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A Survey of Modern Druid Groups  

© Copyright 2004 Susan Reed

Introduction • Capsule Histories • Statements of Belief • 
• Organizational Structure • Membership and Training • Rituals • 
•  Ethics • Conclusions •  Resources •

Statements of Belief/Mission Statements/Guiding Principles

Religion or Spiritual Philosophy/Method?

When I previously mentioned the differences between “druidry” and “druidism,” I alluded to one of the ongoing discussions about the nature of druid philosophy and practices — that is whether Druidry/Druidism is a religion or a philosophy or set of practices that can be applied to any religion.

Three of these groups, OBOD, AODA and RDNA welcome members of any religion. OBOD considers its druidry to be more a spiritual philosophy or set of practices that can be performed by people of many faiths and there are Christian and Buddhist OBOD members. Based on intra-member communication, however, most OBOD members do seem to consider themselves Neo-pagan.

AODA, like OBOD, considers its druidry as spiritual method/philosophy and also welcomes mystically-oriented people of any faith.

RDNA is also more a way of working with one’s own spirituality and welcomes people of many faiths. The people who stuck with it after its original purpose was fulfilled seemed to find that RDNA encouraged people to really question the bases for whatever beliefs they had and, in many cases, this questioning lead to the strengthening of their original faith. A later schism, the New Reformed Druids of North America, was emphatically Neo-pagan.

BDO is harder to pin down on this issue. The Order seems to consider its path a Pagan religion, but holds open rituals that are respectful of and may include other faith paths.

ADF and the Henge of Keltria both define themselves as religions.

I shall now go into a little more detail for each group. Whenever possible, I’m going to let the groups speak for themselves, quoting from their published materials.

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OBOD

OBOD describes its basic philosophy in the following way:

We see the aims of Druidry and the Order as helping us experience and express Love, Wisdom and Creativity.

Creativity — in opening us to our full potential: for bringing beauty into the world, for discovering the stories deep within us, and the stories that can be found in each and every person, and in the world of Nature.

Wisdom — in the old myths and legends, in the Welsh & Irish triads, and in the centuries of scholarship to be found in the Druid tradition.

Love — in the love of trees and stones, the love of animals and the body, the love of story and myth, the love of beauty and peace, the love of each other and the love of life.(1)

OBOD tradition provides ways to develop deeper and meaningful relationship with the Spirits of the Land and our ancestors and through doing so, each member is encouraged to discover his or her own relationship with the Divine in whatever way it manifests. (2)

OBOD has one of the strongest commitments to the environment that I have seen in any of these Druid groups.

OBOD considers that its form of Druidry includes the spiritual heritage of Britain throughout its history, including the Neolithic ages, the Bronze age, the Iron Age Celts, the Anglo-Saxons, the Norse, and the Normans and beyond.

In 2005, the Order posted a section on beliefs. These included affirming and welcoming diversity in personal theologies and personal understanding of the Divine; belief in an Otherworld; belief in some kind of rebirth after death; belief in wisdom, creativity and love as the three goals of a Druid; belief that our spiritual paths should bear fruit in this world — that is, a Druid shows reverence and respect for all life, here and now; belief that all are interconnected with an essentially benign universe; and belief of a law of “harvest,” that what we do in the world creates an effect that will eventually affect us.(3)

The overall "flavor" of OBOD, for me, is that of a pan-British, ecologically aware and ecologically activist, awen-seeking, peace-mongering, multi-faith group for which inspiration, communion with nature and guardianship of the earth are foremost values.

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BDO

The British Druid Order draws its inspiration from “native British tradition,” and the Order defines “British” as including all the peoples and spirits who have inhabited the island of Britain and the island of Ireland. BDO sees druidry as an ever-changing path that evolves with each generation.

The Order’s primary function is inviting, contacting and using poetic and creative inspiration, called “awen” or “flowing inspiration.” Its tradition draws inspiration from the sacred land and from the ancestors through their myths and mysteries. Members seek to reclaim a sense of sacred in all thing, so that they can start to heal their land, their society, and themselves.

The Order's web site says: “Those who work with the Order are encouraged to make their own links with this spirit of inspiration, through which they might find their own energy and creativity, and thereby discover and walk their own sacred path to joy, peace, healing, ecstasy and the gods.”(4)

The overall “flavor” for me is that BDO is a pagan pan-British, awen-seeking, shamanistic, animistic group that promotes contact with nature spirits and the voice of the ancestors. While it is similar to OBOD, it puts somewhat greater emphasis on contacting flowing inspiration and seeing the sacred in all things and less on environmental activism.

AODA

The Ancient Order of Druids in America is rooted in the Druid Revival, which was inspired by what was known or believed about the ancient Druids and combines this legacy with other sources to shape a nature spirituality that is relevant to today. The AODA welcomes men and women of any religious, cultural or ethnic background. “Creativity and the quest for personal Awen — the inner light of inspiration — are among the AODA’s central values.” The AODA is a “traditional” Druid Order and it shares many features with fraternal lodges and esoteric societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. (5)

Of the groups we will look at today, AODA remains the closest to its Revival Druid roots and uses many ideas and practices from Western Magical tradition.

For me the overall “flavor” of AODA is that of a Revival druid, magically-oriented, multi-faith group that encourages nature awareness and inspiration seeking through disciplined training.

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RDNA

It really is best to let the Reformed Druids of North America speak for themselves. From the “F.A.Q. about Reformed Druidism” by Michael Scharding:

Question 3. What are your goals? Answer Awareness. Yup, that's it. Total world domination is just so out of fashion. (6)

From the Carleton Grove web site:

On deeper examination of the RDNA, it might be said to have two important purposes:

(1) It offers a reasonable alternative for the person who cannot stomach organized religion, or who feels that it is somehow deficient.

(2) In communing with Nature, it seeks to promote a spirit of meditation and introspection, aimed ultimately at awareness of religious truth. (7)

The Reform has only required two basic tenets of its members for the last 40 years. The long form found in the Druid Chronicles is:

      1. The object of the search for religious truth, which is a universal and a neverending search, may be found through the Earth Mother, which is Nature; but this is one way, yea, one way among many.
      2. And great is the importance, which is of a spiritual importance, of Nature, which is the Earth Mother; for is is one of the objects of Creation, and with it we do live, yea, even as we do struggle through life are we come face to face with it.

The simplified form is:

      1. Nature is good.
      2. Likewise, Nature is good.(8)

Again from the Carleton Grove web site:

This [the two tenants] is generally considered overly word[y] and verbious [verbose?] it has been shortened

      1. The search for spiritual truth is important.
      2. Nature is important and helpful in that search.

And:

It is possible to take a gander of some of the other sentiment of many Druids; the material realm, Nature, is often personified as the Earth-Mother. However, the Druids do not affirm or deny any religious belief, we consist of all types of people from many different traditions and backgrounds. The Druids at Carleton tend to change over time, sometimes drastically, due to the group being based at a four year college. Every four years there is an entirely different group of people that may have very different views from those who came before them. The Druids are continually questioning and each is conducting their own personal search for spiritual truth, however they may define that, which makes it difficult to say what Druids believe. There are very few things that we all agree on, even the wording of the tenets gets adjusted frequently, but this lack of set definition, the flexibility of the group and the devotion to questioning and learning is the very thing that attracts people to Druidism. Druidism is an alternative to mainstream religion, that means that we can't very well go mainstream ourselves.(9)

Its overall "flavor" for me is that RDNA is a multi-faith group that combines irreverence and reverence, does not take itself too seriously, sees “nature as a route to awareness,” and believes in testing one’s beliefs and concepts. After reading through RDNA materials, I can easily see RDNA as being the Discordians of the Druid community.

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ADF

RDNA’s child group, ADF seems also a complete contrast. ADF seeks to create a Neo-pagan religion that is based on sound scholarship about the ancient Indo-European pagan society, practices, and, where they can be known, beliefs in the areas of linguistics, Indo-European studies, archaeology, comparative religion, anthropology, ethnic studies, history and theology, but is adapted for modern times and does not require any ethnic affiliation for participation. Where gaps exist, imagination, inspiration, visions and borrowing from non Indo-European sources may be used to fill the gaps, but that these sources are fully and openly acknowledged and documented.

ADF’s statement of what “Neo-pagan Druids” believe include: both the immanence and transcendence of Deity; Deity manifesting as female and as male; polytheism; nature worship; “cautious” technophilia; religious freedom; positive ethics; religious toleration; magic and mystery; liturgical art and science; connecting to the cosmos; “born again Paganism” — afterlife without eternal punishment, often including reincarnation; hope and action (activism to make the world better); developing mystic vision; community responsibility; authenticity (walking the talk); and cooperation and defense (of beliefs). (10)

One of the early goals of ADF is to create a form a Druidism in which modern Druids “would not be ashamed to honestly compare themselves with the original Druids.” (11)

One of the things I have gotten out of reading ADF organizational materials is that they wish to have an organization that stands toe-to-toe with other mainstream religious organizations in clergy preparation and training, in rigorous theological study and in institutions that support a large community such as a mainstream church may have.

For me, the overall “flavor” of ADF is a semi-reconstructionist, pan-Indo-European Neo-pagan group that is focused on scholarship and intellect and in adapting ancient practices and beliefs for modern use.

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Henge of Keltria

The current president of the Henge of Keltria says about her organization: “Keltrian Druidism is a Celtic Reconstructionist religious path dedicated to revering the Nature Spirits, honoring the Ancestors, and worshiping the Gods and Goddesses of our Celtic Heritage. The Henge of Keltria is a non-profit religious corporation dedicated to provide information, training, and networking to those who practice or who are interested in Keltrian Druidism, Druidism in general, or other Celtic Earth-based religions.” (12)

The “Greetings” from the President of the Henge of Keltria uses the term, “Gaelic heritage,” rather than “Celtic heritage.”(13) Recently, the Henge seem to have narrowed its focus to just Gaelic paths, but this has not been reflected in the current By-Laws, which still allow Groves and individuals to work with any Celtic pantheon. I imagine changes to the by-laws may be forthcoming.

The Henge of Keltria also has a statement of beliefs that include belief in divinity that may takes several valid forms; a belief that nature is the embodiment of the Gods and that natural law reflects the will of the Gods; a belief that all life is sacred; a belief in the immortality of the spirit; a belief that our purpose is to gain wisdom through experience and that learning is an ongoing process; a belief that morality is a matter of personal conviction based upon self-respect and respect for others; a belief that evil is a matter of intent rather than essence; a belief in the relative nature of all things; a belief that every individual has a right to pursue knowledge and wisdom through his or her chosen path; a belief in honoring the Gods through the cyclical celebration of our Celtic ancestors and a belief in a living religion that is able to change and adapt to a changing environment. Keltrians also acknowledge three foundations of practice: honoring the ancestors, revering the Nature Spirits and worshiping and Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic Tribe. (14)

The overall “flavor’ I get from the Henge of Keltria is that is a semi-constructionist, Gaelic-oriented neo-pagan initiatory mystery tradition. I also get the impression that Keltrian ritual is a central focus of practice.

These three groups have a more intellectual basis to their philosophy and practice than the previous three groups. A person in the Reformed Druids of North America is likely to give serious thought and examination to his or her beliefs. Both ADF and Keltria base their principles, stated beliefs and practices on current scholarship. Nonetheless, there is plenty of room in these groups for seeking inspiration and mystical spiritual connection.

Notes

  1. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. “Frequently Asked Questions: What are the goals of Druidry and the Order?” n.d. Accessed March 23, 2005. <http://www.druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=2&page_id=6#section1>.
  2. Damh the Bard. “The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.” Published May 15, 2004. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.witchvox.com/trads/trad_obod.html>
  3. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. “Beliefs.” n.d. Accessed March 23, 2005. <http://druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=1&page_id=30>.
  4. The British Druid Order. ”Introducing the BDO.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.druidorder.demon.co.uk/bdo_intro.htm>
  5. Ancient Order of Druids in America “About the AODA.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.aoda.org/about.htm>
  6. Michael Sharding. “A F.A.Q. about Reformed Druidism.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.geocities.com/mikerdna/faq.html> See also “Less Is More” on the same web site: <http://www.geocities.com/mikerdna/lessismore.html>
  7. Carleton Grove. “Who are the Reformed Druids?” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://orgs.carleton.edu/druids/who.html>
  8. Michael Sharding. “The Two Basic Tenets.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.geocities.com/mikerdna/basictenets.html>
  9. Carleton Grove. “What do the Reformed Druids believe in?” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://orgs.carleton.edu/druids/why.html>
  10. Isaac Bonewits. “What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?” Published 2003. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.adf.org/about/beliefs.html>
  11. Isaac Bonewits. “Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship.” Published January 8, 2001. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.witchvox.com/trads/trad_adf.html>
  12. Henge of Keltria. “About Us.” n.d. Accessed March 23, 2005. <http://www.keltria.org/about.htm>
  13. Topaz Owl. “Greetings.” n.d. Accessed March 23, 2005. <http://www.keltria.org/Greetings.htm>
  14. Henge of Keltria. “Frequently Asked Questions” Published April 2004. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.keltria.org/FAQs.htm>

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Updated March 23, 2005.
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