The Solitary Druid and The Grove

Like so many other practitioners of Druidry, I have spent most of my time as a solitary practitioner.  There are many reasons why a Druid becomes a solitary practitioner; usually it is some combination of necessity, practicality, and spiritual considerations.  Necessity and practicality come into play in many locales because Druidic Groves can be sparse in some regions; this is particularly true in the monolithic Bible belt formed by the Southern states.  For example, for the entire time I have been involved with Druidry there has not been a grove in South Carolina associated with any of the major Druid Orders.  There were, naturally, a few unaffiliated groves that were difficult to look into, even more difficult to contact, and were ideologically questionable.  Though, in fact, in my case even the unaffiliated groves tended to be far enough away to make attending anything other than High Holy Day rites impractical. The spiritual considerations of grove participation can be significant as well.  There are any number of strains of schools of Druidism and it can be something of a chore to find a group that meshes well enough with your own spiritual path that it is a natural and comfortable fit.  There are druids who are ardent worshippers of old gods as actors with individual agency, druids who think the gods are archetypes dredged up from the human subconscious, druids for whom the entire undertaking is more philosophical than religious.  Naturally, it would be quite the undertaking to accommodate so many different forms of Druidism in one grove.

Given the considerations it makes sense that so many druids chose to walk a solitary path; it may, after all, be the path of least resistance.  That having been said, there are definite benefits to group religious, or spiritual, activities that are difficult to replicate as a solitary.  For example, the Druid path can be a difficult one to walk if you are constantly surrounded by people whose religion is different from your own.  This is particularly true in areas where public religious practice is the norm rather than an exception.  There is no loneliness quite like going to work and being made to stand in a room where every head is bowed before a god that you do not worship, each person mouthing the words of prayer, while a minister of an alien faith loudly proclaims the group’s faith in their deity.  The Druidic Grove can be a retreat where you can be surrounded by people who share the broad outline of your convictions, knows the names of your Gods, and where the symbols of your faith are recognized as having value.  It is the rare person who is strong enough in their convictions and faith that they never have need of the affirmation that fellow adherents can provide. Finally, in the fellowship of the grove there is the opportunity for learning as growth as the druid draws on the knowledge, skills, and experience of the other practitioners.

An important point, in my mind, is that not only does the druid potentially receive these benefits when they chose to participate in a Druidic Grove as a member, but they also provide them to others.  Their presence and participation serves to bolster and affirm the convictions and faith of their fellow druids.  The companionship the druid offers can alleviate the loneliness the loneliness of another druid without him ever being aware of what he has contributed.  He brings with him all of the knowledge that he has gathered, all of his experiences, and the insights he has gained in ruminations. In short, the druid provides for others in the grove all the things that he himself gained from their fellowship.

There are, as has already been alluded to, drawbacks to participating in a Druidic Grove as well.  If the grove does not mesh well with the philosophy that the solitary druid has developed then there can be a great deal of friction.  Even if the druid is willing to learn and adapt to the Grove’s philosophy there can be significant cognitive dissonance and discomfort while acclimating to the new beliefs.  In Druidry, as with paganism in general, there are a great many people claiming a great deal of expertise with egos to match the purported level of expertise.  This can complicate the effort to find a comfortable grove.  If the leader of the grove is a self-proclaimed Arch-Druid, High Priestess, or <insert random grandiose title here>, then they will look to be treated according to that title during grove rituals and meetings.  True, this particular pitfall can be avoided by associating with a grove within an organization, like the ADF, which requires certain course work in order to be ordained, but affiliated groves are not always readily available.  In a similar vein, it is also necessary to always be wary of the cults of personality that seem to find such fertile ground with NRMs (New Religious Movements) like Druidry.  A person may think themselves strong enough that they would never fall under the sway of such a grouping, but the power of the social connections on human beings should never be underestimated and it is better to avoid such situations whenever feasible.  In short, there are a great many potential pitfalls when the solitary druid considers finding a Druidic Grove.

If there are a great many benefits to joining a Druidic Grove and a large number of potential pitfalls, then the question becomes is it worth the effort to find a grove that fits? The answer, I suppose, is going to be highly dependent on the personality, needs, and desires of the individual druid.  For some, particularly those extroverts who crave constant companionship, it would seem to be almost a requirement.  On the other hand, introverts may bristle at the idea of having to spend so much time in the company of others and the thought of also having to guard against the pitfalls would make the entire process torturous for them.  In my personal opinion, however, everyone should make the effort to at least celebrate a High Holy Day with a grove on a few occasions for the experience if nothing else.  There is, in my mind, nothing quite like the experience of celebrating a faith occasion with a group of people who share your belief.

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