Druid

15 Dec

In the ancient Celtic tradition a Druid was priest, healer, soothsayer and lawgiver. Druids were not liable to pay taxes, they were an elite who protected the lore, traditions and the spirits of these ancient Islands and of the other Celtic nations across the water in Gaul (a large area encompassing most of France, Luxembourg, Belgium, parts of the Netherlands and Germany and parts of Northern Italy). Their influence was so strong that the Roman invaders under Caesar and later emperors tried vigorously to suppress them, so feared was their influence and practise. In particular, human sacrifice in the form of immolation (burning alive) in the Wicker Man was seen as particularly barbaric.

Training a Druid could take up to twenty years, and because the education was entirely oral (there were no written texts) and experiential, members of the order were trained to have prodigious memories.

It takes about twenty years to train a modern human to become a Doctor, from childhood to first qualification and then many more years training in a specialisation such as surgery or anaesthetics. It takes about the same length of time to gain a Ph.D..

I was 23 when I gained mine in Zoology. Throughout this time my mind was engaged in an ever more esoteric progress from ABC (learned in primary school in West Africa) through Algebra and Grammar (in Matlock) and eventually through closer and closer study to a highly specialised new field of enquiry – in my case centipede biology.

The discipline and the patience required of an acolyte of the Druid order, or a modern Ph.D. student is prodigious, because every step of the way is fraught with the very real prospect of failure. The slope is very slippery indeed.

I came across this strange apparatus whilst cleaning out my desk yesterday, a pair of iridectomy scissors – probably the smallest hand-held scissors money could buy back in 1980. Displayed on a piece of inlay work just finished for a client it made me think how peculiar the tools of my former trade and how refined the intent they represented.

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Like the soothsayer I had become in my late twenties and early thirties I spent long hours spinning my own myths and legends around the bits of Arthropods I had dissected in order to forge a career as an academic.

Instead of reading tea leaves or the giblets of a sacrificed chicken I would, as a research Zoologist conduct experiments on the bodies of tiny segmented creatures. It was as if by delving into their secret anatomies I would understand life and perhaps myself better.

The basis of medicine is physiology and anatomy. Most people do not realise that the robust understanding of nervous transmission at the synapse is thanks to years of painstaking research on the squid, Loligo, or that much of our knowledge of genetics is thanks to the endless selective breeding programs of the fruitfully, Drosophila. Our understanding of life is a chimaera, based upon a mixture of animal model systems from the rat to the flatworm.

I am no Druid, but this pilgrim has journeyed from micro dissection and neuroanatomy to marquetry and mouldings. My old friend Peter Craggs likes to joke that I have had a ‘career in reverse’. From academia, through secondary education, through conservation to carpentry. I prefer to think of it as a necessary unlearning of aspiration, to discover my true nature. I am a Littlewood after all.

Just because you can, does not mean you should. The Druids understood this, and in their reluctance to write knowledge down they honoured the true spirit of our Earth and the living creatures that form a living alliance with her.

Tread gently amidst the trees, for we do not stay not long in this world. I wish you seasons greetings as we celebrate the Solstice on the 21st of December and the return of the Light.

5 Responses to “Druid”

  1. Lynn Field December 15, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

    I stumbled upon your blog, was immediately interested in what you had to say because you say it well, then discovered that you read Zoology at Manchester. So did I for a term, then I transferred to Genetics and Cell Biology. I graduated in 1982 so I was in the same year as your little brother, Tim. I remember him because he was a true scholar with such enthusiasm for the subject. I recall Mr Blower with less affection than you, although he had many redeeming features I did not like the stench of Woodbines or Players or whatever nicotine theme park he was inhaling. Looking forward to more woody blogs from you!

  2. Lynn Field December 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    I stumbled upon your blog and found what you had to say was interesting because you say it well. Then, serendipitously discovered you read zoology at Manchester University. I did too, for a term, before transferring to Genetics and Cell Biology. I graduated in 1982 which would place me in the same year as your little brother, Tim. I recall him as a true scholar with a real enthusiasm for his subject. I remember Mr Blower with less affection than you as although he had many redeeming features I struggled with the stench of Woodbines, Capstans, Players or other nicotine themepark he was inhaling. Looking forward to more woody blogs from you!

    • woodenhenk December 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      Hi Lynn, glad you liked my ramblings. Yes Mr Blower was pretty pickled in nicotine – his Ford Zephyr was something else! Tim is now Director of Natural Sciences at the BMNH. He pursued genetics too – molecular. Largely because he is colour blind and had to develop effective molecular ID markers whilst working on Oyster parasites in Jamaica. Small world x H

      • Lynn Field December 17, 2014 at 11:55 am #

        Sory to have written twice, didn’t think the first post had been sent, at least I was consistent in what I had to say! I have sent my brother in law a link to your blog. He is a lawyer but wants to be a carpenter when he grows up.

      • woodenhenk December 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

        Good lad, as my carholic Irish grandma used to say “If it’s good enough for the son of God boy, it’s good enough for you” x H

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