Norma and I have led a number of workshops on ADF Druidry and been on some panel discussions. Surprisingly, one of the questions we’ve often been asked is: “Do Druids believe there is such a thing as absolute evil?” I don’t know why this has come up more than once, maybe it’s my goatee, but I thought that the question warranted a short essay in the pages of our Samhain issue.

What is evil anyway? Originally, in Old English, the word meant ‘exceeding due limits’. Today, ‘evil’ is a loaded word, fraught with implications, loaded with fury and righteousness and pretentious importance, that, for all I can tell, means nothing.
“But,”— they always say— “What about Hitler? What about the Holocaust? What about the witch burnings?” (etc. etc.) “Weren’t those evil?”

What about using words that are a little more specific?

When you say that Hitler was a meglomaniac, that he was power-hungry, bigoted and paranoid– then you’ve got a chance at understanding Hitler, and possibly subsequent incarnations of Hitler and his ilk...

And you could read up on the conditions in Germany in the 1930s, find out about anti-semitism in the middle ages and how it survived into the modern era...

And you could research mass hysteria and religious fundamentalism and the various social conditions that led to witch burnings...

When people say that something is ‘evil’, they’re just being lazy. They’re not trying to understand what they’re talking about. And by blowing things off as ‘evil’, they run the risk of repeating those very things, because they’ve failed to see that they too could get into that position.

When you say something is ‘evil’, it’s like you’re shutting the light, closing the door and leaving the room. You’ve lost the battle. You’ve given up.

No, we Druids do not entertain a concept of absolute evil. And, personally, I don’t believe in any kind of evil. I believe that people can be stupid, arrogant, full of themselves, passionate for all the wrong reasons, deranged, or just plain mean– but I believe ‘evil’ is a meaningless word. It’s a word that people use to hide what’s really going on.
Be specific! Use real words!

All of this is important to Druids because people who don’t know what they’re talking about have sometimes called us ‘evil’, and much of the violence and bigotry and genocide throughout history has been incited and organized by people claiming to be ‘fighting evil’.

When I was crossing the road in Johnson Park during the Pagan Picnic that Hands of Change organized this August, a car drove by, and the woman driving it turned to her children and said “Those are evil people”, referring to the hundred or so Pagans gathered around the picnic tables. I wanted to run after the car and say “But you don’t even know us!”

—Edwin Chapman