What is Druidry?
In trying to define Druidry you’ll run into the same problems you would trying to define Christianity, Wicca, or even Pagan.
I’ve heard it said that if you ask five Druids the same question you’re likely to get six different answers. The reason for that is that there are so many valid ways to practice Druidry. There is no holy writ for Druids and we don’t go door to door to proselytize. There are some things that I can safely say about us that MOST of those who call themselves Druids will agree on.
Are we “REAL” Druids?
The best answer to that question is, “Yes . . . and no.”
Druids groups in the US are as real as any other denomination or church. Just like most churches, they are legally registered as nonprofit organizations and have received recognition of their tax-exempt status.
We have denominations that are as real as any other religious organization. Ours are just called by other names, like Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), the Ancient Order of Druids in America, Henge of Keltria, Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). There are many more but these are some of the largest in America that I’m aware of.
Historically, the Paleopagan Druids were wiped out centuries ago and only fragments of their traditions survived, despite the claims of some would-be con-artists.
Let me get these two out of the way early.
Didn’t the ancient Druids engage in human sacrifice?
Yes, that would appear to be true although some modern-day scholars question the accuracy of these accounts, as they invariably come from hostile (Roman or Greek) sources. But even if it were true, so did the clergy of almost every other religion in human history, including the monotheistic ones.
Modern Druids, however, are forbidden to practice human or animal sacrifice in any of our rituals. The Deities, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits seem to find our love, flowers, fruits, wine, incense, music, song, drama, prayer, more than sufficient. Manannan seems especially fond of Irish Whiskey.
Are we all men?
In spite of prevailing opinion all druids are crotchety long-bearded patriarchs. You didn’t have to be a man with the original Druids and you don’t have to be a man now. Roughly half of the membership of ADF is female and women hold more than half of the positions of power in the organization. As worshippers of the Earth Mother, we can do no less. In fact, one of our primary religious symbols, “the Druid Sigil,” represents Her.
What are the Druid holidays?
We celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year by observing eight “High Days” — the equinoxes and the solstices, as well as the halfway points between which were originally the great fire festivals of our European predecessors. Our Grove has a Irish Celtic focus and we celebrate eight high days as; Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Bealtainne, Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, Fall Equinox, Samhain, and Winter Solstice.
What do Modern Druids Believe?
I cannot speak for all Druidic groups in the US but I can speak with a fair amount of certainty about members of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). To quote one of Isaac Bonewits, “ADF is working to combine in-depth scholarship with the inspiration of artistry and spiritual practice to create a powerful modern Paganism. We’re researching and interpreting sound modern scholarship (rather than romantic fantasies) about the ancient Indo-European Pagans . . . Upon these cultural foundations we are working to build a religion that these ancient people would appreciate and understand yet one which has depth and power for modern people. We’re bringing together people trained in ritual, psychic skills and applied mythology to bring the remnants of the old ways to life. We’re creating a nonsexist, non-racist, organic, flexible and publicly available religion to practice as a way of life and to hand on to future generations.” Can we ever be like the ancient Druids of the past? Absolutely not. Even if we wanted to there is simply not enough information. We do, however, believe that through excellence in scholarship we can shape a Druidry that is based on true and accurate archeology and study and, at the same time, relevant to modern people.
Many of the members of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) make the following assumptions regarding belief:
Spirit is present in the material and natural world.
Men and women are spiritually equal, and “masculine” and “feminine” attitudes, values, and roles are both valued. Divinity is just as likely to manifest in a female form as it is in a male form. As Dion Fortune said, “A religion without a goddess is halfway to atheism.”
We are Polytheists. There is a magnificent diversity of gods and goddesses, as well as lesser beings worthy of respect, love and worship. While some of us believe in a “Supreme Being”, modern Druids are typically polytheistic.
We believe that it is necessary to have respect and love for Nature as divine in Her own right, and to accept ourselves as part of Nature and not Her “rulers.” Ecological awareness and activism are our sacred duties.
We believe that healthy religions should have as little dogma as possible. Modern Druidry is successful because it is an organic religion, and like all organisms, it is growing, changing, and reproducing itself.
Our deities are capable of defending their own honor without any need for us to punish people for “blasphemy” or “heresy.
Reincarnation and Afterlife
This is a tough subject to summarize. Even within ADF opinions vary widely. There seem to be two basic schools of thought with variations on each. The first involves some form of reincarnation, which essentially says that we are reborn as another animal or human.
There is more historical support for the idea that we all go to the Otherworld after death and we live a life there. We are born, work, and die there, and when we die there, we come back to this world to repeat the process.
My path, again, has an Irish Celtic focus so I tend to go with a variation of the second idea. To fill out that second position a bit more my grove and personal pantheon acknowledge and support the Tuatha de Danaan, the ancient gods of the land, as rulers of Ireland. Manannán is a lord of the Otherworld, residing at Emhain Abhlach, the Plain of Apples, a paradise.
Isaac Bonewits states this clearly in “Some Notes on Indo-European Paleopaganism and its Clergy,” (c) 1984 P. E. I. Bonewits, reprinted from “The Druids’ Progress” #1:
“There are definite indications that the Indo-European clergy held certain polytheological and mystical opinions in common, although only the vaguest outlines are known at this point. There was a belief in reincarnation (with time spent between lives in an Other World very similar to the Earthly one), in the sacredness of particular trees, in the continuing relationship between mortals, ancestors and deities, and naturally in the standard laws of magic (see Real Magic).”
Druidry is a very broad and general topic. My explanations are, unavoidably, a product of the particular “denomination” I belong to and the specific path I’ve chosen within that organization.
Within ADF we encourage a spirit-led path, guided by the Nine Virtues: wisdom, piety, vision, courage, integrity, perseverance, hospitality, moderation, and fertility. As modern Druids, we seek connection with the Earth Mother and harmony with the Universe. We welcome all traditions of Druidry and eclectic paganism into our groves.
“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair…”
(1) Ár NDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. Ár NDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N.p., n.d
(2) Brown, Nimue. Druidry and the Ancestors. N.p.: John Hunt Pub, 2013. Print.
(3) Our Own Druidry. Tucson, AZ: ADF, 2009. Print.
(4) Greer, John Michael. The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth. York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2006. Print.
Yours beneath the sacred oaks,
/|\ Bill Thomas
Senior Druid – Whispering Oaks Grove, ADF
Vice-Chieftain of the Clan of the Red Dragon, ADF
Managing Editor of Oak Leaves – The Quarterly Journal of Ár nDraíocht Féin.
Welcome to Whispering Oaks Grove, ADF http://whisperingoaksgrove.com/