Exploring Pagan Ethical Codes: Druids

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This article is part two of a new series, in which we examine Pagan and Heathen ethical codes. While the Wiccan Rede is arguably the best known Pagan ethical code, it is not the only one followed. We’ll look at a particular code and then explore a specific example of striving to live by that code. Part one, the Ten Precepts of Solon, can be found here.

Modern Druids may not have a specific written ethical code, such as the Rede or the 10 Commandments, but they do have a ethics that guide their lives and their actions. The Wild Hunt spoke with two Druids, one from Canada and one from the UK, about what living an ethical Druidic life looks like.

Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers [Courtesy Photo]

Brendan Myers, has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is a professor at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. He’s also written three books on philosophy and Pagan ethics: The Other Side of Virtue, Loneliness and Revelation, and Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear.

When asked what ethical code Druids follow, Dr. Myers said, “I’d characterise Druidic ethics as a kind of virtue ethics, that is, a model of ethics where what matters most is the embodiment of a certain character; the lore certainly offers rules and laws to follow but this is much less important than becoming a certain kind of person. Druidic moral character prizes knowledge and philosophy, ecological awareness, as well as a warrior-hero model of honour.”

He said a favorite example of this is a proverb called Oisin’s Answer, “When the Irish Pagan warrior-hero Oisin, son of Fionn MacCumhall, was asked by St. Patrick what sustained him and his people before the coming of Christianity, Oisin said ‘The truth that was in our hearts, and strength in our arms, and the fulfillment of our [oaths].’ ”

Myers said that he follows an idiosyncratic spiritual-humanist philosophy, inspired by Druidic thought but also by various 20th century philosophers, “The idea is that human life is always circumscribed by inevitable, unavoidable, and quasi-mythic events: birth and death, growing up and growing old, loneliness and solitude, our social relations, our embodied requirements for food and air, and so on. I call these events ‘the immensities.’ The encounter with the immensity often at first appears to be freedom-constraining, or life-obstructing. Yet the immensity also demands from each person a response. The excellent response involves humanity, integrity, and wonder: these clusters of virtue transform the encounter with the immensity from a situation of fear and frustration, into a situation of life-affirmation and meaning. The unexcellent response, the response lacking in those virtues, leads to more fear, more despair, more frustration, more social injustice.”

Myers added that his choice of career is part of how he lives out the ethical code of a modern Druid, “I suppose that as a writer and a college professor, I pursued a career that’s as close as one can come to the kind of career the ancient Druids had. Like them, I am a professional knowledge-worker, and an advocate for social justice. I’ve favoured causes that seemed to me both important and also summoned by the call of the immensity: environmental protection, feminism, labour and working class activism. Although it isn’t “Druidic,” in my private view I’m also a fan of the Charge of the Goddess and its prescription for a meaningful life: “dance, feast, sing, make music and love.” It’s hard to imagine how a life could be meaningful without them. But there’s no such thing as a cultural purist, and there never has been; I also learn from the Upansiads, and the Tao Te Ching, and the Stoics, and all the people I’ve met in every country I’ve ever visited.”

Joanna van der Hoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven [Courtesy Photo]

Joanna van der Hoeven is also from Canada, but she moved to the UK in 1998. She is the Co-Founder of Druid College United Kingdom, which prepares priests of Nature. Her formal education includes a B.A. with Honors in English Language and Literature degree. In her work as a Druid, she studied with Emma Restall Orr and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. He published works include The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s exploration of sanctuary and sacred space, and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.

Ms. van der Hoeven said that within Druidry, there is no one ethical code that all Druids should follow. “Dogma is antithetical to Druidry, as it is a religion, spirituality or philosophy that follows nature. As nature is constantly changing, the Druid seeks to find an honourable relationship with the world around her in order work and live better in the world, in harmony with the environment, changing and adapting; always learning. In my work at Druid College UK, we teach a deep reverence for the natural world, and allow that reverence to let us live our lives to the fullest in harmony. We investigate deeply every aspect of our lives, looking at our consumerism, our local environment, what we can do to live in peace with the world and more. When we have a real understanding that we are a part of an ecosystem, we broaden our view from the singular to the plural, and our perspective encompasses the whole.”

In talking about how she tries to live a life in an honorable relationship with the world, van der Hoeven said, “Examples of living this ethic in my own life include buying organic and local food as much as possible, growing some of my own food, having a wildlife-friendly garden, taking daily walks to connect with and learn from the land, having solar panels on my roof, using as little electricity and petrol as possible, donating to charity, regular litter-picks, learning about permaculture; the list goes on.

“It is about understanding that there is no separation, that we are a part of a whole, connected to everything around us. We are dependent upon everything else, working together to create life as we know it. It is the relationships that we have with everything around us, whether it is the blackbird or the deer, a work colleague, politicians, honey bee or mountain.”

[Twitter/Druid College UK]

[Twitter/Druid College UK]

Like Myers, van der Hoeven also said that being a knowledge-worker was an important way to live one’s ethics, “As an author and a Druid I hope to inspire people with words to find out how they can live a life in-tune with the world around them, not taking too much and always giving back: the cycle of life, a true, honourable and sustainable relationship. For me personally, and what I teach is that service is at the heart of Druidry, based on strong relationship that allows us to find a deep integration with the world around us, immersing ourselves in the flow of nature.”

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Over the next year, Cara Schulz will continue to explore the many different ethical codes present in modern Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. With help from others, she will highlight the codes themselves, their history and how they manifest in people’s daily lives.
Part Three Coming Soon …