How being a Druid affects my life?

How life is circular not linear and how being a Druid inspires a sense of we, not us and them

There are three main teachings that work through my life.

Circles. When I first began looking into Druidry and Paganism I found them everywhere, and in a society that more and more seems to view life as linear (you are born, you live you die) the philosophy of the circle made so much more sense to me. Druids see Nature, and life, as a circle, or a wheel. The planets revolve around the Sun - the horizon is a circle, the seasons move through Spring, Summer Autumn and Winter, and then Spring returns again, our ancestors built their temples in circles.

So instead of viewing life as birth/life/death/afterlife, many Druids have the added dimension of ‘rebirth’, be that into another human body, or an animal, plant, or even into the elements of Earth, Air, Fire or Water. So when people die, there is the old tradition of the ‘Summerlands’, a place of rest and reflection where we stay for a while before rebirth. Where we meditate on the life just lived, learning our lessons, seeking patterns, before we return.

Let’s consider a day, any day. I see the sunrise, feel its warmth at noon, then watch the colours change as the Sun sets, and the darkness of night draws in, but I know the Sun will rise again with the coming of the dawn.

Now let’s consider a year, any year. I see the year awakening, just like the daily sunrise, in Spring. I feel the warmth of Summer at the noon of the year, watch the year setting during Autumn, then feel the darkness and cold of the Winter months, but I know that Spring will return.

Now let’s consider a life, any life. After my own birth I was as a child, like the sunrise and Spring. I grew to maturity and strength, just as the Sun does at noon and Summer, then the ‘Autumn’ of life begins as a time of maturity and wisdom. The Winter of age comes and as the snow falls on the land, so it falls on my hair turning it white, the weight of age bends my body, and as I fall to the earth, so my Spirit makes that journey to the Isles of the Blessed. But just like the sunrise, and the Spring, I know I will be reborn – Nature has shown me this.

Awen. The word Awen is a Welsh word that means ‘flowing spirit’ or ‘divine inspiration’. It is the name given to the contents of the Cauldron of Inspiration of Celtic myth, a container that later became the Holy Grail. It is said that whoever tastes just three drops from this cauldron will be blessed with the gift of prophesy, and be able to see into the past, present, and future. The great poets of Celtic myth tasted this brew, Taliesin, Merlin, Amergin, all received this divine ‘Fire in the Head’. It is also the quest of the modern Bard to taste it.

Because Druidry is a nature-based spirituality, it is nature herself that I seek communion with. I feel the Awen flow through me when I see a beautiful sunrise, or during a dramatic storm, when I’m walking the moors or the Downs and feel the elements up close, when I see a soaring buzzard, or hear the roaring of the deer in the rut. For me it is these moments of connection that inspire me, and I feel at my closest to my Gods. The result is often a poem, song, or story that expresses this feeling, a tradition not only found in Druidry, but in other traditions such as Sufism.

Spirits of the Land. When I travelled into the more remote areas of this land I come across people who still related to the land as animists. The rock on the hill, the one with the cup marks, I found the family who leave a little milk in that cup for the Faerie Folk, maybe as an offering to ask for a good harvest, or maybe as a gift to ask them to keep away from their crops or animals, as the Faerie are not always the nice gossamer winged ‘little people’ of our childhood fairy tales. These ‘Faerie’ are the Spirits of the Land.

One of the things that Druidry has brought me is that it has opened my eyes to these Spirits. I can no longer see myself, or my species, as the dominant animal on the planet. For years that is how we acted which has resulted in the environmental mess in which we now find ourselves. Shifting from an ‘us and them’ approach to simply a ‘we’ has had a deep effect on all areas of my life.

Humans are just another animal, an intelligent ape, the same spark of life pumps the heart of a mouse that pumps our own hearts. The deeper I went into the Druid tradition, the more this became the reality I saw, and this changed the relationship I had with the world around me. The physical aspects of nature, the plants, trees, and animals once more became living aspects of my Gods. But it goes deeper than that. Even the inanimate objects suddenly became imbued with life. The rivers, streams and oceans, the rock and stones, the air, the soil, and fire, all came to life for me in that instant. This is not just religious belief either, research in quantum physics is now showing that matter has different vibrations – something that mystics have somehow known for centuries.

These three basic philosophies are not ‘commandments’, but they are choices I make, for a way of being within nature as a part of the whole.

Damh (pronounced Darv) is a modern-day Bard whose spirituality, and love of folk tradition, is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry. He is an Honorary Bard of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD)
Getty
Show Hide image

Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

0800 7318496