Overview of Modern Druid Groups: Mission Statements
2020 note: I wrote this this over 15 years ago. Some information here may be outdated.
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 will let the groups speak for themselves, quoting from their published materials.
OBOD describes its basic philosophy in the following way:
Druidry and the teaching program of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids is based upon this love for the natural world, and offers a powerful way of working with, and understanding the Self and Nature — speaking to that level of our soul and of our being which is in tune with the elements and the stars, the sun and the stones. Through the work of the Druids, we are able to unite our natural, earthly selves with our spiritual selves while working, in however small a way, for the safeguarding of our planet. (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.
The closest thing I could find to a succinct statement of beliefs was a series of statements under the title, “Druidry evokes love in us — in a myriad of ways.” This statement includes the many ways druidry fosters love of the land, the earth and the wild (nature); the love of peace (druids as peace-makers); the love of beauty (creativity and contact with “awen”); the love of justice (restorative justice); love of story and myth (relationships to the divine); love of history and reverence for the Ancestors (the past); love of trees; love of stones; love of truth (and wisdom); love of animals; love of the body (sacred sexuality); love of life (integration of spirituality with everyday life); love of sun, moon, stars and sky; love of each other (interpersonal relationships and community). (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.
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.
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.
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: (7)
- It offers a reasonable alternative for the person who cannot stomach organized religion, or who feels that it is somehow deficient.
- In communing with Nature, it seeks to promote a spirit of meditation and introspection, aimed ultimately at awareness of religious truth.
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:
- 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.
- And great is the importance, which is of a spiritual importance, of Nature, which is the Earth Mother; for it 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:
- Nature is good.
- 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
- The search for spiritual truth is important.
- Nature is important and helpful in that search. (9)
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.
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.
The Henge of Keltria
The current president of the Henge of Keltria says about her organization: “We are a positive path Celtic Neopagan tradition dedicated to protecting and preserving our Mother Earth, honoring our Ancestors, revering the Spirits of Nature, and worshiping the Gods and Goddesses of our Gaelic heritage. Our focus is on personal growth through the development of mind, body, and spirit. We place special emphasis on spiritual development fostered through study and practice of the Druidic Arts.” (12)
The previous incarnation of this statement said “Celtic heritage,” rather than “Gaelic heritage.” 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. (13)
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.
2020 note: URLs in the footnotes are from 2004. Those that still go to the same or similar information as before have active links. Whenever possible, I added revised or new links to similar information for each of these organizations at the end of the footnote. The Henge of Keltria has disbanded since I wrote this, but revised information is still available online.
- The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. “The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.druidry.org/obod/theorder/theorder.html> 2020: “About the Order.”
- 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>
- The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. “The Druid Tradition.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.druidry.org/obod/intro/druidtradition.html A text version was found at <http://www.druidry.org/obod/touchstone/2000annrev.html (accessed July 27, 2004) at the bottom of the page. 2020: “Druid Beliefs.”
- The British Druid Order. ”Introducing the BDO.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.druidorder.demon.co.uk/bdo_intro.htm> 2020: “About the British Druid Order.”
- Ancient Order of Druids in America “About the Ancient Order of Druids in America.” n.d. Accessed July 29, 2004. <http://www.aoda.org/about.htm> 2020 note: “About the Ancient Order of Druids in America.”
- Michael Sharding. “A F.A.Q. about Reformed Druidism.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.rdna.info/faq.html> See also “Less Is More” on the same web site: <http://www.rdna.info/lessismore.html
- Carleton Grove. “Who are the Reformed Druids?” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <https://apps.carleton.edu/student/orgs/druids/questions/> 2020 note: The links have been updated.
- Michael Sharding. “The Two Basic Tenets.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.rdna.info/basictenets.html
- Carleton Grove. “What do the Reformed Druids believe in?” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <https://apps.carleton.edu/student/orgs/druids/questions/> 2020 note: The links have been updated.
- Isaac Bonewits. “What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?” Published 2003. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.adf.org/about/beliefs.html> 2020 updated text: “What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?”
- Isaac Bonewits. “Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship.” Published January 8, 2001. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.witchvox.com/trads/trad_adf.html>
- Topaz Owl. “Greetings.” n.d. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://www.keltria.org/Greetings.htm>
- Henge of Keltria. “Frequently Asked Questions” Published April 2004. Accessed July 16, 2004. <http://keltria.org/Blog1/FAQs.htm> 2020: “Frequently Asked Questions” Accessed 29 June 2020.