen, while many thousands of American children are so disregarded that they are allowed to go hungry and have no health insurance.
So, in our current American culture (and many others, of course), there is much social injustice. Wealth and prosperity, food and shelter, access to education or medical care -- these are all distributed very unevenly. In a society that insists it has thrown off old European class systems, there nevertheless is still social injustice. We don't have nobles and commoners, serfs, or slaves, institutionalized into our society, but the relative disparity between rich and poor is a structural flaw that, it seems to me, no Druid can countenance. The "knowledge of justice" cannot be a "conservative" notion of justice, which is essentially based in social Darwinism. Respect and love for all existences (as we shall see in a moment) cannot be reconciled to laissez-faire attitudes to the poor and disadvantaged members of our tribe.
Indeed even thinking in modern abstract and impersonal terms such as "The Economy" or "The Nation" seem out of keeping with a philosophy the roots of which are essentially tribal in nature. In a tribe there are no anonymous "masses" and no faceless "rich" or "bourgeoise." These abstract class categories are the product of overpopulation and urbanization. A "pagan" way of thinking must deal with people as individuals with names, histories, genealogies, and connections to the tribe. This is why among the bards of old genealogy was so very crucial. It was the structure of society that let every member understand their relatedness to every other.
An unavoidable aspect of Justice is violence, because we humans do not always do the right thing. We get angry and harm one another. Men and women will fight over sexual partners. We fight over possessions and property. Because of this, justice has inevitably included the idea of reparation of some kind, and this is often seen in terms of life and death. The Abrahamic religions all tend to quote the aphorism, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." It sounds fair enough. It is meant to be fair. But it is a kind of fairness devoid of compassion, a legalism that does not care about a persons motives or circumstances. For some of us, indeed, making such allowances would seem grossly unfair. Everyone must be treated the same and held t the same laws and punishments. That's the way we have lived for all our history. We may disagree about what constitutes fairness and justice; yet, the knowledge of justice is a virtue -- we all agree on that.
Another way to look at Justice is through the Hindu concept of Karma. Might the ancient Druids (or even Iolo Morgawyg) have had a sense of karmic destiny? The idea that in a system of spiritual ecology, what goes around comes around? Even perhaps the idea of "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" in a spiritual as well as physical sense? Wiccan wisdom tends to suggest a threefold return on actions: good begets good in return, and evil begets evil. Can we understand or "know" Justice without using the slippery terms "good" and "evil"? Can we do so without facing the question of harming other entities through our actions? The concept of Karma carries Justice to a higher plane - fairness and right action are not simply things that human magistrates can judge. They come to us as a gift from the Divine. Our karma (justice) follows us from one incarnation to the next, meting out fair rewards or punishments through a cosmic system of balances. In this sense "knowledge of Justice" is knowledge of our own karma and the laws of karma.
In the Dalai Lama's book Ethics for a New Millennium, he says ethics -- that is, "right action" -- has to be founded upon our first understanding that our own happiness is dependent upon the actions of other people. Once we grasp this -- that the actions of others can affect our own happiness -- then we can realize that we secure our own happiness by concerning ourselves with the happiness of others. By making others happy, we often also serve ourselves. By making others unhappy, we often bring unhappiness to ourselves.
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of itand in the love of it, the love of all Existences
In the final three lines that close the poem, bear in mind the substitutions allowed for the symbolic name of the Divine Principle. God has the advantage of one short syllable. "Life" might be a suitable substitute for both meaning and metrics. The first line points out that knowing what justice is, or what acts are fair or unfair, is not enough. We must not only have knowledge of Justice, we must "love it." For only when we embrace "Justice" in the sense of fairness and equality, can we "love all existences" -- all people, animals, plants, rocks, crystals, astral beings -- all forms of existence. But even more: we must love all the dimensions of being, not just material existence. All kinds of existence, the accepted truth that everything and everyone exists on seven planes of being, existing in seven different ways.
Does "love of all existences" mean that we should just tolerate anything and forgive people their faults for all eternity? Is it similar to the Christian doctrine of forgiveness and "love thy neighbor"? Is it similar to the Buddhist idea of compassion and ahimsa, "do no harm"?
According to Sri Swami Sivananda:
In the regeneration and divinisation of man, the first step is to eliminate his beastly nature. The predominant trait in beasts is cruelty. Therefore, wise sages prescribe Ahimsa (non-injury). ... Practice of Ahimsa develops love. Ahimsa is another name for truth or love. Ahimsa is universal love. It is pure love. ... Where there is love, there you will find Ahimsa. Where there is Ahimsa, there you will find love and selfless service. They all go together.
Is the "love of all Existences" similar to the Pillar of Mercy, which the Kabbalists say balances the Pillar of Justice or "Severity"? Is the meaning of these lines that a true love of Justice leads not to harshness but to compassion and empathy for all beings? Or that these two qualities -- compassion and empathy -- must be wisely intertwined in the preservation and protection of life and goodness?
On a moral level, does this part of the prayer imply that modern followers of Druidry should abstain from killing animals for food? And what about killing plants? Given the love of trees and the work that druids do with the tree-spirits, does "love of all existences" mean that we should do no harm to these as well? Under any circumstances?
Well, of course, I'm engaging in a bit of reductio ad absurdum because humans could not live without killing some vegetables, at the very least. I raise the point because unlike Wicca, Druidry does not put forward a doctrine of "an it harm none, do what thou wilt." Wicca seems to have adopted an idea similar to ahimsa from the Indian religions via Gerald Gardner, who was a civil servant in India, and Aleister Crowley, who studied Eastern spiritual disciplines extensively. While philosophical druids do sometimes borrow ideas from other world philosophies and religions, it is notable that in the Druid's Prayer, the idea of pure harmlessness is not expressed -- at least not directly.
The prayer implies that Love of All Existences derives from our love of Justice. And it is the concept of Justice that may correspond to Swami Sivananda's teaching that humans must tame their "beastly" nature and seek to become "divine" (his "divinisation"). In Druidry, as in Hinduism, there is usually a belief in reincarnation or the transmigration of souls from one form of being to another. In more than one old Welsh and Irish myth, humans are transformed (or transform themselves) into animals. In the Song of Taliesin, the great mystic bard suggests that he has been All Things, and this is taken by some modern druids as an expression of a deep understanding of the spiritual nature of living things. Nature is not divided between humans and inferior species of animals and plants, down a Great Chain of Being. Rather, spirits may take form as any species of living thing. Some even speculate that spirit inheres in the rocks, stones, and lakes, so that a spirit might, in theory, be "reborn" in these forms as well.
The medieval idea of the Great Chain of Being organized all creatures in a hierarchy with God and the angels and Man at the topmost levels and everything else arranged downward. The idea was transformed in the 19th century into the theory of evolution and natural selection. This materialist biological theory discarded the idea of souls and spirits but retained the idea that all species could be arranged in a hierarchy of "intelligence." School children today still talk about which animals are the most intelligent after humans. In this way of thinking, life is arranged in an evolutionary ladder that leads from "simple" forms to more complex ones. The human brain is generally considered to be the most complex. Science fiction writers regularly take up the idea to postulate beings who are more evolved than Terran humans and so far more "intelligent" and often possessing what we would consider magical powers of wish-fulfillment. These fictional alien species are easily recognized as the cultural descendants of the medieval angelic (and demonic) hierarchies.
Some modern druids do embrace the scientific worldview and appreciate the wonder of Nature through the discourses and concepts of biology and ecology. Some, including myself, appreciate the scientific insights while nevertheless retaining the idea of spirits and the transmigration of souls. For the scientifically-minded, birth is enough of a miracle without requiring the unprovable notion of re-birth. Darwin's idea of evolution and natural selection is marvelous enough without one needing ideas of human mental evolution into super-beings. Science fiction and New Age thought have joined forces in promoting the idea that we are currently at a sort of juncture in human evolution, that we are about to make a quantum leap in consciousness towards cosmic consciousness and away from the "beastly nature" that has plagued us throughout history.
This idea of spiritual evolution or growth is something that has been incorporated into Iolo Morganwg's work and the age of the ideas is debated. The Druid Revival idea of four worlds -- the world of Annwn, Abred, Gwynfid, and Ceugant -- is a doctrine of spiritual evolution. From the primordial cauldron of Annwn, through the circles of manifest form in Abred, and ultimately, after so many lifetimes of learning, to the realm of pure "white life" Gwynfid. Ceugant is the realm of pure Divinity that lies behind the other three worlds, making them a whole, not a hierarchy.
One of the things that scholars of the ancient Celts do agree on is that the ancient Druids do appear to have taught a doctrine of immortality. The myths represent the Otherworld not as a Paradise or Heavenly Afterlife, but as an other world, magical and full of wonders, to be sure, but a place not where for souls to stay forever. Rather by a somewhat arbitrary selection (it seems) souls can move between one world and the next, the dead of one world being reborn in the other. Moreover, the living sometimes cross over in both directions having the marvelous experiences that have come down to us in Faerie lore.
So, in a Druidic context, the "love of all existences" can be taken to mean the love of all species and all kinds of existence, from the "inanimate" to the Faerie beings of the Otherworld. After Christianization, the Celts tended to consider the Faerie folk (The Good People) to be angels who fell from heaven but didn't make it all the way to Hell. Or they were considered to be angels who remained neutral in the struggle between Jehovah and his offspring Lucifer. Similarly, one can see many parallels between the descriptions of 20th century space aliens and alien abductions with the stories of Faeries and Faerie abductions, or crossing over into the Faerie worlds.
If we take these experiences literally as physical happenings, rather than the products of dream-vision, we are likely to be dismissed as nut-cases. Little matter, however, for most of us. The experiences are real, one way or the other, and do us a service in calling our attention to our culturally constructed definitions of "reality." So, when the Druid's Prayer says "love of all existences," it conjures in my mind something very deep indeed. Something to do with reincarnation and transmigration, something to do with our very conceptualization of reality. It is not necessary, however, to go that far off the deep end. If one prefers the safe shallows, one can simply interpret the words to mean respect and love for all forms of life, as described by biology. That certainly is good enough to ground a very strong Druid morality.
But we do have to eat. So, the love of Nature that is implied in "love of all existences" is built upon Justice, and Justice is a human concept that is presented, I believe, in distinction to Nature. It is not a "beastly" concept. No one presumes that bears and tigers or horses and cattle act out of a mental concept of "justice." The Natural mind considers that pretty much whatever happens, happens. There is no reason for events other than a chain of causality, itself morally meaningless.
If as Druids we are to revere Nature only as scientifically described, and ignore the human mind as a special part of Nature, then we might be inclined to adopt a very Hobbesean morality, red in tooth and claw. As omnivores and a species prone to killing rival members of our own species, "Nature" does not promise a very stable or peaceful society. We need to delve more deeply into human psyche -- mind and soul -- as it has evolved. For it is the mind, the inner ability to think and articulate feelings that makes us different from most other beasts. The psyche is that faculty that can embrace both abstract laws and compassion.
Justice, as conceived in this context, must include the broad understanding of motivations and evolutionary state. The bestial nature of humans is part of "human nature" just as is the ability to evolve beyond it. I do not mean "evolve" in the sense of natural selection and mutation over millions of years, but in the more general sense of profound changes in complexity. Beastliness is simple -- indeed that is one of its attractions. Beasts engage in sex, violence, killing, eating, defecating, all without the slightest feeling of shame or guilt. They are motivated by inner urges. Humans have inner uges too, but they also have language and so conceptualizations and imagination. They can think about their natural urges and become mental beings constructed within a particular society and culture. This means they are always a little more complex than simple beasts. The more we think about our own behavior and the behavior of others; the more we imagine consequences, the more we will internalize an idea of fairness. And it is this simple idea of fairness -- epitomized in the Golden Rule -- that is the root of human Justice.
The Druidic concepts of justice and love of all existences, twined together as they are, work against hierarchies and dichotomies. Justice, in a Druidic sense, is something that promotes Wholeness. Thus to fracture, divide, create enmity, or denigrate one faculty over another, one race over another, or one nation over another, is not Justice.
In the Love of all Existences, the Love of God and All Goodness
If we love all existences, all beings and all levels of beings, we love God and goodness. One flows from the other. If God grants us such undersanding, knowledge, and the justice to love all things, we have arrived back to the love of God. God loves in us and is in all things, ourselves included.
The idea of goodness built up in the Druid's Prayer, is very different from the typical Christian conceptions of good and evil, where evil is attributed to the agency of a particular being, the Devil. Modern Druidry has no Devil. The denizens of the Otherworlds, the gods and goddesses, heroes, wizards, and enchantresses are capable of love and hate just as are we. They have magical powers of transformation and creation, and they may be immortal, but they are not divisible into good and evil groups. They make bad mistakes and cause vast destruction, especially in wars, and there is no sense that this is "good" just because a god did it.
Because of this religious cosmology, human beings are also not divided into "good guys" and "bad guys." There is no dualism of that sort in Druidry. That non-dualism effects a druidic conception of "existences" and also of "justice." The prayer does not set up a series of binary oppositions -- the "either-or" thinking that is so deep-seated in the Greco-Roman culture that dominated the West. Rather, the prayer gives us a series of concepts that flow one into the next in a kind of inner creation story.
William Blake, the visionary Romantic poet, conceived of God as The Divine Imagination. The Creator was the great Imaginer, not as the Deists of his time averred, the "Great Architect" but something less distanced from his creation. God didn't just create blueprints; He was the sculptor, the painter, the poet. Blake is often considered to have been one of the men who served as a Chosen Chief of the Ancient Druid Order in the 18th century. That is probably just part of the origin myth of the Order -- extending modern Druidry back to figures such as Blake and William Stukeley, who contributed to the fascination with druids.
Certainly, like many of his time, Blake was fascinated by the romantic and mysterious image of the ancient Druids and Bards, and he used both as symbols in his poetry. Sometimes the Druids were portrayed as the bad guys, the exemplars of a Literalist priesthood who had lost touch with the Divine Imagination. They were the ones who literally sacrificed their fellow human beings on the altars of their literal ideas about God. They represented, in Blake's estimation, the kind of paganism that empowers priesthoods to tyrannize over ordinary people.
The Bard, by contrast, represented to Blake the holy visionaary, a poet whose art connected him directly to the Divine and whose imagination allowed him to understand that stories are a means to understanding, and are not meant to be taken literally. In the Bard lies the true Justice that would respect all things and all peoples for what they are, foibles and all. In Blake's poetry the Druids represented the kind of priesthood with which Blake in his time was all too familiar -- one which refused to recognized individual vision or creativity, but insisted on a strict literalist interpretation of fixed texts and fixed laws, and one that erroneously rejected the body and all bodily joys as "inferior" to the "higher" ideas of the "spiritual world." The concept of the "spiritual world" moreover was tightly limited to exclude thought about anything other than obedience to Jehovah and his official authoritarian spokesmen. The world of spirits was completely separated from the world of sexual pleasure and desire, most particularly. This was something Blake found to be perverse, and I suspect most druids today would too.
When Druids speak of "spirit" (or at any rate when I do), it is not as something "higher" than the material world. Spirit is simply another dimension of existence. Neither spirit nor matter is "superior" to the other, nor is one more important than the other. On the contrary, they are mutual and interdependent. In true Triadic thinking, we might see Spirit as one facet of our existence, Matter as another, and Soul as that third thing that unites the other two. The Soul, as such, is not made of either Spirit or Matter alone, but comes into existence when the two are united. Thus the sexual union is often used as a symbol for this union of Spirit and Matter in the Western mystery traditions, including modern Druidry. In the Wiccan ceremony of the chalice and the blade, the masculine blade represents Spirit, and the feminine chalice, Matter. Spirit enters Matter and animates it and what emerges is the interface of the two worlds - the Soul.
We might say that the Divine Itself -- God -- is the Great Soul, the interface between All Spirit and All Matter. Such a Being is indeed Supreme Being, not in a hierarchic sense, but in a Holistic sense. God is All Being, the Whole Whole. And so when we, individual souls, seek out our Divine nature we find our connection to this Whole Whole. We seek our own wholeness in our lives, which our egos perceive as "individual." But we also have the capacity of Divine vision, or Cosmic Consciousness, transcends the limited view of the ego and sees ourselves as something much larger -- indeed something infinite.
To say, as they do in the East, "I am God, You are God" and Namaste "I honor the God in you" is the furthest thing from Western ego-inflation. It is the setting aside of ego (the "I") to acknowledge that our Being is fundamentally a network of connections -- and that such expressions as "network of connections" cannot possibly do justice to the reality we are trying to express. Only the poet, the artist, the musician can express such a holistic understanding. Only, we might say, a "god" or a "goddess" can express and embody such holistic being. And this, we might suppose, is the nature of gods and goddesses in the pagan pantheons. None represents Supreme Being, but all partake of that Being, that state of Being, to which we humans can usually only aspire towards and never quite attain.
It is a pity that when the Romans took over Christianity (or perhaps before that), the term "supreme being" was taken in a hierarchical and authoritarian sense. This produced a family of religions based on authoritarianism and the idea of obedience as goodness -- obedience to fathers, patriarchs, brothers. Women were excluded because they were subordinate to men in these cultures. God was male and supreme, the Emperor of the Universe, the "King" of Creation. All of this hierarchical social language applied to religious ideas is, I feel, quite out of keeping with modern Druidry. In this I may be biased by the American rejection of kingship. The ancient Druids almost certainly did retain a concept of divine kingship, a social status that was symbolic of the whole tribe. But Celtic kings were not necessarily emperors or patriarchs. They were made by the people in a social contract, to symbolize and embody the virtues of the tribe and its sovereignty. The king mated with the Goddess Sovereignty and that was the source of his power. She was the Land, and only so long as a king acted like a good husband to the land was he doing his job. When he ceased to do that job, he was deposed. Few Roman emperors would have passed that test.
So, "Love of God" may be understood, not as obedience to authoritarian hierarchies, but as a love of Divine Imagination, not a limited human faculty possessed by artists and poets (the marginalized odd ducks of modern culture), but the ground of all Being, all Reality. That is what is meant by the term "Awen." It is the power of inspiration. And Justice is not a matter of laws codified by kings and magistrates, bishops, or popes. It is based upon fairness, that innate ability humans have to judge a situation and what is due to each person based upon his behavior, but also upon his situation in life, his place within the culture, and his intentions.
What then of "All Goodness"? Philosophers have asked for millennia, what is the meaning of "the Good?" The Druid's Prayer does not purport to answer that question, except in this way: "Goodness" is the last word. It is the consummation and culmination of everything that has come before in a series of statements each beginning with "And". It is the final conjunction, the coming together of protection, strength, understanding, knowledge, justice, multiple existences, and God. Goodness is the result of godliness. And godliness, in the Druidic philosophy expressed in this prayer is not obedience to a set of commandments. Quite the contrary: it is living in the Divine Imagination, connected to our Cosmic consciousness and knowing that we, however imperfectly, have the potential to evolve into that higher state of being we call God-ness.
In Druidry, as in much of the rest of the Western magical traditions, this goodness and god-ness is often called Light. It is conceived of as luminescence, enlightenment. Light is the light of understanding that leads to knowledge. It is the illumination that enters the human mind in that way that we call insight. In Druidry we have the Welsh word Awen and the Irish term Imbas for that insight, that intuition, that inspiration and illumination. And this too, may be conceived of as proceeding from goodness.
Iolo Morganwg, Barddas.
Sri Swami Sivananda, "Ahimsa"
Alferian Gwydion MacLir
Minneapolis, November 2004