Ever since I was a kid, in many ways I have identified with Druids. I suppose really, what I read about them at the time --that they were a mysterious group of nature-priests, knowledgeable about magic and wildcraft, and living in ancient Britain and Gaul. I lumped them together with Stonehenge, the moors, the oak forests, cutting mistletoe, the Green Man, and so on. So I read books by Janet and Colin Bord, and thought of them as the indigenous tradition of the British Isles (including Ireland). That formed my earliest thoughts of what the Druids were all about.
Since my spirituality was focused on nature, since I loved trees and thought of them as sentient beings, and since I romanticized the megalithic cultures of Briton and Ireland, I began to think of myself on some level as having Druidic inclinations. That if I had been born way back then and there, I fancied I would have become a Druid myself.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a small Montana city of about 25,000 people, and I had no idea there were still people who considered themselves druids. The only options for belief in my enclosed Montana world into my teens and early adulthood (to which I was exposed), were:
1. Roman Catholic Christianity, in which I was schooled in the first three years of elementary school, until it was closed down in 1969, and I was in the last echoes of pre-Vatican II mindset (we were taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in grades 2-3). I was so dyed-in-the-wool "Latin Mass," that when the New Mass (Novus Ordo) started, even though I tried to adjust to the "new" Catholicism, I never really could, and I remain alienated to this day. Even though I have attempted a dozen times to return to the Church every 5 years or so, it has never worked out. I am really a medievalist in my Roman Catholicism and those kinds of churches are rare these days, though I found a nice little monastery church in Anchorage for a year. Except for Christmas and Easter, I really never went to church after 4th grade or so (my dad had a falling out too with the church, over us being poor, and the church's insistent demands for more contributions).
2. Protestant Christianity of the "Other Guys" such as Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Mormonism, Congregationalist, Assembly of God, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, etc. And in Montana we also had Hutterite colonies. The whole bible-thumping fundamentalist "nondenominational" strain did not hit my neck of the woods until the mid-1980s. I always have a problem when the bible-thumpers call themselves "nondenominational" -of COURSE they are denominational.
Of course, as a Catholic, I had little idea of the differences between the various Protestant/nonCatholic groups myself. Helena is rather Irish in its Catholic roots, and so when I was a kid, it was pretty much, "us" Catholics and "those" Protestants. Yes, and for their part, "Protestants" had lots of niceties they recognized between them that I had no cognizance of. In Norman MacClean's book "A River Runs Through It," MacClean's father, a Presbyterian minister said that Methodists are simply Baptists who can read. And the Mormons, Witnesses, Unitarians, and Hutterites were even more "other" than most Protestants, simply "those guys." They might as well have been from the Moon. Although the Mormons always seemed to be really materially successful in business and were better behaved then the rest of us.
3. Non-Church goers were usually older single men, often old crotchety alcoholics or backwoodsmen, who never went to a church of any kind unless it was for a funeral, or maybe a baby's baptism. Women, even if they were old crotchety alcoholics or backwoodswomen (yes, there were a couple) did make it to church, because they were much more savvy about the realities of social interaction and that if you didn't go to church, you were isolated. Women hated being isolated, or at least, were more honest about it. Old men just drank and smoked themselves to death in isolated houses or ranches.
There were a few non-Churchgoers who were less tragic. I didn't really know much about them, except occasionally I would hear of some guy who worked for the government who never went to church. They left for new jobs every few years or so anyways.
4.Indian ways, later to be known as Native American traditions -we still called ourselves Indians in the 1960s and 1970s. My dad is Iowa and Sac/Fox Indian, which is how I got my blood. Helena had an old Indian guy (an Ojibwa from Minnesota) called Eddie Barbeau, who owned Avalanche Kennels out on Custer Avenue, which was out of the city limits in those days (it is gone now, wiped clean by the Big Box stores phenomena of Helena in the 2000s). He raised mostly black labs he trained for bird hunting, but he had a Malamute named "King" too. Mr. Barbeau had come to Helena to be part of the winter sled-team training up in Rimini during World War II as part of the 1st Special Service Force, The Devil's Brigade.
Mr. Barbeau had a iconic place, pivotal in my formation as a kid. Besides the constantly barking dogs, the cries of roaming peacocks, chickens and guinea fowl, the smells of the kennels, a nearby sewage treatment facility, and of rawhide and deerskins permeated the atmosphere and marked it as a different place. He had several painted tipis he had set up by his kennels and residence, along with a small garage he made into a museum full of Indian clothing and crafts. I learned to dress hides, peel poles, paint tipi and parfleches, and watched as my mom learned to bead and do quillwork.
We learned a lot there, of old ways, especially because Barbeau's place was a magnet for Indians of many Montana tribes to come to: Blackfeet, Crow, Cheyenne, Chippewa-Cree, etc. Through that Nexus, our family came to be friends with many different people, and especially with some families down on the N. Cheyenne reservation. Anyway, this is getting long, so the short and the sweet of it is that after 4th grade, my primary spiritual beliefs were shaped by this association with these tribal folks, and with my dad and family.
In those days before the New Age stuff and the wave of "Native American spirituality" really hit in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Indian stuff was still put down. People around here hated Indians. I was called a "prairie nigger", even as pale as I am. So it was a totally different world. A few nonIndians came around to look at Mr. Barbeau's stuff, go to powwows, etc. but there were very few who were interested in participating, so it was no big deal to include them in ceremonies etc. They acted and were treated as guests. I don't remember many wannabes in those days. The Pretendians came later. We didn't even have those terms "wannabe" or "pretendian" back then!
So those were the four choices as to ways of belief up until my early adulthood. There weren't any Wiccans or Druids or Buddhists or anything that we knew of. In the mid-70s, there was a rumor of people doing witchcraft and animal sacrifices up in the Quarry. There was a hippie group that bought a place in the woods in the 70s, started a health food store, and supposedly were into Hinduism and Buddhism, called the Feathered Pipe Ranch. But these were quirks and individuals. The former was whispered about, and the latter was tolerated by most, especially because "they paid their bills."
For me, an artistic, imaginative, weird and solitary kid, Nature was It. Between going to Barbeau's, reading the old ethnographies and "mysterious Britain" type books, hunting and driving around in the mountains with Dad and family, and studying natural history, that was my world, my belief. God made Nature, but in a way, Nature was God too. I admit I was theologically confused, but I had clarity in my own mind about things. I knew we were part Irish, Welsh, Scot and English, and so between the Celtic ancestry and my belief in Nature, I considered myself kinsman to the Druids, even if I did not call myself a Druid.
Except for my Dad, I am the only one in my family who has chosen a different path (my Mom regularly attends Mass, my two brothers are apparently agnostic, although if pressed, probably would say they believe in God, and my two sisters go to church once in a while but are not too religious either), and I am often ribbed because of it, the "weird" brother. Just a couple of days ago, my more conventional and successful brother said "You still think you are a wizard, don't you" in an ironic, disbelieving, accusatory -but gentle- tone of voice. I nodded, shrugged. But they are family and we put up with each other's foibles because we love each other. I think it sad when so many who believe in something different, split ways with family over such a thing.
And I already talked about my experiment as a member of a Druid Order, the AODA, a Druid revival order I worked within through two grades before we "split the sheets" --that is, more aligned to lodge-style practices (aka masonic lodges) than reconstructionist Celtic neopaganism. I have to assert here, that though I have taken some "strange and diverse" paths, I have only worshipped the same God that I know as the Creator, the Earthmaker. I may get confused about the place of Christianity and the Church's terrible and marvelous history, but I always have a special place in my heart for Jesus and his mother Mary.
I don't accept the label of anything specifically, because I am so many different things, some of which are defined in exclusionary ways.
But the question here is: Am I a Druid?
I have wrestled with what it means to be a Druid today. On the one hand, if you want to be totally historically accurate, there aren't any Druids. Even the reconstructionists are just doing a bit of what Levi-Strauss called "bricolage." And reconstructionist bricolage is not much different from revival bricolage; both are just best guesses and preferences.
On the other hand, one could totally just forget about it all, because there is always going to be a bunch of arguments as to who is the "real" druid etc etc ad nauseum.
Sometimes when it is difficult to define what one "is," one can begin by defining by what one is not.
So, for example, to my way of thinking (see above), you are unlikely to be a druid, if...
You dislike or are bored by nature and the environment...
You have never been called a tree-hugger...
You have no interest in the ancient Celts, and have no idea of the differences between a Gaul and a Scot...
You think anything other than the nondenominational, fundamentalist Christianity of your own brand is a bunch of devil-worshippers...
You think all a Druid is, is a character class you play in an RPG...
For me, if any person exhibits the above traits, it is unlikely I could ever think of them as a Druid.
Ultimately, I think there are really two kinds of druids.
1. BRICOLAGIC DRUID - One type tries to gather bits and pieces of historical information from the record (and remembering that there are really only a few written records -by ROMANS, their enemies- about who the druids were and what they did), using that as a nonnegotiable basis, but leaving out parts unacceptable to our time (such as human sacrifice) ...or including parts from other aspects of "Celtic" cultures --such as worship of Brighid and faerie, that there is no direct evidence of belief/behavior that the ancient Druids were adherents of.
2. NEW DRUID - A person who loves nature, has a special attachment to trees, the woods, and wilderness, and whose beliefs and behaviors focus on that attachment --and who wishes to call themselves a Druid
So am I a Druid?
It is one of the terms I sometimes apply to myself, for myself, in my own way. I just say I'm a Druid, based on nothing more than my love for trees as sentient beings, my preference for nature-based spirituality, and my respect for and interest in our ancient and mysterious Celtic past, and my Irish-English-Welsh-Scot ancestors. I know that is not enough for some, but that's enough for me.