Yesterday I gave a short presentation titled “Druidry 101” to our local Pagan coffee social group. Here are my speaking notes for anyone interested.
Who Were the Druids?
- Intellectual caste of the Celts
- Teachers, judges, advisors, bards, seers, healers
- They are not specifically called out as priests, but Caesar does say that no ritual could be performed without a Druid present.
- Name derives from ‘Oak knowledge’
- Included both men and women (at least, so we believe based on the Celtic stories)
What happened to them?
- The Celts once inhabited a vast range, from Turkey to Spain and from Italy to Scotland.
- However, by the time of the height of the Roman empire, Germanic invasions had pushed the Celts out of much of their original lands, and the Romans occupied every Celtic land other than Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
- The Romans saw the Druids as being instigators of rebellion against their rule, and systematically suppressed them.
- The Druids in the free Celtic nations met their fate slightly later when these nations were Christianized and the Druids were demonized and marginalized.
- There is some evidence that Druids lingered on until the 7th century, however they essentially vanished out of history for a thousand years.
What do we really know about their beliefs and religion?
- Almost nothing is known for sure about the Druids
- They did not write down their beliefs, instead committing their wisdom to memory, so what little is known about them comes from a few passages in Roman and Greek writings (who were hostile towards them) and from recordings of old Celtic stories made by Christian monks (who were hostile towards them).
- Julius Caesar wrote of Druids performing human sacrifice in wicker men, but no conclusive proof exists one way or another for this.
- Pliny the Elder, 1st century, describes a ritual with white-robed Druids cutting mistletoe from an oak with golden sickles on the sixth night of the moon, sacrificing bulls to their gods, and a feast.
- We also have a number of references to Druids performing their rites in forests.
- As to their beliefs, Caesar wrote that Druids believed in reincarnation, with the soul moving from one body to another after death.
- From the Celtic stories we get a picture of Druids as powerful bards, advisors, and magi, but very little to hint at their beliefs and rituals.
- Archaeology no real help.
The Druid ‘Revival’
- Starting in the 17th century, Druids became the subject of much interest in Britian and France.
- Unfortunately, from this interest sprung a lot of wildly inaccurate beliefs about Druids based on shoddy research.
- Books were published suggesting that Druids were patriarchal monotheists who were just waiting around for Christianity. Some suggested that the Druids were actually Jews.
- Thrown on top of this mess of shoddy research came the writings of Iolo Morgangwg (Edward Williams), who professed to have recovered Druidic beliefs from ancient Welsh writings. Much of these writings were discovered to be forgeries, but not before they had taken strong root within the Druid revival, which was eager to claim that they were now part of an unbroken tradition inherited from the ancients.
- These writings reflected Iolo’s Christian Quaker beliefs, thus even more firmly setting up the revival as being bent towards patriarchal monotheism if not actually Christianity.
- The revival gave birth to two traditions.
- The first of these was the creation of a number of fraternal lodge based societies similar to the Freemasons, all calling themselves Druids. They would hold ceremonies on the solstices and equinoxes at Tower Hill London or at Stonehenge, but these ceremonies would be distinctly patriarchal and monotheistic in nature.
- The second tradition is that of the Eisteddfod, a gathering and competition for bards which are steeped in the trappings of Iolo’s vision of Druidism.
What do modern Druids believe?
- Nature spirituality (honouring the Earth, environmentalism and conservation, gaining knowledge of trees and herbs),
- Affinity for the Bardic arts,
- Development of divination skills,
- Building mental discipline and through meditation or trance,
- Respect for the ancestors,
- Seeking personal growth.
The Three Main Modern Druidic Paths
- Druidic Revivalists
- Eclectic Neo-Pagan Druids
- Celtic Reconstructionists
Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD)
- Grew out of a schism within one of the British Druidic fraternal orders. It’s founder, Ross Nichols brought a significant amount of early Celtic spirituality to the order. He was also a friend of Gerald Gardiner and adopted many of Gardiner’s Wiccan elements including the Wheel of the Year and the calling to the quarters. He also shared Gardiner’s penchant for nudism.
- As such, it was founded as a sort of melding of the Druid Revival, Celtic spirituality, and Eclectic Neo-Paganism.
- The order died along with Nichols in 1975 but was resurrected by one of Nichol’s students and fellow nudists, Phillip Carr-Comm, in 1984.
- Presents Druidry as a initiatory order which can be applied to any religion.
- There are three “grades” which must be taken in succession; Bardic, Ovate, and Druid.
- Bardic course $343 for the text version, $383 for the audio version, or $540 for both. Presumably the material for the other two grades is about the same, for a minimum of about a $1,000 total investment to become a ‘Druid’.
- Has a ritual framework which is deliberately inclusive of all religions and for which the primary purpose is to celebrate the changing of the seasons.
- No annual fees for membership.
- An autocratic, for-profit organization. Humorously enough, the OBOD website tells potential members that it cannot be a cult because a cult requires a charismatic leader, which OBOD lacks.
Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA)
- Founded in 1874 as an American off-shoot of one of the British Druidic fraternal societies.
- Is an initiatory order grown out of the Druid Revival, and thus presents Druidism as a spiritual framework applicable to any religion
- There are three degrees of initiation – Druid Apprentice, Druid Companion, and Druid Adept
- AODA rituals are derived from the British Revivalists
- Each degree requires completion of a curriculum of tasks, all of which are available on the AODA web site. Recognition of the completion of a degree requires a monetary payment.
- To join AODO there is a $50 lifetime membership fee. Each degree requires further fees; $100 for the first two and $50 for the third. Therefore to reach the highest degree of initiation in AODO will cost you $300 in total.
- AODA claims to be a state recognized church incorporated in Oregon. However, there is little transparency into their organization on their website.
- Is not a democractic organization.
Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)
- To understand ADF, you need to know something about the Reformed Druids of North America:
- Formed in 1963 by students at Carlton College as a protest against a College policy requiring attendance at religious services.
- Even after the policy was repealed, many of those involved realized that they had actually created something that enriched their lives, and so it continued on, and was spread to other American universities.
- Over the years, they created an enormous volume of work, much of it very humourous, so if you want to become a Reformed Druid it’s all out there and freely available on the web.
- RDNA spawned numerous other groups, including ADF.
- ADF was formed in 1983 by Isaac Bonewits
- Specifically rejects the writings of the Revivalists, and has tried to reconstruct a Neo-Pagan Druidic tradition based on the best available research into Indo-European religious beliefs and practices.
- Unlike the other organizations, ADF is both a church and an initiatory order.
- As a church, ADF has a clergy training program, provides a framework for liturgy called the Core Order of Ritual, and requires that ADF groves offer public High Day ceremonies.
- As an initiatory order, ADF provides members with an introductory course of study called the Dedicant Path plus several higher level programs and a number of Guild based programs.
- ADF study programs are included with the cost of membership, which is currently $25 per year.
- ADF is a registered non-profit organization which provides significant transparency into its operations on its website, including its financial reports, and is largely democratic in nature.
- ADF has spawned at least one spin-off of its own, the Henge of Keltria which is explicitly Celtic in focus.