This is a question that has come up in our conversations, and I continue to ponder it. I suspect that there are several ways to approach this. I want to share one, and offer some personal concerns I have about the question.
“Ethic” implies a code of living. To say “this is my ethic” is to say “this is how I am intentionally choosing to live, and I base it on the following.”
You may or may not be aware that the very first lines on the DOTR website (About DOTR) are what we have called the “little version” of who we are. It’s short; almost poetic; and memorizable. That might be something to consider—memorizing it, as I think one take on the DOTR ethic is wrapped up in it. Here’s the “little version” of our vision:
“We are a community of Druids walking personal paths. We have a vital relationship with the Earth, our mother. We celebrate the Sun and its sacred days. We hear the call to the inner life, and we are weaving a wisdom that is both personal and communal. We each have special work that we do, for ourselves, for others, for our community. We find our balance in the three: the sky, the earth and the sea.”
I have italicized the words that are code, for me, of the ethic found therein, and they harbor eight values. Let me delineate:
1) Community of Druids
2) Personal Paths
3) Vital Relationship with the Earth
4) Celebrate the Sun
5) Call to the Inner Life
6) Wisdom both personal and communal
7) Special work
8) Balance in the Three: Sky, Earth, Sea
As I write about these, I am going to use the word “we” because that is how I interpret this. When I get to my “concerns” at the end, you will see why I feel it necessary to call your attention to the fact that this is my reflection on our DOTR ethic.
Community of Druids
Our ethic values community, especially a community of people who assemble in the Druidic grove. This implies two things: interpersonal relationships are key to how we DOTR Druids live, and the constant model for how we relate to all human beings is how we relate when we gather in the Grove. Our gatherings in the Grove are sacred: the space is sacred, the time is sacred, and every human being who gathers there is revered as sacred. We model in that Grove what we take into the world. We know as Druids that any space, any time, any human being can be sacred. We know that we can make that choice, hold that wisdom, and practice that kind of relationship with anyone, whether they realize it or not. This is one way of the Druidic shape shifting and magic, if you will. We bring the sacred Grove into everyday time, and we can do this because we practice sacred relating when we gather.
Almost in the same breath that we affirm that interrelatedness is one of our values, we also affirm that the path of the individual person is something we value. I’d like to quote Evangeline Walton from her prose version of the Mabinogion. In this section, she has Prince Pwyll in conversation with Arawn, Lord of Annwn, otherwise known as the deity of Death. Pwyll asks: “Then what good are druids and their teachings?” Arawn responds: “True teachers set a man’s feet on the path. That each may seek what each must find for himself.” Pwyll sighed, “I think I have learned nothing, Lord, except that I know nothing. And understand less.” Arawn responds: “Then you have gained wisdom, brother.” (Walton, Evangeline. Prince of Annwn, 1974) As an order, we value, very greatly, the integrity of the individual person. We know that as an Order, the best we can do is to set someone’s feet on the path “that each may seek what each must find for him/herself.” To presume to tell another person what their path must be, what their truth must be, is the height of arrogance, and it is the mistake that most dogmatic religions make.
Relationship with the Earth
We call Earth “our mother”, and in so doing we establish another ethical value: we see all living things as participating in an energy that some might call “the divine”. Regardless of the language we use, I have never met a Druid in or outside of DOTR who does not early on describe this vital relationship. We know that we are connected to the earth, to trees, to plants, to animals, to the elements, to all that is. We revere that connection, and because of that, it transforms how we live on the earth. As DOTR Druids, we are necessarily environmentalists, though how we live that out may differ from Druid to Druid.
Celebrate the Sun
Our communal nature and our reverence for all that exists as part of some mystically connected whole combined create another ethical value for us: we gather to celebrate the changes that we observe in the seasons of nature and in the seasons of our lives. Time is sacred to us in large part through our acknowledgement of its movement and how the movement of time, of the Sun through the sky, means change in our experiences. These changes are not just in the aging of our bodies, but in the levels and dimensions of life as we live it. There are seasons when our sight and vision are very external, creative and energetic. There are others that are internal, reflective and quiet. Because of this ethical value, we honor both and others in between. We rehearse this kind of memory and ethic when we gather in the Grove eight times each year.
Call to the Inner Life
Valuing the personal paths of each Druid, and really of each human being, requires this ethical value: that each person has an interior life the content and the quality of which no one else can know save through the personal choice to share and reveal some of it to our fellows. Therefore, I can never judge rightly what is in another person’s interior space. I can only honor that each person has one, and when a fellow chooses to share and reveal, I can only honor the sharing as a gift. Often enough, such sharings manifest a gift of wisdom that touches my own interior space. For this reason, DOTR Druids value time to share with each other, out of the public space, what is going on in their Inner Life. During these and other kinds of sharings, very often we witness Awen at work, and we experience its flow.
Wisdom both Personal and Communal
We value a wisdom that must, then, conjoin both aspects of our lives as Druids—the community as well as the inner life and personal path. We know that as we work together, listen to each other, discuss difficult issues, make decisions, and remain open to new opportunities that we manifest a growing communal wisdom. In other words, we are wiser together than we are alone. And yet, as just stated above, personal wisdom simmers in the cauldron of the inner life. Drops of Awen often fly unexpected from the inner life of a Druid and they become wisdom for the entire group. Likewise, the group wisdom often shapes the inner life and personal path of the individual Druid at moments where guidance and seeking most require it.
Very simply: because we value the integrity of the individual person, because we expect each Druid to walk his/her personal path, seeking his/her personal understanding, and because we know each has heard the call to the inner life, we know that each Druid will have special interests that he/she must attend to. This special work very often is the kind of thing that becomes life and breath for the Druid. He/she “must” do this special work because it calls to him/her so deeply. And as a community , we not only honor that, we benefit from it.
Balance in the Three: Sky, Earth, Sea
It might be needless to say that the symbols of Sky, Earth and Sea hold some value for a group that names itself the Druid Order of the Three Realms, but I find that sometimes it’s not so obvious to folks when they first make contact with us. The Three Realms among some old Irish communities created the cosmic world view. All things were manifestations of Sky, Earth and Sea. For us, they represent a universal way of talking about the balanced life, and they also create a set of spectacles through which to examine and ponder life. We value the Sky—openness, vision, perspective, thought, reason and expansiveness. But we also value the Earth—concreteness, pragmatism, tangibility, support, connection, resources, help, healing, nourishment, solidity, specificity, fertility and vitality. Sky and Earth and all those correspondences don’t have to be held as polar opposites, though often we devolve into that. Most of use have grown up in a culture that puts these qualities at odds. And so, we value the Sea—change, rhythm, connection, emotion, fluidity, birth, death, rebirth, creativity, depth, movement, instability, and mystery. This third quality called “Sea” requires the connection of Sky and Earth, makes the connection and changes life always because of the connection. Sky and Earth are not allowed by Sea to remain separated entities. As DOTR Druids, we value these three, always together. They require each other just as we each require the next breath we take. And when we work with these three, we find a balance in our lives like no other way can provide us.
These eight ethical values are written into the DOTR charter, literally, if you will. I love that there are eight, just as there are eight Sun stations that we keep together. For devotional practice, one could even choose to meditate and reflect on one each season. Though I have been working with these as a Druid of some kind or another for many years now, I have found that reflecting on them again, here, in this writing is refreshing and has helped me gain some new perspective. I do have a concern, however, in any discussion of ethics or of a groups’ ethic. The jump from discussing a group’s ethic to creating a dogma, consciously or unconsciously, is a very short, easy step. I return to Arawn’s words to Pwyll: “True teachers set a man’s feet on the path. That each may seek what each must find for himself.”
The worst teachers tell other people how to live. They distill any truth they may have found into commandments and dogma. Eventually, they use the same “truth” to control others for their own gain. If we want commandments and dogma, we need no new Druid Order. There are other religious traditions who have centuries on us in the commandments and dogma department. We gather in the Grove for something else, something that I think is both ancient and inherent in the human being and new. We honor a vitality, a life-force that can be found simultaneously within our very own selves and in everything and everyone outside of us in the world, in the cosmos. The ethic of DOTR, the values that we hold, create a space for anyone who would set his/her foot to the path to find this vitality, this life-force. We may make use of some books here and there to help us along the way, but ultimately, our own lives become the book we read and the book we write.