What is Druid(ry/ism)?
If I were to try to explain Druid(ry/ism) in a nutshell (or in a one sentence statement)….this about sums it up:
Many people don’t realize that there is a wide variety of groups that call themselves Druids that have different ways of “doing Druidry” and then are puzzled by conflicting information about what Druids “do” or “don’t do.”
But…for the most part…
Defining Druidry is a bit like trying to define Paganism—ask 10 people, get 20 answers…and all of them, though different, will all be right…and despite being right, some of them will also be incorrect (though not necessairly wrong).
For a decent working definition, Druidry is a spiritual tradition (and not necessairly a religion) that emphasizes the divinity in Nature that is inspired by Celtic mythology and inspired by ideas of the Ancient Druids and/or the later Druid Revival.
By and large, the ancient Druids are no longer in existance (if you are looking for ye olde Druids of yore, ya-ain’t gonna find ’em :p). As the AODA puts it, regarding ancient Druids:
Who were the ancient Druids?
The most honest answer to this question is “nobody really knows.” According to the very sparse surviving sources, they were a sacred caste among the Celtic tribes of Britain, Ireland, and Gaul (modern France) in ancient times. Some sources call them philosophers, others call them wizards; nobody actually calls them priests, though this is the most popular interpretation among scholars nowadays. They had traditions, passed on by oral transmission, that dealt with theology, astronomy, divination, and other matters, but essentially all of this was lost with the coming of Christianity. Plenty of books have been written about what the ancient Druids were or were not, but they’re pretty much speculation based on a few fragmentary references in Greek, Latin, and medieval Irish writings.
In all probability, they more than likely (at least outwardly) converted to Christianity and, over time, much of their teachings were probably lost, or perhaps absorbed into their (new) religious or cultural practices. Druidic teachings and tradition were entirely (that I know of) oral, and required years of study…unfortunately most of what we know of the Druids is based on second, third and fourth-hand accounts of the Romans (who had little incentive/desire to be unbiased and accurate in their writings)…and increasingly, upon archaeological studies. During the 16/17/1800s, when secret societies and such were popular throughout Europe, there was also a Druidic “Movement” of sorts, often called the Druid Revival. “Druid” based texts were found and entire societies and organizations were based on these ideas…many of these members were Christians (as are a decent percentage of members of some modern Druid groups, which are often multi-faith). (for an explanation of the Revival, try http://www.aoda.org/articles/history.htm) Later it was found that most (more likely all) of these texts were entirely created by their authors…and like most movements, the Druid revival declined after a time. (BTW, Ronald Hutton’s newest is supposed to discuss this very phenomenon…I’m still in the process of reading it)
To the world of conventional scholarship, modern Druidry is an oxymoron, for Druids are a thing of the past–the extinct priesthood of a barbarian culture relevant only to specialists. To the mainstream religions and philosophies of the West, modern Druidry is an absurd anachronism–a cult that turns its back on progress and the modern world to embrace an archaic reverence for trees and stones.
John Michael Greer (Archdruid of the AODA) in “The Druidry Handbook”
Modern Druidry (or is it Druidism? :p) is an amalgamation of all of these sources, and more… I would estimate that the modern paths are generally based on several things, some of which include what little we know of ancient Druids, some of the teachings and such from the Druid revival groups, a good deal of Celtic beliefs and mythology in general, and a wee dose of tree hugging (in the metaphorical sense)… Modern Druids tend to be very nature oriented…and (IMO) much of modern Druidry is based on the (assumed?) ideals of an ancient order mixed and is as much of a philosophy as a religious path (much like Buddhism, you can be one or the other or both). What groups or individuals choose to focus on, depends on them…like all Pagan traditions, Druidry is extremely diverse and highly dependent on individual study and development.
Modern Druidry is not a recon path, but some Druid groups still attempt to be as historically accurate in a modern context as historical and archaeological information allow them to be. Even so, most modern Druids agree that the content of a spiritual tradition, rather than its history, determines its validity.
Something to think about:
There are no simple definitions about what modern druidry or druidism is. Each group conceives of druidry/druidism in its own way and we will be looking at how six groups interpret druidry for themselves. You will often see the terms “druidry” and “druidism” and may have wondered if there was any difference between them. Until recently, I had thought that the two words were pretty much interchangeable, but I recently encountered this explanation by John Michael Greer, who has done much research into the development of Revival Druidry (another term I will discuss later):
The term “Druidry” was a creation of Ross Nichols, one of the major luminaries in the English Druid community in the mid-twentieth century. He wanted to stress that the Druid path was not an “ism,” an ideology or set of beliefs, but a craft, a set of practices and traditions sharing common principles. The English language gives the suffix “-ry” to any number of crafts, such as pottery and forestry; the example of Freemasonry was probably also in Nichols’ mind (nobody talks about “Masonism”). More recently the two words have become convenient labels for the two main approaches in the Druid community, with “Druidism” used most often by recent Celtic Reconstructionist groups [and certain Neo-pagan Druid groups] who base their versions of the Druid way on modern scholarship, while “Druidry” is used most often by older groups who work with the heritage of the Druid Revival. (1)
Druid groups that have evolved from Revival Druidry tend to prefer “druidry” and perceive its meaning much as is described by John Michael Greer above. Druid groups that were created in the latter half of the 20th century and that define themselves as “religions” more often tend to use “druidism.”
Today, the style of Druidry practiced (and what is emphasized) seems to be connected to the organization that it is practiced in…
Some Druid Organizations :
OBOD—Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
The OBOD is the largest Druid group and was founded by Ross Nichols and a group of members of The Ancient Druid Order in 1964. The Ancient Druid Order and was developed during the early years of the last century out of the Druid Revival which began during the 1700’s. They are based out of Britain and have been led by Philip Carr-Gomm for the past 20 years. The OBOD is multi-faith (members can have whatever theistic belief they choose) and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. The OBOD is an initiatory order, not a religious tradition. They observe the quarter and cross-quarter days. The OBOD bases much of its practices out of the tradition of the Druid Revival. They have several self-study paths available in a multi-media format that interested parties can pursue to be initiated into their tradition.
Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)
ADF was founded by Issac Bonewits (who had been a member of the RDNA) 25 years ago, and is currently led by Skip Ellison. It is the largest Druid religious group, and one of the largest American Druid groups. Is their own words, their purpose is that of “attempting to revive the best aspects of the Paleopagan faiths of our ancestors within a modern scientific, artistic, ecological, and wholistic context”. ADF considers itself a polytheistic Nature based tradition within the Neopagan movement, and a distinct religious path. Their beliefs are largely polytheistic. The ADF self-study course is not a requirement to be a member of ADF, but is available for interested parties.
*an essay on the differences between OBOD and ADF
Henge of Keltria
The Henge of Keltria was founded in 1987 and its current leader is TopazOwl, it is an off-shoot of ADF. They describe themselves as “a spiritual path dedicated to revering the Nature Spirits, honoring the Ancestors, and worshipping the Deities of our ancient Irish ancestors. The Henge of Keltria is a nonprofit religious corporation dedicated to providing information, training, and networking to those who practice or who are interested in Keltrian Druidism, Druidism in general, and the evolution of mind, body, and spirit through a Celtic Irish context.” Whereas other groups do not necessarily emphasize any particular theistic belief, or any singular pantheon, the Henge of Keltria seems to emphasize Celtic mythology and symbolism in general, with a focus on what we know of the Irish Celts.
Unfortunately this really is not a group I know much about…although I do know *of* them because they have laid the groundwork for attempting to get a Druid symbol of faith available for Veteran headstones (they cannot petition the VA to add the symbol until a veteran that wishes to have that symbol actually dies).
Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA)
The simplest way to explain the RDNA is as a Druid *dis*organization…think Church of the FSM of Druidry ;D. They originated in 1963 at Carleton College in Northfield, MN after students that objected to a mandatory attendance of religious services protested by making forming their own group, resulting in the withdrawal of the requirement…and a continuation of the group. The RDNA has no central and unified authority, no central and unified theology or belief system and no central and unified initiatory or membership structure—the closest they come to a consensus in belief is their tenet that religious truth can be found in nature.
The Druid Network
The Druid Network is not an initiatory tradition or religious order, but rather a networking and informational group for Druids of all types. They emphasize that Nature is an expression/manifestation of Deity, for which reverence can be expressed by way of thanksgiving, celebration, wonder and praise. One of their founders and leaders is Druid author, Emma Restall-Orr.
Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA)
The AODA is a Druid Revival offshoot descended from another group founded in 1874 by Robert Wentworth Little that maintained close ties with the Masons. Today, the AODA “encourages its members to pursue their own spiritual directions within a broad common framework, and its approach to spirituality is personal and experiential rather than dogmatic.” They offer members a 3-degree self-study program with three levels of initiation. They observe the solstices and equinoxes, and, like the OBOD, they do not define divinity, leaving theistic belief to be up to the individual. The head of their organization is John Michael G
Druidry is a living path, not a rigid ideology. The Druid Revival is an ongoing quest, shaped by the challenges and needs of each age.
–John Michael Greer. reer.
British Druid Order
According to their website:
The British Druid Order teaches and practices a creative, celebratory, elemental, shamanic Druidry, drawing inspiration from the past, yet deeply relevant to the needs of the present: caring for the earth, empowering the spirit, promoting peace and understanding. Inspired by the rich heritage of the British Isles, we see Druidry as a path without boundaries, open to all.
BDO Druidry is animistic, recognising all things as imbued with spirit. It is polytheistic, acknowledging many gods and goddesses. It is shamanic, knowing the reality of spirit worlds and their inhabitants. We honour our ancestors of blood and of spirit, i.e. those who have walked similar paths before us.
Teaching is offered through our distance learning course, our other publications, and through workshops, meditational retreats, weekend gatherings and longer camps, and in local Groves.
Our Gorseddau (gatherings of Bards) offer open, multi-faith celebrations of seasonal festivals at sacred sites in Britain and elsewhere. Local Groves offer deeper ritual, teaching, companionship and support.”
(Like the Henge of Keltria, this is a group I don’t know much about on a first hand (or, in this case, even second hand) basis)
What do Druid’s Believe by Phillip Carr Gomm
Druid Mysteries by Phillip Carr Gomm
Thorsons Principles of Druidry, Emma Restall-Orr
The Druid Tradition, Phillip Carr-Gomm
Ritual: A Guide to Life, Love & Inspiration, Emma Restall-Orr (AWESOME BOOK, even if your aren’t a Druid)
The Druidry Handbook, John Michael Greer
Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism, Isaac Bonewits
(both Phillip Carr-Gomm and Emma Restall-Orr have a TON of books on the subject…and are good authors)
some basic info on Druidry: