The ancient Druids were not isolated hermits living far from other people; they were community leaders. They were advisors to kings, teachers, healers, prophets, and poets. They were holders of the wisdom of their tribe, an essential part of their communities.
Now, times have changed and most of us live in cultures that are very different from that of the ancient Celts. Likewise, the spirituality or religion that is known as modern Druidry likely has few similarities to the practices of the ancient Druids, being rooted more in theories and ideas of recent centuries than in actual survivals from Celtic times. However, despite this, the concept of community is still an important one in modern Druidry, rooted in the concepts of connection and relationship that I discussed in my last post, just as our deep relationships with our families, friends, and neighbours, both human and non-human, form the basis for strong and meaningful communities.
In the ecological sense, a community is a collection of plants, animals, and other life forms that are living in the same place and that are interacting with each other - that is, they are in relationship with each other. Thus even a person who choose to live far from other humans is still part of a community. If we are breathing the air, eating the food, eliminating our waste, or decomposing after our death, then we are part of a community. Our communities include other humans, animals, plants, fungi, microbes, streams, mountains, deserts, rocks, and all the other beings that make up the landscape.
However, modern society increasingly isolates us from our communities. We breathe filtered air. We clean our cupboards with antibacterial soaps to remove even the microscopic life from our surroundings. We eat pre-packaged foods from the supermarket that are hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they were grown. We eliminate our wastes in sparkling, hygienic bathrooms that appear to have no connection to the soil and the humus. We bury our dead in boxes or close up their ashes in urns. We spend our free time staring at television or computer screens rather than walking outside or getting together with family or friends. We communicate through text messages and emails rather than face to face. We work at jobs and take classes in windowless rooms. We put in our headphones and turn up the volume. All of this serves not only to isolate us from the wider community of nature, but also to isolate us from the community of other humans. Is it no wonder then why so many people seem to feel disconnected, cut off from community?
But we do not all do all of these things, at least not all of the time. And some of us are actively trying to change things, to bring back a better sense of community, both human and non-human, although we may not all recognize that that is what we are doing. Perhaps, just as the ancient Druids were essential parts of their communities, this should be one of the roles of the Druid in our modern society: to work for community, to re-create community. This work may take many forms. Some may choose to work primarily with the human community, some with the non-human, while others may work to enable the two to live more harmoniously together, in a true and wider community.
Early humans recognized themselves as merely another part of the wider community of nature. But somewhere along the line we forgot this and tried to build cities and habitations that isolated humans from the rest of nature, tried to live as though the rest of nature was created simply to serve us, and tried to create new "communities" just as we were cutting ourselves off from the very communities that had nourished us forever. Some people today speak of "going back" to the old ways of the earlier peoples as a way of re-connecting with the rest of the wider community, but we can never truly go back. We can only go forward. And let us go forward, as modern Druids and as others who care deeply about both the human and the non-human parts of this world, and let us build better communities in the years to come.
(Part of 30 Days of Druidry)