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The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth by John Michael Greer
Reviewed by Rain
As one who has found a spiritual home in Druidry I am always on the search for a book that digs a little deeper into the philosophical aspects of this path. John Michael Greer’s book The Druidry Handbook is marketed as a scholarly work that explores this spiritual aspect. It is important to keep in mind that the word Druid itself is subject to multiple interpretations, none of which are deemed to be definitive. While this book explores the spiritual side of the Druid path, it is rooted in the “Revival Druids” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While this is clearly stated on the book jacket, the introduction and scattered through the text, it is not always clear where Greer is drawing his source material. This book is primarily a resource for Greer’s own Druid group, The Ancient Order of Druids in America. I strongly recommend that those new to the Druid path read this book with this in mind. Yet this book does well to explain some of the spiritual aspects of modern Druid practice that are relevant to anyone following a nature religion.
Greer divides this book into three sections. The first section describes the sources of Druidism. This is a common practice in most books on Druidry and the information here is not unique. In the second section he begins to explore some of the spiritual concepts of Druid practice such as the seasonal festivals, triads, cosmology and mythology. This section delved deeper into the spirituality found in Druidism. Although it is important to again note that this varies from Druid to Druid. Here I would have enjoyed more footnotes to highlight where the source material was taken from, so that I was able to reference it to my own studies. The bibliography is extensive in the back of the book and several chapters conclude with a list of “further reading.” Of note to Keltrians this information is centered on the British system of Druidry focusing on the Arthurian Legends and the mid-century Druid revival movement. While not in opposition to the Keltrian focus on Irish Druidism, it does have some notable differences. In the third section, Greer describes the beginning stages of practice in the Ancient Order of Druids (his Druid group). Many of the practices here are common such as meditation, healing work and the practice of rituals – although details will vary from Druid group to Druid group.
What I found most useful were his concise descriptions of the multitude of books he recommends. His writing shows that he is well read and has researched the topic of Druidism extensively, albeit grounded more in the revival period than from a reconstructionist view. It is worth noting that the revivalist movement draws upon the works of British romanticism, which elaborated on other older sources. This personal interpretation of older sources is common in theological works from many spiritual paths. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be completely neutral when speaking of theological matters. One of the sources, namely Iolo Morganwg, has been proven to be largely a creation of Morganwg himself and not a reliable historical work as Morganwg claimed. While the book is harsh on the reconstructionist movement, particularly of Isaac Bonewits’ writings that claim Revival Druidism as less true than reconstructionist Druidism, it does itself claim an authenticity equal to Bonewits’ claims. While this makes for interesting reading, the truth of the matter is no one has the sole claim to truth and authenticity in Druidism ancient or modern. As a generally non-dogmatic practice the focus is more on individual experience than on authentic manuscripts as a source of authority. This point is made well in chapter five where Greer discusses deity and the importance of personal experience when it comes to deity.
Personal experience is not the only hallmark of Druidism. A deep concern for and spiritual connection to the earth are also hallmarks of Druidism. Greer devotes an excellent chapter to this topic and its importance to modern Druids. While the third section is devoted to his own Druid group, there is information here that is applicable and helpful to anyone practicing rituals.
This book contains much that is applicable and helpful to Druids in general. I recommend this book to those new to the Druid paths who are interested in learning more about the revival Druid movement. It is useful also for an extensive list of further reading resources given in the chapter summaries of further reading and the bibliography. Read with this in mind, the discussions of theology around nature as a spiritual practice, ritual practice and personal growth are worth a read. While more geared to the beginner it contains useful information for the seasoned Druid as well.
The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth , Paperback 272 pages, Weiser Books (February 20, 2006), ISBN: 1578633540, Recommended.
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