Christopher: Robin, could you give our readers a bit of background about yourself?
Robin Herne: I live in Suffolk with two dogs and a cat, going quietly insane whilst writing books, telling stories and experimenting with home brew.
Christopher: How did you find your way to becoming a Druid? What was the attraction personally?
Robin: When I first became Pagan I explored Wicca, but found a more satisfying fit with Celtic mythology and from there it seemed natural to explore Druidry. My interest particularly deepened when I started learning about the Iron Age deities and culture that underpinned the later versions of the mythology given in books such at The Tain, Mabinogion etc. I loved the stories, the imagery of the Druids as both academics and nature priests, the artwork, and the idea of being able to connect to the spirituality of the Land on which I dwell, rather than an exotic place that can only be seen on rare holidays.
Christopher: We talk today of the Celtic people as a group, but how did they seem themselves? Do we know?
Robin: They saw themselves as separate nations sharing a common religion and language (or at least related dialects), often battling each other for land and resources. They didn’t refer to themselves as Celts, but by the name of their individual tribal nations. Some historians have speculated that the Roman Conquest may have lead the Druids to start trying to unify the tribes to form a more effective resistance, and that this may have contributed to the decision of the Emperor to outlaw Druids and drive them underground. Though the official line was that they were a bloodthirsty cult, which may seem a bit of a double-standard, given the Roman love of the arena.
Christopher: Did anyone ever decide how many gods and goddesses they might have worshiped?
Robin: No, there is no sense of a unified central pantheon such as could be found in Greece. There are a great many names found on altar stones from the Romano-Celtic period, most appearing only once. It is unclear if these are all different deities, or if many are different titles for a handful of common gods.
Christopher: How much do we actually know about the Druids, or their place in Celtic society?
Robin: Nowhere near enough! Nothing has so far been found written in their own hand, so we only have the opinions of people outside the religion looking in and it’s seldom clear how well they understood the Druids. So we have no cohesive theology or cosmology, or even a clear idea if the same notions were held to by all Druids in all tribes or if the Caledonii had different ideas from, say, the Iceni and to what extent these ideas may have changed over the course of time.
Christopher: What are Druids becoming today and what might they become in our future?
Robin: The work of the Druid Network has lead to a greater legal standing for modern Druids, though there is no singular definition agreed upon by all Orders as to what actually constitutes a Druid. Most modern Druids have interests in such things as ecological work, Shamanism, and poetry. These areas are likely to grow in focus over the coming decades and I suspect there will be a move to more public ritual and more involvement in civic life.
Christopher: Do I notice some similarities between Druids and Heathens in that they have land wrights, spirits and ancestors as well as gods and goddesses?
Robin: Yes, there are a lot of commonalities between the two. In ancient times one might well argue that the major difference wasn’t so much the perception of Gods or spirits, but that the Celtic tribes had a priesthood whilst most of the Germanic tribes do not appear to have had one (though quite a few Scandinavian tribes did).
Christopher: Would the religion and its practice vary from place to place?
Robin: Probably, though it is difficult to say for certain without benefit of a Tardis to check.
Christopher: Should locality vary it even today?
Robin: Yes, because fundamentally it is about tuning in to the spirits of the land. The spirit of the River Gipping is not the same as the spirit of the River Tamar. The spirits of mountainous Wales are distinct from the entities of the Norfolk fens. The general principals of the religion might remain fairly constant, but should be grounded in the locality and its local stories.
Christopher: This is true with the group you are with?
Robin: Yes, we are local Druids for local gods! We explore the spirituality of the landscape in the Suffolk/Essex borders.
Christopher: What was your purpose in writing Old Gods, New Druids? What are you attempting to accomplish with it and for whom?
Robin: It’s intended as a teaching guide for small groups and individuals who want to understand polytheism and the pluralist approach to spirituality. It’s intended to be both philosophical but also practical, grounding broad concepts in daily practice.
Christopher: How long have you written poetry? What style do you use?
Robin: Since my early teens, these days I write mostly in medieval Irish, Welsh and Scandinavian metre with rarer ventures into early Greek, Roman and reconstructed Egyptian metres. Currently trying to get my brain cell around Russian metres and styles. Sometimes I also write in comic metres when creating obscene or satirical poetry.
Christopher: Whom do you dedicate your poems to and how much is directed toward ceremonial use?
Robin: Almost all of it is ceremonial, except for the obscene poetry (and sometimes even then). Though occasionally I write short poetry as demonstration pieces when running poetry workshops to give students the idea of how to write in a particular metre. The poems are mostly dedicated to the Gods, though sometimes inspired by very close friends. I have never written a love poem, but hope to be inspired by one before I die.
Christopher: In Bard Song, besides the poems themselves, don’t you talk poetry itself?
Robin: Quite a lot, yes, about the reasoning behind the different types of poetry, about various cultures’ notions of mystical poetry and its uses. It’s all well and good to understand the mechanics, but the history, purposes, and magic of poetry have a charm all their own.
Christopher: Where can people buy your books or find out more about them?
Robin: They can order them through any bookshop [Moon Books] (and please, do support your local small bookshops where possible) or… at risk of undercutting said shops and driving them out of business… go to Amazon.
Christopher: What other interests do you have that might be influenced by being Druid?
Robin: Storytelling has a major influence on my life, which is at least partially influenced by my years in Druidry. Herbalism appeals, though I use it more for cooking, brewing and incense-making than for medicine.
Christopher: What about teaching?
Robin: I have spent my career in one form of teaching / training or another. Currently I lecture in psychology and also teach basic maths and English literacy. It is a deep pleasure to see other people grasping and exploring ideas, extending their knowledge and opening to the genuine joys of learning. Sadly the political and economic fixation of recent years is with box ticking, bureaucracy and minimalist learning; the basics needed to scrape through an exam rather than cultivating Renaissance learning. Nearly all teachers of my acquaintance wish this would change, but they are not the decision-makers!
Robin: The Pageant is, so far as we know, the only polytheist performing arts festival in Britain and has been running for a fair few years now. Each August we host storytellers, poets, singers, dancers and others who retell the old myths and celebrate the Gods and spirits through their arts. There is one talk about an artistic topic, a few workshops, and the rest of the day is given over to performances. It was inspired by a conversation with a pooka, and (as per his wish) the profits go towards animal charities.
Christopher: Haven’t you been active in the Pagan Federation? Any other organizations?
Robin: I am a founding member (and so far Chairman) of the Ipswich Pagan Council, which has been running since 1994 and coordinates moots, a newsletter, a library, day trips, workshops, civic functions, and numerous other activities. I also help a little (very little) with the Druid Network.
Christopher: I was struck by you saying that your beliefs were dedicated to enjoying many good things in life? Isn’t that one aspect of old and modern Pagans dealing with this Life?
Robin: Absolutely, it is also one of the distinctive features between our religions and most of the mainstream ones; responsible hedonism in preference to asceticism. There is a considerable philosophical dimension underlying the search for spiritual understanding and insights through beauty, pleasure, and the opportunity to give others pleasure.
Christopher: Anything else that you would like our readers to know?
Robin: I am also fascinated by Egyptian and Greek Paganism and may one day write a book about one of those, though primarily I wish to branch into fiction and am just completing a collection of short stories. As a general tenet, part of venerating nature is the acceptance of human nature; allowing people to be what they are, instead of forcing people into preconceived boxes and trying to find ways for people to express their natures rather than repress them. For example, anger has its function and we would be best advised to create outlets for anger rather than just expecting people to bottle themselves up. Likewise love, fear, creativity, sexuality, compassion etc.
Christopher: Thanks Robin.
Originally published in the Alternative Religions Education Network newsletter. Republished here with permission of the authorChristopher Blackwell.