Historically, shamans and druids both occupied places of honor in their societies — shamans as healers, diviners, and liaisons between their communities and non-ordinary reality, and druids as healers, diviners, religious leaders, and political advisors.
Today, modern western shamanism and druidism seek to replicate some of the roles of their traditional counterparts, albeit in different ways.
What are the differences between shamans and druids, and how to do they approach spirituality?
Main Differences Between Shamanism & Druidry
The key difference between Shamanism and Druidry is that, for many druids, Druidry is a religion. Shamanism, meanwhile, is better described as a method or approach.
“Shamanism” is a catchall term taken from the word for a priest of the Ural-Altaic peoples. Now, it’s most often used to describe all practitioners that use a specific method of interacting with the spirit world, regardless of their religion.
Druidry, on the other hand, is a category of nature-centered philosophical, spiritual, and religious practices primarily based on those of the ancient Celtic peoples. This means that shamanism and Druidry aren’t mutually exclusive — some druids are shamans, or use shamanic methods within a druidic belief system and ritual structure.
Shamanism Core Beliefs
The core beliefs of a shaman are often influenced by the religion in which they are working. Shamanic Wicca, for example, uses shamanic methods within a Wiccan belief system. That said, there are a few general beliefs that mark most forms of modern shamanism:
- Animism. Most shamans are animists. They believe that all of nature has its own spiritual entities, and it’s possible to communicate and interact with them. Some of these spirits are benevolent, while others are malevolent.
- Non-ordinary reality. Shamans believe that there is a distinct realm of spirits, usually termed non-ordinary reality to distinguish it from ordinary reality.
- The three worlds. Non-ordinary reality comprises three worlds: the lower, middle, and upper worlds. Each of these has its own means of entry, spirit denizens, and purpose for the shaman.
- Shamanic journeying. Shamans undertake shamanic journeys to access non-ordinary reality for a variety of purposes, including physical, mental, or emotional healing, divination, and restoring balance between nature and their communities.
- Interconnection. Most shamans believe that all life is interconnected and, in turn, entwined with the spirit world in a reciprocal fashion. A shaman may undertake a journey to contact the spirits of a school of fish, for example, to bargain with them and help secure enough food for their community. One interesting story involved a shaman communicating with the spirit of a crocodile, promising it a food offering if it stopped hassling a pair of bathers. The crocodile left the bathers alone, and later met the shaman to receive the food.
See also: How Shamanic Journeying Works.
Druidism Core Beliefs
While Druidism is a religion for many, its core beliefs vary in how they are interpreted and expressed across different branches, groves, and even individuals. These beliefs are general, but can apply to the majority of modern druids:
- A lack of rigid beliefs or dogma. Druidry relies heavily on personal experience and revelation. Even the branches of Druidism that have a well-defined ritual structure allow a lot of room for personal interpretation and expression.
- Magic. Many druids use magic in their rituals.
- The afterlife. While druids don’t believe in a heaven or hell, many of them believe in an afterlife. This may be reincarnation, or transition into a peaceful, timeless otherworld. This otherworld is often conceptualized in a way that corresponds with the upper world of the shaman.
- Nature as the divine. Druidry is nature-centered. Many druids are animists, believing that all of nature is imbued with its own divine spirit.
- Interconnection. Druids believe in the web of life. All living beings are connected and share a reciprocal relationship.
- The otherworld. Druids believe in an otherworld, which may be visited during meditation or trace states. For many, this otherworld is the same as the lower, middle, and upper worlds of the shaman.
Getting Started with Nature Based Spirituality
The foundational belief underpinning all forms of nature-based spirituality is this: We aren’t isolated. Humans exist as part of a great web, and the actions we take impact nature, which, in turn, impacts us.
While there are many methods out there for approaching nature as a divine, spiritual entity or collection of entities, all nature-centered spiritualities respect this relationship. Nature offers us food, clothing, and shelter, and we make offerings to nature. If we care for our environment and interact with it in a respectful way, it will care for us.
Getting started with nature-based spirituality is relatively easy. The first step is to go out into nature, and let it speak to you. What feelings do you get? Can you sense the spirits of the trees, stones, or even the location? Let your relationship with your local environment guide the direction you take.
Next, look for other people with similar beliefs in your community. You can start by looking for Paganism, Wicca, Druidry, or Shamanism Meetup groups, or inquiring at your local metaphysical shop. Learn all you can about the paths open to you.
Take up an environmental cause. Since we all live in a reciprocal relationship with nature, it’s important to give back.
Read everything you can on whatever spiritual path or paths call to you. Remember, there’s no wrong way to be spiritual — there’s no law against being a Wiccan and a druid, or a shaman and a Wiccan.
Most nature-based spiritualities, even ones with a strict initiation and hierarchy system, are open and flexible about personal beliefs. Even if you never find a coven, grove, or other group that really suits you, you can build your own solitary practice based on the knowledge you’ve gained.
The many paths of nature-based spirituality can sometimes become confusing, but that’s okay. All of them come from a respect for nature and a desire to honor the reciprocal relationship between humans and our environment.
No matter which path you choose to take, the important thing is that it resonates with you and allows you to fulfill the sacred, ancient contract between people and nature.