What Does “Neo” Mean Anyway?
More often than I care for, someone in online discussions about Druidry (and other paths, particularly Pagan ones) deals out the neo-card. “Oh, that’s Neo-Druidry” or “Neo-xxx” they say and that way typically discard another person’s opinion or path entirely.
But what are they trying to communicate? On one level, it’s plain and simple a way to put down someone you disagree with, at the same time uplifting one’s own self, path, and viewpoint. And by putting someone else down, one’s own lofty grounds appear that much higher.
The problem with this is, though, that the self-indulgence in feeling superior has no merit. At all; no matter upon what the reason for this inflation is based.
There are, for one, the hardcore reconstructionists. Not those of us, me included, who use reconstructionism as a valid tool to inform oneself of the history of the path one is walking; and use this information as guidance and inspiration for their spiritual work today. I mean those who disregard anything, absolutely anything that cannot be proven to have been practiced by the old ones, in my case here the ancient Druids. Which turns out to be, since we have relatively little trustworthy available to us from that era, next to nothing.
Here’s the twist in that line of thinking: pretty much anything, even the Druidry of the late 20th century, and definitely the Druidry of the revival era (17th – 19th century CE) is older, i.e. less “neo” than reconstructionism. That movement is the most “neo” of all.
Were There Ever Druids That Weren’t “Neo”?
But not only that. It is absolutely inconceivable that the Druids of Old, even those in early mediaeval times on the British Isles, would have practiced reconstructionism. Yes, teaching their Druid apprentices tribal lore, law, genealogy and other things reaching back in time was essential to their learning, and to keep the traditions. But that conservatism of the past was not a self-serving practice; only meant to keep the history of the tribe and land in people’s awareness.
Otherwise, the Druids of old must have been confronted with, and sought after, the most modern methods in divination, brewing of sacred beverages, in the healing arts and so on and so forth.
And I say that not because there is written proof of that somewhere to be found hidden in an ancient, almost rotten chest, covered with the dust of centuries and webs of spiders long gone. I say that with confidence because no progress can be made without seeking, evaluating, implementing, monitoring, and adapting new methodology. It would have been a major disservice to the tribe if the Druid would hinder any progress because “that was not done so in the ‘olden days'”. Imagine an ancient Druid counseling their chief not to use iron weapons, for that’s not what the previous generations wielded. ‘Use bronze swords!’ they would cry, “Because iron swords are ‘neo’, you eclectic warrior fools!”
Rather, we can assume that Druids were for all intents and purposes current; at least, if they didn’t even attempt to be on the cutting edge of divination and healing, if for nothing else than to give their tribes an advantage against others and any invaders.
The Term is Current, not ‘Neo’
Current. Now that’s a term I like and can live with. I am a current Druid. Yes, I research what was going on in the ancient world of the tribes called “Celts”; particularly in the area I call home, the Austrian Alps. Talk about little to no records there.
This is my own little reconstructionism. It anchors me, informs me, sometimes amuses me. I even feel the urge to share it. But it doesn’t limit me.
With all that reconstructing, I am still a current Druid. I would even go so far that just sticking with what is proven to be of ancient Druidry or other magical work could bring me in the realms of highly unethical conduct. Imagine I would counsel a young woman to take the root of mullein that has not bloomed this summer (mullein is a biennial plant, gathering strength in the first period of vegetation and blooming in the second), cover it with gold leaf and wear it around her neck to avoid getting pregnant. While that would be reconstructionist practice, I’d rather be a current Druid and advise her to use a condom.
That’s just common sense (and ethical for that matter), and to dismiss that as “neo” would be a major disservice.
But I Do Like Reconstructionism!
When reading this you might think that I am against reconstructionism. I am not, far from it. I just have a different use for it than some. I let it inform, but not rule over me. For me it is an ingredient as is this very modern instrument which I am using to type these lines. Traditions, lore, as well as modern technology and thinking make me a “current Druid”. No need for this “neo”- nonsense.
And…when I think of drawing a line in the sand, as a Druid, I don’t see it as a straight one, but a circle. So when I just drew the line placing the extreme and unforgiving version of reconstructionism outside my inner circle, I need to finish drawing it to also keep out the other extreme, which would be letting literally everything become Druidry. I will contemplate that in the next blog post.
If you’re interested in my personal reconstructionist work, consider my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps” on how to weave Alpine lore and customs into your own spiritual practice.