Online Class Review 1: “Decolonising Your Druidry and Spiritual Practice” Lora O’Brien
Last month I used a sunny Saturday to make a pilgrimage from my home in Dallas to my father’s hometown, now largely a ghost town, of Stamford, Texas. I needed graveyard dirt from the graves of my grandfather and grandmother for my ancestor altar. My 85-year-old father came with me and while he was wandering among the graves I furtively scratched at the dirt with my fingernails, willing the hard-packed, red, west Texas dirt to loosen. It didn’t want to let go. I managed to get a handful into the pocket of my dress before my Presbyterian father noticed what I was doing, but I came away from the experience feeling like the earth itself didn’t really want to come with me. That I didn’t really have a claim to it.
I have the quintessential American pagan problem. I have no gods. Any gods indigenous to the land my American ancestors settled belong to the Native American peoples my grandfathers at best displaced and at worst helped decimate. For the gods of the land where I was raised and the ancestors of place, I hold absolute reverence, but I have no claim to them. I am the descendent of colonizers, the oppressed and the oppressors. Even the dirt packed over my grandparents’ graves seems to say so.
My family has been in the U.S. for so long, I have legitimate claim to join, if I wish (I do not) the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Confederacy (yes, I do hang my head in shame) and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. I am many, many generations removed from Ireland and Scotland, to which my parents have been able to trace both sides of my family. But there is an O’Quinn in the lot, somewhere back in the early 18th century. So when an Irish goddess by the name of the Morrigan made Herself known to me, I was able to acknowledge that I have at least some sort of link to Ireland upon which to build my reverence to her. I don’t feel entitled to reverence her, but the connection to her land, however tenuous, is there.
My first step toward a proper relationship with the Morrigan was to learn as much as I could from her using reliable sources, and in that search a friend mentioned Lora O’Brien. And in fact, this inaugural review was intended to be a review of Lora’s online classes on the Morrigan, of which there are several, and I highly recommend them. But there was another class that spoke to me even more strongly and that is Lora’s class entitled “Decolonising Your Druidry & Spiritual Practice,” which is the class you purchase when your grandfather’s grave won’t give up any dirt and an Irish goddess sticks Her sacred foot out for you to trip over.
Lora O’Brien refers to herself as a draoi, a practitioner of Irish magic and spirituality. She does not refer to herself as a Druid. I consider her to be a Teacher, the capital T being an intentional sign of respect for her more than two decades of academic and practical learning and experience and for the care and seriousness she applies to her classes. There is no fluff or glitter in Ms. O’Brien’s content. Instead you are going to get serious, challenging and thought-provoking content in an environment that is still welcoming and accepting of where you are on your path. She is never going to discourage you from undertaking a study of Irish paganism and Druidry, but she is going to ask you to consider what you are up to.
The class, subtitled “how to ensure that modern practice is authentic and respectful,” opens with a survey of colonialism in general and the colonization of Ireland in particular, including the cultural appropriation and distortion of Druidism by British colonizers and the subsequent reclaiming of Druidism by some Irish nationalists. She then moves on to address the issue of cultural appropriation of Druidism within the context of Neo-paganism. Do you reverence the Irish pantheon? If so, do you do so out of a sense of entitlement or as a true supplicant? Is your relationship to Irish paganism, Lora asks, “a healthy symbiosis? Or is it a parasitic relationship?” I think of it in terms of cultural vampirism. Lora’s metaphors are much more gentle. She is not scolding, she is guiding.
If you are new to the discussion of post-colonialism, I would suggest doing some research first to get the most from the class. Lora’s discussion of post-colonialism is complete enough for someone already familiar with the term. Those new to it probably would be best served by grounding themselves in a basic survey of from a good online source. No study of post-colonialism is for the politically squeamish. If you come from a culture that has ever had any cause to be considered an empire, be prepared to take a good hard look at your behavior and motivations. I find a good, stiff drink helpful with this process.
The second half of the class deals with what the primary and secondary historical sources have to say about how the Druids actually practiced. Lora then closes by describing the elements she feels would rightly comprise a valid approach to modern Druidism. And she offers guidelines for an authentic practice grounded in the language, the lore, the history and the land of Ireland itself. I do wish this element had been explored in more depth, but overall the content on practical application is substantial, especially as she includes a guided journey as part of the class content.
For the equivalent of 40 Euro (about $45USD), the student receives access to more than 2 hours of class content (both video and audio), the chat transcript from the live class, and the class slides. In addition, there is a 30 minute guided journey, and a large number of recommended resources and readings. The guided journey is nicely done. The pacing is good and Lora possesses a nice voice and intonation for this kind of work. The price is entirely reasonable for the amount and quality of the content.
I would recommend this course to anyone working for a deity or in a tradition to which one does not have a direct cultural connection. The content may challenge you but will never alienate you and you will come away with some truly valuable and practical tools for working in a tradition not your own without becoming a cultural vampire in the process.
Lora can be found at the following links:
Course content from the Irish Pagan School