Archive for the ‘academia’ Tag

Re-reading my MA dissertation

I’ve just been reading over the dissertation I submitted for my Masters degree in Religion and Magic back in September 2006. I can’t believe it was over two years ago! Here’s synopsis of The Foundations of Modern Druid Spirituality from the opening preamble:

This study explores the phenomenon of modern Druidry, one of the most rapidly-expanding forms of alternative spirituality in Britain today. It investigates why, despite the fact that there is so little verifiable evidence relating to the spiritual practices of the ancient Druids inhabiting Britain prior to the Roman invasions of the first centuries CE, modern Druids continue to look to their forebears as a source of inspiration and guidance.

I argue that modern Druids tend to have a much more sophisticated grasp of the foundations of their spiritual practice than many academics claim. This attitude to the past has much in common with recent developments in post-modern historiography, including a realisation that it is impossible to isolate a single, objective past without relying on written accounts, which are in turn subject to the politics of representation.

Using Horkheimer and Adorno’s concept of disenchantment, I argue that this attitude has been marginalised since the onset of the Enlightenment project, when the separation between history and myth was consolidated, and the latter came to be regarded as little more than a poetic lie about what really happened. Since that time, the texts surrounding Druidry have proliferated, to the extent that the connection between the Druid mythos and the true past has been lost.

As a result, the mythos exists today in something akin to what Baudrillard terms hyperreality, in that it represents not the historical Druids but the tradition of representation itself. This recognition renders a conventional mode of assessing the past obsolete. A more sophisticated attitude is required, and is demonstrated by members of the modern Druid community. 

I was quite surprised at how pertinant some of the issues seemed following the recent controversies surrounding the authenticity of identifying with the ancient druids when we have so little verifiable evidence of them.

It’s interesting to see how my outlook has changed in the past two years. It appears as if I have begun to yearn after the very logocentric fallacy I so criticised back then, as if I can regain some authenticity through reducing things to the tangible.

Though it’s not as if I have lost sight of the technologies by which history presents itself as fact. Nor have I lost the sense of wonder at the chase, of the signifying process through which the world is enchanted. In fact, I think that an emphasis on the simple and the tangible only heightens the wonder, stripping back the layers of misdirection that maintain the notion that human culture is in some way natural or universal.

My feeling is that tangible sanctity and the ‘mythic approach’ to the foundations of Druidry are not necessarily incompatible, and may even be mutually supportive. I will give it some more thought.

I did plan to carry on with this work, looking specifically at the disenchantment that occurred around the sixteenth century, exploring a possible re-enchantment through a post-structuralist dismantling of Enlightenment ideologies, leading to a more sophisticated and robust philosophy of Paganism and the magic upon which it rests. Either that or working to rescue Romanticism as a philosophically-sound approach to nature-based spirituality. I was never able to formulate these into a coherent PhD proposal though, and was somewhat exhausted at the thought of the work involved.

I also began to plan out a book looking at the relationship between Pagan spirituality and the re-enchantment of language, which incorporated many of these ideas. Perhaps I will have another look at that instead.