druidism

Neo-druidism

Neo-druidism or neo-druidry (referred to simply as Druidry by some adherents) is a form of modern spirituality or religion that promotes harmony and worship of nature, and respect for all beings, including the environment. It is considered to be a Neopagan faith by some adherents, along with such religions as Wicca and Germanic neopaganism. By other modern druids it is considered to be a philosophical movement that includes religious tolerance, allowing its followers to be adherents of other religions, or even atheism.

The name "Druidry" was taken from the historical druids, a priestly class of the Celtic peoples of ancient western Europe.

Originally inspired by 17th, 18th and 19th century romantic movements, modern Druidism was based upon theories about the Iron Age Celtic druids which are no longer considered to be historically accurate. Modern Druidism has no demonstrable historical link to the ancient Celts or their culture. In the first half of the twentieth century, modern druids developed fraternal organizations based on Freemasonry that employed the romantic figure of the British Druids and Bards as symbols of indigenous British spirituality. Some of these groups were purely fraternal and cultural, creating traditions from the national imagination of Britain. Others merged with contemporary movements such as the physical culture movement and naturism. Since the 1980s some modern druid groups have adopted similar methodologies to those of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, in an effort to create a more historically accurate practice. However, there is still controversy over how much resemblance modern druidism may or may not have to Iron Age or earlier druidism.

Beliefs and Practices

Modern druidic beliefs vary widely, and there is no set dogma or belief system by which all adherents follow. Indeed, it is a central tenet of many druidic groups that there should be not strict dogmas. There is no central authority over the entire movement, nor any central religious text or religious leader. In most cases, the ideas and inspiration of all Druids is respected.

Nature Worship

The dominant belief in Druidism is the idea that the Earth and nature is sacred, and is worthy of worship in itself. For this reason some modern Druids are pantheistic, seeing the natural world as being divine itself. It is unknown if pantheism and direct nature worship were a part of ancient Celtic polytheism. There is no clear historical or archaeological evidence one way or the other.

Other Druids believe in great respect for nature, but are athiests, and so do not believe that the natural world is divine, and therefore do not worship it.

Ancestor Veneration

Respect for the ancestors is another core belief in Druidism. This idea of ancestor respect or ancestor worship is common in pagan folk and ethnic religions. The majority of Druids agree that knowing as much as possible about the lives of our ancestors and preserving national or tribal heritage is important. Archaeological evidence does suggest that the ancient peoples of Britain, Ireland, and other parts of Europe practiced burial customs that we assume imply particular respect for ancestors and probably a belief in life after death in some form.

Ceremonies

Most modern Druids perform ceremonies within a circle. The circle is commonly made around an altar or central fire. Neo-druids often meet and practice in groups called variously "groves" or "henges". Sometimes they meet at stone circles and other megaliths which are pre-Celtic, but which were traditionally associated with the ancient druids. At the Summer solstice, a druidic ritual is notably held at Stonehenge in England. Another particularly sacred place is Glastonbury in southern England. In parts of the world beyond the range of the original Celtic tribes in Europe and the pre-Celtic megalithic cultures, modern druids seek an understanding of the sacred qualities of landscape and place. This practice is one drawn from existing tribal cultures using the assumption that the ancient druids likely shared such attitudes towards the landscape.

When performing rituals, some modern druids wear ceremonial cloaks and robes, which in some cases imitate the Iron Age style of the Celts. In some orders, robes or tabards of different colors are used to indicate the grade of the druid within the order. In the case of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, the colors blue, green, and white are respectively assigned to these grades. Some modern Druids also use ritual staffs, a symbolic magical instrument long associated with both Druids and wizards generally. Many modern druids do not adopt any ceremonial garb.

Meditation

Some modern druids practice meditation and visualization as a method of self-transformation, particularly engaging the imagery of the four elements of the classical philosophers and the medieval alchemists. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are considered symbolic of aspects of nature and are sometimes linked symbolically to the four cardinal directions, the four seasons, and the four stages of human life -- that is birth, maturation, old age, and death. Elemental symbolism is fluid and varies from group to group. Some modern druids believe that the ancient Celts did not adopt the Greek system of four elements and prefer to use only a symbolic division of the cosmos into three realms -- Sea (the lower realm), Land (the middle realm), and Sky (the upper realm).

Symbols

There are two main symbols employed by Druids. The first is the triskelion.

Iolo Morganwg, the Welsh nationalist, created the Awen symbol, that depicted three rays of light (see above). This symbol serves as a mystic glyph for Revivalist druids who give it varying interpretations. One interpretation is that the three points and three rays represent the Sun at the points of its rising at the solstices and the equinoxes. More mystically, the symbol may be taken as a sign of the Divine Light entering the minds and hearts of the poet as Awen, Welsh for inspiration. The cultivation of personal inspiration is central to the practices of many druid organizations.

History

The Celtic Druids

See Druid
The original druids were the priestly and learned class in the ancient Celtic societies of Western Europe, Britain and Ireland. They were suppressed by the Roman government and disappear from the written record by the second century CE. Druids combined the duties of priest, judge, scholar, and teacher. Little contemporary evidence for them exists, and thus little can be said of them with assurance, but they continued to feature prominently in later Irish myth and literature.

They practised the religion of Celtic polytheism, a pagan faith which was based around the worship of various deities, such as the horned god, Cernunnos, and sun god Belenos.

17th century

The origins of the modern Druid revival lie in speculation about the historical druids in early modern 17th century Britain. Members of the Christian church and clergy always assumed that the Celtic druids had been bloodthirsty pagan priests who worshiped "devils" and were quite rightly stamped out by the superior culture of the Romans. This began to change amongst nonconformists who began to view the druids as followers of the ancient religion of the early Biblical figures like Adam and Noah; a precursor to what they saw as the now corrupt Christianity. They therefore were presenting the "true religion" as having British roots, and not being entirely foreign. One such proponent of this belief was William Blake, the mystic, poet and artist. Blake imagined the Celtic bards as the noble advocates of imagination.

18th century

A more positive view of the druids, portraying them as wise old men arose with the northern European Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th century. One of the key proponents of the idea that the bards preserved a purer and more universal religion that transcended sectarianism was the Welsh Iolo Morganwg. His writings, though now acknowledged to be partly his own invention, claimed to be based on manuscript sources and oral traditions in Wales. His work led to the establishment of the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards and influenced the forms of the Welsh National Eisteddfod, celebrations of British culture as distinct from that of the conquering English. The romantic positive figure of the druid and the bard became powerful images within the Welsh and Irish nationalist movements to establish independance from England. He wrote the Druid's Prayer.Ancient Order of Druids Morganwg's vision of the Druids inspired the formation of the Ancient Order of Druids in 1781. These organizations were modeled loosely upon Freemasonry and seem to have operated as fraternal societies of a nationalistic character. The substitution of British mythology and bardic or pseudo-bardic terms for the Biblical legends that form the basis for Freemasonry, seems to be a part of this desire to find an indigenous British tradition.

19th century

Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids In the 19th century, the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids was founded (in 1874), along similar lines as the Ancient Order of Druids.Introduction to North America It was also at this time that these groups appeared in North America, as new members began to join.

20th century

Ancient Druid Order In 1909-10, a third organisation based around druidism was formed - the Ancient Druid Order. Brotherhood of the Universal Bond In 1909-10 the colourful figure George Watson MacGregor Reid founded a society called the Brotherhood of the Universal Bond, which despite its name admitted women along with men. Based on Reid's ideas of physical culture and vegetarianism, his interest in Hermeticism, Egyptian religion, and the search for a Universalist religion, this organization also adopted the white robes and accouterments of the Druid Revival. It differed from earlier groups in that it was the first to actually pursue Druidry as a new form of spirituality. Upon the founder's death in 1946, his son Robert assumed leadership of the Universal Bond, which now called itself the Ancient Druid Order-British Circle of the Universal Bond. George Watson MacGregor Reid 1949-1953 fought a highly public battle with Ancient Order of Druid Hermeticists for the right to conduct druidic ceremonies at Stonehenge.The Ancient Order of Druids in America The Ancient Order of Druids in America were founded as distinct American groups as early as 1912.United Kingdom in the 1960s In 1964 when Robert MacGregor Reid, Chief of the Ancient Druid Order, died, a dispute between a group of senior neo-druids broke out over the election of Dr Thomas Maughan as the new chief. Consequently the order split into two branches one of which had Ross Nichols as its Chosen Chief. This new order -- the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids -- was organized to include the three grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid fully recognized in a way that had not previously been done in the Order's modern cycle. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids now represents the largest body of organized Druidry in the world, with over ten thousand members.United States in the 1960s The Neopagan branch of Druidism in the United States can be traced to one particular root in the Reformed Druids of North America, which was founded by protesting college students. The history of this organization is interesting and one of the best documented histories of any druidic organization.

The founding of the first congregation of the Reformed Druids of North America, or RDNA, at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, in 1963 proved influential in giving birth to other Neopagan organizations. Carleton College's requirement that each student participate regularly in religious services caused a minor rebellion of several students who started (jokingly) calling themselves "druids." This tongue-in-cheek religion was designed mainly to annoy and challenge the college administration and its attempt to enforce particular religious sects. It later was developed into actual religious practices. These retained much of the humor with which the Carleton druids were founded but became increasingly seen as a legitimate spiritual pursuit by its founders, one which permitted the students of a largely Episcopalian college to explore their own consciences.

This tiny movement came to be called The Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), a pun on the genetic molecule. For short it was called "the Reform" perhaps in imitation of Reformed Judaism. Despite its jocular culture, Celtic mythology, spiritual eclecticism, more general counter-cultural agitation, and easy-going self-irony were also important themes by the time the religious requirement was rescinded in mid-1964. The loss of the specific protest motivation did not weaken the RDNA, which still exists today. Ár nDraíocht Féin Robert Larson, a priest ordained in the Carleton Grove in 1963 or 1964, relocated to Berkeley, California about 1966, and eventually encountered Isaac Bonewits there. Together they founded a small congregation with affinities to various Wicca groups and to various practitioners of ceremonial magic (or Magick if they were Crowleans). Since then it has had several periods of greater or lesser activity. Currently the most visible offshoot of the RDNA is Ár nDraíocht Féin ("ADF" or "our own druidism" in Irish), with branches present across the United States, in Canada, and some other countries.

The druids or members of ADF often adopt the taxonomy of the organization's founder which distinguishes their Druidry from the earlier Revivalist movement claiming that its is "Neo-Pagan" while such other groups are "Meso-Pagan" on the analogy of archaeological terminology (i.e., Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic). The distinction seems mainly political and is significant as an attempt of some American druids to separate themselves from the traditional Druidism of Britain and Europe.

The original ceremonies of the Neopagan druids involved periodically gathering in a wooded area, generally referred to as a "Grove". These gatherings were usually weekly, but some groups used astrology to calculate meeting times. Meetings involved several possible components.

  • the ritual consumption of "spirits" (Scotch whiskey or Irish whiskey blended with water) called "the water of life" (uisce beatha, or whisky),
  • the singing of religious songs,
  • the performance of ceremonial chanting, and,
  • occasionally, a sermon.

The written RDNA liturgy calls for a "sacrifice of life", reflecting the core of the Reform, namely plant rather than animal sacrifices, and (for the ordination of a priest) an outdoor vigil.

The major holy days are the quarter days (solstices and equinoxes) and the solar festivals (approximately half way in between the quarter days, these are: Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc). These are celebrated with (usually outdoor) parties with a religious theme, much singing of religious songs, dancing in circles, etc. Various individuals will also have their own private ceremonies. Often, small groups will break off, and perform their own separated ceremonies before rejoining the general group - these groups are often split along initiatory lines as those of higher degree work their own ceremonies.

Individual choice is a major theme. So is ecology, though more in the sense of being sensitive to it and living lightly on the land than in the sense of a study of the interrelationship of lives at various scales.

The major gods are, in RDNA liturgy, the Earth-Mother (addressed as "our Mother"), seen as the personification of all material reality, Béal, the personification of nonmaterial essence, and Dalon Ap Landu, the Lord of Groves. The first two are sometimes referred to as the Earth and the Sun (named in Gaelic). Some individuals prefer to devote most of their praise, however, to other gods, like Health or Music (usually also named in Gaelic). And "A Druid Fellowship" has various scholastic posts and honors, though usually in the arts as devoted to religious praise rather than as formal studies.

ADF's liturgy is considerably more complex than that of the RDNA, though its roots in the older group are obvious, based on Bonewits's theories of a common pattern to Indo-European worship.

Neo-druidism is often considered a Neopagan religion, though some orders consider Druidry to be a philosophical and spiritual movement rather than a religion along the lines of the major religions with centralized authority structures. It is important, however, to realize that the founders of RDNA intended it to complement or supplement "organized" religion, not to supplant it; most of the founders were practicing Christians. They were very surprised when RDNA continued after the college repealed the religious attendance requirement. As someone put it, "Apparently our disorganized religion appealed to those who couldn't stomach organized religion!" Present-day adherents range from those who are exclusively neo-druids to those for whom it is, indeed, a complement to another faith.

Contemporary Druidry

United Kingdom

Recent decades have seen an explosion of druidic orders and groups in Britain, including the Loyal Arthurian Warband, the British Druid Order, the Secular Order of Druids, the Glastonbury Order of Druids and so on, with the Council of British Druid Orders set up in 1989 to enable meetings and discussions between different Orders to take place. In February 2003, The Druid Network was launched; its aim is to be a source of information and inspiration about the modern druid tradition, its practice and its history.

Ireland

In Ireland, neo-druids staged public gatherings for the Midsummer Solstice on the Hill of Tara, intermittently from 1996 to 2005. Currently, a number of Irish neo-druids are working with the various Save Tara heritage campaigns to preserve the Tara-Skryne Valley from the potential environmental impact if the M3 motorway that is planned for the area goes through. The proposed construction would place a large, 38 acre, eight-lane motorway interchange within a mile (1.6 km) of the Hill, making it clearly visible from one of Ireland's most sacred and historic sites, and irreparably damaging important archaeological evidence of Celtic and pre-Celtic history.

A number of small orders and groves exist in Ireland, with varying practices and beliefs; most of these have come into existence in the 1990s or later. Druidism in Ireland is still relatively young, is still in the process of establishing links between groves and orders, and so a stable neo-druidic community does not yet exist.

Other European Druid Organizations

In 2002 The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, which already had considerable numbers of members in the Netherlands, began offering their distance learning courses in Dutch, French and German, with local groups soon forming.

The New Order of Druids was opened by David Dom in Belgium in January 2003. It is an online organisation, offering a free alternative for people to learn through the means of the Internet, with three main goals: to learn, to grow, to exchange. The New Order of Druids opened the first of its local groves, the Mother Grove called Nervii Nemeton, on September 2 2005 in Antwerp, Belgium. It may possibly be the first Dutch druid organisation of modern Belgium.

Another Belgian druid organisation is the Druidic Seat Glastoratin, founded on November 30 2003, and the Albidatla Druidion Arduina or Assemblée Universelle des Druides d'Arduina, a French druid organisation in Belgium founded by Raphaël Zander in 1998.

On November 1 1980, Gwenc’hlan Le Scouëzec became the "Grand Druid of Brittany In France", of the "Fraternité des druides, bardes et ovates de Bretagne" (Fraternity of Druids, Bards and Ovates of Brittany). Gwenc'hlan is sometimes also considered the "Grand Druid" of France.

Other European druid organisations are:

  • Le Cercle de l'Ambre (France)
  • La Taverne du Sidh (Switzerland)
  • The Kengerzhouriezh Drouizel an Dreist-Hanternoz (Compagnonnage Druidique d'Hyperborée) founded in 1982 (France)
  • The Kredenn Geltiek Hollvedel (World-wide Celtic Creed)or Kevanvod Tud Donn (Assembly of the people of the Goddess Ana), founded in 1936 by Raffig Tullou (France)
  • The Order of Clochsliaph - Nemeton Clochsliaph in Hamm, Germany, founded by Uwe Eckert in 2002.
  • The Order of Belle Vue Neo-druidics (Builders of neo-druidic henges, comprised of an assortment of household items, arranged in accordance with the wishes of the moon.)

Popular Neo-druidic Organizations

Since the 1960s, a number of modern druidic organizations have been founded, including the Ovates, Modern occultists, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), British Druid Order, The Druid Network (TDN), and Keltria. They all have similar, but distinct beliefs and practices. OBOD is based in the UK, while ADF and Keltria are based in the US, though all three have international reach. ADF is a descendant of the RDNA since its founder, Isaac Bonewits was a member of the RDNA before founding ADF. Keltria (see below) came about as the result of disagreements between several ADF members and Mr. Bonewits on the focus of druidry.

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, organizes its postal study course into three "grades", with acceptance into each grade requiring completion of the previous grade under direction of a tutor. Initiation ceremonies are sometimes conducted in person within a grove but often individually as a personal ritual. The study course consists of meditations on the four elements and the cycle of life and death, Celtic mythology, and the arts of herbalism, treelore, stonelore, and self-transformation. It includes the Arthurian legends as they come down from Welsh myth, and it is notable for not excluding Christianity or any other religious practice. OBOD's study course is easily compatible with the practice of other religions and does not require that order members "convert" in any way. Each grade alludes to one of the historical subdivisions of the ancient druids.

  • Bard - The bards cultivated the arts of imagination and language, which is to say the art of symbolism. They learned the complexities of poetry and the arts of memory. Bards were the keepers of lore and were expected to know by heart all the myths, legends, history and even bloodlines of the people.
  • Ovates - Ovates are thought to have been principally seers and ritualists but within OBOD the student devotes time to the study of herb-lore, walking between worlds, meditative work with one's ancestors, and with trees and the ancient Irish writing system the ogham.
  • Druid - Druids within OBOD focus more upon the lore of gods and goddesses, of stones and alignments, and seeking a call or vocation to some form of further practice, either as a teacher, grove leader, or in solitary ways as a contemplative.

Members of OBOD in any of the three grades are considered equals and may pursue a broad range of specialized fields of study and practice within the scope of their grade. There are few formalities about grove organization except that there is a distinction made between OBOD groves, which must have at least two members in the Druid grade, and OBOD seed-groups which have no restrictions. The groves and seed groups are completely autonomous and the study program is administered only through the central office in England by post. Members worldwide maintain contact through an extensive web forum and via e-mail.

The Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) is another major new group that is a revival of one of the branches of fraternal Druidism that came to North America with European settlers. Descended from Freemasonry and the Ancient Order of Druids, the AODA was revived in the 1990s by John Michael Greer who serves as Grand Archdruid and has been instrumental in bringing the order's teachings up to date. His book The Druidry Handbook lays out the first degree teachings of the order. Like the OBOD and many other esoteric orders descended from Freemasonry, there are three degrees. In addition to ideas inspired from the Druid Revival of the 18th and 19th Centuries, members study natural history, conservationist ecology, ethics, and magical arts. The AODA maintains slightly more connection to the Hermetic traditions of ceremonial magic than does the OBOD.

Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) teaches s a spiritual practice based on the study of comparative Indo-European religion and linguistics. This is presented as a religion and the act of joining ADF implies that one is a polytheist in some interpretation of that form of religion. Instead of "grades", new ADF members study basic Druidry as "Dedicants" and then move on to the ADF Study Program by joining various Guilds, e.g., Liturgists Guild, Healers Guild, etc., to specialize. These study programs are essentially independent study with some monitoring by a Preceptor who decides when student work is acceptable. Advancement within the Guilds and Special Interest Groups is awarded through passing various "circles" of study culminating in the equivalent of a Master status in a particular pursuit. This guild system attempts to emulate the social structure of ancient and medieval pagan Europe.

ADF also has a clergy training program for those who aspire to priesthood. Completion of the Dedicant Program is a prerequisite for both guild and priest work. ADF differs from other neo-druidic groups in that it aims to provide structure and services similar to major organized religion -- for example, paid clergy, formalized religious education, and permanent places of worship. Although it has a great deal of structure under development, it is actually still a fairly loose association of local groves sharing a common liturgy and reporting to the Mother Grove, which is the organization's elected board of directors. Its members can maintain contact with each other through specialized Internet discussion groups and an annual meeting.

Keltrian Druidism is a Celtic Neopagan tradition dedicated to honoring its ancestors, revering the spirits of nature, and worshiping the gods and goddesses of its members' Gaelic heritage. Focus is placed on personal growth through the development of mind, body, and spirit. The group is an initiatory tradition that places special emphasis on the development of spiritual relationships through study and practice of the druidic arts or draíocht. Their national organization, The Henge of Keltria, publishes various resources and acts as a registry for members. It originally broke off as a branch from ADF through disagreements over the pursuit of a pan-Indo-European paganism that went beyond the specifically Celtic cultures associated with the ancient druids.

There are also many other druid groups in Britain, Europe and America, which may all be considered part of the modern Druidic Movement.

See also

References

Additional readings

  • Bonewits, Isaac (2006). Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2710-2.
  • Carr-Gomm, Philip (2006). What Do Druids Believe?. Granta. ISBN 1-86207-864-5.
  • Carr-Gomm, Philip (2002). Druid Mysteries. Rider. ISBN 0-7126-6110-7.
  • Carr-Gomm, Philip (2003). The Rebirth of Druidry: Ancient Earth Wisdom for Today. Element Books. ISBN 0-00-715665-0.
  • Hutton, Ronald (2007). The Druids. Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 978-1-85285-533-8.
  • Hutton, Ronald (2005). Witches, Druids and King Arthur. Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 1-85285-466-9. - see essay The New Druidry.
  • Nichols, Ross, Carr-Gomm, Philip (1996). The Book of Druidry: History, Sites and Wisdom. Harper Collins. ISBN 1-85538-167-2.
  • Worthington, Andy (2004). Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Alternative Albion. ISBN 1-872883-76-1. - contains chapters on modern druidry.

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