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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.