Review: The Book of Keltria
I recently had the pleasure of reading the Henge of Keltria’s Book of Keltria: Druidism for the 21st Century. Though Druidism isn’t my path, I do find it fascinating since my ancestry traces back largely to the British Isles. The Henge of Keltria practices its own modern version of Druidry and the book outlines their beliefs and customs, their rituals and methods. The book is 230 pages thick and packed with information. Be warned: This is a long review because there’s just so much in those pages.
The contents of the book are drawn from the Henge’s correspondence course and workshops, among other sources, and the sum total amounts to an anthology, since the individual chapters are written by different authors. The contents flow well from one section to the next since the contributors’ writing styles are similar (either that, or they had a really good editor). The contents progress naturally from the history of the Celts and Druids, through the theology of the group, to rituals and meditations, ending with the story of the Henge itself. The whole is framed by a touching account that draws the reader into a Druid ceremony, suggesting the sacred nature of the contents as a ritual in itself.
Like many historically-based traditions, the Henge of Keltria’s practice and theology is a combination of the old and the new. It is roughly polytheistic, including nature and ancestor reverence, but the interpretation is left up to the individual, as is the case with many Pagan paths. The group celebrates the eight-fold Neopagan wheel of the year, with four male-female pairs of deities that move through the sabbats in a rhythmic cycle, two per festival day. Brigit, Angus Óg, Boann, Bile, Danu, Lugh, the Morrigan, and the Dagda are familiar names from the Irish pantheon, the focus of Keltrian ritual practice.
Keltrian theology is based around what they call the Nine Hallmarks. The explanation of these principles and concepts elucidates much of the Keltrian worldview and practice. I was especially interested in the Keltrian concept of justice (Hallmark Six) which harks back to the Brehon laws, focusing on restitution and the repair of relationships rather than punishment. What a different world we would live in if this notion were expanded beyond a few Pagan groups.
Throughout the book, the writers place an emphasis on the relevance of Druidry for the modern world. For instance, regarding mythology, Wren Taylor says, “Whether a myth is literally true is less important than the connection it creates to a larger truth regarding the human condition.” The description of the meaning and purpose of myths is thoughtful and illuminating. The concept of mythology and its relevance is illustrated by a modern-day myth that’s meant to illustrate the negative repercussions of capitalism on community and nature. Honestly, I felt like the overlong tale was really flogging a dead horse (it reminded me of the movie Ferngully in its relentless repetition of the ‘moral of the story,’ as if we were too stupid to get it the first go-round) but I understand the sentiment behind it as well as the frustration with the deafness and blindness of the general populace to these issues, hence the compulsion to repeat until heard.
I found the section about Keltrian ritual to be quite interesting. Their ritual format is formalized, with all Keltrian groves required to perform the same rituals as everyone else in the organization, as is the case in a number of Pagan traditions. The main focus of ritual within the Henge is to move into a mindset in which the participants can experience the Mystery – in this case, the Triads of Druidic tradition. The rituals are designed with this specific purpose in mind, hence the reason they must be repeated without alteration, with the exception of one small section that the individual groves are allowed to customize. The mechanics of the rituals are similar to those of most formal groups and experienced practitioners: prepare beforehand to begin moving into the ritual mindset, have a distinct beginning and ending, and have a predetermined purpose for which the ritual has been designed.
The ritual format involves formalized methods for group trance experiences or what you might call mild shamanic journeys. As a practicing shaman, I find this interesting, since they seem to have learned how to control the experience well enough that people don’t have negative side effects (something I’ve seen all too many times in poorly-designed ceremonies). The group organizes rituals with rotating responsibilities so the process is always participatory, never passive. If I’m understanding the descriptions correctly, the rituals must be awfully long, but there’s a reason for every component, all carefully and thoughtfully crafted into a cohesive whole. Even if you were new to Druidry in general and Keltria in particular, you would probably come away from one of their rituals with a profound experience.
I’ve heard a number of Pagans, including some big names, complain about the fact that most rituals simply don’t move them. The chapter about Keltrian ritual demonstrates how ceremonies can be designed to move the participants and be successful at it. But more important, it points up the fact that in order to be profoundly affected, you must participate, not just remain a passive observer. It takes a special talent to design rituals in which there is no ‘congregation’ but a circle of active participants. While some people have a natural tendency for transcendent experience, others have to be taught. I suspect Keltrian ritual is a good venue for such teaching.
One really lovely section of the book is the chapter that focuses on the Keltrian Tree Meditation. Druids are known for their connection with trees, of course, and this meditation makes an unusual connection, in that the meditator becomes a tree. This chapter includes good advice for working with group meditation in general. The meditation included in this section is part of the standard Keltrian ritual, so you get your ‘Druid dose’ of trees with each sabbat.
The chapters also include a discussion of how magick works – the Keltrian worldview is fundamentally a mystical one – as well as basic instructions for how to do invocations. I’m especially gratified to see the Henge encouraging people to politely invite rather than command the beings and forces they invoke. I’ve never been comfortable with the ‘Be here now!’ kind of invocation. I sure wouldn’t talk that way to my grandmother, much less any of the Powers I might want to include in a ritual. The section on divination informs me that this practice is used in Keltrian ritual on a regular basis. While this is different from, for instance, much of Wiccan practice, it is similar to many Norse traditions. One unique aspect is that divination during ritual is usually aimed at the whole Grove rather than individuals.
As with the ritual format, there is much about the Henge that is formalized and hierarchical, with an outer circle and an initiated group. There are Pagans who would balk at this amount of organization, but it has served the group well in terms of maintaining cohesion and community. Though many of us like to think of ourselves as free spirits, we would do well to study groups like this that have maintained their organizational integrity through many ups and downs thanks to formal organization. I know more than a few Pagan groups that joke, “We’re not an organized religion,” but after a lot of hard lessons, the folks at the Henge have ended up as a clearly-organized initiatory group, which is probably why they’re still going strong and will continue to flourish.
All in all, The Book of Keltria is a fascinating introduction to a particular variety of modern Druidism. The discussions of theology and magick lead the reader to think deeply about these subjects (always a plus), and the tree meditation is just lovely, well worth trying out on your own. If you have an interest in Druidry, give this book a read and find out how one group has managed to create a vibrant tradition that draws from the ancient world but works well here and now.