CHRISTIANITY AND THE DRUIDS
With all due respect to the First Methodist Church, my mother, and one billion other people, I just don’t get Christianity. The way I understand it new‑born babies are already guilty of sin, just by being human. And two thousand years ago there was a man conceived without the benefit of sexual intercourse. This man became a very wise person and an extremely popular teacher. He was persecuted by the authorities, impaled upon a cross and died for the sins of all mankind. The King James Bible tells us that man was created in God’s likeness, the seductress Eve tempted innocent Adam and that humans have dominion over all the plants and animals. Permeating the entire religion are underlying assumptions that humans, especially females, are inherently evil and that physical love is an unpleasant, if not unclean, duty. And that humans are superior to the natural world; plants and animals exist only to serve needs of mankind.
As a youngster Christianity never moved me. What does move me now are the profound mysteries and beauty of nature. You may call it God if you wish. But it’s not the God of my childhood, that wise old man with a long beard that lived up in the clouds and made thunder. But it is God manifested as a winter wren singing his heart out and it’s God as a murmuring brook. It’s God as a thousand dolphins leaping out of the sea. It’s God as a hillside full of poppies and it’s God as a powerful winter wave crashing against a headland.
As a honky‑WASP approaching middle‑age I have been getting in touch with my roots lately. My ancestors were probably Celtic. The more I read and learn about these people the more kinship I feel with the Druids (the priestly class of the Celts). I suppose that I am basically a pagan. This word literally translates as “of the country” and now means a worshiper of plants, animals, the sun and the moon.
The Celts of Ireland, Scotland and England recognized that their very survival depended upon the riches of nature; they respected and celebrated the power of the natural world. Their year was divided into two parts. November 1st was considered the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It was the time of harvest and of preparation for the coming cold. They called this holiday Samhain (pronounced saw‑ween) and considered it New Years Day.
Samhain was the most important Celtic holiday. On its eve all the animals and people that had died the previous year made the transition from the material world into the spiritual realm. Boundaries dissolved; the edge between the living and the dead became blurred. It was a powerful and scary time.
In the 7th Century the Christian missionaries arrived in the British Isles to spread the word of their God to my ancestors. Pope Gregory the First had earlier issued an edict to his apostles. Instead of trying to subvert the customs and beliefs of native peoples, the pope instructed his evangelists to use them. If the locals worshipped a rock, then don’t destroy the rock but dedicate it to Christ.
This strategy worked very well for the Old Catholic Church. They managed to transform Samhain into the Christian Feast of All Saints. Today we celebrate Samhain as Halloween and November 1st commemorates all the Saints that do not have their very own holiday. The church equated the once powerful Celtic priests with devils. The joyous, sensual fertility rites of the Druids were replaced by somber intonations of a dead language and the reek of incense. However the Christians could not rid the land entirely of the Celtic gods, they still exist today (albeit a bit smaller) in the form of leprechauns and fairies.
In our modern Judeo‑Christian culture we need to remember some of the important teachings of the Celts. The natural world is a spiritual place. Humans are not above and separate from it, but are an integral part. Humans are subserviant to nature (God) not the other way around. We are not innately evil and sensual pleasures are not bad. Women should not be feared and oppressed. Mankind does not have dominion over plants and animals. We should, like the Druids, view ourselves as caretakers of our Earth. Or better yet humans are simply sharing the planet with other creatures.