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Natural Religion and Druidry

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March 2009
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It is fair to speculate that modern Druidry was influenced by the ideas of Deism current in the 17th and 18th centuries when the seeds of the modern druid orders were planted.  I have suggested elsewhere in these pages that Druidry and Freemasonry are related, probably cousins although each might lay a certain claim to being the “father” of the other.  I say this because some Freemasons in that early period and in the nineteenth century as well, have suggested that Freemasonry the revival of the ancient wisdom of the Druids.

The claim may sound curious without the logic upon which it is built.  The first premise is that Masonry is a mystery tradition, not just a fraternity, and that it is the vehicle by means of which the old spiritual wisdom and initiatic current was transmitted to the modern age in Europe.  The second premise is that there was a unified and universal religion practiced by our prehistoric ancestors and from this religion descended all modern religions.  Corrollary to the second premise is the idea that the descent of religion involved it moving away from its pure roots and becoming corrupted by priesthoods that desired to use it a a tool for politics and power.  The initiatice tradition of individual enlightenment was replaced with various social forms of mediation, placing priesthoods between God and ordinary people.

W. L. Wilmshurst in his classic book The Meaning of Masonry suggests this kind of devolution of spiritual insight into priestly mediation.  Now, of course, such a thing is highly conjectural and as a generalization will probably not stand to scrutiny, but it is one of the beliefs upon which much Enlightenment religious thinking was based.  Another key idea related to the idea of devolution of spirituality from its pure source is that of Natural Religion.  This idea, developed by Deists among others, maintained that morality could be reduced to logical and rational principles without reference to any particular religious sect.  This Natural Religion, was in fact the essence of the pure religion before it was added to with needless accretions of pomp and ritual apparatus and hierarchies.

At the same time, we find that these thinkers looked back to ancient India and Egypt as sources for the great mystery schools of initiation that passed on the Secret Doctrine (as Blavatsky called it).  The belief was that this Secret Doctrine had been passed down though secret organizations from master to pupil since the dawn of time.  This was a central tenet of Theosophy.  But Natural Religion is simpler even that that and it will, I believe, do modern Druids good to think about its six moral precepts.  I paraphrase loosely from an article by Chris Impens called “The First Charge Revisited.” in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (Vol. 120 for 2007), a paper to which I do not have immediate access but which has been quoted by one of my correspondents. Impens himself is, I believe, quoting another author named Clarke, though I lack the full reference.  I will offer the paraphrase of each precept and then my own commentary.

All created rational Beings, depend continually upon God.  Therefore, they are rationally  bound to adore, worship and obey God; to praise him for all things they enjoy, and to pray him for every thing they want.  This, of course, begs the question What is God? But we may easily turn around the statement to discover the answer.  God is a word we use to denote that spiritual invisible power within every rational being that is the source of its reason, its being, and all the good fortune of life.  God is a power for Good and for Reason and each human being derives its ability to do good things and to reason from that source.  For this reason it is metaphorically called The Father, or even The Allfather.  We “depend” on God in the sense that our Being comes from that source, the word “depend” in its Latin root (dependare) meaning “to hang down from.”

All are bound to promote, in their proportion, and according to the extent of their several powers and abilities, the general good and welfare of those parts of the world, wherein they are placed, especially to make it their business by an universal Benevolence, to promote the happiness of all others.  The logic of this is that by the first moral law, all humans are brothers and sisters, ultimately emanating or proceeding from the same single source denoted by the word God.

In order to do this, every human being is bound always to behave himself towards others, as in reason he would desire they should in like circumstances deal with him.  This law is, of course, the Golden Rule.  It proceeds logically from the first law in that this is the way we may rationally judge how to behave from a mental attitude of empathy and compassion.

Therefore, we are obliged triply:
A.  To obey and submit to our superiors in all just things, for the preservation of Society, and the Peace and benefit of the Public

B.  To be just and honest, equitable and sincere, in all our dealings with our equals, for the keeping inviolable the everlasting Rule of Righteousness, and maintaining an universal confidence, friendship, and affection amongst Men

C.  To our Inferiors to be gentle and kind, easy and affable, charitable and willing to assist as many as may be in need our help, for the preservation of universal Love and Benevolence in Mankind.

In these three parts of the Fourth Law we find imbedded social and economic distinctions, not because these are Divinely ordained, but because they are facts of life in human society.  This law is about how we are to act within that social order and boils down to treating everyone equitably and respecting social authorities who have power over us, so long as they are just in their actions.

In respect of ourselves we are bound to preserve our own Being and the right use of all our faculties, so long as it shall please God, who appointed him his Station in this World, to continue therein.  Which is to say that we are obliged by this interdependency and descent from God to take care of ourselves and developed ourselves in all our mental faculties, spiritual faculties, and physical faculties until such time as we pass away into another existence.

We are bound to have an exact Government of our Passions, and to abstain from all Debaucheries and Abuses of ourselves, which tend either to Destruction of our own Being, or to the disordering our Faculties, and disabling us from performing our Duty, of hurrying ourselves into the practice of unreasonable and unjust things.  This law is also a corollary following  on the other premises; namely, that bound together and emanating from the same source, if we destroy ourselves or hurt others through ungoverned passions such as lust, violence, anger, greed, or jealousy, we harm the whole body of Humanity and God.

These laws or obligations may be summarized by ‘the three great and principal Branches, from which al! other and smaller instances of duty do naturally flow, or may without difficulty  be derived’,  these ‘principal Moral Obligations’ being the following three:
Piety or our duty towards God (Rule One); Righteousness or our duty towards each another (Rules Two, Three, and Four); and Sobriety or Our Duty towards Ourselves (Rules Five and Six).

This last formulation could almost be a Druid triad.

So, modern druids, believing that that ancient druids practiced something much closer to Natural Religion than the elaborate priestly religions of Egypt, India, Jerusalem, and Rome, may do well to embrace these six precepts as a guide to Natural Morality.  For the root of all of these is the realization that all beings emanate into this world of forms from a single source.  This is not “monotheism” but simply the idea of the Divine Monad, that all things form a Whole and that there is a source of Being.  Few modern scientists would be likely to disagree with the hypothesis, even though it cannot practically be proven.  Modern scientific thinking has endeavored to keep itself separate from religious thinking, but even so, it accepts as a working hypothesis that all living creatures on Earth descended from the same primordial source of life.  Life, that peculiar and mysterious organization of organisms, must have some Source.  It may be thought that lightning playing upon the primordial soup created life.  But to take that as an hypothesis is almost to step off into the language of myth and it may come as no surprise that the Sky Father or God of Lightning is often the mythic figure identified with this One God who created all beings.

There are, of course, many other creation myths that do not represent the process as the act of an anthropomorphized Source, and many that do not represent creation as something that happened sometime in the past, but rather as something which is always happening.  Still, even modern science seems to think that there is some sort of origin of organic organization on Earth and that this organization advanced in complexity up to the emergence of the human species.  Likewise, many mystical traditions carry this logic further to suggest that the human species is continuing its evolution, not on a material plane so much as on the invisible, spiritual plane.

Modern scientific schools, as a matter of course, identify and describe the actions of many invisible forces and complex systems.  It is not, therefore, too much to ask the modern druid to think of the Spiritual plane of existence as that conglomeration of invisible forces, including the invisible organization and power of the human mind.  If the First Law is accepted as a working hypothesis, then it follows that this universal Source of All is in fact inclusive of All Things, and that it also must include a universal Source of Mind which is manifest in our species, and to a less complicated degree in other species as well.

We observe this concept of Mind in the beehive, the dolphins, the penguins, dogs, cats, and by some extention of the concept even in plant life.  It is an invisible source of action and Will.  In humans it is also a self-aware source.  In a sense, we might say that to believe in God, the One Source of All Things, is to believe that there is a universal unifying ecology which connects All Things.

Those who argue against “monotheism” and in favor of “polytheism” consider the two ideas mutually exclusive.  Why not have many “sources”?  One answer to this question is simply that if we follow that hypothesis, then the whole edifice of this morality collapses.  There is no reason for the Golden Rule, if in fact we are not all connected in some sense, if we are not all brothers and sisters.  It seems safe to say that historically polytheism without the addition of an Allfather of the gods and goddesses logically breeds division and tribalism and pits one group of humans against another.  Nor does it offer any logical reason for respecting other forms of life.  I will not claim it is the “only way” but it is certainly one way to achieve an end to this division and selfishness to adopt the belief in the One as the Source of All.

In the Irish druidic pantheon I believe this One God is the Daghda, whose name is usually translated as simply “The Good God.”  He is noted for his invincible cudgel and his cauldron of infinite food.  Some have identified Daghda’s pot with the Holy Grail because of its limitless powers of fecundity, prosperity, and healing.  In other words, what comes from that cauldron is Goodness.

It will be noticed that the One is the First Law.  As in the Jewish Ten Commandments, the first is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” which does not say, you shall have no other gods. It in fact implies that there are plenty of other gods.  It just says that the speaker is the Allfather, from whom all other gods and all other beings emanates in the act of creation.  In the druid Awen symbol – three rays descending from three points of light and encircled, the three fundamental moral principles may be seen – as stated by Clarke and Impens above:  Piety, Rightousness, and Sobriety.  In other words:  Right Action towards the Source of All; Right Action to All beings; Right action to our own Being.

This concept of Right Action is not only Rational it is also the foundation of the Doctrine of Love.  The Christian “Love thy neighbor as thyself” or the Buddhist’s compassion and right living are only two doctrines in major religions which express this fundamental idea, which is the recognition of the absolute Good of brotherly love.


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