Reformed Druids of North America
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The Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) is an American Neo-Druidic organization. It was formed in 1963 at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota as a humorous protest against the college's required attendance of religious services. This original congregation is called the Carleton Grove, sometimes the Mother Grove. There are over 40 groves and proto-groves of the RDNA throughout the United States and Canada. As of 2005 there were approximately 400 grove members, between 2500 and 4000 Druids, and about 100 priests and priestesses.
A liberal arts college, Carleton had been founded by the Congregational Church, but by the 1960s had become a non-denominational institution. Nonetheless, it still held a rule that "attendance is required at the College Service of Worship or at the Sunday Evening Program or at any regularly organized service of public worship." A number of students, including David Fisher, David Frangquist, Howard Cherniack, Jan Johnson and Norman Nelson believed that this rule was unnecessary, and as a form of protest decided to form their own religious group rather than attend any of the already existing ones. Thus they created the RDNA, having meetings near the athletic fields on the college grounds, and filled in this information on their obligatory 'chapel slips'. As Nelson remarked, "The sole motive was to protest the requirement, not to try for alternatives for worship… There was never any intention to mock any religion; it was not intended that RDNA should compete with or supplant any faith. We tried to write a service which could be attended 'in good faith' by anyone."
The RDNA believed that the college authorities would have to accept theirs as a valid form of worship, and that if they didn't then they would be guilty of hypocrisy. The dean of men did nothing, choosing to ignore the group, neither accepting their chapel slips nor taking disciplinary action against them. The dean of women on the other hand chose to accept the chapel slips submitted by the two female members of the RDNA. In 1964, the college abolished the rule requiring the attendance of religious services, and the college's President Nason and his wife actually chose to attend the final RDNA ceremony of that academic year. Nason failed to point out that the consumption of whiskey was a part of the rite despite the fact that the consumption of alcoholic drinks was against the college rules.
After extended discussion with the Druids, the college recognized that its position was untenable, and, in part because of the challenge from the Druids, the religious requirement was dropped in June, 1964. But in creating an effective vehicle to challenge the requirement, the founders had unwittingly fostered an environment for spiritual exploration that many found rewarding. For many Druids the movement had come to represent a valuable part of their spiritual lives, and the founders were stunned to discover that the demand for Druid services continued even after the college requirement disappeared.
Reformed Druidism emphasizes its lack of institutionalized dogma. Each Druid is required only to adopt these basic tenets:
- One of the many ways in which the object of Man’s search for religious truth can be found is through Nature.
- Nature, being one of the primary concerns in Man’s life and struggle, and being one of the objects of Creation, is important to Man’s spiritual quests.
The original group were not Neo-Pagan — most identified themselves as Jewish, Christian, agnostic, atheist, Marxist or as members of other faiths — and the movement still includes many who do not consider themselves Neo-Pagan.
Chas S. Clifton, an academic scholar of Neopaganism, made several suggestions as to where the early RDNA founders may have got their ideas about Druidry from, noting that there were British Druid groups such as the Ancient Druid Order operating at the time, who held annual ceremonies at the megalithic monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, attracting much media attention. Accompanying this, there were ideas about the ancient druids to be found in the "American literary consciousness", where they appeared as guardians of the natural world in the Romanticist poetry of Philip Freneau.
Clifton's speculations are in contrast to the actual motivations for Reformed Druidism. In fact, at a meeting in Fisher's dormitory room about the religious requirement, Cherniack volunteered that his family had always responded to questions about religion by claiming to be Druids, and the group adopted this moniker. When someone pointed out that none of the group knew anything at all about Druids, the suggestion quickly arose that the new group call itself The Reformed Druids of North America, so it could create tenets and rituals out of whole cloth without having to know or care anything about any previous Druids.
In accord with the Basic Tenets, Reformed Druid worship is directed toward Nature. Services involve gathering in a wooded place periodically (the original group met weekly during warm weather) and on the festival days of Northern European Pagan tradition. Services typically include:
- The ritual consumption of "spirits" (Scotch whisky blended with water), called "the Waters-of-Life".
- The singing of religious songs.
- The performance of ceremonial chanting.
- Prayers and meditations.
The written liturgy calls for a "sacrifice of life". An early disagreement, recounted in The Druid Chronicles, was resolved by limiting the sacrifice to plant life, whence the term "Reformed" was adopted as part of the group's name.
According to ancient Druid custom, the officiating Druids, and others who so wish, traditionally wear long white robes, the robe of the Arch-Druid having a distinctive decoration or color. The Waters-of-Life are usually passed to all present as a symbol of the link man has with Nature. Incantation recalling ancient Celtic mythology is also used. In order to focus attention on Nature, various aspects of it retain the names of corresponding Celtic gods and goddesses. For example:
- Dalon Ap Landu – the grove
- Grannos – healing springs
- Braciaca – malt
- Belenos – the sun
- Sirona – rivers
- Taranis – thunder and lightning
- Llyr- the sea
- Danu – fertility
Druid festivals correspond to the important dates of the old Celtic year. Celebration begins at sundown the previous evening, and may include feasts, bonfires, and revelry appropriate to the season. The RDNA also adopted the ancient Germanic fire days, or solstice festivals.
Season of Geimredh (Winter)
Season of Earrach (Spring)
Season of Samradh (Summer)
Season of Foghamhar (Fall)
(The original group, and The Druid Chronicles, did not include the equinoxes — for which there is little evidence in ancient Northern European tradition — but they are now observed by many Reformed Druids.)
The phases of the moon are also followed closely, but in practice rarely celebrated in a liturgical manner, except by modern groves with a neopagan focus or women's mysteries. Projects are started on a waxing moon and completed on a waning moon. The night of the full moon is considered a time of rejoicing; while the night of the new moon is a solemn occasion, calling for vigils and meditation.
A great majority of the followers of Reformed Druidism are not currently in a group, especially with the advent of information on the internet. There are two types of groups within the RDNA: groves and proto-groves. A grove is a group of Druids who have been established, usually at least three members, and who have a third order Druid as their Arch-Druid. The Carleton grove established the tradition of three officers (though this structure is not mandatory):
- Arch-Druid, a third order priest, to direct worship;
- Preceptor, a second order Druid, to handle business matters;
- Server, a first order Druid to assist the Arch-Druid.
A proto-grove is a beginning grove that has no third order Druid; these are typically smaller than a regular grove.
To become a first order Druid, a person must partake of the Waters-of-Life, and affirm their acceptance of the Basic Tenets. To become a second order Druid, one must pledge themselves to the service of the RDNA, as well as have an understanding of basic Druidism. To become a third order priest, one must dedicate oneself to a life of Druidic inquiry, starting with an all-night, outdoor vigil.
All three of the main orders are bestowed by an ordination script which is inserted within a regular liturgy. The affirmation of the two tenets and partaking of the waters is the script for the first ordination, often followed by tracing the Druid Sigil on their forehead by the Arch Druid. The second ordination poses a series of questions about the waters-of-life, followed by an ordeal of a large drink of the waters-of-life. The third ordination normally follows a period of tutelage, a vigil, and a sunrise ceremony in which the ordainer passes on the apostolic succession and assists in the new priest's first consecration of the waters-of-life. In cases of undue geographic isolation, such ordinations have occurred by telephone or proxy. Ordinations traditionally occur during the Season of Life, between Beltane and Samhain, emergencies excepted.
Higher orders of the priesthood (up to the tenth) recognize outstanding insight and dedication over a period of time. They are similar to academic degrees in that they represent recognition of personal achievement, but carry no special authority. Each order of the priesthood is dedicated to one of the eight aspects of Nature. As of 1967 only the fourth through seventh were completed.
Council of Dalon Ap Landu
The Council of Dalon ap Landu is the collective body of all Third Order Druids, chaired by the Arch-Druid of Carleton. In it rests the legislative authority of the movement. From 1964 to 1981, several proposals were considered by the Council, which by tradition has operated by consensus. The last passing resolution, in 1971, unequivocally gave equal status to female and male Druids in the Third Order and higher orders.
Early tradition, as noted in The Druid Chronicles, had originally restricted voting to men, and limited the number of orders a woman could belong to.
The first woman (Dannie Hotz) was ordained to the Third and Fourth Orders in 1965, when Priestesses gained the right o become Arch-Druids, Vigil unto the Third Order, and to officiate services. This was again clarified by a vote in 1966.
Women incrementally increased their authority and liberty between 1964 and 1970, and women did vote before 1971. The Council of Dalon Ap Landu was led by a woman 1968-1969, since Marta Peck was the first Archdruidess of Carleton. After 3 years of discussion, the 1971 decision was passed unanimously by male voters, acknowledging de facto changes and removing any distinction based on gender.
Women constitute currently about 40% of the historical membership of the priesthood and Archdruidcies.
During the Isaac Affair of 1974–1977, disagreement over the future of the Reform led to several split votes, which led to schisms, new Councils, and the end of the practical use of the Council of Dalon Ap Landu, due to the rising number of priests, the difficult logistics of voting, and the tradition of consensus. The Council of DAL remains in existence, but is effectively in permanent abeyance, acting both as a rhetorical muse to address in letters, and as a brake on any further organization of the Reform on a national level.
On a superficial level, it might now seem that the purpose of Reformed Druidism is merely to delve into the strange customs and rituals of the ancient Celts, and to have some fun doing it, and also to serve as a new and different type of protest movement. But, on deeper examination of the RDNA, it might be said to have an important purpose:
- In communing with Nature, it seeks to promote a spirit of meditation and introspection, aimed ultimately at awareness of religious truth.
- It encourages all to seek their own spiritual path through active engagement.
In 1966, Robert Larson, an ordained priest of the original Carleton Grove, moved to Berkeley, California, where he and Isaac Bonewits founded a small Druidic group with connections to various wiccan covens, and groups which practiced ceremonial magic. This became known as the Berkeley Grove.
In the mid-1970s, Bonewits sought to recast the RDNA as a Neo-Pagan organization with substantially more organizational machinery; but this met with resistance from several Druids from the Carleton Grove, which had never identified as Neo-Pagan, and saw no point in the organizational innovations. Several groves subsequently broke off to form "Branches" of Reformed Druidism. From the RDNA, in 1976, a new order formed called the New RDNA (NRDNA), which organized under a Council of Arch-Druids, specifically to have a national body more responsive than the Council of Dalon Ap Landu. Some NRDNA groves wanted to restrict membership to Neo-Pagans, and experiment with changes to ritual and the structure of their groves; these became the Schismatic Druids of North America (SDNA). Groves not participating in these changes or schisms were, by default, considered the RDNA. The definition of "Reformed Druidism" stretched to include these variants, not just the RDNA, but the NRDNA, SDNA, and independent folk who just believed in the Basic Tenets.
Each of these branches generally followed the same ordination formula for First through Third Orders; members of each branch would enter Higher Orders too. Any Third Order member of any Branch was still a member of the original Council of Dalon Ap Landu; but this Council had already stopped functioning for practical purposes. Other means of interaction between Groves were devised, but they also faded away.
Many members of the SDNA groves left in the 1980s to form the Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), taking a few lessons from Reformed Druidism with them—notably the Waters of Life, an RDNA invention. Currently, in most RDNA and NRDNA groves, members can belong to any or no religion; and due to the emphasis on Grove autonomy, and resulting Grove diversity, there is now little to distinguish between RDNA and NRDNA.
Today Ár nDraíocht Féin has groves present across the United States, in Canada, and in some other countries. There is also another group which was an offshoot from ADF and considers its lineage to come from the Reformed Druids, the Henge of Keltria. They also have various groves and groups around North America.
The most recent branch of the Reform Druids are the Reformed Druids of Gaia (RDG) in November 2006 that was founded by members from a side-order known as the Order of Mithril Star (OMS) which began in 2003. OMS was inspired by thoughts and practices of the Church of All Worlds and the novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Many members of RDG today do not ascribe to the customs of OMS anymore. RDG derives its priestly linneage from Cerridwen in 2006, they have different ordination procedures, study program and ordination rites. As a result, the branch of the RDG and the branches of RDNA/NRDNA do not officially recognize each other's ordinations, although each forms similar roles, and respectful interaction and collaboration occurs. The RDG has greater central organization, systemized membership fees, study materials, a separate majority vote law code by the Third Order, and don't observe a season of sleep between Samhain and Beltane. The RDG's liturgies resemble those of the RDNA & NRDNA, and members often refer to the historical ARDA 2 collection of Reformed Druid materials that continued up to 2005. RDG has over 400 members and 35 priests and 20 groves. Interaction between the RDG and RDNA and NRDNA is very frequent and often cordial with some cross-over membership, although separate social media, websites and newsletters have given them somewhat distinct senses of identity.
Until 1983, except for a few fraternal Druid organizations with branches in the USA, Reformed Druidism was really the only publicly known type of neo-druidism in America. ADF provided a training program for Neo-Pagan Druids interested in Indo-European religious concepts, a strong central church-like structure, a liturgical formula, and a great number of council and rules.
The RDNA has provided a similar niche for laid-back, disorganized, eclectic Druidism with a vague philosophical/religious outlook that closes parallels the niche of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) in Europe, which was founded in 1964. Little interaction is believed to have occurred between the RDNA and OBOD before the late 1990s, each isolate evolving in parallel.
Over the years, many aspiring Druids joined ADF, borrowed some ideas and produced dozens of new groups of their own. Henge of Kelria was the largest offshoot, when this group split off for reasons of protest over training programs, charges of ineptitude, and a preference for only Celtic sources of inspiration.
Similarly, the Order of Whiteoak borrowed material from ADF, RDNA, and Keltra, but produced primarily a core of material based on their own research.
While Reformed Druids are considered the least organized and most playful Druids, their literature is perhaps the more extensively produced and archived of any modern Druid group in America. It is estimated that it would take 100 full days to read through the 7000 pages of the whole genre. Despite the sheer volume, it is quite possible and common for prominent members to participate actively in a Grove or a conference for years without having read more than a few dozen pages, as the oral and living traditions are also quite vital and nuanced.
The written traditions were mostly composed by members of the Third Order priesthood, but the writers do not claim divine inspiration. An understanding or agreement with the written material is generally not required for any office or ordination, but is more commonly browsed by members entering the second or higher orders, or when assuming office responsibilities in a Grove.
The literature is notably non-dogmatic, eclectic, leaning towards philosophic rather than magic in focus, and often written "tongue-in-cheek", with authors tending to poke fun at themselves. Reformed Druidic literature has been an almost entirely open literature, unlike many fraternal or mystical Druid organizations that restrict material to initiates. Most earlier publications were limited in distribution, primarily by the cost of publication in the 1960s and 1970s, but available upon request.
While generally well-researched and crafted, Reformed Druidic materials are not intended as serious academic works, and are intended for its own audience. Except of a few pamphlets, these materials have not been used for proselytizing. Despite the Reformed Druids' lack of missionary impulse, many of the literary traits from Reformed Druidism were transferred to later groups that trace their origins to the RDNA. This is due in large part to the influence of Isaac Bonewits' fervent missionary and publishing efforts in newsletters, member guides, seminary materials and popular books from 1971-2010.
The literature of the major works have various distinct genres, including; the writing of epistles, drafting liturgies, collecting materials for meditative use, historiography, calendar and protocol guides, research tracts on modern and ancient Druidry, council records, oral histories, local event chronographies, teaching guides for new members, recruitment materials, terminology references, bardic material collections, and even game design.
In addition to the major printed collections that have grown exponentially larger every decade, several newsletters and magazines have been published, websites and talk groups have held online since the early 1990s. In other media, members of the Reform has produced full-length movies, albums, and an animated series.
Members of the Reformed Druid priesthood (such as Isaac Bonewits and more recently, John Michael Greer) have published short stories, novels, several books on religion, including modern Druidism, even though those works are not directly related to Reformed Druidism.
- 1964 The Druid Chronicles (Reformed)
- 1976 The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) (first edition)
- 1982 Druid Compendium (project aborted when ADF founded)
- 1996 A Reformed Druid Anthology
- 2004 The Carleton Druid Collection
- 2004 The Druid Chronicles (Evolved), third edition
- 2004 A Reformed Druid Anthology 2 (Main Volume)
- 2005 A Reformed Druid Anthology 2 (Green Books Volume)
- 2005 A Reformed Druid Anthology 2 (Magazines Volume).
- 2009 Unofficial Welcome Pamphlet (first edition)
- 2010 The Druid's Path (first edition)
- 1966 Black Book of Liturgy
- 1966 Green Book of Meditations (first edition)
- 1974 Green Book of Meditations (second edition)
- 1994 Orange Book of Apocrypha
- 1977-1981 The Druid Chronicler
- 1978-1981 The Pentalpha Journal
- 1982-1991 A Druid Missal-Any
- 1994 News from the Hill of Three Oaks
- 1994 The Standing Stone
- 2000-2008 A Druid Missal-Any
- 2003-2012 The Druid's Egg
- 2008–Present The Druid Inquirer
- 1995 Gatorr: The Fighting Rabbit
- 2011–2012 Desperate Druids, a webseries
- Tyson 1992. p. 153.
- Clifton 2006. p. 152.
- Clifton 2006. pp. 152-153.
- Clifton 2006. p. 153.
- Clifton 2006. p. 153.
- Clifton 2006. p. 153.
- Clifton 2006. pp. 153-154.
- Tyson 1992. p. 153.
- Bonewits 2006, p. 89
- Clifton 2006. p. 153.
- Personal recollection, Howard Cherniack
- RDNA liturgy
- The Druid Chronicles
- Druidic Groups and Information Sources, retrieved 12 February 2011.
- 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.
- Bonewits, Isaac (2006). Bonewit's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York: Kensington Publishing Group. pp. 84–106. ISBN 0-8065-2710-2.
- 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.
- Tyson, Donald (1992). Ritual Magic: What It Is & How To Do It. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-87542-835-2.
- Reformed Druid Anthology: Chronicles of the Foundation
- Reformed Druid Anthology: Books of the Apocrypha
- Reformed Druid Anthology: Books of the Liturgy