When I was an English major in college (which I’m sure surprises nobody), I had a teacher who started every semester, every course, by going through a list of the literary terminology she expected to use and to hear used and giving definitions for all the terms. Her list ranged from things as basic as “image”, “simile”, and “metaphor” to more abstruse terms such as “chiasmus” and “zeugma”. (I can still remember the textbook example of a zeugma: “He has gone to the country to cultivate matrimony and his garden.”)
One of the more useful things I learned from Mrs. A. in college (I don’t get to sling around the word “zeugma” nearly as often as I’d like) was the idea of the controlling metaphor. The controlling metaphor is an implied comparison that runs through and organizes an entire poem or other work. The controlling metaphor of the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is simply, “High school is hell”. The twist is that the metaphor is literally, factually true. Sunnydale’s high school sits upon a hellmouth, and everything that Buffy and her friends ever say about how their teenage problems are The End of the World is extremely possible.
So one of my random thoughts in the shower recently was controlling metaphors for religions.
Christianity is a faith. Originally, that meant faith in the sense of trust, trust in Jesus and in the God he called Father. Nowadays, faith as trust in a person or deity has been almost entirely replaced by faith as belief in or assent to a set of propositions. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty” could be translated as “Somebody told me about the Big G, and I decided to go along with the idea.” The predominance of Christianity in the world has made “faith” a default metaphor for religion in Christian eyes.
Buddhism, as it is developing in the West, is a practice. Whether they are Zen or Tibetan Buddhists, Nichiren or Pure Land, Western Buddhists want to do more than show up at temple occasionally and put money in the hands of the experts, the way their grandparents did for church or synagogue. They want a religion which gives them something practical to do on a daily basis, something they can rely on in good times and bad.
Islam has submission built into its very name. I don’t know a lot about the African traditional religions, but the concept of house keeps coming up in what I read of them–the religion, the temple, the worshipper, the world being a house for the spirit beings. Many northern or heathen traditions use the word troth; the worshipper is true and loyal to the gods, the gods and goddesses are true and loyal to the worshipper.
What then is Druidry? Druidry is a path. That’s the word I keep coming back to myself. Path as a metaphor for spirituality, religious practice, school of magic is very common, very widespread right now, but when I think of Druidry, I think very specifically, visually, of a path that leads away from the village, the human settlement, the domain of culture, and into the forest, the domain of nature, where deities and spirits and larger truths can be encountered. And then, it leads back, to the village. The druid’s grove is the liminal place between the two, a human space shaped out of the forest, a place where nature and culture meet.
So Druidry is my path, not in the sense that it is my chosen or appointed route from Point A (ordinary me, unenlightened me, whatever) to Point B (super extraordinary me, enlightened me, no more problems me), but in the sense that it is my way through the world, my way from community to solitude and back again, my way from This World to the Other World and back again, and that it is always a path which takes me there and brings me, like Bilbo the hobbit, back again.