Saturday, November 3, 2012

ABtMS (aka Brother)

Hello and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Dana for her very enjoyable interview of two weeks ago! Thank you so much for sharing with all of us Dana!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome ABtMS (aka Brother). ABtMS is a Druid and I know you will enjoy his interview as well!
Here Is ABtMS/ Brother's Introduction:

At the age of 19, I came upon druidry and began my path in the physical world towards its realization. Nineteen years later, having witnessed the flourishing of the now prominent orders and the dissolution of many others, I was given the ministry of a sacred grove, centered upon my friend, the nemeton, a several-centuries-old valley oak tree in the foothills of what John Muir called the range of light. I am also the steward of a creek in northern California, volunteer to plant trees whenever possible, have a degree in neuroscience psychology, and work as a private investigator.

1) What religion do you practice?
There is no good name for the religion or spirituality of the druids, either in ancient times or today, as it would always have been, and still is, a very local endeavor. Modern druids are not a homogenous group either, because many orders have been founded during the past ~300 years that have little to nothing within them that would be recognized by the ancient or classical period druids, though there are 2 branches of druidry that are practiced to the present day, typically referred to as the revival or meso-druids (c. 1700 to 1950), which base their practice on the spurious works of Iolo Morganwg and the masonic groups that arose simultaneously; and modern or neo-druidry, which sprung up at the same time wicca was created. This does not actually get at what one might mean by “druid,” however, as within the present orders, there is a wide variety of practice, from hard polytheism or even monotheism, to henotheism, pantheism, panentheism, naturalism, humanism and atheism. Unfortunately, many of the druids out there do not have quite the education that our ancient ancestors had, and do not know the difference between either these terms or their meanings, leading to a great deal of confusion being promulgated regarding druidism.

The word, however, speaks of knowledge derived from the oak tree, i.e. balanoculture and its related spirituality, so to distinguish my somewhat more strict interpretation from many in the Celtic-flavored pagan world, I refer to myself as a fundamentalist druid, because I do not care one whit for any deity short of a divine universe (pantheism), and emphasize the connection with the physical oak and its ecosystem as being the defining characteristic of a druid.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
As the modern druid orders only go back to the 1950s, with previous “druid” orders being primarily fraternal societies rather than religions per se, the number of druids who were raised as such is exceedingly small. There is no particular conversion process, although some orders are initiatory. While it would be nice to think that anyone who joined one of the orders would exclude themselves from other orders with contradictory theology or dogma, it is standard practice within the community of those called druids to disregard these differences, and indeed, for the orders themselves to be fuzzy on the details, which allows for some to continue Christian or other religious practices while also practicing druidry. Personally, I think that this lacks any intellectual integrity, so if I had an apprentice, which is the way I would personally have the care of the immortal groves, they would not continue in this pattern, but this is one of many places where I disagree with the majority of those called druids.

Prior to thinking of myself in the framework of druidry, I was raised in a Protestant Christian household, however, I eventually decided that I would not bend the knee for even the sole god of the universe if that was the god of the bible, as that god is an astonishingly cruel, genocidal and patently unreasonable deity. After some time, I was able to let go of my childhood faith, and what was left was a reverence for the real world, without all of the insanity of myths and attempting to live by them.

3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
There are many divisions of druidry, as mentioned above, however, if one were to overlay these modern notions on druidry, it would likely have more to do with the coherence of an order’s doctrine, with those that are more a lifestyle or aesthetic being “liberal” and those that rely on reconstructionism or potentially humanism might be more “conservative.” Pantheists, by virtue of being able to behave like soft polytheists without giving up on their core theory of religion would probably be the moderates. Most modern orders (by that standard) are overwhelmingly liberal, in that they hardly seem to believe even in what they say they believe in, giving unfettered discretion to the practitioner to do or think or believe otherwise, much less enough to act like the tenets are real around others. If one were to be a “druid” of the Reformed Druids of North America, for example, all you really have to believe is essentially that maybe nature is good. Believe that, and you’re a druid if you want to be. If one were to be a druid of the Henge of Keltria, on the other hand, it would require six months before you can begin an educational program, and many years of specific practices involving specific deities and before you could be identified as such. As our practice was not received from on high, exists in no canonical text that can be referred to, and has not been consistently practiced from the beginning to today, there would not be such a thing as an orthodox druid, and the other “degrees of observance” really do not fit with druidry very closely as a result.

4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you (ie. Orthodox, conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I view these “degrees of observance” as a fundamentalist would, in black and white. Either somebody is doing druidry, or they’re not. I chose this “degree” because I am convinced that words have meaning, and that the meanings do not change based on what I want them to be. In lieu of that irrational mindset, I just use different words. What this means is that anyone who does not return to an actual rooted and living oak tree or grove, as a sacred place, is not doing druidry as it is defined in a fundamental way. So-called pagan religions have a history of modifying known structures to accommodate their desires, so to many pagans, druidry is simply any practice that includes Celtic deities, but this disregards what the Celts (and Germanic tribes of the same time) were actually doing, and superimposes a thoroughly Judeo-Christian concept of divinity on the ancient practices so as to look like a religion to the modern general population and gain adherents. The problem with this is that pagan (defined as “non-christian”) religions are not-Christianity for a reason, and that applying those characteristics to another religion, even if done in a negative form, as happened with witchcraft, does not leave a coherent theology.

5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
There is no afterlife per se. What you do in this life, in the body you have, in the time and place you live, is all you will ever do. When the body dies, the person ceases to exist, and we will not come this way again. What continues is the massive web of causation that has come from the original illumination (big bang) and will continue to the end of the universe. I personally believe that there is something that remains of our actions and personality, in a place without time, looking for all the world like a vast spiral of stars, each sentient being a light, each relationship a shape in the void. I can’t prove that, however, so it does not rise to the level of a doctrine.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
The aforementioned place would not be properly described as paradise. Consider it more of a place where any being can experience the perceptions of any other being that has ever existed or ever will. As such, every person not only will be there, but is there already, along with every mosquito and every blade of grass.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
It is true. One of my personal mottos is “never allow yourself to believe a lie.” Any religion with a deity that is not a deified universe is manifestly a lie. Any practice where one tricks himself or herself into believing or doing something they would not do without trickery, is a lie. The world is not 6000 years old. The sun did not sit still in the sky for Joshua. Merlin is not trapped in a tree waiting to be released. These things are stories. If you believe them as facts, then they are lies, and it is your belief that makes them so. The beautiful thing about pantheism is that there is not one single experiment or data point that goes against it. The science of a thousand years from now will simply provide more knowledge and wonder regarding the universe, while I suspect any religion not based upon a pantheist or panentheist perspective will have been definitively disproven by that point, and many already have been. Some people are able to lie to themselves enough to disregard evidence or empiricism, but I cannot.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
There are generally no days set aside by the religion as being particularly different from any others, although some are traditionally used as timekeepers. Some do attempt to harness the energy of the time by being more precise in dating, but that is the extent of their holiness. Unfortunately, the orders now extant have various ways of calculating these points, with some picking the astronomical equinoxes and solstices, and then half-way points between each for a total of eight, and others just using these as guidelines, placing a ritual somewhere convenient around the calculated dates. In an attempt to be more consistent with the actual world, I also count eight points in the year as timekeepers. These consist of the eight points marked by the (annual) solar analemma, which produces two dates for the solstices, at the highest and lowest degrees of solar altitude, four dates from the highest and lowest solar azimuths, and two dates when the sun crosses over the other branch of the figure.

Most druid orders have specific rituals based on a yearly cycle of meaning, keyed to each of the eight dates. Some only include four dates, these being the solstices and equinoxes or the cross-quarter days between them. Some groves, and at least one order, also have lunar observances on the dates of the full, new, first and last quarter moon.

As the ancient druids did not, as a group, observe all eight of these festivals or feasts, there are none that are required within my own practice beyond the gathering in the grove at Samhuin. On that day, anyone who did not return to his or her grove was previously considered to have died during the year, and as the Celtic new year’s eve, it is an appropriate time to get together the community, share the harvest, and have some fellowship before the winter sets in. According to Jean Markale, all available evidence shows that Samhuin was forty days after the autumnal equinox, which aligns well with the analemma, and we know from Caesar that the druids began their counting of nights at sundown, rather than counting days at sunrise, so for this year, Samhuin begins at sunset on November 1.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Yes. They’re just wrong about some things. :)

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
No. As I mentioned above, I do not view religious activity as a lifestyle choice. For those who believe in it, it is a matter of life and death and eternal damnation or paradise, and that is far too serious for me to be flippant about. I have zero interest in intruding on someone’s sacred space and time for fun, curiosity, or any other reason. That said, I have been at the installation of gods in Hindu temples, I’ve kneeled and stood at the right times in Catholic masses, and I’ve sat in a zen Buddhist monastery (I was quiet during the chanting). As a quiet observer, by all means go, but to participate in the celebration is to degrade the practice of the believers, including one’s own practice, if it is coherent.

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
As Shariah does not allow for druidry, and would likely subject me to capital punishment, I think that’s bad. As the burka conceals the wearer to a greater degree than the general population, the wearer obtains tactical advantage in some cases that is not desirable for the majority non-muslim community. Druidry says little about one’s dress, however, so this is really outside its scope.

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, imam etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Women are, and should continue to be included in any hierarchical expression of druidry.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
I assume this is a question based on sex or gender, and in my grove, there is no place for segregation, as an oak is monoecious. Historically speaking, there have been exclusionary practices, with some of the ancient groves being only for men, and some of the fraternal orders being (obviously) for men only. I am not aware of any serious orders that currently segregate, although the doctrines of Douglas Monroe, a pariah in most druid circles, does encourage men and women to pursue somewhat different paths within druidry.

14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
As I am a pantheist, this resolves to making decisions rationally, based on the best available information at the time, which is often scientific in nature. There are things, however, that are simply not addressed by the fundamentals of druidry, and marriage (including gay marriage) is certainly one of them, as there is no analogue for the practice of sexual, symbiotic or social monogamy within the oak. Less strict orders conduct rituals of marriage, in keeping with the prevailing norms, which are Judeo-Christian, and often reflect the spiritual marriage of Celtic lords to their lands, which occurred during at least the classical period of druidry and afterwards.

15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
Again, as a pantheist, there is no presumption that one should even have children. Furthermore, as someone who believes that this life and world are the only life and world we get, reproduction of oneself is simply not justifiable in a world that does not support the population it has already, because the quantities to be compared are on the one hand, a child who could be the next Hitler (face it, they aren’t all the next Gandhi), and on the other hand, the destruction of all human life on earth. Those are simply not odds worth betting on. However, historically, druidry was a hereditary profession, and the druids’ love of education is one of the things that has come down to our present understanding, so if I were to adopt a child, raise them in a proper understanding of the universe and our place in it, and they were to go and trade it in for an unnecessary marriage and this was to an individual who insisted they change their beliefs or the expression thereof, then there would likely be a series of reactions. I would attempt to convert the potential spouse, I would discourage the marriage, and if it came to it, they would leave my communion.

16) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
There is no hell to go to. (see question 5)

Although not the only way it can happen, one can make one’s own life a living hell, and that would persist in the proceedings of the universe. This is the only case where one’s actions would cause such an outcome, and it is potentially a reversible call.

17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
There are dozens of druid orders, and dozens of other prominent authors and bloggers in the space. I have disagreements, either major or minor, with most of them, though most of this is within the standard deviation. There are, however, several who are unabashedly writers first and druids second, relying on the bardic tradition within druidry to justify the reversed priorities, and I would not necessarily recommend such a source for education on druidry. There are also orders that are doctrinally incoherent, despite being very popular, which are far more insidious (and intentionally so). Ár nDraíocht Féin is the worst offender in this respect, with the founder even mistranslating the name, not to mention calling a weak magical system a religion as if there were no difference, and when that lack of rigor is combined with ambition, as in blogger Teo Bishop, without roots in the real world, the results are predictable and unfortunate.

18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
I am personally against the idea of hate crimes, as the initial crime is the only crime I recognize. A “hateful” motive is of no relevance to the crime itself, and cannot truly be known by any but the perpetrator. The entire notion of hate crimes injects injustice into the system, and that is a deeply anti-druidic thing to do. Have I been the target of crimes? Yep. Just like everybody else.

19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Taoism says the sage sees the people as straw dogs. Christianity says god is no respecter of persons. Judaism says that no matter what you do, you have the same fate as everybody else. Pantheism says that you really have no value to the universe that is any greater than anyone or anything else of approximately equal mass and movement. That certainly does not overvalue me, but it also does not allow us to artificially inflate our worth when compared to other beings in our world. Quite simply, the universe does not need me to do anything beyond what I will do. The value of what I have and will do is unknown to me, as it is to everyone and everything else. Knowing this is freedom (and incidentally, more likely to make you accomplish more in life).

20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Yes and no. I appreciate the natural world, and my fellow human beings, for what they are, which is awesome. Sometimes that awesomeness is in reference to really disturbing and “bad” things. Sometimes one can be awed by the beauty or “goodness” of things as well. Both are genuine interpretations of real events, and if any practice can be said to bring about permanent and total peace of mind, it is likely to be something like narcotics or lobotomies. Of the seven basic human emotions, only one is actually unambiguously positive. The others, from fear and anger to disgust and contempt, are still part of being human. Our objective is not to eliminate or ignore these things, anymore than we should disregard the immense capabilities of our reason, but to do our best with what we have, whatever that may be. There is a perception that pantheism is a rather depressing way of looking at the world, and for that I have no other response than to say that one must face the truth, whatever its impact on our psyches, for without first acknowledging that beginning, our end cannot be any other.

21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
There is no evidence of it ever having happened, the concept flies in the face of logic, and there is no substrate for the effect within science. Therefore, there is no need or reason to believe in it.

We are told by the classical authors that the druids of their age taught the doctrine of reincarnation, even to the point of making contracts between people enforceable after they were both reborn, however, there is no need for this to have been an actual belief, and indeed, it is presented as if it was a cynical tactic of the druids to encourage martial ardor in the population. Neither should we only reenact or recreate what was being done some 2000 years ago, as if nothing has happened in the meantime. That is more than 100 generations of ancestors, for those who come from the same stock, most of which did not hold to any sort of druidic ideal. In fact, most of these would have been actively against anything a druid might stand for today, but it also represents hundreds of years of scientific discoveries. What would have been an entirely reasonable assumption then is obviously ridiculous now. We know the world is not flat, for one. It is a four to ten dimensional world that knows of more richness than the ancient druids would ever have guessed at, so in taking up their name, we carry forward not their knowledge, which is far short of what we have and largely lost to their silence, but their pragmatism, connection with the secluded nemeta of the oak forests, and commitment to the shepherding of our communities towards the good life.

Everything else is poetry.

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