Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Neo-Druidry in Britain
In the eighteenth century secret societies in Britain included a number that had a particularly "Druidic" flavour, such as the Ancient Order of Druids and the Order of the Universal Bond, later known as the Ancient Druid Order . These organisations often drew upon Iolo Morganwg for their philosophy and symbolism, including the use of the Druid's Prayer. The ADO survived to modern times, and in 1964 one of its members, Ross Nichols , formed an offshoot known as the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Recent decades have seen an explosion of Druidic orders and groups in Britain, including the British Druid Order , the Secular Order of Druids , the Glastonbury Order of Druids and so on. 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.
Neo-druidism in America
The Mother Grove of the RDNA
The founding of the first congregation of the Reformed Druids of North America , or RDNA, at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, in 1963 marked the start of at least one branch of neo-druidism. This congregation is called, in terms of the organizational structure, the Carleton Grove, and in terms of RDNA tradition, the Mother Grove. (Some suggest that all of neo-druidism in America consists of RDNA and organizations that are each descended from the Mother Grove in a series of schisms. One may assume that the others admit, on one hand, to some form of temporal priority of RDNA, and to having been influenced to some degree by RDNA's thought. But on the other hand, they may suggest that innovations not fully integrated into RDNA are equally important. It is not obvious that any neo-druids consider the relative merits of such accounts worth arguing about.)
Carleton's requirement that each student participate regularly in religious services was the most focused of the factors occasioning the promulgation of "the Reform". Nevertheless, 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agitation, and easy-going self-irony were also important themes by the time the religious requirement was rescinded in mid-1964, and the loss of the specific protest motivation did not obviously weaken the organization. Oversight effort in 1967 from priests no longer regularly present in Northfield probably has served as precedent for ensuring continuity of leadership at later times of ebb in local momentum.
The early antagonism between the Carleton Grove and the administration of the college has subsided if not disappeared; for instance, a campfire ring known as "Druid's Den" is maintained by the college, and Carleton Grove activities are announced in college-published literature. The 40th anniversary year of the RDNA saw two reunion gatherings of the Mother Grove, one at the anniversary of the first service and one coinciding with the Carleton College Reunion. These ceremonies gave evidence of continuity of the early years' themes described above. For instance, besides the service continuing the free-wheeling balance of reverence and irreverence, a Koranic reading echoed a substantial study of the Koran by at least one of the early Arch-Druids of Carleton.
The Berkeley History
Robert Larson, a patriarch 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 group is Ár nDraíocht Féin ("our own Druidism" in Gaelic). They are centered on the East Coast of the United States, in New York and New Jersey, but with branches scattered throughout the rest of the world as well.
The original ceremonies of the neo-druids involved gathering in a wooded place periodically (usually weekly, but some groups used astrology to calculate meeting times), for
- the ritual consumption of "spirits" (Scotch or Irish whiskey blended with water) called "the water of life" (uisce beatha, or whiskey),
- 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.
Specifically in the Mother Grove, the use of Scotch rather than Irish whiskey has been an ironic tradition dating from the first ceremony, at which a partial bottle of Scotch whisky had been at hand, left unfinished at the end of a party the previous night.
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 Imbolg). 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") and Dalon Ap Landu, the Lord of Groves; otherwise, 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.
Neo-druidism is considered a Neo-pagan religion.
Popular Neo-druidic Organizations
Since the RDNA's creation, several other Neo-druidic organizations have been founded, including Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), 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 something of 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.
According to the Neo-druidic Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the druid teaching is traditionally split into the following three "grades", with acceptance into each grade requiring an initiation by those of equal or higher grade:
- Bard - who was taught how to read and write, but more importantly was taught the poetry and lore of the time. Bards were the keepers of lore and were expected to know by memory all the myths, legends, history and even bloodlines of the land.
- Ovate - one who was taught herb-lore and the "deeper secrets"
- Druid - one who has learned much lore and begun to use it to teach others, counsel and function as a judge in the affairs of others.
Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), however, holds that Druidic practice is a less-structured Indo-European spiritual practice and thus leans more toward contemporary Neopagan practices, though it does attempt to integrate them with research on Indo-European cultures (a practice known as reconstructionism). 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. 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. ADF also has a clergy training program for those who aspire to priesthood in particular, though completion of the Dedicant level 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 more similar to major organized religion (e.g. a paid clergy, permanent places of worship, etc.) than most neo-pagan organizations.
Keltrian Druidism is a Celtic Neopagan tradition dedicated to honoring its Ancestors, revering the Spirits of Nature, and worshipping 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 who place 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.
There are also a great number of other Druid groups in Britain, Europe and America, with varying claims to (and interest in) the historical traditions.
- The New Druidry, essay in Witches, Druids and King Arthur, Ronald Hutton 2003
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