In last week’s post, I explored the importance of finding ways of living and being your authentic self. I suggested that there were at least three pathways to doing this work: the first of which is Path of the Moon, which is the quiet path of living one’s principles (or the “what” of the work) while not necessarily discussing the spiritual path (or the “why” of the work). This is a good path for those who feel restricted in sharing their spiritual path fully in various contexts of their lives. Today, I’ll explore the second path, the shining path of the sun. The sun path refers to us being more out, open, and explicit about the fact that you follow an earth-based spiritual path. Those walking the sun path radiate this truth in the world like the sun shining down on a warm summer day. As I mentioned last week, both paths are useful to understand to do the work of integrating our outer life with our inner spiritual paths but both are inherently different kinds of work. Today, we stand in the summer sun!
Path of the Sun: Coming Out and Radiating Brightly
There seems to be a prevailing idea that certain people in the earth-based spiritual community are out, radiantly and brilliantly so, in all aspects of their lives. And while it is true that some folks manage this, the degree to which druids or others are “out” and open about who they are seems to fall along a wide spectrum. Few of us are blessed with having life circumstances that allow us to be out fully and unabashedly, at least here in the USA. Truthfully, I know of very few druids or who are out and free to be druids in every aspect of their lives. Rather, I have found that being out is a matter of degrees. Maybe you are out to a select group of friends or even your family, but still “in” at your workplace to preserve your career. Or maybe you are out and publicly known in the broader druid community, but life in a conservative community requires you keep your beliefs quiet around town. Or maybe you feel you cannot be out at all; you are new to the path or exploring on your own and aren’t ready to defend practices you are still beginning to understand (if so, my post last week will be relevant to your position). In acknowledging this spectrum, I acknowledge that each of us must find our own place along these paths.
However, I do think that it is important that at least some of us take up the “path of the sun” work. Given this, I’m now going to describe three reasons for doing so.
The Path of the Sun for the sake of the land. At many points of human history, spiritual considerations of the land and its sacredness were are the forefront of public discussions. Here in the USA today, and in many other parts of the world, this is no longer the case. And I think that being more open and public about the sacredness of the land can help us, on a larger scale, shift things. I spoke about this extensively in my “earth ambassadors” post from last year: how the land needs ambassadors, full of knowledge and rooted in a sacred relationship, to speak.
Being hidden about our spiritual practices means we are not able to engage in dialogue, discussion, and action that directly speaks from a sacred and spiritual perspective. I believe that druids and other earth-centered folks are in a good position to do this earth ambassador work and to support others who are also doing this work, but only if we are confident and able to find our voices, as humans and as druids. This directly leads me to my next point.
The Path of the Sun for the sake of our traditions. I remember being present for the dialogue between Philip Carr-Gomm (Chosen Chief of OBOD) and John Michael Greer (then Grand Archdruid of AODA) on the differences between druidry in the USA and druidry in the UK (you can listen to this discussion on Druidcast (Episodes 68 and 69). Philip shared stories of how UK druids are now consulted to bless forests and parks and to be a source of spiritual guidance when it came to human-land interactions. Meanwhile, in the USA, we have far, far to go. I think so many folks stay quiet about druidry in the USA for fear of rejection, intolerance, or misunderstanding on the part of others. And this is a serious, real fear. I recently spoke to several women at a Samhuinn celebration in my town who shared stories of how a small magical shop had bricks thrown through the windows and quiet threats–it forced the shopkeepers to close. Certainly, being out and open as I now am, I wonder and worry about these challenges myself.
For those who are considering how far down the Path of the Sun they want to travel, I want to point to the many social justice movements of the 20th and 21st centuries for perspective. It was only through invested parties being willing to be “out” and fight for equality that we finally saw tremendous social progress on a number of issues (racism, gay rights, Native American rights, and so on). Now, I’m not saying that any of these issues are “solved” but we have certainly seen major social movements and increasing tolerance over a period of time because of the willingness of people who belong to these groups, and their allies, to stand and be seen and heard. I believe education and advocacy on the part of druids and other earth-based spiritual paths, like other social movements, is a necessary part of the work we need to do in the world. If at least some of us are not willing to be out, we face a longer, harder road towards social acceptance, which harms us all. Cultivating broader public understanding is a critical issue on a number of levels; the lack of understanding affects all of us in different ways. I’ve spoken to many folks who have difficulty getting their holidays off (with employers seeing their paths as not legitimate), folks not able to wear symbols of their faith while other religious groups can, and issues of child custody in court cases based on religion.
One key issue in addition to those I listed above has to do with the core spiritual practices and experiences that we have as druids. Many of the spiritual experiences that are validated, acceptable, and important in our druid community are considered to be mental health issues by the broader establishment. And yet, many spiritual traditions all over the world see and hear spirit communication; its just the present one I happen to live in that utterly rejects this and instead sees it as pathology or worse. Some good writing on this topic has come out recently from the shamanic community, but these perspectives are very far from the mainstream. There’s a reason I don’t talk about my work with plant spirits to most people (although people certainly know I’m a druid, but they don’t know the details about what I do).
The Path of the Sun for the sake of ourselves. Beyond the reasons that we might engage in the Path of the Sun for the sake of the land and our traditions, there’s also the inner reason: living an authentic life. Its important for many of us to feel like we can be open and accepted for who we are, that we can be free to express our spiritual paths and not stay hidden. When I think about this issue, I’m reminded of the line from the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby song, where Eleanor Rigby “Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door, Who is it for?” Many of us don’t want to have a face that we wear that we keep in the jar by the door (or at the edge of our grove, the edge of the spiritual gathering, wherever that edge is). We want to share more of our true face. I think this is particularly important to those of us in certain Western cultures where the current of individualism runs strong. For certain people, being anything less than exactly who we are, title and all, resonates with inauthenticity that we cannot abide. For these kinds of people, the Path of the Sun represents the only possible path towards wholeness of body, mind, heart, and soul.
Walking the Path of the Sun
Now that we’ve established some reasons we might want to walk the Path of the Sun, how can we do so? This next section offers some suggestions for the process of coming into the sun. I’m drawing a lot from my own experience here, and the slow movement I had from being completely quiet to moving into the Path of the Moon, and later, into the Path of the Sun in many aspects of my life.
Coming out is a process. Coming out is not a single process that you do one time and then is resolved; rather, it is a continual process that we are always cultivating. Timing is so critical with this coming-out process. One conception of time in ancient Rome was “kairos” which loosely translates as the ‘right time and right place’ for a particular thing to occur. And so, as we think about coming out more fully into the sun, we need to attend to the process and timing of doing so.
I’ll also add that a lot of the process of coming out as a druid comes down to issues of our own identity: who we are, who we want to be, and the identity we socially construct with others (the face in the jar by the door). This has a lot to do with how comfortable we sit in our skin and how that comfort changes based on the contexts in which we find ourselves. Each moment, we make decisions about who we are going to be, how we share our path with others, and how we come into the sunlight and shine. Each time we have an opportunity, we choose to act upon it or not to act upon said opportunity.
Having Key Conversations. One of the ways I believe that the sun path is most effective is in key conversations with individuals who are open to such conversation. I like to show people that I’m not some [enter your stereotype here] fringe lunatic with a crazy spiritual path, but rather a typical person with a job, a home, and the same hopes and dreams and fears as everyone else. This is why timing is so important; I rarely come out and say “I’m a druid” in big bold statements when I first meet people, but I also don’t keep it a secret. I find that its easier to have conversations with people after they get to know you just as a person, rather than someone who has a weird spiritual path (which may color their whole perception of you).
Once those conversations are ready to take place, framing and definitions are critical. Most people completely lack a frame of reference of who we are and what we do. If I tell people “druid” they think I might be a World of Warcraft character. The questions immediately begin, “Is that like a witch or something?” “Is that some kind of video game thing?” or “Are you a pagan?” The person asking the questions is trying to fit you and who you are into their previous sets of knowledge and experience (and this is a normal process; it is how we learn as humans). However, this means that, if you come out or someone finds out you are a druid, the very first thing they try to do is to fit who you are and your path into their existing knowledge base. Please note that it is extremely likely that they don’t have an existing knowledge base that is an accurate representation of your path. Simply allowing them to fit what they understand of your path into their own knowledge base encourages and perpetuates ignorance. This is because we don’t have spiritual paths or practices that are well understood; recognizing that people’s existing knowledge base either is absent or is present but insufficient, is an important part of moving beyond stereotypical or absent knowledge bases.
And here’s the thing: if you don’t fill this void, then imagination, representations on television, fear-mongering, or their own limited experiences are likely to do so. So, if you see this happening, you can say, “Hey, I know you are trying to fit this within your knowledge base, but the truth is most people don’t have any idea of what I do. But if you are interested, I’m happy to sit down with you over a cup of tea and talk to you about it so that you do understand it more. And I’m delighted to hear more about your path and what you do as well.” This kind of strategy can lead to productive conversations and mutual understanding.
Of course, key conversations often begin with those closest to us. I remember the difficulty of the first key conversations I had with my own mother, with whom I am very close. These conversations occurred just after I felt empowered by placing the Awen stone in my office as my first act of “coming out” (see last week’s post). I sat my mother down deep in the woods (which is her sacred space), and I spoke to her about my spiritual path. I attempted to outline the parallels between her own Christian path (which involves praying in the woods each day and seeing signs from God in nature) and my own path (which involves meditating in the woods each day and seeing signs from the spirits in nature). She was very quiet, and afterward, did not say anything for a long time. I didn’t push it, and finally, nearly two years later, I asked her if she had anything to say. She looked at me and said, “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say.” After that, the ice was broken and I was able to occasionally share things with her that had seemed impossible before. Still, even into my second decade as a druid, the conversations with my family are still challenging, and the process of coming out to my family still presents a lot of difficulty because of the issues I raise above. People think they know all there is to know about me, without ever having a single conversation about me, and it is difficult to find how to fill that gap.
The Quick Statement. A second part of the key conversations, I believe, is what I will call the “30-second elevator pitch.” Imagine yourself in an elevator, and someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I heard that you are a druid. What exactly does that mean?” I have found it helpful to prepare–and practice–a 30-second or less response to this question. This will require massive oversimplification. But a simple, yet the accurate description is better than a winding and complex description that is hard for someone to wrap their heads around. Mine goes something like this:
“Druidry is a path of nature-based spirituality that honors the seasons, works with the cycles of nature, and finds spiritual guidance rooted in the living earth. Modern druidry is inspired by the Ancient Druids who were astronomers, philosophers, teachers, and diviners. The modern druid movement is about four centuries old and includes practitioners from all over the world, including many here in the US. We live by the seasons and work to heal and regenerate the living earth.”
Feel free to use this statement or adapt it for your own purposes. As someone who is fairly in the Path of the Sun at this point, I find myself using something like this quite often!
Community Work. If you have a group of people (grove, study group, seed group, etc), it is often helpful to do the Path of the Sun work together. One of the things a group of us did while I was still living in Michigan was to pair up with the only other non-Christian group in the area (a Buddhist group) and do some joint community service work. We let ourselves be known and open, and showed those in the community that we were part of it, there to do good work for the benefit of all. That worked really well, and I’d encourage it for others.
Other ways to shine. The Path of the Sun is often one of seeing opportunities and choosing to take them on, rather than deciding to retreat. For example, some NPR folks found my blog post on Hemlock a few years ago and asked me to talk about the Hemlock tree mythology. I was terrified of this and thought, “Oh no! People will know I’m a druid! Nobody actually reads the stuff I write on this blog!” After some meditation and reflection, decided to go ahead with the interview. It ended up being a great deal of fun, and I was able to share my knowledge of the trees with a much wider audience. This is all to say that each of us can find our own opportunities to shine and do our own Path of the Sun work in the world.
Closing Thoughts. Whether you take the Path of the Moon or the Path of the Sun, or perhaps walk the dawn or dusk that sits between them, the ultimate goal of this two-part series is to explore how we can be more authentic and comfortable in our own skins. Because that’s part of what a spiritual path is meant to do–to illuminate the path before us, to show us the ways to go and the ways not to go, and to help us feel like more fully actualized, vibrant people. May you walk your path, sun, moon, dawn, dusk, or otherwise, in peace and fulfillment.
Being both Pagan and Gay, I have more experience with walking this fine line than I would ever wish on anyone, but it certainly introduces and imposes discipline into one’s life. I don’t hide either, but neither do I belabor the point, yet I recognize my responsibility in educating an ignorant populace, while resenting having to keep doing so! Often, bucking the expectation of assumed heterosexuality opens you up to accusations of “flaunting yourself” the same way stepping out of the broom closet is perceived as shoving your beliefs down another’s throat (a psychological projection if there ever was one!). Yes, it can be exhausting, but at the same time, it creates empathy for others also trying to co-exist in an unfriendly atmosphere–the which, given recent events, seems likely to get worse.
Hi Kieron, Thanks so much for your perspective. I think you are right about this work bein exhausting–but important. Nice to hear from you!
A reblogué ceci sur Rattiesforeverworldpresscom.
Thank you for the reblog! 🙂
[…] via On Being Your Authentic Self, Part II: The Path of the Sun — The Druid’s Garden […]
Reblogged this on unity2013.
Thank you for the reblog! 🙂
I love the idea of walking the dawn and dusk in between the sun and the moon. That is my own path — hidden in plain view for those with eyes to see, perfect for anyone who works with the Fae.
Thank you for your work!
Indeed, Laura! For those with eyes to see, the world is a very different place indeed!
Reblogged this on ravenhawks' magazine and commented:
Thank you this is timely information.
Thank you, Ravenhawks!
thank you, Dana, for the link to the articles on shamanic perspectives on mental health – I’d known of John Weir Perry for decades, and of Malidoma Some for a couple of years. Talk about not being able to “come out” – I was married to a beloved person who had bipolar disorder, who had to hide the fact due to professional status, and I come from a family with genetic predisposition to depression. So I’d been reading on the fringes of mental health treatment for many years, but you really can’t talk to anyone except people who’ve “been there” or had family who have, and even then, most subscribe to the current Western model of drugging the patient, not even the talk therapy that prevailed only a few years ago (insurance-driven treatment). I’ve spent most of this life feeling something was “wrong” with me for having these experiences (because mainstream culture, even mainstream alternative spirituality!, says they are a problem), instead of seeing myself in a good way (would I have loved to work with someone like Some!) A few psychiatrists (Lee Sannella, Perry, Stanislav Grof, and a handful of others) understood this perspective – not many!
Cindy, thanks so much for your comment. I don’t think we have enough discussing in any of the earth-based spiritual traditions about the connection between inner work and mental health, and its a real shame. I’m glad some of these shamans are writing about it and these conversations are becoming more mainstream: but we still have a long way to go.
I had difficulty, even in therapy a number of years ago, talking about my anxiety and sadness over climate change and the destruction of the natural world. My therapist looked at me like I was insane. I can’t even imagine broaching any of these topics!
As you know, I live on a little island on Canada’s West Coast. A friend on the public dock committee tried to put a camera up on the dock so he could check his computer to see if there was a boat at the dock. The boaters have to pay a small fee.
The community rose against him and declared this camera a violation of privacy. My friend was a little puzzled and asked what sort of violation of privacy. One person said, “Well, what if a bunch of witches wanted to go skinny dipping off the dock!”
I considered organizing a witches, warlocks, pagan, Druid, shamanistic and allied trades skinny dip last summer but my family in Vancouver talked me out of it. Really, you have to keep things like Druidry quiet around here or you run the risk of getting a flock of groupies seeking enlightenment.
My heart goes out to people in less colourful communities.
I am really enjoying the OBDO podcasts! Thanks so much for that.
Yours under the red cedars,
If the worst that could happen to a group of allied nature-oriented folks going skinny dipping was some groupies seeking enlightenment, it sounds like your island is heaven indeed! I love hearing your stories Max; thank you so much for sharing 🙂
Yours under the bare birches,