Mysteries of Druidry, by Brendan Cathbad Myers, Ph. D.
New Page Books, 1564148785, 236 pp. (incl. bibliography and index), 2006
I first met Brendan at a Pagan pub moot in Toronto a few years ago. In conversation his love and commitment to Druidry became immediately evident. I was among the attendants at the Toronto launch of The Mysteries of Druidry, where he read from the preface, and sold and signed books. I was pleased and honoured to receive a copy of this book for review, and looking forward to engaging in the rest of the material. His unique voice carries throughout the text, and at times it was as if I heard his voice speaking passages as I read.
Right from the preface it becomes clear that The Mysteries of Druidry was written from a place of love and deep respect for the Celtic tradition, the land and its spiritual ancestors. The first chapter follows a question and answer format, giving an overview of popular themes in Celtic history, culture and spirituality, following this is a summary of Druidic mysteries, magic and practice. Another chapter is dedicated to clann, or grove building, leadership and fostering community.
Myers defines Druidry as “a spirituality of dwelling in and with the land, sea and sky”, noting that the “needs of humanity are not ignored, for it is a spirituality of tribe and family, of personal empowerment, and of social justice”, important themes which are impressed upon the reader throughout the text.
In addition to reconstructing the past, Myers also offers a fascinating history of modern Druidry, its sources, texts and people. He notes that “[e]very form of modern Druidry and Celtic Mysticism seems to be driven by a quest for spiritual identity, which is one form of the impulse to “know yourself”. Some people find that by identifying themselves as Celtics, as envisaged by historical discovery or even imaginative fantasy, then will “know themselves”…People need roots and traditions, which only a connection to family, society and history can provide”, and so, as he insightfully remarks: “to [his] mind, what matters most is the pursuit of a worthwhile life” – a very agreeable conclusion.
Myers capably demonstrates his ability to frame Celtic spirituality in a modern context, providing exercises and rites which are practical for today’s world. He weaves retellings of classic tales from ancient Celtic and post-Celtic literature with more modern inspirations from W. B. Yeats, J. R. R. Tolkein and Joseph Campbell.
Some may have difficulty with statements such as “…the only people among us today who would qualify [as Druids] are those who have at least a Bachelor’s degree, if not a Master’s as well, from a recognized university”. However, when the Druid class is placed in context as being a scholarly class in Celtic society (among other things) requiring an extensive training program, it does make sense. As noted earlier in the text, “[a] Druid is a “professional” because Druidry requires the application of skill and knowledge in the service of certain social responsibilities”, and a convincing argument is made.
Additionally, Myers’ stance on self-initiations confronts another uncomfortable truth, namely, that “[s]elf-initiation does not make you automatically a member of a certain community”; however, he does allow that “it can make you ready to join one”. Again, I’m inclined to agree. Too often one comes across claims of self-initiation into a mystery tradition; however, without recognition in the community, the validity of this initiation does not carry much weight, though it can provide a foundation upon which to connect and establish oneself.
I do have a few criticisms: the book is repetitive in places with a few quotes reused several times, and there are a few typographical errors and spelling inconsistencies in certain Celtic words, but these do not detract from the text overmuch.
Myers admirably marries Celtic history and lore with contemporary Druidic and neo-Pagan practice and belief, making The Mysteries of Druidry a good introduction to the path.
The Book of Druidry, by Ross Nichols
Thorsons/Element, 1855381762, 320 pages (incl. bibliography, index and black-and-white illustrations), 1992
Over the years, I am sure that hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written on the topic of Druidry. Some of them have been scholarly, some have been fanciful, and most of them have been written by outsiders. Factual history of the movement is hard to find, for a number of reasons. In the early days there was a reluctance to commit the teachings to writing. Once some of the teachings began to be written down, they were condemned and destroyed by the dominant religion (Christianity). For the safety of its members it disappeared from the sight of the common man. It continued underground, as have many persecuted minorities.
This book has one major advantage over many of those other books. It has been written by a Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). While he acknowledges the lack of historical data from the earliest times (“…the gaps are larger than the area covered by what is known.”), he has the advantage of access to what records do exist. He makes no claim to an uninterrupted lineage. In the past two hundred plus years, there have been numerous manifestations of the Druidic movement – from the OBOD, the Ancient Druid Order, the Secular Order of Druids, the Glastonbury Order of Druids, to the ADF started in the US by Isaac Bonewits. There have been, and continue to be, differences in emphasis.
In the words of Philip Carr-Gomm (one of the editors of this book) “Ross managed to combine three books in one: a history of Druidry, a guide to certain ancient sites, and an anthology of Druid wisdom.” It was certainly a necessity when it was written (1975) and it still is. It serves as a counterpoint to much of the romanticized nonsense written on the topic. It is thoughtful, considerate of varying opinions, and presented in a manner which is both educational and interesting.
The author perceives Druidry as a philosophy as opposed to a religion, which may offend some readers. Nonetheless, this is an important work on the subject and deserves to be read by anyone interested in the topic. Whether you agree with the conclusions of the author, there is a great deal of information and food for thought between these covers.
More modern books tend to confine their notes; it seems to me, to the back of the book, thus necessitating a constant back-and-forth to see what the notes say. Mr. Nichols used footnotes (i.e., notes at the bottom [foot] of the page) thus doing away with this. Personally, I much prefer the footnote style, if you don’t, well there aren’t a lot of footnotes to deal with, so it shouldn’t be too large a problem.
The Bibliography and Index are both short (three and five pages, respectively). While some of the referenced works may be hard to locate, most of them should be accessible through any reasonably large library or on interlibrary loan.
In all honesty, I almost didn’t order this book, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tackle the subject – since so much has been written on it in recent years. It was who the author was that decided me. I am grateful now that I did request it. It is informative without boring, and it is a fairly enjoyable read. If you are looking for a good book to read about Druids as they probably were, this is the book for you.