Indigeneity and Celtic Druidry

Some people have some trouble seeing Druidry as an “indigenous” tradition because , for one thing, the Celts were famous migrants who came to the British Isles relatively late in their travels. The Druids did not build the stone circles like Stonehenge or Newgrange, they merely adopted them. The origin of Celtic culture lies far away in the Hallstatt zone of Central Europe that includes the Alpine region (Southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria) and Bohemia/Czeck regions. Also… being Celtic has never been a cohesive ethnicity or genetic purity. A DNA study of Britons has shown that genetically there is not a unique Celtic group of people in the UK. …

Some people think that it is not helpful to think of Druidry as an indigenous tradition. That this risks trapping Druidry in the genetic “whiteness” trap whereby being a Druid means being of Celtic ancestry which then is interpreted to be white and leaves the tradition vulnerable to some of the white nationalist or supremacist hijacking of European paganism we have seen in recent years.

There is an assumption that other great spiritual traditions have transcended their ethnocentrism (Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, Judiasm, etc.) to become universally welcoming,  that Druidry is a state of mind. For example Tibetan Buddhism does not call itself an indigenous religion. You don’t have to prove Tibetan ancestry to join. But despite the plight of its people it has been able to balance respect for its origins while becoming universally welcoming. 

Can Britons compare themselves to indigenous peoples without appearing hypocrites?Immigrants from the British Isles including England, Ireland, and Scotland played a large part in the westward expansion of America. Same goes for Australia. We are not being forced to live on reservations in this moment or having your land taken from you. Our neighbours by-and-large look exactly like us, are related to us by ancestry and culture, and have the same opportunities us. Native Americans don’t want us to compare ourselves to them in order to help their plight. 

 

Many people make the common but probably erroneous assumption that Druidry is a Celtic construct. According to Julius Caesar, one of the two classical writers who demonstrably met Druids, those Druids told him that Druidry originated in the British Isles and was still found there in its purest form.

“This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it.”

(C. Julius Caesar, Gallic War Book chapter 13)

Since, as is understood, Celtic culture originated in central Europe, the obvious conclusion is that Druidry was a pre-existing tradition in the British Isles prior to the arrival of the Celtic culture that then adopted it and carried it back into Europe. That being so, there is every chance that it developed out of the earlier set of beliefs and practices that inspired the building of megalithic structures including Stonehenge and Newgrange.

Wherever it originated, it was, in its heyday, clearly indigenous to Britain, Ireland and much of Central, Southern and Northwestern Europe. Therefore endeavouring to reconstruct it as a spirituality indigenous to those regions seems perfectly valid. Most of the Native Americans I’ve met agree, if only because the existence of indigenous European spiritual traditions helps reduce the numbers of Europeans signing up as members of the culturally-appropriating Wannabee tribe. Often, Native Americans encourage people of European descent to find their own ancestral tradition, rather than steal theirs. Druidry is one of those traditions.

Nationalists and white supremacists are morons. Tracing the origins of Druidry has nothing to do with their pathetic, stupid, nauseating, racist agendas. The BDO utterly rejects them and their agendas. We are doing what our friends in indigenous cultures around the world are doing, attempting to recover an ancestral spiritual tradition that suffered persecution for political and religious reasons that tried to destroy it.
Our problems are compounded by the fact that this process began 2,000 years ago, but if we didn’t see value in making the attempt, we wouldn’t have devoted 45 years to it.

Saying that Druidry originated in the British Isles and spread to Europe is not ethnocentric, it’s history. Judaism, Christianity and Islam developed in the Middle East. This is not ethnocentric, simply a statement of fact. Different parts of the world produce different expressions of humankind’s spiritual impulse at different periods of history. It happens that the interest of the BDO, is in a spirituality that developed some millennia ago in the British Isles and Europe. To deny that it did or pretend that it didn’t would be absurd and accomplish nothing except to promote a lack of knowledge and understanding of the past. Our excellent courses make clear that the population of the British Isles consists of a multitude of folk of different origins who have made it their home since the end of the last Ice Age.

Claim that other traditions have ‘transcended their ethnocentrism’ is, to say the least, dubious. While it is possible to convert to Judaism, it is not common and the overwhelming majority of Jews remain ethnically Jewish. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of Hindus are born into Hindu families. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have certainly spread far beyond their places of origin, but have done so largely in association with violent conquest and imperial expansion. Personally, we don’t see this as something to be applauded.

The BDO has always been, and will always be, open to anyone with an interest in Druidry, whoever they are and wherever they come from. We have never, and will never, discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity, skin colour, hair colour, nationality, gender, age or any other of those trivialities that divide people into opposing factions rather than recognising and celebrating our shared humanity as part of the web of being that is our extraordinary multiverse.

As founder of the BDO, it inspires me to say that the BDO and I fully and wholeheartedly support indigenous peoples in their struggle for recognition, dignity, sovereignty and freedom against political, social and economic constructs that have been forced upon them by those who stole their land and have tried to destroy their culture. We salute them and join with them in praying and working for a better future.