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What Neopagan Druids Believe
(c) 1984 P. E. I. Bonewits
Reprinted from "The Druids' Progress" #1

   Here's a brief introduction to the basic beliefs that I expect will characterize most members of ADF (a Neopagan Druid organization).  These spiritual beliefs are similar to most of those held by  other Neopagans (see Margot Adler's book,  "Drawing Down  the Moon")  and the similarities are far more important than whatever specific distinctions of doctrine or ethnic focus there might  be between  us and other Neopagans.  I should also mention that  not all  Neopagans  who consider themselves Druids  will  necessarily agree with every point of the following list.  Nonetheless, these beliefs  will be the roots of ADF's polytheology,  the source of the spiritual grove we seek to plant.

   1)  We  believe that divinity is both immanent (internal)  and transcendent (external).  We see the Gods as being able to  manifest  at  any  point in space or  time,  including  within  human beings,  which  they might choose,  although they may often  have their preferences.  Often this develops among some Neopagans into pantheism  ("the physical world is divine") or panentheism  ("the Gods are everywhere"). We tend more towards the latter position.

   2)  We  believe  that divinity is as likely to manifest  in  a female form as it is in a male form, and that therefore women and
men are spiritually equal. We insist on a dynamic balance between female and male deities honored and/or invoked at every ceremony, and a strict gender balance in whatever theories of  polytheology that we eventually develop. We're "liberals" about women's rights and gay rights, but not "radicals;" that is to say, we're unwilling  to subordinate all our other principles in order to  promote this  particular principle.  People who wish to make feminism  or gay  activism the absolute center of all their spiritual activity will probably be happier in other groups.

   3) We believe in a multiplicity of gods and goddesses,  all of whom are likely to be worthy of respect,  love and worship. Sometimes  we  believe in these divinities as  individual  and  independent entities; sometimes as Jungian "archetypes of the collective unconscious" or "circuits in the psychic Switchboard;" sometimes  as aspects or faces of one or two major deities (the "High God/dess" and/or "the Goddess and the Horned God"); and sometimes as  "all  of the above!" We feel that this  sort  of  flexibility leads  to pluralism (instead of monism),  multi-valued logic systems  and  an increased tolerance of other people's  beliefs  and lifestyles.  All of these are vital if our species is ever  going to  learn  to  live in peace and harmony amid a  multiplicity  of human cultures.

   4) We believe that it is necessary to have a respect and  love for Nature as divine in her own right, and to accept ourselves as a  part of Nature and not as her "rulers." We tend to accept what has come to be known as "the Gaia hypothesis," that the biosphere of  our  planet is a living being,  who is due all the  love  and support that we,  her children,  can give her. This is especially important  in  our modern era,  when 3000 years  of  monotheistic belief  that  "mankind is to have dominion over the  Earth"  have come close to destroying the ability of the biosphere to maintain itself.  Many Neopagan groups refer to themselves as "Earth religions"  and  this is a title which we believe  Neopagan  Druidism should proudly claim,  and which we should work to earn.  Thus we consider  ecological awareness and activism to be sacred  duties.  If the ecology,  conservation and anti-nuclear movements are ever to have "chaplains," we should be among them.

   5)  We  believe in accepting the positive aspects  of  western science and technology,  but in maintaining an attitude of  worryness towards their supposed ethical neutrality.  The overwhelming majority of Neopagans are technophiles, not technophobes. We tend to be better scientifically educated than the general population, and  thus we have a religious duty to speak out about the  economics,  political and  ecological uses and abuses of  science  and technology.

   6) We share with most other Neopagans a distaste for monolithic  religious organizations and would-be messiahs and gurus.  Obviously,  this  places the founders of Neopagan religious  traditions in a complex position: they need enough religious authority to focus the organizations they're founding,  but not so much  as to  allow them (or their successors) to become oppressive.  Since the  pluralistic  approach denies the existence of any  One  True Right  and Only Way,  and since Neopagans insist upon  their  own human fallibility,  we expect to be able to steer ADF between the Scylla of tyranny and the Charybdis of anarchy.

   7)  In  keeping with this,  we believe that healthy  religions should  have  a minimum amount of dogma and a maximum  amount  of eclectism  and  flexibility.  Neopagans tend to be  reluctant  to accept any idea without personally investigating both its practicality and its long-range consequences.  They are also likely  to take  useful  ideas from almost any source that doesn't  run  too fast  to  get  away.  We intend ADF to be  a  "reconstructionist" tradition of Druidism,  but we know that eventually concepts from nonDruidic  sources will be grafted on to our trees.  There's  no harm  in this,  as long as we stay aware of what we are doing  at every  step  of the way,  and make a legitimate  effort  to  find authentic  (and therefore spiritually and esthetically congruent) parallels in genuine Indo-European sources first.  As for  flexibility,  Neopagan  Druidism is an organic religion,  and like all other  organisms it can be expected to grow,  change and  produce offshoots as the years go by.

   8)  We believe that ethics and morality should be  based  upon joy,  self-love  and  respect;  the avoidance of actual  harm  to others; and the increase of public benefit. We try to balance out people's needs for personal autonomy and growth,  with the necessity  of  paying  attention to the impact  of  each  individual's actions  on the lives and welfare of others.  The commonest  Neopagan  ethical expression is "If it doesn't hurt anyone,  do what you  like." Most Neopagans believe in some variant or another  of the  principle  of karma,  and state that the  results  of  their actions  will always return to them.  It's difficult for ordinary humans to successfully commit "offenses against the Gods,"  short of major crimes such as ecocide or genocide,  and our deities are perfectly  capable of defending their own honor without any  help from mortal busybodies.  We see the traditional monotheistic concepts of sin,  guilt and divine retribution for thought-crimes as sad misunderstandings of natural growth experiences.

   9)  We  believe  that human beings were meant  to  lead  lives filled with joy, love, pleasure, beauty and humor. Most Neopagans are fond of food,  drink,  music,  sex and bad puns, and consider all  of  these (except possibly the puns) to be  sacraments.  Although  the  ancient Druids appear to have  had  ascetics  within their ranks, they also had a sensualist tradition, and the common folk  have  always preferred the latter.  Neopagan Druids try  to keep these two approaches in balance and harmony with each  other by avoiding dualistic extremes.  But the bedrock question is, "If your religion doesn't enable you to enjoy life more, why bother?"

   10) We believe that with proper training,  art, discipline and intent,  human  minds and hearts are fully capable of  performing
most  of  the  magic and miracles they are ever likely  to  need.  This  is  done through the use of what we  perceive  as  natural, divinely  granted  psychic powers.  As with many  other  Neopagan traditions,  the conscious practice of magic is a central part of  most  of  our religious rituals.  Unlike monotheists,  we see  no clearcut division between magic and prayer.  Neither, however, do we  assume an automatic connection between a person's ability  to perform "miracles" and either (a) their personal spirituality  or (b) the accuracy of their poly/theological opinions.

   11)  We  believe in the importance of celebrating  the  solar, lunar and other cycles of our lives.  Because we see ourselves as a part of Nature, and because we know that repeating patterns can give meaning to our lives, we pay special attention to astronomical  and  biological cycles.  By consciously observing  the  solstices,  equinoxes  and  the points in between,  as well  as  the phases  of the moon,  we are not only aligning ourselves with the movements and energy patterns of the external world,  but we  are also  continuing  customs that reach back to the  original  Indo-European peoples and beyond.  These customs are human universals, as  are  the  various ceremonies known as "rites of  passage"  -- celebrations  of birth,  puberty,  personal dedication to a given deity or group,  marriage, ordination, death, etc.  Together these various sorts of observations help us to find ourselves in  space and time -- past, present and future.

   12)  We  believe that people have the ability to  solve  their current  problems,  both  personal and public,  and to  create  a
better world. Hunger, poverty, war and disease are not necessary, nor inevitable.  Pain,  depression,  lack of creative opportunity and mutual oppression are not necessary either. What is necessary is  a  new spiritual consciousness in which short-sighted  greed, power-mongering  and  violence are seen as  absurd,  rather  than noble.  This utopian vision, tempered with common sense, leads us to a strong commitment to personal and global  growth,  evolution and balance.

   13)  We believe that people can progress far towards achieving growth,  evolution  and  balance through  the  carefully  planned alteration  of their "normal" states of consciousness.  Neopagans use  both  ancient and modern methods  of  aiding  concentration, meditation,  reprogramming  and ecstasy.  We seek to avoid  being locked into single-valued,  monistic "tunnel realities," and  instead  work on being able to switch worldviews according to their appropriateness for each given situation, while still maintaining a firm spiritual, ethical and practical grounding.

   14)  We believe that human interdependence  implies  community service.  Neopagan  Druids are encouraged to use their talents to help others,  both inside and outside of the Neopagan  community. Some of us are active in political, social, ecological and charitable  organizations,  while others prefer to work for the public good primarily through spiritual means (and many of us do  both).  As  Neopagan  Druids  we  have the right and  the  obligation  to actively  oppose (physically and spiritually) those forces  which would  kill  our planet,  oppress our fellow  human  beings,  and destroy our freedom of religion.  Also,  however,  we have a constant need to evaluate our own methods and motives,  and to  make sure that our actions are coming from the depths of our spiritual beings, and not from petty or short-sighted desires for power.

   15) We believe that if we are to achieve any of our goals,  we must  practice what we preach.  Neopagan Druidism should be a way of life,  not merely a weekly or monthly social function. Thus we must  always  strive to make our lives consistent with  our  proclaimed  beliefs.  In  a time when many people  are  looking  for something solid to hang on to in the midst of rapid technological and  cultural changes,  Neopagan Druidism can offer a natural and creative  alternative to the repressive structures of  mainstream monotheism.  But our alternative will not be seen as such  unless we  can  manage to make it a complete lifestyle -- one with  concern, if not always immediate answers, for the problems of everyday life, as well as the grand cosmic questions.

   Obviously, there's a great deal more to Neopaganism in general and  our  version of it in particular.  The details  of  Neopagan polytheology  will  take years to develop.  The  section  of  the "Druid  Handbook" dealing with beliefs will consist of statements with commentaries (and even arguments) about the meanings of  the statements.  The purpose of this format is multiple: to emphasize that  there are no final answers to the great questions of  human existence;  to  express clearly that Neopagans can disagree  with each  other about subtle details of interpretation,  while  still remaining  members of the same religion;  and to allow the belief system  to grow and adapt to changing cultural and  technological needs.  Neopagan Druidism is to be a religion of the  future,  as well as of the present and the past.

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This  article  has  been reprinted from "The  Druids'  Progress",
issue #1, and is copyright 1984 by P. E. I. Bonewits. "DP" is the
irregular journal of a Neopagan Druid group called "Ar  nDraiocht
Fein",  founded  by Bonewits (author of "Real Magic").  For  more
data,  send an S.A.S.E.  to:  Box 9398,  Berkeley, CA, USA 94709.
Permission  to distribute via BBS's is hereby  granted,  provided
that the entire article, including this notice, is kept intact.
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