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Druid's Prayer IV: Knowledge of Justice

Posted: 23 Apr 2005, 18:15
by Alferian
The next line in our series looking at the Druid's Prayer is

...And in Knowledge, the Knowledge of Justice

This was a line that I had to ponder a long time. What is Justice anyway? Sometimes we think of it as punishment, or the doling out of punishment to wrong-doers. But the flip side of that is that Justice, were it to rule everyone's heart would result in no wrong-doing. Were Justice to prevail in human society, we would administer it to ourselves before we did any injustice.

For me the idea of social justice is very important. The idea that all human beings have the right to be happy and treated with empathy and compassion. The tough side of justice is that those who fail to treat others with compassion and empathy must be corrected in one way or another.

The idea of a "Just War" has always puzzled and haunted me. I'm basically a pacifist and wars seem inherently fraught with injustices and terrors. So, the idea of "correction" comes into this somewhere. If someone is incorrigible, what then?

Another way to look at the Justice as a gift in this prayer is as Karma. Might the ancient Druids (or even Iolo Morgawyg) have had a sense of karmic destiny? The idea that in a system of spiritual ecology, what goes around comes around? Even perhaps the idea of "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" in a spiritual as well as physical sense? Wiccan wisdom tends to suggest a threefold return on actions: good begets good in return, and evil begets evil. Can we understand or "know" Justice without engaging the slippery terms "good" and "evil." Or the question of harming others in our actions.

I've been listening to an audiobook edition of the Dalai Lama's recent book "Ethics for a New Millennium." I always find him very wise and sensible. One of the things he says is that ethics -- that is, right action -- depends on our first understanding that our own happiness is dependent upon the actions of other people. Once we grasp this -- that the actions of others can affect our own happiness -- then we can realize that we secure our own happiness by concerning ourselves with the happiness of others. By making others happy, we often also serve ourselves. By making others unhappy, we often bring unhappiness to ourselves.

Ideas? Should we deal in the same thread with Knowledge of Justice and the next line:

And in the Knowledge of Justice, the Love of it...

What does it mean to both know and love justice?


Posted: 23 Apr 2005, 19:00
by Donata
I've had to meditate on this line possibly more than any other in the prayer.

Justice seems to me to be balance. Justice further requires making a judgment - a negative word today! however, I make a judgment anytime I make a choice, even as simple as what to wear today. Judgment in this sense means perception, and when guided by wisdom (see above in prayer), brings about harmony and balance - that is, I'm not making choices that are extreme or inappropriate when I'm aware of the balance of things. This the middle path of balance between the extremes, and this brings happiness. So in this sense, yes, I love justice.

Justice also means I may choose to accept the duty to work for justice and fairness - balance, harmony - for others, for the environment, etc. Justice thus will mean service, doing for others, for the earth, to bring about fairness and harmony. Doing service to others is only helful for them and a growth process for me when I do it willingly and with committment and free choice, not out of guilt or feeling 'I should do it" - freely given. Then I love what I do, thus I love Justice.

So, in the strength that the security of protection provides, I come to deep intutive understanding which leads to knowledge - and this knowledge shows me the potential for balance and harmony in life, which I'm interpreting as Justice. This harmony and justice of things gives me happiness, because with it, I can enjoy and love my life - and all other beings, or existences. This harmony and balance, this justice, is good, or goodness, resulting in a good life of balance and fairness, of justice. As all of this originates with Spirit/God/dess, I thus am expressing and feeling my deep love for the Spirit/God/dess and all goodness.

Possibly an oversimplification of a profound prayer. A short distillation of many meditations on it. It reads as though I'm repeating myself. It's difficult to express clearly in words what I experience in meditation.


Posted: 23 Apr 2005, 19:19
by Lily
What does it mean to both know and love justice?
To seek it. To seek balance and a personal code of ethics. To strive for it, think and meditate about it and most of all, to try and apply the conclusions of the search in everyday life.

What good does it do to consider oneself a druid, a pagan - to talk incessantly about spirituality and nothing changes in your everyday life? Can you consider yourself a pagan and still be a jerk?

To be honest, I have met plenty of that type of person, both in virtual and real reality.
I have met the same type of attitude in christians.

Righteousness is a big topic and most people who use it, IMHO, use it as a weapon, not a benchmark.

[/Lily's personal manifesto and rant]

Posted: 24 Apr 2005, 20:18
by Alferian
Justice from the Latin root "jus" meaning "right." So, "righteousness" is an interesting idea here. I wonder, did Iolo give a Welsh version of the prayer (I should think so) and what word did he use there?

Knowledge of justice and the love of it is certainly different from "self-righteousness". It is not about proudly imagining that one is right all the time and others 'wrong" or "sinners" etc. Yet, certainly being upright and honest is a Celtic virtue and the liars in the old tales usually come to a bad end.

Seems to me that we maybe need to bring in the next line too:

And in the love of it [justice], the love of all existences.

This suggests to me that there is an element of karma. That is, our knowledge of justice -- of karmic law -- enables us to then love all existences because we understand that through the workings of this cosmic justice (we could call it karma, or we could just call it recycling), we move through existences from human to non-human in the endless cycle of life, water, and matter.

My daughter's first grade class read a story on Earth Day about the water cycle in which it was pointed out that the same water circulates round and round in the Earth's system, so that the water that is in our bodies today might have been the same water in a dinosaur's body millions of years ago. It might be the same water that sat in vast glaciers for millennia. It leaves our bodies and enters the trees, the insects, the plants, rivers and lakes. And when we die, we feed the worms and bugs, but on the most elemental level, our atoms are recycled into the great flow of continuous creation. As Carl Sagan famously remarked, "We are all made of star stuff" and the atoms that make us up were once part of a star somewhere.

So, it seems to me that the love of all existences -- the feeling of sympathy and affection for all things in Nature -- is linked to the Druid concept of Justice and the love of it. it is not only a human sort of justice, but something much greater, perhaps more like Natural Laws. But it is also echoed in the human societies attempt to create just laws.


Posted: 25 Apr 2005, 21:33
by Lily
Alferian wrote:And in the love of it [justice], the love of all existences.

So, it seems to me that the love of all existences -- the feeling of sympathy and affection for all things in Nature -- is linked to the Druid concept of Justice and the love of it. it is not only a human sort of justice, but something much greater, perhaps more like Natural Laws.
Isn't it to do what is right? And because it is right, to want the same for all beings?

Sometimes I wonder how anyone in his right mind can conclude ethical discourses with, ahem, "compassionately conservative" outcomes.

What I want to say: how can anyone think about ethics and not become a socialist?
How can the Christian Right even dare talk about ethics. But that's just narrowminded me.

Karma? I believe in doing things right in this life because it's the right thing to do, not because of any punishment or reward in one or many afterlives. Oops I admitted I believe something. That dents my agnostic armor :where:

Posted: 26 Apr 2005, 04:47
by CopperLion
Oh My Goddess Alferian :grin: if this doesn't open up the biggest can of philosophical worms :-)

first of all, I agree with your view on the Dalhi Lama has being wise & sensible. I think he is the closest living example of Jesus of Nazerath.

But as to to "justice" Hmmmm, :???: In my own crazy (warped) view, justice would be to kill those that harm this world and the innocent, as well as to protect and nurture what is good and right in nature.

But then that concept of the "love of all existences" comes in . . .

my personal take on this is a love of all creatures, plants, rocks, the earth in general. But this doesn't necassarily include individuals, otherwise the ancient druids would not have counciled their kings in matters of war or have carried weapons (as many tales indicated they did).

So I guess I'm totally confused on this part of the prayer :oops: ;) :grin: :where:

Posted: 27 Apr 2005, 14:04
by Flidais Airmid
When I think of Justice in the Druid’s Prayer I think of the Justice card in the Major Arcana, specifically the Druidcraft deck. I see justice as balance and understanding. I think of the astrological sign of Libra and the scales. I also see it as everything having a reaction. The decision and actions we take have an effect on this world, some great and some small but a reaction all the same. I see the meaning in the Druid’s Prayer to be an understanding of this cycle of reactions. As Druids we should understand this, respect it and act accordingly. I do not mean that we should censor or ourselves in fear of some sort of punishment but just that we should act wisely and not make rash decisions. We should consider how our actions would affect the world around us.

Posted: 28 Apr 2005, 02:05
by Alferian
Lily wrote: Sometimes I wonder how anyone in his right mind can conclude ethical discourses with, ahem, "compassionately conservative" outcomes.
Ah, yes this is a can of worms, isn't it? It was (and is) the hardest part of the prayer for me too. I think that conservatives arrive at their own ethical logic based on what some have called the "Strict Father Morality." It is predicated on the idea that all of us are like children and God (or governments as God's agent) must play the role of the strict father, disciplining us so that we learn to be good. Otherwise we will just become lazy and spoiled.

It's an appealing ideology, and works especially well with monarchies or theocracies where there is a single father-figure (king, pope, etc.). It's a question of whether you accept the premise about human nature, that children need strict discipline to become good people and that they respond better to this strict fathering than to the alternative which is called the Nurturing Parent model.

Conservative Christians don't get the Strict Father morality from Jesus so much as from the stories of YHVH in the Torah (Old Testament). Jesus himself, as the child, undergoes some pretty tough discipline -- in the desert tempted by the Enemy, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross. He's the ideal son: totally obedient even to sacrificing himself.

The Dalai Lama, as you would expect, bases his ethics on the ideals of mutual respect as the foundation for happiness. He starts his argument with the premise that all humans want to be happy and from this adduces that even if we follow purely "selfish" motives to begin with, we will come to realize that our happiness depends upon the actions of others. We cannot control the actions of others, but we can treat them with compassion and respect and try to make them happy. This may result in others working to make us happy.

That view of ethics is also grounded in the idea of doing no harm to anyone or anything. It's not possible, of course, to never do harm, but the Dalai Lama argues that to cultivate our own ethical nature, we should try to do no harm and be aware of how our actions affect others -- including the environment.

This is contrasted to what is still the dominant view of life in which humans are seen as individuals set in competition with each other for limited resources. From that point of view it is right for individuals to think only of themselves and to grab all they can. Survival is the source of happiness, and survival depends on successful competition -- on "winning". In such a morality, it is indeed considered a source of happiness to see others suffering in poverty or dying because it means we are winning and they are losing.

From the Dalai Lama's point of view, this is simply an error because it ignores that our happiness ultimately does depend on the happiness of others. When our actions make others unhappy or cause them suffering, then we are engaging in negative activity, corrupting our own souls at the same time we harm others.

The underlying premise is that ethical behavior seeks the Good for ourselves and others and acknowledges that our "loved ones" ought to extend beyond our immediate family, beyond our tribe, and outward to all beings. This is a relatively new view of life and draws upon ecological thinking. That is why I myself think that this view is the one most consitent with Druidic philosophy: It is grounded in understanding the connections and interdependence among all beings.

Does that mean one must be a socialist? Well, I'm not sure that's true. But it is true that capitalism and purely free-market economics based on the idea of ruthless competition encourages people not to be compassionate. This is a major problem in the West, IMO. Christianity and Judaism teach an ethics of compassion and caring but capitalism teaches a doctrine that has tried to ignore ethics and promote a pure economics that is supposed to have nothing to do with ethics, but simply with survival and competition.

The moral split between strict and nurturing morality is probably, like most dichotomies, a false one. Anyone who has been a parent knows that at times one may be strict and at times one may be nurturing. I do think, though, that the Dalai Lama is right that compassion is the way to go, rather than criticism. I don't think one ever does right to believe that one is superior to others, even one's children, and nobody likes to be ordered around and yelled at.

Finally, one very important aspect of this split view we have inherited is the way we are taught to think about war. We are taught that murder is among the most heinous of crimes, and yet that killing others in war is "heroic". This contradiction often seems to go unnoticed, especially by those who subscribe to the Strict Father morality. From this point of view, "enemies" are like bad children, they are belittled, even dehumanized, and must be discipined. Morover, whole nations are imagined to be "persons" so that it is the whole nation that is being disciplined, not the individual citizens of the nation. In this way, killing people is rendered no more significant than killing germs or dangerous microbes. In war time, the nation becomes personified, the "contest" is seen as between two (usually male) leaders, and the combatants dissappear as human beings. This allows acts of killing to become glamorized, glossed over, and treated as if they were not exactly the same harmful and destructive actions as those committed by murderers.

I'm paraphrasing the Dalai Lama here. I thought it was a very cogent point.

Naturallly, some will say, "Whoa! What do you think we should do as a nation? Just let everyone else roll over us?" And that's a good question. When an act of violence is committed in a spirit of self-defence it is usually excused, and that is why killing in war occupies this strange ambiguous space. Warriors in the battlefield are attacking and defending themselves at the same time.

These are all aspects of "Justice" or "right action."

Posted: 28 Apr 2005, 16:28
by Amethyst
This discussion of justice is based on HUMAN justice. What we think is right, wrong, ethical, unethical.

But is that 'universal' justice? Divine justice?

The human race behaves, and feels as though it has the right to behave, as a Creator not a Creation. We still see ourselves and our points of view as the top of the pyramid. Obviously, a position necessary for survival within our own power structures but we are still insignificant specks in comparison with even the earth beneath our feet let alone the universe in its entirety.

If we are calling upon Deity to GRANT us various positions, points of view, or windows with which to catch glimpses of eternity, all in order to better understand the universe as a whole, then shouldn't the concept of Justice be thought of in as cosmic dimensions as the first line of the prayer?

"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" is in my mind a succinct summary of divine justice. There is no concept of ethics within this statement. One thing is done, therefore there issomething opposite that ALSO happens. Not something may happen at a future time after much thought and deliberation as a reaction, such as the example of punishing children.

A parent has two choices, to punish or not to punish (regardless of means). The universe doesn't seem to have that duality. Justice is swift and exactly opposite. Perhaps 'instinctive reaction' is a better description.

"for every action there is an equal and opposite instinctive reaction"

Rather than ethics, my viewpoint brings up questions of fate and whether or not we really have control of our lives. Do we need that control? If we can accept that Deity will GRANT us the protection to pursue these cosmic thoughts, and GRANT us the ability to understand what we see and gain knowledge by it, then certainly we can be given the glimpse at Cosmic Justice. But that step seems to necessitate surrender to Cosmic Will, whether or not you personally describe that as Fate.

Reincarnation and viewing our soul's journey through the spirals of Abred already seems to suggest a Cosmic Will, that we don't have control over. So perhaps the Druid's Prayer is a way of coming to grips with that loss of control over the destination of our lives. Of course we have the mundane everyday choices, but in the supremely long run of things, do those choices even matter?

If we can accept Deity's protection, strength, understanding, knowledge and justice, then that wisdom becomes acceptance which becomes love. I interpret 'love' in the next line as being acceptance and willingly follow what I have asked Deity to grant to me. In "Living Druidry" Emma Restall Orr described faith as being Trust. By comprehending cosmic justice, and accepting it, we begin to trust the universe, trusting that there is someone/thing in control, that our souls are not alone and without a guiding light.


Posted: 28 Apr 2005, 16:47
by Donata
When I conceive of 'justice' as 'balance', and then look at nature, I see that the cycle of life - birth, growth, renewal/conception of new life, and finally, breakdown, leading to death/destruction - is the balance of nature. Is the breakdown and destruction justice? do we find it positive in it? It's surely a natural part of life, basic in nature.

When a lion (Hi Copperlion!) kills and eats a wildebeast, is that justice? balance? it's necessary for the lion to kill to live. How then is 'love for all existences' expressed?

I think of this at Thanksgiving (US) when we serve a turkey. I bless the turkey and wonder if it understands our celebration???

Justice is a difficult one for me to understand. I don't have answers - just more questions. In the end, for me, it means awareness as much as pssible for me, of the impact my actions have on others, and the best I can do not to impact negatively on any level of creation. I do my best not to be human-centric, tho that's difficult. I wear leather shoes, live in a wooden home, burn natural resources in my vehicle and my gas fireplace, eat other living creatures (formerly living!) whether plant or animal. I live on land that limits the range of the deer. On and on.

At least, we are questioning and thinking about it.


What is justice towards all existences? Does one form of life have precedence over others? more right to live?

Posted: 29 Apr 2005, 15:46
by DaRC
Hi all,
this is such a complex territory. 'Knowledge of Justice' implies that there are other factors involved. Justice is effectively a facet of the Law. Then there is the discussion around human and natural law. I think we do need to distinguish between human and natural law.
After all if society followed the 'law of the jungle' the streets would be a dangerous place. So whilst there are the natural laws, such as that of physics, the role of justice within these is, IMHO, not applicable.

For me the picture of Justice is the one atop the Old Bailey (UK High Court) where she holds scales in one hand and sword (I think) in the other. Justice is about balance, but is a function of the administration of human law. The sword denotes that it is the Law that keeps Chaos/Anarchy from human societies. However there are different societies with different types of Laws. Within many systems such as America it is a classical version, the UK has common law (which is a derivative of heathen law), then there are the laws of Hywel Dda and the Brehon laws. However the Law is a double-edged sword. It can be inflexible and unjust; "The law is an Ass." The application of the law with knowledge and understanding should lead to justice.

What is justice for? Is justice about differing between right & wrong, good and evil. If it is then justice is about human decision making. Actions and re-actions. Fundamentally it is about responsibility, wrong action needs to have repercussions within a lawful society.
Knowledge of justice is about understanding that balance between being the nurturing parent and the autocratic one, between Law and Chaos. In this example it is necessary to know that children need, relatively, inflexible boundaries within those boundaries it is necessary to be nurturing and allow them space to make mistakes.

We then get onto the whole 'just' war thing. Is there such a thing? You can have justifiable reasons for war - such as WWII, but war is hell, chaos and a few other things but just, no I don't think so. Within martial societies, such as the Celts and Norse, it can be eulogised and within the Chivalric writing the loyal and just Knight was the ideal. In practice there were very few such knights, if any. Much like the Grail of course.

Just my thoughts - without going into the whole Tyr and Fenris Wolf story. :hug:
Cheers, Dave.

Posted: 29 Apr 2005, 18:01
by Donata
Hi Dave,

I don't know the statue you are referencing. However most statues of Justice that I know show her with a blindfold - as well as holding the sword and scales.

Interesting symbolism.

Donata :donata:

Posted: 29 Apr 2005, 18:36
by Donata
Oh - re Jaguar ( an ally for me) - Jaguar is shown in the Maya lands holding heart, which he is weighing. If it is lacking, he eats it.

How's that for Justice?

What does he look for? Honesty and Impeccability, Humility (includes service to others), Honoring (respect for onself - self esteem - and for all beings), and Non-Judgment.

Donata :donata:

Posted: 01 May 2005, 16:22
by Beith
HI all. Hi Alferian, thanks for starting off some interesting discussions here.

I think that there are very different attitudes to justice now compared to what our forefathers and certainly those of earlier celtic societies would have held.

To paraphrase Donata 'justice implies judgement' - sometimes seen as a negative word nowadays and DarC mentioned the Brehon laws and welsh equivalent, so that justice can be seen as both an outcome of law as well as a spiritual sense of right and balance.

One thing that I think some pagans overlook today when discussing justice in relation to druidry, is that in those ancient societies, a very strict, rigorous and defined system of laws were in place to define the worth of everything (from trees to property to people) and that there were severe fines and punishments put in place to apply to those who broke the laws. In additions, Brehon law featured restorative justice as well as punitive, where compensation as well as a fine or punishment would be required, either monetary or by deed.

The very word for a druid or individual in his/her legal capacity as "Breitheamh" (plural "Breithiúna", anglicized to Brehon) comes from the old Irish word "Brithem" - to "judge". These people were the ones who arbitrated disputes and claims and made judgements based on their detailed law codes.

So judgement and application of lawcode justice was a norm and important part of their role in society.

I understand that the conversation above is discussing interpretation of a modern-day prayer but I think that as we sometimes relate modern concepts to ancient ones, we should not forget that celtic societies in the past, and in particular the druid caste, had an exact and well defined system of justice and basis for judgements and legal precedents apart from any esoteric ideas of a karmic "justice" or balance they may have held in a spiritual role. Alas nothing really survives of the latter in textual evidence, whereas the law codes do.

Best wishes and thanks again for good discussion!

Posted: 05 May 2005, 00:35
by Alferian
I don't know much about Brehon laws. It's a subject I hope one day to study (after I hire a teacher for Avalon College to teach it! :) ). However, I have studied the evolution of law in the Middle Ages in Britain and one of the things that I found very interesting was the evolution of the idea of trial by jury.

In the first instance the idea was simply for each party in a suit to assemble as many people as possibe in their support -- rather like in a war, only a war of words and character. The idea of having an impartial assembly of fellow citizens unrelated to the parties in the suit evolved only slowly. One can imagine that in small villages it was hard to assemble unbiased and unrelated jurors.

I think that the idea of Justice in the Druid's Prayer is something more cosmological, but that human justice obviously is intended to emulate this ideal. If we turn to Nature or to the tribe we can see that justice is not only what is in accord with the established laws, but more broadly is what is best for the whole. Humans often consider that there is something unjust about a natural disaster that kills people, through no negligence of their own. But from the standpoint of the larger whole -- Nature -- the laws governing such things see destruction and death as merely a part of the workings of the whole. Earthquakes happen, forest fires too, volcanoes, tornatoes and hurricanes. Yet these things do serve a purpose in the grand scheme of the Earth. They are not "diseases" of the Mother's body, but working of a scale much larger than our small lives.

So too even on the scale of a community. People so often, it seems, believe that it doesn't matter if they break laws here and there. What harm does it do if they don't get caught? Well, arguably the love of Justice includes respect for laws because they are the glue that keeps the society from falling apart into chaos. Every small violation performed by a scofflaw -- such as speeding or failing to stop completely at a stop sign -- errodes the character of the individual and of the culture as a whole.

I mentioned the Dalai lama before and this gets at that idea of universal compassion and the realization that we are all interconnected. Every individual's happiness depends upon the behavior of others. The more we cheat and attempt to act selfishly, the more we undermine the structure that aims to ensure our own happiness. I see this very clearly in America where we have a problem with people who don't want to pay their taxes. They say "Oh, we can't afford to pay such high taxes!" which is, of course, nonsense. They can afford it; they just don't want to pay because they want to keep their hard-earned money and think that being a "rugged individualist" (or even one in pampered luxury) is all they need to be happy. They deny the fundamental postulate that the Dalai lama puts out there: They insist that they are not dependent on anyone for happiness -- and certainly not all those lazy, unfortunate poor people living in the inner cities or remote rural farms.

Some might suppose that modern followers of Druidry should believe in social Darwinism -- the law of survival of the fittest. But I don't think so. Social Darwinism is an oversimplification of Darwin's ideas of natural selection and does not describe the way Nature actually works. Cooperation and mutual assistance is a part of human nature, just as much as competition, IMO.


Posted: 05 May 2005, 01:28
by CopperLion
Thank you Alferian, that was brilliant :D I'm feeling much less confused now about the concept of justice in the Druid's Prayer.

:lion: :awen:

Posted: 06 May 2005, 18:36
by Alferian
Cheers, CopperLion.

Another thing that occurred to me yesterday when I caught myself being particularly judgmental was the relationship between love of justice and that state of being hypercritical. Judging people harsly just because they annoy your or you are angry, is not really the sort of justice we want, even if it is technically "just".

In Kabbalah the pillar of Justice is balance by the Pillar of Compassion or Mercy. I would not like to think that the emphasis on Justice in the Druid's Prayer is meant to exclude Mercy and Compassion. If it did, it would hardly explain why it leads to "the love of all existences."


Posted: 07 May 2005, 00:20
by Donata
Think of the AWEN, Alf. Three pillars/rays, all in balance! one of the main points of working weth the Kabalah is the balance of the two extreme pillars in the center. Same for us with the AWEN symbol. So, to continue with your idea, we go from the pillar of justice, to one of mercy in the love of all existences! Brilliant! This gives yet another meaning to the AWEN symbol.


Posted: 09 May 2005, 09:45
by DaRC
Hi Alferian,
I think that's why Understanding (which encompasses compassion) comes before Justice in the prayer.

As to the evolution of Trial by Jury, I'd need to go back into it, but I think it's also an evolution from the Thing. What you see about the medieval period is that the Norman's initially arrive and impose Feudalism on the Anglo-Saxon structures but then after a hundred years or so those AS structures re-appear in a changed format.

Cheers, Dave.

Posted: 19 May 2005, 18:50
by EarthWard