Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wherein I Digress ... A Lot

Wow. When I noted here on my blog that "I belong to two Druid orders" in a list of personal trivia items, I had no idea that there would be so much response and curiosity from people who read the post. Because I've done a few of these little awards that require the publication of these lists, I was running out of even marginally interesting factoids. This apparently was an interesting one. Who knew? Since I am not sure whether folks want to know about Druidism generally or my interest in the discipline specifically, I'll address both as succinctly as I can.

There's a lot to say about contemporary Druidism. There excellent books on the subject and dumb ones, and a lot of places to find out about it, but I think just an attempt at the basics will satisfy curiosity here.

To begin with, I want to point out that Rowan Williams, a recent and former Archbishop of Canterbury, is a member of a Welsh Druid order, his designation part of the Gorsedd of Bards. As is Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family because of their special connection to Wales. Their induction was into a cultural and social order, promoting the preservation and development of the Welsh language and cultural traditions.

Princess Elizabeth, 1946 Glamorgan, Wales

Although this order dates from the Celtic Revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, it's survived as one of the oldest of the many contemporary groups that seek to make a modern connection with the ancient Iron Age social and spiritual structures that defined Druidism. There has been lots of interest from the children of the Celtic diaspora. In the US, one of the first organized attempts began with students at Carleton College who, in 1963, established the RDNA (The Reformed Druids of North America) as a Monty Python-esque political response to a requirement that students attend regular religious services. The idea evolved into something more serious minded, and the RDNA is still around with some 400 groves (affiliated groups) and as many as 4000 self-identified Druids. The Wikipedia entry on Druidism says that " According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), there are approximately 30,000 Druids in the United States. There are approximately 50,000 Druids worldwide." These figures come from their2001 survey.

And before I go much further, I also need to point out that the image of a Gandalf-class wizard with blue fire springing from his fingertips has nothing at all to do with the practice of contemporary Druidism. This figure now belongs in cos-play and gaming and epic sci-fantasy fiction, although he has his origins in Celtic folklore and mythology.

In a big, fat, seriously oversimplified nutshell, the ancient Druids were the functionaries of the educated classes of the cultures that spoke the Celtic languages. Those languages evolved in parts of the ancient world that are now continental Europe and the British isles. Where there were Celts, there were Druids. They were the teachers, judges, lawyers, priests, politicians, poets, musicians, storytellers, historians and other intelligentsia of their tribes. We know precious little first-hand information about them because, while many were literate and could read and write in Greek and Latin, they did not leave written records of their own. The corpus of written history comes primarily from the Roman records of their occupation of Britain and the parts of conquered Europe inhabited by the Celtic tribes. Essentially, they are reports about the vanquished by the victors, and have to be approached with care. We have other information from remnants of oral tradition and folk tales, and most interestingly to me, the early medieval records of very ancient Irish Brehon law. We have educated assumptions based on archeology, anthropology and linguistics. However, there is no direct, unbroken connection between Iron Age Celts and modern Druidism. No matter how much people would like there to be one, there just isn't. It is a part of a repeating revival of interest in all things Celtic, and a deliberate effort has been made to reconstruct the essence of the real thing.

Today, modern Druidism is as varied as the groups and individuals who claim it as a philosophical or spiritual pursuit, or both. It can be practiced in highly stratified orders, or small casually organized groups or it can be an individual pursuit. It is one of the rare spiritual disciplines that has connections with both Christianity and the neo-pagan belief systems of the Western World, and has acknowleged roots in early Indo-European religions.

To further oversimplify using the time-honored nutshell method; here are some of the primary ideas understood and accepted by most Druids and Druid organizations:

A highly valued relationship with the natural world, and by extension all our primary human relationships, an understanding of the connectedness of everything. Most Druids consider the relationship to the Land as primary sacred concept, and are consequently concerned in some way with environmental issues. From this understanding of the natural world flows the more poetic approach to life and death, ancient beliefs in reincarnation, rebirth and renewal, and the idea of otherworlds.
Druids are universally tree lovers.

Seasonal festivals
There are four major celebrations inspired by ancient agricultural festivals, the seasons of nature and survival ... this is one area that is more or less traceable to actual practices. There are four more dictated by solar and lunar events that are sometimes included in modern tradition, but not viewed as historically likely. Not all are celebrated universally.

Values, Virtues and Ethics
Druidism places high value on the virtues of truth, wisdom, honor, courage, personal responsibility, integrity, self-knowledge, hospitality, friendship, generosity, and creativity. Especially creativity, which is honored within the concept of "Awen," the divine fire of inspiration.

Ancestors are venerated. That extends to intellectual or artistic lineages and inspirators. Family and community are valued, but those ideas are not limited to only the most traditional versions. There are lots of ways to experience family through Druidism.

Theology (a discussion that is just too big to be tackled here ...)
But, on the subject of deity, I can say that Druidism acknowledges monotheism, polytheism, all the isms. Or none of them, and there are lots of Druidy types who are not religious at all and regard their practice as pure philosophy.
(A personal note on one of the reasons I appreciate Druid theology; Druidism is non-dogmatic. Philip Carr-Gomm, a well respected author closely associated with The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) was right when he wrote; “most Druids are keen to avoid the problems caused by dictating a morality to others.” (What Do Druids Believe? p. 59.) Consequently, there is no proselytizing by modern Druids. I particularly like that. )

Most believe in gravity and the scientific method.
There is an acknowledged value attached to any honest pursuit of knowledge, the attainment of education, scholarship and academic excellence. Critical thinking is valued as well as creativity.


This last virtue brings me to my personal response to Druidism. It is important to me that my spiritual life is able to exist comfortably with my intellectual life. Contemporary Druidism allows that. Druidism is not a received and revealed religion, and there is no sacred text to define it's parameters. But it is an inspired response to some of the cultural values that were likely part of the lives of my own ancestors and now resonate with my own life in the modern world. The Druids of the Iron Age Celtic tribes were the stewards of all that we now define as civilization. It was their job to seek order, justice and peace and to promote reason, beauty and spirituality within a warrior culture. The intellectual legacy of ancient Druidism belongs not only to men but to women as well, who we know participated in these important civil functions and public life more fully than elsewhere in the classical world. I'm drawn to Druidism's beauty, and I practice the elements of it that give me the most satisfaction.

Modern Druidism is a system of many uses for me, inspired by ideals that can be thoughtfully and happily applied to my personal life and my response to the world around me. The idea isn't to try to act as an ancient druid in a modern time, or impose the culture of ancients on our own era. It is to approach the above values and virtues with an evolved understanding and then apply them to the issues that we face in a modern world.

I belong to the moderately-sized but international Order of the White Oak (Ord na Darach Gile) and to the very small Triskele Oaks Grove, a small independent group. Beyond that, I'm pretty much a garden variety contemporary Druidess. Any more than that, I only feel comfortable keeping to myself or sharing with those who love me and therefore have to put up with me.

If you have other questions that you'd like me to address, you can reach me through my email address: kelts at centurytel dot net.


  1. As a life long tree hugger and oft proclaimed nature girl I am happy to know that there is an actual contemporary organization dedicated to this type of philosophy. I believed that it was nothing more than sweet greetings of fellow hikers passed on a trail or knowing glances in the big bin section of the health food store. You must have Loved living in Alaska! This was so interesting. Thanks, Jan.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this Jan. Just curious, are you of Irish heritage that made you intrigue by this?


  3. Come to the UK on midsummer's eve - I've always wanted to sit with the Druids at Stonehenge but none of my friends will play! xxx

  4. So interesting. Thanks for sharing.


  5. I have been to stonehenge, and if i remember it would have been the druids practicing there? Thanks for more complete background, Jan. i have wondered about modern druids actually. Xoxo

  6. Very interesting Jan, thanks for sharing this with me. I can relate to so much of what you describe here. Can't help but mention this on this post. My mother's maiden name was Graham. Who knows we might be related!

    blue hue wonderland

  7. Jan this was fascinating! Though I failed to comment on your last posts the factoid about the druid orders was the one that piqued my curiosity the most, so thank you for sharing was is actually a very personal part of you. Who knew the Queen was a member of a druid order? I certainly didn't. I come away from your blog as ever newly educated and stuffed with interesting food for thought. The druid values and philosophy you've described seem very sound to me - and holistic too - I like that they value creativity as well as the scientific method.

  8. My goodness, you are much more than a pretty face. I already discovered a little bit when you reveiled your art accomplishments. But this explanation makes me ashamed of my comment in your previous post. I did not want to be funny or judge or anything, but it still is a stupid remark after reading this.

    I can wholeheartedly applaud such movements. When I was reading Values, Virtues and Ethics I was already thinking "Oh that is me! I recognize myself in this". Until it came to creativity. I am afraid I will never rank high on that subject. I always say I have the creativity of a steel door. Whether I am intelligent and philosophical enough... hmmm I doubt it.

    Presumably you are a Kelt? Or your ancestors?


  9. How fascinating, Jan - it's an education coming to your blog, and I really like that! Druidism clearly aims to be a well-rounded, thoughtful approach to life (holistic, as Veshoevius says) so I an see why it appeals to you. You really should be living here, you know - Vix is right, you'd adore Stonehenge and all the other stone circles around the UK and Ireland! xxx

  10. I really, really relate to this! I'm not an official "Druid" but maybe I should look into it. Do they take eccentric, half-Cuban, half French wheelchair girls like me?
    In case you're wondering if I'm just being silly, I've actually been thrown out of or excluded from several different faith-based groups so it's a legit question.


  11. Thank you so much Jan for such interesting article about this theme. I can see you living by theirs values and why. You're such an amazing person.
    I feel very much related to the point... "as a philosophical or spiritual pursuit, or both". I also find myself being more of a spiritual person than religious. I try to live by the Reiki Principles, I'm just a second degree, I don't feel I'm prepared for being a master.
    Well, you provoke my curiosity and I guess I will seek for more......
    May spirit send you the comfort of the universe and a smile for your heart.

  12. Actually, Connie, I didn't know a single Druidy-type in Alaska. I grew up among some of the flaky-lovely-hippy-tree huggers in California, but didn't come into contact with the American orders and organizations until the Internet made it possible.
    Glad you enjoyed my little post, Connie. Lots of kindred spirits are out there ... we can love our oaks and our shoes at the same time!

  13. Glad you liked it, Suzanne. Thanks for taking the time to wade through it.

  14. This is really interesting. I realize now how little I actually knew about Druidism. This make me want to do some research on my own. Thanks for your thoughtful and coherent explanation, Jan!

  15. They've certainly made use of Stonehenge, but it's a lot older than the period when the Druids were priests and religious leaders, starting about 300 BCE. (It took from about 3100 to 1600 BCE to complete.) Lots more use since the 19th century, surely, because of the Celtic Revivals, and certainly by modern Druids and Neo-Pagans of all kinds.
    Glad you found the little post interesting, Paula.

  16. Thanks, Ann! Glad you found it interesting. Lots of Grahams in the diaspora, but who knows ... perhaps we are related. You must surely come from the tall, willowy branch of the clan. I'm from the short, stubby Grahams. But definitely Scottish at some point. The name derives from the Norman invaders from southern England, and arrived in the far north a little later.
    She wasn't a Texan or a Virginian was she?

  17. Hello, V! Thanks for dropping by. So glad you liked my little "short guide." I was surprised how many readers actually wanted to know more about it. It is extremely personal, but not entirely private. It has always appealed to me as the least crazy of the alternative Western paths.
    Every year, on a national holiday (or the Queen's birthday, or anniversary, possibly Christmas or New Year ... can't remember which)The Eisteddfod of Wales sends the reigning monarch a sprig of mistletoe as a reminder of the bonds between England and Wales. Pretty interesting tradition, I've always thought.
    Know you've been so busy with Fashion Week ... how cool is that? Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about it from your perspective!
    I hope things are calming down, looking up and lightening up for you.
    Very glad to hear from you, always.

  18. Dear Jan, this is such a wonderful article! I actually read it out loud to my husband, and we both loved it! He knew about Druidism much more than I did, but I had a general idea. I think I read about it in late 80s back in Russia (after the iron curtain fell, we got an access to lots of information which was hidden from most of folk after the October Revolution in 1917). I do remember that I had a very warm feeling reading about this spiritual tradition back then, and I can absolutely relate to all of what you described here. I had no idea though that Druidism is still active in the modern world! I thought it is just ancient stuff. :) We are very down to earth people, Justin and I, and our believes are very simple - we just try to do our best to live life with love, live naturally, and be true to ourselves. I think we are on the same page (or somewhat close) with your believes. It was a beautiful concise article, and I truly enjoyed it! Thank you very much for sharing!

  19. I had to go back and look at what you wrote ... my goodness; no offence imagined, taken, inferred, even for a second. It is actually a good question. There are groups where stratification is very important. In one of the oldest of the modern and international orders (not mine) the members belong to one of three areas of interest, Bards (music, poetry or the arts) Ovates (prophesy, the mystical arts) or Druids ( the civil arts, teaching, judicial, etc.) In typical American style, we lump things together and many of our organizations promote equality and non-stratification. Others need and build in more structure, similar to the UK versions. There were Celts in southern Netherlands, as well ... which I'm sure you know.
    I'd have to note that I can see you are rich in your own creativity ... you have some strong aesthetics functioning in your own style! Appreciating and participating in the creativity in others can be creative in itself, IMHO.
    Our recent (last 300 years or so) we know are from Ireland and Scotland in pretty much equal parts, a bit of English and a French cajun great grandmother thrown into the mix.
    Glad you enjoyed my little basics-brief. Thank you for reading and writing!

  20. I'm a pedant of the worst sort, sometimes, but I'm glad you get a kick out of my goings-on. We'd like nothing better than to spend extended time in your end of the world. Newgrange is high on my list. Someday.

  21. Drop me an email if you ever want more info. I know what you're talking about. There's a lot of crazy out there. Don't mean to be judgy, but I do believe absolutely in a cultivated sense of discernment. Just sayin'.

    It usually takes a lot to be tossed out of most alternative group ... what did you DO? Yikes.

  22. So sweet of you, Seeker ... you are always so kind. No amazingness here, but I do get enthusiastic about stuff! I don't know a great deal about Reiki, but I do know that it's a great and honorable and very sane way to live. Thank you for reading and all your kind wishes. I return all of them to you with my very best intentions! Have a great week, and I hope your weather is treating you better!
    (We're iced in for the day here!)

  23. Have fun, Val. Thanks for reading. I'm very glad you enjoyed what I had to say.
    Have a great week!

  24. What an interesting persepective, Natalia! The whole movement was really beginning to take hold here in the US in the eighties, as you say.
    Hope you're having a great day and I wish you a fabulous week. Can't wait to see wha you'll be wearing!

  25. Tamera Ferguson WolfeMarch 3, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    What an informative post!! I learned so!
    I'm of Scottish (mostly) and Irish/Welsh heritage with a smidge of German.
    Anam Cara
    (means "soul friend" in Gaelic)

  26. Well spoken, oh Druidess divne. Some of what you said sounds very much like the values taught at my childrens' "Classical Education" school wherein they "educate students for the lifelong pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty". I will have to ask the headmaster if they study any Druid scholars!


  27. Debbie StinedurfMarch 4, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    This is why I love visiting your blog. You are always writing about such interesting things and I often come away feeling like I've learned something. I'm not a fan of organized religion for a myriad of reasons and it sounds to me like Druidism is something I could be cool with.

  28. Well, I did not know all that, Jan. Thanks for taking the time to educate me on some of the finer things in your life.

  29. Thanks for all that fascinating information so well presented! I am always interested in philosophies, religions and belief systems and enjoy reading about them though I don't formally adhere to anything myself. I can find some level of comfort in anything that has no literal theism but find no need to frame my life with anything that resembles a religion. I am a sort of pagan, non-believing Buddhist, pantheist who prefers not to spend much time in groups. I would probably make a half decent solitary witch but I am not attracted to rituals at all. I don't even eat or sleep with much routine.


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