This is my first assignment for the New Order of Druid's course. I was asked to describe the circumstances that led to my interest in Druidic spirituality, and also what I hoped to gain from the course.
As a child, I spent a great deal of my time outdoors. I wasn't very good at making friends, and I generally preferred to spend most of my time alone anyway. My parents weren't the sort to tolerate a young child holed up alone in her room, and so from a young age I was often sent outside to play. Luckily for me, I also spent a great deal of time with my grandmother; a wonderful and nature-loving woman who taught me a great deal about the world. In her youth, she had backpacked national parks for weeks at a time, and used to take my mother and her sister on summer-long camping and hiking trips in their family camper. She had an incredibly deep appreciation of nature that she spent my early childhood imparting on to me as well.
It was because of this that when I was banished from the house and sent outside to play, it was to a world I was both infinitely comfortable in, intimately familiar with, and yet incredibly challenged by. In our small rural town, there were creeks to hike and explore, fields to roam, endless trees to climb, and numerous hiding places for a little girl to lose herself in childhood games. What I didn't realize was that in all my games, I was developing an intense attachment to the land around me.
My earliest nature memories are of connections to trees; the first was a small weeping willow in the backyard of my family's first house. It was very young and small, but I was as well! I loved hiding beneath its branches, and would often pretend that it was my forest house, one tree in a sea of woodland. We moved a few years later, and that tree was one of the most difficult things for me to part with. In our next house, there was a lovely crab apple tree perfect for little feet to climb; and its many horizontal branches made fantastic resting places. Despite my father's warnings, I would often snack on apples as I sat up in the branches reading a book - I only found bugs in them a few times! There were also two huge and ancient-seeming maples that bounded the southern end of our property, and two imposing pines in the north.
By this time I had read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and had permanently integrated the idea of the Ents into my young imagination. The Ents were basically a race of sentient and intelligent trees; they lived incredibly long lives, could walk about at will (though preferred to remain still), and were stationed to protect the slightly less sentient and intelligent trees. The idea of trees having a spirit and an intelligence absolutely absorbed me - my grandmother had long ago taught me that all living things were to be loved and respected, but the idea that I could communicate with them in some rudimentary way was electrifying. I developed personal relationships with many trees: in my backyard, the local park, and the wild creek on seemingly unowned and uninhabited land. I would often stay out from dawn until dusk in the summer, never packing a lunch but instead surviving happily on wild strawberries, crab apples, and mulberries.
At the same time, I was attending a Catholic elementary school, and later a Lutheran high school; my mother is a rather fundamentalist Christian and insisted that I attend private institutions. Christianity was something I had always had doubts about; I felt closest to God when my grandmother would take me camping and tell me that the majesty of God could be seen most clearly in the beautiful world He had created. As I grew older and was introduced to points of contention in the Christian church such as abortion, gay marriage, and evolution, I grew more and more disillusioned. I had never felt the presence of God as I had felt the trees and the land around me; and these controversies quickly sapped my desire to go along with Christianity just for the sake of conformity. It was at this same time that I began to discover books of a more 'occult' nature hidden away in our small-town library. The author Philip Pullman introduced me both to the concept of a dead God and the I Ching (a Chinese divination system) in his series His Dark Materials. Tolkien's The Silmarillion showed me a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses based heavily on Greek and Norse legends. I was soon reading up on Tarot cards, mythology, and philosophy.
Eventually this search lead me to Scott Cunningham's book Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. I was absolutely convinced that this was it for me. Not knowing much about Paganism or its various offshoot movements, or even Romanticism and its influence on magical secret societies and druidry, I immediately clung to this belief system that seemed so much more like home to me than the Christianity I had been shown. I practiced Wicca for a few years, and as I began to learn more and more about its traditional history and also grew in my own spirituality, I began to refer to myself as Pagan rather than specifically Wiccan. This whole time, my quest had been a very solitary one, and I didn't mind it that way; my spirituality is intensely personal and not something I'm open to sharing with just anyone. But as I had my own children, I began to see a need in my life for some sort of organization to belong to, people that I could share my journey with. I began attending a local Wiccan coven's services, but I still felt Wicca's ceremonialism to be somewhat lacking in fulfilling my own spiritual needs.
It was then that I became aware of various Druid groups throughout the world. I'm not yet sure if Druidry will be the perfect fit for me, but I very much want to explore this path and learn more about it. So far, the New Order of Druid's version of Druidry seems very much in line with my own ideals and desires in a spiritual supplement; and I am very glad to be part of a community that is also nature-loving and sees the world around them as not only beautiful, but also holy.
From this course, I'm primarily hoping to learn more about Druidic spirituality. I am very new to this branch of spirituality, especially the New Order of Druids who are not specifically Pagan in nature. I'm also looking forward to the chance for some inter-faith dialogue on nature and its place in our lives and the world; I have a great deal of respect for those of other faiths and am very appreciative when I can talk with those who are Pagan-friendly. Last, I am hoping that the New Order of Druids will help me add more of a nature-oriented practice to my spiritual aspirations; though I still have the same firm belief in the spirits of nature that I did when I was younger, it has become very difficult in my busy life to remind myself to take the time to make real connections to the land around me.