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Neo-Druidism or Neo-Druidry, commonly referred to as Druidry by many adherents, is a form of modern spirituality or religion that generally promotes harmony and worship of nature, and respect for all beings, including the environment. Many forms of modern Druidry are Neopagan religions, whereas some are instead seen as philosophies that are not necessarily religious in nature. Originating in Britain during the 18th century, Druidry was originally a cultural movement, only gaining religious or spiritual connotations in the 19th century.
The core principle of Druidry is respect and veneration of nature, and as such it often involves participation in the environmental movement. Another prominent belief amongst modern Druids is the veneration of ancestors, particularly those who belonged to prehistoric societies.
Arising from the 18th century Romanticist movement in Britain, which glorified the ancient "Celtic" peoples of the Iron Age, the early Druids aimed to imitate the Iron Age priests who were also known as druids. At the time, little accurate information was known about these ancient priests, and the modern Druidic movement has no direct connection to them, despite contrary claims made by some modern Druids.
In the first half of the twentieth century, modern Druids developed fraternal organizations modeled on Freemasonry that employed the romantic figure of the British Druids and Bards as symbols of indigenous British spirituality. Some of these groups were purely fraternal and cultural, creating traditions from the national imagination of Britain. Others merged with contemporary movements such as the physical culture movement and naturism. Since the 1980s some modern druid groups have adopted similar methodologies to those of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism in an effort to create a more historically accurate practice. However, there is still controversy over how much resemblance modern Druidism may or may not have to the Iron Age druids.
- 1 Beliefs
- 2 Practices
- 3 History
- 4 Demographics
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Neo-Druidic beliefs vary widely, and there is no set dogma or belief system which all adherents follow. Indeed, it is a key component of many Druidic groups that there should not be strict dogmas. There is no central authority over the entire movement, nor any central religious text or religious leader. Core ideas shared by many Druids, according to Emma Restall Orr, the founder of The Druid Network, include "honouring of the ancestors and honouring of the land". Orr also commented that "Druidry connects with all the other Earth-ancestor traditions around the globe, such as the Native American, the Maori and Huna, the Aboriginal, the Romany and the indigenous spiritualities of Africa and Asia", a view supported by leading British Druid Philip Carr-Gomm.
Druidry largely revolves around the veneration of nature. Phil Ryder stated that "within Druidry, Nature is considered to be unconditionally sacred and an expression or manifestation of deity and divinity". Many Druids are animists. Most Druids see the aspects of nature as imbued with spirit or soul, whether literally or metaphorically. Some Druids consider animals and plants to be members, like the deities of the Celts, of a túath, or tribe and therefore honored. Celtic author J. A. MacCulloch wrote of this in depth in a book published in 1911 entitled Religion of the Ancient Celts.
Because they view the natural world as sacred, many Druids are involved in environmentalism, thereby acting to protect areas of the natural landscape that are under threat from development or pollution.
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The theology of the modern Druidic movement is inherently nature-based, equating divinity with the natural world. However, the specifics of Druidry have changed over the centuries, from a God-centred monotheistic tradition to a Goddess-centred polytheistic tradition.
When modern Druidry developed into a religion in Britain during the 18th century, the country was almost entirely Christian, with most of the populace still believing in a monotheistic god. Even by the end of the 19th century, Druidry was still being described as a "monotheistic philosophical tradition", but that later changed radically in the 20th century, with the burgeoning growth of the Pagan revivalist movement, as pagan Druids today worship a number of different gods and goddesses.
Neopagan theology and the Goddess
Some Druids, such as members of Ár nDraíocht Féin, are polytheists, worshipping many gods and goddesses, who "are worthy of respect, love and worship". These deities are commonly taken from historical Celtic polytheism, though can also come from other sources, such as Christianity. The goddess Danu gives her name to the family of Irish deities, which in the Gaelic is the Tuatha Dé Danann.
With the increase in Neopagan Druidry, and the widespread acceptance of Goddess worship, "The Druid's Prayer", which had been originally written in the 18th century by Druid Iolo Morganwg, had the word "God" replaced with "Goddess" in common usage.
Respect for the ancestors is another core belief for some Druids. This idea of respect for ancestors, or ancestor worship, is common in pagan folk religions. Revivalists and Reconstructionists agree that knowing as much as possible about the lives of our ancestors and preserving national or tribal heritage is important and good. Archaeological evidence does suggest that the ancient peoples of Britain, Ireland, and other parts of Europe practiced burial customs from which we infer particular respect for ancestors and probably a belief in life after death in some form.
The Druids' ancestor veneration generally focuses on the Iron Age "Celtic" peoples of western Europe, because these were the peoples amongst whom the ancient druids lived. This offers a connection to the Celts through a "blood link to a modern Celtic land or merely a soul allegiance". Some Druids, however — particularly those with no ethnic connection — do not emphasise such a Celtic link, and focus instead on other historical peoples, such as the Anglo-Saxons or the Norse.
Ancestor veneration leads many to object to the archaeological excavation of human remains and their subsequent display in museums. Many have organised campaigns for their reburial. For instance, in 2006, a neo-Druid called Paul Davies requested that the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury, Wiltshire rebury their human remains, and that storing and displaying them was "immoral and disrespectful". Criticism of this view has come from the archaeological community, with statements like "no single modern ethnic group or cult should be allowed to appropriate our ancestors for their own agendas. It is for the international scientific community to curate such remains."
Emma Restall Orr stated that "there is a general acceptance" of reincarnation amongst Druids, and that a soul can reincarnate into any species. However, Orr's claim that this is nearly universal among Druids is not supported; there is no discussion of the afterlife or reincarnation, for example, in the writings of the Reformed Druids of North America.
The practices of modern Druids typically take place outside, in the daylight, in what is described as "the eye of the sun". In some cases, they instead perform their rites indoors, or during the night. Most Druids perform ceremonies within a circle around an altar or central fire. Neo-druids often meet and practice in groups called variously "groves" or "henges." Sometimes they meet at stone circles and other megaliths which are pre-Celtic, but which since the romantic revival have been associated in the popular imagination with the ancient druids. At the Summer solstice, a Neo-druidic ritual is notably held at Stonehenge in England. Another particularly sacred place is Glastonbury in southern England. In parts of the world beyond the range of the original Celtic tribes in Europe and the pre-Celtic megalithic cultures, modern Druids seek an understanding of the sacred qualities of landscape and place.
When performing rituals, some modern Druids wear ceremonial cloaks and robes, which in some cases imitate the Iron Age style of the Celts. In some orders, robes or tabards of different colors are used to indicate the grade of the druid within the order. In the case of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the colors blue, green, and white are respectively assigned to these grades. Some modern Druids also use ritual staves, a symbolic magical instrument long associated with both Druids and wizards generally. Many modern Druids do not adopt any ceremonial garb.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the use of a ritual based on the sweat lodge became increasingly popular amongst some Neo-druids in Ireland and the U.K. The sweat lodge is a ceremony common to many Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It has been appropriated by some adherents of Neo-druidism who see sweats as "initiatory and regenerative opportunities to rededicate oneself to honouring the Earth and the community of life." However, Native Americans who preserve the sweat lodge ceremonies for their communities have protested the appropriation of the ceremony by non-Natives, increasingly so now that people have been injured, and some have died, in fraudulent sweat lodge ceremonies performed by non-Natives.
Arts and poetry
In Druidry, a specific ceremony takes place known as an Eisteddfod which is dedicated to the recitation of poetry and musical performances. Within the Druidic community, practitioners who are particularly skilled in their recitation of poetry or their performance of music are referred to as Bards, a term based upon the word bardoi, which the ancient Greek historian Strabo claimed was the term for poets in Iron Age Gaul. Bards perform at Eisteddfod at various occasions, from formal rituals to pub get-togethers and summer camps and environmental protests. Instruments commonly used by Druidic Bards include acoustic stringed instruments like the guitar and the clarsach, as well as the bodhran, bagpipe, rattle, flute and whistle. Academic Graham Harvey believed that these specific instruments were preferred by modern Druids because many of them were Irish in origin, and therefore gave a "Celtic flavour, seemingly invoking the Iron Age", the period during which the ancient druids lived.
Inspiration for poetry and other arts is known as Awen, and is believed to be a "flowing spirit" given by the Goddess which can be invoked by the Druid. In many Druidic rituals, Awen is invoked by either chanting the word "Awen" or "A-I-O" three times, in order to shift the consciousness of the participants involved.
Druids have participated in other musical genres and with more technological instruments, including the blues and rave music, and one British club, Megatripolis, opened with the performance of a Druidic ritual.
Amongst many Druids, there is a system of tree lore, through which different associations are attributed to different species of tree, including particular moods, actions, phases of life, deities and ancestors.
Most aherents of Neo-druidism observe eight spiritual festivals a year, which are collectively known as the Wheel of the Year. In some cases groups attempt to revive folkloric European festivals and their accompanying traditions. In other cases the rites are modern inventions, inspired by "the spirit of what they believe was the religious practice of pre-Roman Britain."
Four of these are solar festivals, being positioned at the solstices and equinoxes; these are largely inspired by Germanic paganism. The other four are the "Celtic" festivals, the crossquarter days inspired by modern interpretations of ancient Celtic polytheism. The idea of the Wheel of the Year was introduced into Druidry by Ross Nichols, who founded the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in 1964, and he had gained this idea from his friend Gerald Gardner, who had implemented it in his Bricket Wood coven of Gardnerian Witches in 1958.
|Festival||Northern Hemisphere||Southern Hemisphere||Historical Origins||Associations|
|Samhain||31 October||30 April, or 1 May||Celtic polytheism (see also Celts)||Death and the ancestors.|
|Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan||21 or 22 December||21 June||Germanic paganism||Winter Solstice and the rebirth of the sun.|
|Imbolc||1 or 2 February||1 August||Celtic polytheism||First signs of spring.|
|Spring Equinox, Alban Eilir||20 or 21 March||21 or 22 September||Germanic paganism||Spring Equinox and the beginning of spring.|
|Beltaine||30 April or 1 May||1 November||Celtic polytheism||The full flowering of spring.|
|Summer Solstice, Alban Hefin||21 or 22 June||21 December||Possibly Neolithic||Summer Solstice.|
|Lughnasadh||1 or 2 August||1 February||Celtic polytheism||Beginning of Harvest Season|
|Autumn Equinox, Alban Elfed||21 or 22 September||20 March||No historical pagan equivalent.||Autumn Equinox. The harvest & harvest of fruit.|
The Druidic movement originated amongst the Romanticist ideas of the ancient druids that had begun to be developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Whilst many Early Mediaeval writers, particularly in Ireland, had demonised the ancient druids as barbarians who had practiced human sacrifice and tried to suppress the coming of Christianity, certain Late Mediaeval writers had begun to extol what they believed were the virtues of the druids, and reinvented them as national heroes, particularly in Germany, France and Scotland. It was also during this period that Conrad Celtis had begun to propagate the image of the druids as having been bearded, wise old men wearing white robes, something that would prove highly influential in future centuries.
The image of the Iron Age druids as national heroes would later begin to emerge in England during the Early Modern period, with the antiquarian and Anglican vicar William Stukeley (1687–1765) proclaiming himself to be a "druid" and writing a number of popular books in which he claimed that prehistoric megaliths like Stonehenge and Avebury were temples built by the druids, something now known to be incorrect. Stukeley himself, being a devout but unorthodox Christian, felt that the ancient druids had been followers of a monotheistic faith very similar to Christianity, at one point even stating that ancient druidry was "so extremely like Christianity, that in effect, it differed from it only in this; they believe in a Messiah who was to come into the world, as we believe in him that is come".
Soon after the publication and spread of Stukeley's writings, other people also began to self-describe themselves as "druids" and form societies: the earliest of these was the Druidic Society, founded on the Welsh island of Anglesey in 1772. Largely revolving around ensuring the continued financial success of business on the island, it attracted many of Anglesey's wealthy inhabitants into it, and donated much of its proceeds to charity, but was disbanded in 1844. A similar Welsh group was the Society of the Druids of Cardigan, founded circa 1779, largely by a group of friends who wished to attend "literary picnics" together. The third British group to call itself Druidic was English rather than Welsh, and was known as the Ancient Order of Druids. Founded in 1781 and influenced by Freemasonry, its origins have remained somewhat unknown, but it subsequently spread in popularity from its base in London across much of Britain and even abroad, with new lodges being founded, all of which were under the control of the central Grand Lodge in London. The Order was not religious in structure, and instead acted as somewhat of a social club, particularly for men with a common interest in music. In 1833 it suffered a schism, as a large number of dissenting lodges, unhappy at the management of the Order, formed their own United Ancient Order of Druids, and both groups would go on to grow in popularity throughout the rest of the century.
Development of religious Druidry
None of the earliest modern Druidic groups had been religious in structure; however, this was to change in the late 18th century, primarily because of the work of a Welshman who took the name of Iolo Morganwg (1747–1826). Born as Edward Williams, he would take up the cause of Welsh nationalism, and was deeply opposed to the British monarchy, supporting many of the ideals of the French revolution which had occurred in 1789. Eventually moving to London, he began perpetuating the claim that he was actually one of the last initiates of a surviving group of druids who were descended from those found in the Iron Age, centred on his home county of Glamorgan. He subsequently organised the performing of Neo-druidic rituals on Primrose Hill with some of his followers, whom he categorised as either Bards or Ovates, with he himself being the only one actually categorised as a Druid. He himself practiced a form of religion which he believed the ancient druids had, which involved the worship of a singular monotheistic deity as well as the acceptance of reincarnation.
Morganwg's example was taken up by other Welshmen in the 19th century, who continued to promote religious forms of Druidry. The most prominent figure in this was William Price (1800–1893), a physician who held to several radical ideas at the time, such as vegetarianism and the political Chartist movement. His promotion of cremation and open practice of it led to his arrest and trial, but he was acquitted, achieving a level of fame throughout Britain. He would declare himself to be a Druid, and would do much to promote the return of what he believed was an ancient religion in his country.
In 1874, Robert Wentworth Little, a Freemason who achieved notoriety as the first Supreme Magus of the occult Societas Rosicruciana, allegedly founded the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids, which, like the Societas Rosicruciana, was an esoteric organisation. Meanwhile, at the start of the 20th century, Druidic groups began holding their ceremonies at the great megalithic monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England: the historian Ronald Hutton would later remark that "it was a great, and potentially uncomfortable, irony that modern Druids had arrived at Stonehenge just as archaeologists were evicting the ancient Druids from it" as they realised that the structure dated from the Neolithic and early Bronze Age, millennia before the Iron Age, when the druids first appear in the historical record.
Neopagan Druidry in Britain
The most important figure for the rise of Neopagan Druidry in Britain was Ross Nichols. A member of The Druid Order, in 1964 he split off to found the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). In 1988 Philip Carr-Gomm was asked to lead the Order.
Another significant figure in the British Neopagan Druidic movement is Emma Restall Orr (1965-), who was a senior member of OBOD. In 1993 she became joint chief of the British Druid Order (BDO) staying until 2002. Together with the Order founder Philip Shallcrass, she developed the BDO into one of the largest and most influential of its time. Feeling the system of Orders too limiting, in 2002 she created The Druid Network, which was officially launched at Imbolc 2003.
Druidry in North America
The earliest American Druid organizations were fraternal orders such as the United Ancient Order of Druids and the American Order of Druids. The former was a branch of a British organization that had split from the Ancient Order of Druids, while the latter was founded in Massachusetts in 1888. Both were forms of fraternal benefit societies rather than religious or neo-pagan groups.
In 1963, the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) was founded by students at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, a liberal arts college that required its members to attend some form of religious services. As a form of humorous protest against this rule, a group of students, who contained Christians, Jews and agnostics within their ranks, decided to create their own, non-serious religious group. Their protest was successful, and the requirement was scrapped in 1964. Nonetheless, the group continued holding services, which were not considered Neopagan by most members, but instead thought of an inter-religious nature. From its beginning, the RDNA revolved around the veneration of the natural world, personified as Mother Earth, holding that religious truth could be found through nature. They had also adopted other elements of Neopaganism into their practices, for instance celebrating the festivals of the Wheel of the Year, which they had borrowed from the Neopagan religion of Wicca.
Whilst the RDNA had become a success, with new branches or "groves" being founded around the United States, the many Neopagan elements of the RDNA eventually rose to prominence, leading several groves to actively describe themselves as Neopagan. This was opposed by several of the group's founders, who wanted it to retain its inter-religious origins, and certain groves actually emphasized their connection to other religions: there was a group of Zen Druids in Olympia and Hassidic Druids in St. Louis for instance. Amongst those largely responsible for this transition towards Neopaganism within the organisation were Isaac Bonewits and Robert Larson, who worked in a grove located in Berkeley, California. Believing that the Reformed Druidic movement would have to accept that it was essentially Neopagan in nature, Bonewits decided to found a split-off group known as the New Reformed Druids of North America (NRDNA), which he defined as an "Eclectic Reconstructionist Neo-Pagan Priestcraft, based primarily upon Gaulish and Celtic sources".
Bonewits still felt that many in the RDNA were hostile towards him, believing that he had infiltrated their group, and so in 1985 he founded a new, explicitly Neopagan Druidic group, Ár nDraíocht Féin (Our Own Druidism; a.k.a. ADF) and began publishing a journal, The Druid's Progress. Arguing that it should draw from pan-European sources, rather than just those that were considered "Celtic", he placed an emphasis on academic and scholarly accuracy, taking a stand against what he perceived as the prevalent pseudo-historical ideas of many Neopagans and Druids. In 1986, several members of Ár nDraíocht Féin openly criticized Bonewits for his pan-European approach, wishing modern Druidism to be inspired purely by Celtic sources, and so they splintered off to form a group called the Henge of Keltria.
On November 1, 1980, Gwenc’hlan Le Scouëzec became the "Grand Druid of Brittany", at the head of Goursez Breizh, the "Fraternity of Druids, Bards and Ovates of Brittany", founded in 1908. Gwenc'hlan is sometimes also considered the "Grand Druid" of France. The Italian Druid Order founded in 2009 and affiliated to the English Order Of Bards Ovates and Druids
The 2001 UK Census was the first to ask a voluntary question about religion. The results did not allow an accurate breakdown of traditions within the Pagan heading, as a campaign by the Pagan Federation before the census encouraged Wiccans, Heathens, Druids and others all to use the same write-in term 'Pagan' in order to maximise the numbers reported. Nevertheless 1,657 people in the UK described themselves as "Druid" in 2001. The 2011 census allowed for more accurate responses. The figures for England and Wales show that 4,189 people described themselves as "Druid".:
- A Reformed Druid Anthology.
- Orr 2000.
- Nichols 1990.
- Harvey 2007. p. 17.
- Orr 2000. p. 07.
- "Modern Druids have no direct connection to the Druids of the Iron Age. Many of our popular ideas about the Druids are based on the misunderstandings and misconceptions of scholars 200 years ago. These ideas have been superseded by later study and discoveries.." 
- Bonewits 2006. pp. 128-140.
- Harvey 2007. p. 30.
- Orr 2000. p. 09.
- Orr 2000. p. 08.
- Carr-Gomm 1990. p. 09.
- Ryder, Phil. "The Sacredness of Nature".
- MacCulloch, J. A. (1911). The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK. pp. 3–5.
- Orr 2000. p. 32.
- Harvey 2007. pp. 31-32.
- Harvey 2007. p. 34.
- ADF (.org).
- Orr 2000. p. 28.
- Orr 2000. p. 26.
- Orr 2000. p. 29.
- "Consultation on ancient human remains ends Jan 31". British Archaeology (104). 2009.
- "Letters: Human Remains". British Archaeology (105). 2009.
- Harvey 2007. p. 20.
- Harvey 2007. pp. 26-27.
- Taliman, Valerie (13 October 2009), Selling the sacred, Indian Country Today
- Herel, Suzanne (2002-06-27). "2 seeking spiritual enlightenment die in new-age sweat lodge". San Francisco Chronicle (Hearst Communications). Retrieved 2006-09-26.
- Goulais, Bob (2009-10-24). "Editorial: Dying to experience native ceremonies". North Bay Nugget.
- Hocker, Lindsay. "Sweat lodge incident 'not our Indian way'", Quad-Cities Online, 14 October 2009.
- Harvey 2007. p. 22.
- Strabo. Geographica. IV.4.4-5.
- Harvey 2007. p. 21.
- Harvey 2007. pp. 23-24.
- Harvey 2007. p. 25.
- Harvey 2007. p. 23.
- Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcraft, W. Michael (2006). Introduction to new and alternative religions in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-275-98713-2.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 49-55.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 86-102.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 130-131.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 131-132.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 132-143.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 146-182.
- Hutton 2009. pp. 253-286.
- Hutton 2009. p. 343.
- Hutton 2009. p. 323.
- Witches, Druids and King Arthur, by Ronald Hutton, ISBN 1-85285-555-X.
- interview (Avalonia).
- Alvin J. Schmidt Fraternal Orders (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press), 1930, pp.93-4
- Adler 2006. pp. 337-339.
- Adler 2006. p. 340.
- Adler 2006. p. 341.
- Clifton 2006. pp. 156-157.
- Trinity ARIS 2008; Trinity ARIS 2001
- The Everything Paganism Book, Selene Silverwind - 2011
- Office for National Statistics, 11 December 2012, 2011 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities in England and Wales. Accessed 12 December 2012.
- "Druidry to be classed as religion by Charity Commission". BBC News Online. 2010-10-02. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
- "The Druid Network - Decision made on 21 September 2010" (pdf). Charity Commission for England and Wales. 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
- Academic books
- Adler, Margot (2006). Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America (revised edition). London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303819-1.
- Clifton, Chas S. (2006). Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Oxford and Lanham: Altamira. ISBN 978-0-7591-0202-6.
- Graham Harvey (2007). Listening People, Speaking Earth: Contemporary Paganism (second edition). London: Hurst & Company. ISBN 978-1-85065-272-4.
- Hutton, Ronald (2009). Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-14485-7.
- MacCulloch, J.A. (1911). The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
- Books by Neo-druids
- Bonewits, Isaac (2006). Bonewit's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York: Kensington Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8065-2710-2.
- Carr-Gomm, Philip (1990). "Foreword" to The Book of Druidry (Nichols, Ross). Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-900-X.
- Orr, Emma Restall (2000). Druidry. Hammersmith, London: Thorsons. ISBN 978-0-00-710336-2.
- Nichols, Ross (1990). The Book of Druidry. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-900-X.