There is a new wave of Pan-Pagan organizing happening here in Ohio, and while it seems mainly focused on the SW corner of the state I became involved through social media. Typically, I volunteered for the 'education' committee, and volunteered to write a short briefing on the modern Druid movement in Paganism.
Unlike some Pagan traditions, which maintain a single line of history, initiation and/or practice Druidry in modern times is a patchwork of several lineages, each with fairly unique origins. I have made an effort in this simple document to summarize each in a concise way. If the reconstruction movement gets short shrift it is only because that movement has been generally hesitant to create 'Druids' or involve itself directly with self-described Druid work.
By all means inform me of substantive errors. Differences of interpretation can be worked out in chat :)
Druidism in the Modern Earth-Spirit Movement.
The Ancient Druids and the British Revival
|A modern Druid ritual array|
• The term ‘Druid’ comes into English from the writings of Greek and Roman historians prior to the rise of the Church. The Celtic-language cultures of central and western Europe featured a class of professional priests, healers, and judges called the Druids (Drui in Gaulish, Draoi in Irish).
• The rediscovery of these figures in early-modern scholarship intersected with the Fraternal/Masonic impulse, and with Welsh and Celtic ethnic and cultural revival/maintenance. From this stew the first reconstructed Druid ‘Orders’ arose.
• Modern British or English Druid Orders include the Ancient order of Druids, the British Druid Order, and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. This last group has produced a very successful and useful correspondence course for building Druidic Spirituality.
|The 'Awen' sign, a central symbol used by british Revival Druidry|
North American Druidry
• A few of the British Revival groups found extension in the New World. The Ancient Order of Druids In America still has a few visible lodge-halls and chapters.
• However North American Druidic Pagan groups mainly arose with the invention of Neopaganism in the middle and late 20th century. The discovery (by amateur Pagan hobby-scholarship) of Celtic myth and folklore produced multiple interpretations and ideas, often led by Robert Grave’s mytho-poetic work ‘The White Goddess’ (first published in ’48. With an important edition in ’61). Early versions of self-described Druidism and Celtic ways usually mixed closely with ‘Wicca’.
• The Reformed Druids of North America was formed in 1963 at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota as a humorous protest against the college's required attendance of religious services. Catching on, and catching the wind of the growing counter-culture, RDNA produced various overtly Neopagan expressions, and is the direct ancestor of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) the largest N American Druid Church.
• Ár nDraíocht Féin (an Irish phrase meaning ‘Our Own Paganism’ or ‘Our Own Druidism’) was founded in 1983 as an effort to apply modern scholarship, and the experience of decades of public ritual, to the work of creating working modern Pagan ways. Choosing to leave aside both Wiccan ritual forms and the post-Masonic style of many British Druid rites, they used the skeleton of RDNA custom and drew on models from the ancient world and from living polytheisms to create a ritual form that now serves dozens of local Groves across the world.
• ADF was founded with the intention of creating a large-scale Neopagan ‘Church’, serving multiple congregations. To quote the ‘vision statement’:
“Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship.
Our vision is that the Gods and Spirits are served in the modern world through:
Public temple worship with a skilled priesthood
Accessible religious training for all
A spiritual relationship with the Earth
Sustainable Pagan institutions
A flourishing family and community Pagan culture”
• ADF takes advantage of the American freedom of religion to claim the advantages of ‘church’ status for its groups and members. They are a registered tax-exempt church, and assume all the duties and privileges that go with that status.
• A third strain of influence on Druidry is the “Celtic Reconstructionist” movement. Reconstruction Paganism arose during the 1980s, as a reaction to the often sub-amateur understanding of Celtic myth and culture which had become common in Wicca and even in some self-described Druids.
• Reconstructionist paganism is an effort to draw on the most reliable scholastic sources to create modern Pagan practices that accurately reflect the Old Ways. More of a style than a spiritual movement, reconstructionism has produced a few organizations and worship groups, most of them remaining local to their founders.
• Some reconstructionist groups reject the creation of ‘Druids’ in their systems. The title is considered to be one of the great things of the ancient cultures, and discussion seems ongoing about whether it should be 'retired'. Nevertheless the real work of sifting through ancient sources to find what Druids may have truly done has helped to deepen and inform the entire Druidic Movement.
|The 'Three Cauldrons', |
drawn from Gaelic symbolism
• Druidism is at least as likely to be a solitary practice as is Wicca. While ADF creates local congregations (Groves) that observe the seasons and work other blessings, many students work their path alone at home, or with their family. OBOD functions largel;y through its correspondence lessons, which encourage solitary practice, though OBOD also supports study and ritual groups.
• Drawing on the remnants of what is known about the ancient Druids, we could say that all modern Druids seek to know the divine, to speak the Truth, and to face life with courage. The interpretation of these broad principles varies widely.
• We might say that Druidic spirituality draws on three principles:
That nature is the manifestation of the Divine
That human nature is one with all of nature
That human skill allows us to build relationship with the divine.
• Druid spiritual practice extends from direct experience of nature, personal meditation, and small personal ritual to larger community rituals and seasonal celebrations. All are likely to be performed outdoors when possible.
• Many Druids draw on the myth and culture of the ancient Celtic-language cultures. The pre-Christian traditions of those countries are fragmented, and a great deal of study has been devoted to combing out clues to the spiritual ways of old. For this reason Druidry is sometimes called a “Path with Homework”.
• Also central to any understanding of Druidry is the search for inspiration. The ancient Druids seem to have considered artistic inspiration to be a light of divine power. Druids were poets, and poets were seers and magicians. So modern Druid groups and students take the remnants of ancient ways, and seek the inspiration to use them in ways that are useful to modern seekers.
• There is a core difference between the spiritual paths of OBOD and ADF. OBOD emphasizes personal mysticism, while ADF’s basic teaching emphasizes a devotional relationship with the Gods and Spirits. Their introductory instruction:
“to devote yourself to the basic work of druidry - to welcome the gods and spirits to your hearthfire, to keep the holy days simply, and to integrate paganism into your daily life. “
• Druidic practice is both focused on living nature, and based on ritual observance.
• Many Druids center their personal practice on a shrine or altar in their home. Such a place becomes the focus of attention given to the spirits. ADF Druidry describes the spirits in three great families or ‘Kindreds’ – the Gods, the Dead, and the Landspirits. By offering to those great categories, new students can begin a practice without addressing specific beings.
• Many Druids use a ‘circle-casting’ ritual to establish sacred space – a ritual form drawn from Wiccan tradition. Reform Druidry has a unique ritual style, while ADF works with a ‘fire sacrifice’ outline that resonates with ancient Pagan ritual.
• Individual students may follow scripts and traditional ritual forms and language, but inspiration and personal experience is central to Druidic work. In general Druid groups do not police member’s personal practice.
|A public Druid Rite of Offering|
• Most Druids observe a sacred calendar of seasonal rites. Usually this is the typical eight-fold Wheel of the Year, using the same dates and core symbolism as Wicca. Celtic Reconstruction efforts may focus on the four distinctly Gaelic holidays, and de-emphasize the solstices and equinoxes.
• OBOD offers detailed and complete correspondence courses for its three levels of learning. The three 'grades' are Bard, Ovate and Druid, based on Late-Classical observations of Celtic culture. ADF offers deepening levels of introductory instruction, with study for ordination and initiation available. In most cases Druids consider study to be an active element of our spiritual work.
The ancient Druids were the spiritual specialists, the ritual leaders, the living memory, the operative healers, and the supreme courts of the ancient Celtic peoples. Those of us who take on the name today can only do our best to bear a spark of their ancient wisdom.
OBOD main site: druidry.org
ADF main site: adf.org
The Celtic Reconstructionism FAQ, and more: https://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html
The Ancient Order of Druids in America maintains some traditions of British Revival Druidry, and offers a program of training: aoda.org