Neo-druidism or neo-druidry is an attempt to revive the ancient religion of the Celts, as presided over by the priestly caste of druids. In general, Neo-druids promote the peace, preservation and harmony of nature.
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. Many of his teachings however have since been shown to have had no historical basis; later druidic sects have accepted this but nonetheless adopted his ideas as visionary, as opposed to scholarly insights. The ADO survived to modern times. In 1964 when Robert MacGregor Reid, Chief of the Ancient Order of Druids, died, a dispute between a group of senior druids broke out over the election of Dr Thomas Maughan as the new chief. Consequently the order split into two factions and it was decided to form a reconstituted order with Ross Nichols as its Chief, and with the three grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid fully taught and recognised in a way that had not previously been done in the Order's modern cycle. Hence The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was formed. 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-druids in Ireland
In Ireland, Neo-druids have been staging public gatherings for the Midsummer Solstice on the Hill of Tara, intermittently from 1996 to 2005. In late 2006 Irish Neo-druids are working with the various Save Tara heritage campaigns to preserve the Tara Valley from the potential environmental catastrophe of the M3 motorway that is planned for the area. The proposed construction would place a huge, 38-acre, eight-lane motorway interchange within a mile of the Hill, making it clearly visible from one of Ireland's most sacred and historic sites, and irreparably damaging important archaeological evidence of Celtic and pre-Celtic history.
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. Druidry in Ireland is still relatively young and is still in the process of establishing links between groves and orders and so a stable druidic community does not yet exist.
Other European druid organisations
In January 2003, the New Order of Druids was opened by David Dom in Belgium. 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:
- Le Cercle de l'Ambre (France)
- The Kengerzhouriezh Drouizel an Dreist-Hanternoz (Compagnonnage Druidique d'Hyperborée) founded in 1982 (France)
- The Kredenn Geltiek Hollvedel (World-wide Celtic Creed)or Kevanvod Tud Donn (Assembly of the people of the Goddess Ana), founded in 1936 by Raffig Tullou (France)
- The Order of Clochsliaph - Nemeton Clochsliaph in Berlin, Germany, founded by Uwe Eckert in 2002.
- The Order of Belle Vue Neo-druidics (Builders of neo-druidic henges, comprised of an assortment of household items, arranged in accordance with the wishes of the moon.)
Neo-druidism in America
The Mother Grove of the Reformed Druids of North America
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 the Druid Circle 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 Qur'anic reading echoed a substantial study of the Qur'an by at least one of the early Arch-Druids of Carleton.
The Berkeley History
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 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 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 considered a neo-pagan religion. 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 Druids to those for whom it is, indeed, a complement to another faith.
Popular neo-druidic organizations
Since the RDNA's creation, several other neo-druidic organizations have been founded, including the Ovates, Modern occultists, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), British Druid Order 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 on the focus of druidry.
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.
- Ovates - 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.
The ancient Irish Druids, however, had somewhat differing grades in Drui, Faidh, Fili and Baird (corresponding to Druid, Ovate-Druid, Druid-File and Bard)
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.
- Isaac Bonewits's website
- Andy Worthington's website
- Isaac Bonewits. Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism. ISBN 0-8065-2710-2
- Philip Carr-Gomm. The Rebirth of Druidry: Ancient Earth Wisdom for Today. ISBN 0-00-715665-0
- Ronald Hutton. Witches, Druids and King Arthur. ISBN 1-85285-466-9.
- Ross Nichols. The Book of Druidry: History, Sites and Wisdom. ISBN 1-85538-167-2.
- Ár nDraíocht Féin website
- OBOD Ross Nichols - Nuinn
- Worthington, Andy (2004). Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Alternative Albion. ISBN 1-872883-76-1. - contains chapters on modern druidry.
- A Reformed Druid Anthology
- ADF - Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship
- The Henge of Keltria
- Reformed Druids of North America - Carleton grove
- Reformed Druids of North America - general overview
- Reformed Druid Grove Locations
- Ancient Order of Druids in America
- BDO - The British Druid Order
- Council Of British Druid Orders - (CoBDO) - Official Site
- The Glastonbury Order of Druids
- The Loyal Arthurian Warband
- OBOD - The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
- Celtic Faith of Greater Ireland (in French)
- Canadian Druid Confederation - La Confédération Canadienne de Druide