The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth - John Michael Greer 2008


When the founders of the Druid Revival began the long process of creating modern Druidry back in the early eighteenth century, magic was very nearly the last thing on their minds. Like many people of their time, they watched the birth of the Industrial Age and the first stirrings of today's environmental crises, and they recognized that the cultural forces driving humanity apart from nature would never be able to solve the problems humans were causing. Faced with a Hobson's choice between dogmatic religion and materialist science, they took a third path, drawing inspiration from the legacy of the ancient Celtic Druids to craft a new spirituality of nature. It never seems to have occurred to them, however, that magic might be part of that path.

At that time, the magical traditions of the Western world were at their lowest ebb in many centuries. Gone were the heady days of the Renaissance, when great mages such as Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, and Giordano Bruno proclaimed the reality of magic to the world and the occult traditions counted as a major cultural force. The scientific revolution put paid to all that, banishing the occult vision of a cosmos woven together by subtle threads of power and meaning and replacing it with Newton's universe of dead matter spinning through an infinite void. Magic still existed in the eighteenth century—never in all of human history has there been a culture without magic—but its practitioners either lived among the rural poor or belonged to an underworld of secretive magical lodges on the fringes of contemporary culture.

A few of the founders of the Druid Revival had contacts with the old magical wisdom, but those traditions played no role worth noticing in the creation of Druidry. Not until the great revival of occultism in the late nineteenth century did the first magical practices start finding their way into the Druid movement, and it took most of a century thereafter for magic to become a significant part of the modern Druid tradition. Even today, some of the more conservative Druid Revival orders will have nothing to do with magic.

Still, magic has a valid place in Druidry today. Partly, of course, the ancient Celtic Druids who provided the original inspiration for the Revival, and whose example still guides it today, had a reputation all through ancient times as first-rate magicians. Partly, the Western world's rejection of magic has much more to do with the crisis of industrial civilization than the founders of the Druid Revival ever guessed.

On another level, however, magic belongs in Druidry because the core principles of Druidry and magic are the same. Both unfold from the awareness that the world around us is a community to which we belong, not a commodity we can own. Both recognize that subtle connections weave every part of the cosmos together and offer us unexpected ways to sense and shape the flow of events. Both realize that our fate is a co-creation of our actions and the patterns of space, time, and meaning that define the world around us. That these principles also form the foundations of ecology stands as a sign of their wider importance.

Still, magic plays a less central role in Druidry than it does in some other alternative spiritualities today. The core practices of the Druid path remain what they were in the eighteenth century: daily life lived in harmony with nature, seasonal rituals that celebrate the cycles of nature, and meditation to unveil the secrets of our own nature. Magic combines well with all of these but cannot replace any of them. Nor is magic necessarily part of every Druid's path, for many other arts—poetry, music, divination, healing, sacred geometry, and the study of ancient traditions of the sacred landscape, among others—have long been part of the Druid tradition, and each Druid chooses from these and other options in creating his or her personal approach to Druid nature spirituality.

For those who hear its call, however, magic offers possibilities that few other Druid arts can equal. Just as the banishing of magic by industrial society has deep connections with the failures of vision that put our civilization on a collision course with ecological reality, the rebirth of Druid magic has immense potential as a tool for healing the split between humanity and nature and dissolving the trance that blinds us to our oneness with the living Earth.

A Few Words about Authenticity

One of the questions I field most often as a teacher of Druidry is “Where do today's Druid teachings come from?” Most of the people who pose that question want to know if the Druid magic we practice today comes down directly from the ancient Celtic Druids, and many of them feel bitterly disappointed when they learn that the magic of the old Druids vanished forever more than a thousand years ago.

We know, as it happens, that the ancient Druids practiced magic. We know almost nothing about the magic they practiced, because all the information about the old Druids that comes from the days when they still existed amounts to ten pages of brief passages from Greek and Latin writers, most of whom never met a Druid. References in legends of Christian saints from Celtic countries and passages from Irish legends have a little more to say, but those were written centuries after the Druids died out, and how much ancient lore they contain is the subject of hot debate among scholars today. All these sources put together offer only a few fragments of Druid magic—not enough to teach anyone today how to practice authentic Druid magic.

Thus it deserves to be said up front that not one bit of today's Druid magic comes from the ancient Druids. The teachings included in this book are no exception. They trace their roots to the Druid Revival movement, and they evolved to meet the needs of people practicing Druidry in the modern world. They draw extensively on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Welsh Druid lore, like most Revival traditions, but also draw on other sources within and beyond the Druid community.

All this counts as next thing to heresy in some circles. Saying that a tradition rooted in the Druid Revival and the Renaissance can call itself “Druid magic,” for that matter, is bound to raise hackles in some corners of today's alternative spiritual scene. There are writers and teachers today who insist that the value of any system of Druid practice depends on its claim to historical authenticity. If Druid teachings don't copy the practices of the ancient Celtic Druids as exactly as possible, this argument goes, they must not be worth much.

This sort of thinking has tangled roots. Many people yearn for ways of life more richly human than the ones they find in today's industrial society. Such yearnings speak to powerful needs, but a quirk of the modern imagination leads many of those who feel the call to a better life to think they have to find it in some other culture far from ours in space or time. The ancient Celts have been targeted more than most others by this sort of thinking, and as a result you can find many books in print today that paint the Celts of the past in the colors of Utopia.

The reality is much more nuanced. Just like ours, ancient Celtic cultures had vices as well as virtues—societies that had no moral problem at all with slavery and defined people's human value based on their social class, as the ancient Celts did, make very poor candidates for Utopia by most standards—and their traditions, colorful as they may seem from a distance, aren't all that relevant to the very different realities of life in a declining industrial civilization. The Celtic heritage has been a source of inspiration for modern Druids since the first days of the Revival. Yet that inspiration must be tempered by the knowledge that a yearning for a richer life can't be satisfied by idolizing somebody else's culture or trying to pretend that you don't belong to the one you actually inhabit. It can only be fulfilled by the hard work of self-knowledge—and that starts from the lived experience of your own place and time.

These issues have special relevance to magic, because a magical tradition is first and foremost a toolkit: a set of methods and tools for making things happen. It's not a cultural fashion statement, a historical reenactment, or a role-playing game, and if it becomes one of these things, it usually stops being effective magic. Judging systems of magic on the basis of their historical authenticity, ironically enough, is also one of the most historically inauthentic things a mage can do, because ancient magical traditions borrowed things from other cultures just as enthusiastically as modern ones do. Since magic is about making things happen, this makes perfect sense, because what matters in a magical system is simply whether or not it works.

All these points apply with particular force to magic as a Druid practice. While Celtic traditions and the legacy of the old Druids inspire modern Druids, the core concerns of Druidry have always centered on the present and the future, not the past. What makes Druid magic relevant today is not whether it comes from an ancient or modern source, but whether it can help restore harmony between humanity and nature. If a Druid magical system can do this, that's all the authenticity it needs.

How to Use This Book

The Druid Magic Handbook has been written as a complete training manual of ritual magic in the modern Druid tradition. Like my earlier book The Druidry Handbook, it draws principally on the teachings of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA;, the order I serve as Grand Archdruid. The core practices and traditions of AODA's Druidry are covered in that previous book, including the symbolism and philosophy that underlies the magical system presented here, but everything you need to work this system of Druid magic can be found between the covers of this book.

Still, magic is only one part of the broader Druid tradition, and it works best when practiced together with Druid nature spirituality. Membership in AODA or study of The Druidry Handbook open doors to the wider world of Druidry, but these are by no means the only options. The magic taught here also combines well with the study programs of other traditional Druid orders such as the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD; and the Druid Gorsedd of the First Circle (DGOFC; Books such as Philip Carr-Gomm's The Druid Way are also good sources for such explorations.

Not all of the modern Druid movement shares this much common ground, however. Some recently founded Druid traditions reject the heritage of the Revival, and work with current academic reconstructions of ancient Celtic religion instead. People who prefer this approach to Druidry may find some aspects of the magical work in this book a poor fit with their beliefs. The same will likely be true of followers of other nature-centered religions, such as Wicca, and other traditions of modern magic, such as Hermeticism. I have done my best to make the magic taught in these pages as accessible and inclusive as possible, but no book can be all things to all people.

The eight chapters of this book move through a carefully designed sequence of magical workings, starting from the essential theory and basic practices of Druid magic and proceeding from there through a sequence of progressively more demanding magical workings. If you want to skip around while reading, by all means do that, but if you choose to take up the course of study this book provides, it's important to start at the beginning and work your way through the book a chapter at a time. All the workings in the later chapters are assembled from concepts, rituals, and practices taught early on, and some of the advanced rituals will not work at all unless you do the preliminary practices first. This will likely be true even if you already know another tradition of magic, because Druid magic starts from different principles than most other magical traditions and gathers power from its own distinctive sources.

Patience is essential to the work presented in this book, then. So is your willingness to invest time in the magical practices and studies in this book. Learning magic takes time and practice, just like learning a musical instrument, a martial art, or anything else worth doing. Plan on setting aside twenty to thirty minutes a day, each and every day, for your magical training, as well as periods of up to an hour for magical workings every week or so. If this is more than you can do, this may not be the right time in your life for you to take up magic, and it makes more sense to accept that and set your sights on something within reach than to go through the motions of magical training without any likelihood of getting results.

The other requirements for Druid magic are straightforward. You will need a place to practice magic, but a spare corner of a bedroom or a backyard will meet that requirement. You will also need a few simple magical tools. A set of Ogham sticks or cards, an altar, four small bowls or cauldrons, eight small stones, a wand, another small cauldron, and a bag that can be hung around your neck form the complete toolkit for this book. All of them can be made or bought inexpensively.

You already have the most important tools of magic—your own body and mind, and the living Earth all around you—and all the other magical tools simply help you learn how to tap into a power that has always been all around you. If you are ready to start learning the ways of that power, this book can be your guide.

use of ROC's words, I began to consider that new ways of working magic were going to appear, my thoughts turned toward the forms of magic. By “new magic,” I thought what was meant were new forms of ritual or new ways of contacting spiritual sources of energy and power. I had to grow in my own experience to realize that this isn't what was meant at all. It's not that new forms may not appear or have not appeared; people are experimenting with magical forms and rituals all the time. But the essence of a new magic—the kind of thing ROC was talking about and I assume my inner contact was predicting—lies in a new understanding of the nature of magic itself. Not just an understanding of how to do it, but of what it is.

Magic, as John Michael eloquently points out in this book, is not some glamorous, supernatural power apart from life. It is the energies and processes of life itself. It is rooted in our connectedness with the life of the world around us, and its greatest effect is to root us and connect us even more fully. In fact, one could say that magic is the expression of our connectedness. A magician, we come to see, is not someone who stands apart and wields vast forces in some impersonal manner from a lonely mountain top. Rather he or she is a person who is immersed in the world, a participant, part of the life of nature, part of the life of humanity, at home in forests and in cities, wherever life is. To “do magic” is to serve life. It is to enhance the capacity of life, in whatever form, to be fully what it is and to become perhaps more than it might expect.

John Michael knows this point and is able to convey it in clear and compelling prose. He is not only a fine and experienced magician. He is also a blessedly fine writer. I'm envious on both counts!

In this book, John Michael is presenting a specific form of magic, namely Druid magic. The specificity is important. In our world, life manifests through forms and bodies. It possesses particularity. The raccoons that occasionally sleep in the trees in my backyard are not the same as the trees, and both are different from me. Druid magic is not the Hermetic magic of the Order of the Golden Dawn, nor is it Egyptian magic, nor Native American magic. It's important to understand and honor the differences and not attempt to make one the other. I would make a poor raccoon and an even poorer tree.

So John Michael gifts us with a powerful form based on ancient traditions. If we are Druids, we can appreciate the connectedness and depth this magical form offers us with all that we love and honor in the Druid path. If we are not Druids, we can still appreciate the spirit of connection and depth of practice this book offers and the vision it offers of holistic ways, connected ways, and collaborative ways of doing magic.

Either way, it offers us a chance to fulfill the vision of a new magic, for behind the practices and techniques John Michael offers is something I feel is more subtle and maybe more important: the idea that it isn't a new magic that is evolving but new magicians. It is magicians who understand the honor of being human but at the same time the responsibility and joy of being connected, of being part of a larger wholeness of life and serving the energies that flow through that wholeness. It is the vision of a magician who loves, indeed who is love.

The Druid path may well offer a greater opportunity to come to this place, but it is really open to any of us, whatever path we walk. For magical forms can come and go and, as ROC pointed out, will come and go, but the magical place of interconnectedness and love where we can stand in collaboration with the world is always available to us. Learning how to go to that place and stand there and be a sacred mage in service to all life: that is the new magic. Its secrets are in each of us. From that place we can step into any magical or ritual form. When we do, the magic that is forever and always in us will enliven and enlighten the magic that is potential in the form.

This is the vision that John Michael Greer offers. He is truly one of the New Magicians.

ROC would have been pleased.

David Spangler

Author of Blessing: The Art and the Practice;

The Story Tree; Apprenticed to Spirit