There’s a part of me that’s always been Druid — as long as we’re clear that when I say ‘Druid’ I’m using a pretty damn broad interpretation of the word.
I wouldn’t count by any popular UK definition of the term. I’m not wise in the ways of herbs or trees. I don’t know the stories of the Mabinogion. I don’t revere the ancestors or feel a particular affinity with Celtic culture.
But if someone says to me, “What are you?” — in religio-spiritual terms, at least — I always feel I should have an answer to give them. When I was a tiny kiddie that answer would have been “Christian”, because that’s what I was brought up with. And I still have an easy familiarity with Christianity, even if my understanding of it now, the way I see it and its elements intersecting my life, means I can’t actually be Christian. I’m respectful of Christianity as my family’s religion, and I have a lot of time for it as I do for any religion honestly and kindly held. There are many words of wisdom in Christian teachings, but there are fundamentals of the faith that I just can’t accept for myself. It’s built on concepts and tenets that just don’t work in my head, or in my heart.
So, for most of my adult life — after a brief flirtation with amateur-hour Satanism and an even briefer one with atheism — I’d generally answer the question “What are you?” by saying “I’m a pagan”. But paganism, of course, represents a huge variety of different belief systems. For example, when I first discovered paganism as a Thing You Can Be, it was in the form of Wicca: often considered a sort . I bought many books, read many stuff, and went to meetings — moots — and met people, and discovered that while Wicca seemed to me a lot more personally comfortable and fitting than Christianity ever had, there were paganisms that felt even more snug. If you see what I mean.
It wouldn’t be true to say I settled on Roman Reconstructionism as my ideal form of paganism. Not as such. Many do: there’s a community of people dedicated to restoring the active worship of the Roman gods, such as Jupiter, Mars, Vesta and Juno, and the many, many others the Romans recognised. (Did you know the Romans had a goddess responsible for door hinges? Cardea is her name. The Romans deified absolutely everything.)
To the extent modern society and their own moral structure allows it, Roman Reconstructionists look to rebuild the entire traditional framework of that old religion. Some things they’ve had to remove, of course. Modern sensibilities generally don’t allow for slavery or blood sacrifice — both fundamental aspects of Roman society and religious practice — and most people nowadays would find the Roman attitude to women pretty repugnant. And that’s fine: Reconstructionism doesn’t, or shouldn’t, demand every last detail be mimicked. The gods live in the now, after all: they’re not stuck two thousand years in the past, and they know society’s moved on (for example, having dominion over communications, the Roman god Mercury is the de facto god of the Internet).
But as fascinating as I find Roman history — and I do, and always have — I never felt especially drawn to recreate the rites and rituals that their society revolved around. I’ve never been one for ritual at all, if I’m honest, and the idea of making sacrifice or regular obeisance to appease gods never really struck me as important. The gods may disagree, of course, but I never had the sense this was the case. I’ve always had the very firm sense that, where gods are concerned, I may leave them to their own devices, and they — so far as it pleases them to do so — will leave me to mine.
But something drew me to these particular gods, even though I never really talked to them much. They were how I saw things. They were the shape that divinity took in my mind. One of the reasons for this — as has become clearer to me in recent years — is partially that the Roman gods seem to represent relatively impersonal elements of nature, including human nature. I’ve always had difficulty with the concept of a personal God or gods, one that cares for me and wants the best and gives much of a hoot what I do in life. Which isn’t to say that such an entity doesn’t exist, one or more, but that I don’t feel in any way connected to them.
Instead, my understanding of deity has always been rather mechanistic. Impersonal. The gods — if I’m to use that word for them — simply pursue their own agendas, and will cooperate with me if I serve those ends. Otherwise, things get complicated.
There’s a fairly transactional aspect to the Roman gods, and that’s something that resonates very strongly with me. That’s how my world works. I’ll come to that in more detail in due course, but this is the second of two quite long posts. So for now it’s enough to say that where some religious believers offer prayers to the divine as they see it in the hope that the world will change in the way they hope, for me it’s a little different.
The gods being the elements of nature and sapience, they act without sentiment or favour. The world they’re weaving can be altered, either with their agreement or with their indifference. But there is a price. The key is to know what the price is and be sure you want to pay it. After that, actually finding the way to write up and finalise the contract can be relatively simple.
But it’s not for this post.