The forces of nature

Nature is deity to Druids, explains conservationist Louise Sutherland

As a child I was deeply inspired by David Attenborough, Diane Fossey and Jean-Michel Cousteau. It was my admiration of them and what they achieved that made me want to work in conservation. I’m very lucky to work in this field and I’m still passionate about it. How does studying Druidry affect this? Although it wasn’t a conscious decision I made, the two are so interwoven it’s hard to pick the reasons apart to explain it.

I always experienced the world as very alive, and when I discovered the words ‘animism’ and ‘polytheism’ they seemed to describe the way I had always thought. It was a revelation to discover a community of people with a similar perspective on the world. Nature is deity to Druids. All forces of nature; from aspects of human nature like lust, to mountains, rivers, darkness or rain. They are all seen as the expression of a different ‘power of nature’. Some call these deities, some call it spirit, some call it energy, but gloriously there is no pretence of this being the “Truth”. Just a wry acknowledgment of each individual perspective determining the different ways people relate to what’s around them. Essentially Druidry is about an individual’s relationship with the world around them. To study it is to learn to be conscious of what you do, how you touch everything around you, from people to places. You could say it’s that awareness that fuels my work in conservation; if you are aware of a the high nitrates in a river killing the life in it, aware of the loss of dragonflies and wetland plants, the fewer bird species filling our skies, aware of the loss of woodland or species rich grassland, then you try to do something and conservation work is about trying to help, to protect species or recreate habitats.

But Druidry as a religion, in the original sense of the word, from the Latin religio - meaning reverence for the divine, goes deeper than that. Druids are priests of the land, my work in conservation is like a service to the gods of the land. My awe of these many, many different gods, listening them whisper through a landscape, feeling the hum of their energy – urges me to find an honourable response, to facilitate a balance between conflicting needs, try to restore what’s lost because everywhere all of nature is sacred.

A Druid working in conservation or a conservationist studying Druidry, strives to make an honourable relationship with the land. If a ‘conservation attitude’ affects their thinking, that relationship will be about protecting and restoring the sacred, natural biodiversity. All of it, from the ignored and concreted land beneath our pavements, to the stones and sand of the concrete, to the high wild mountains, is so filled with life, song and energy. I feel it move deeply through me, it fills me with reverence and inspiration - I couldn’t do anything but conservation!

Louise Sutherland works in conservation and studies druidry
Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war