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Religious Movements

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| Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

I. Group Profile
Name :
Druids; also known as Druidry, Celtic Pagans, Neopagan Druidism, Celtic Reconstructionists, Christian Druids, Pagan Druids, Bards.
Founder :
No single founder is responsible for Druidism. It might be helpful to look at Druids in three categories in order to get a sense of the diversity within the group. The categories are divided roughly into time periods and the terms used within the movement to describe them will vary, but for this discussion we will call them:
Classical Druids - the druids of ancient times.
Revival Druids - members of groups formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Modern Druids - druids who have begun practice since around the 1930's.
Date and Place of Birth :
As there is no actual founder of Druidism, there is no date or place of birth.
Year Founded :
  • Classical Druids : The prototypes for classical druidry probably originated in the early Celtic peoples of the neolithic Hallstadt/La Tene cultures of the lakes regions of modern Austria.
  • Revival Druids : various groups and individuals of the romantic ethnic reconstruction movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Druid Circle of the Universal Bond (An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas) was formed in London in 1717 by John Toland. The Ancient Order of Druids was formed in London in 1781 by Henry Hurle. The Welsh Druids, Maen Gorsedd, formed in London in 1792 by Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams). These and many similar groups formed and dissolved at a fairly rapid rate. The Commentatio De Druidis Occidentalum Populorum Philosophis, published in 1744 in Ulm by Jean Frickius showed in the bibliography 261 authors who wrote about druids between 1514 CE and 1744 CE.
  • Modern Druids : There have been a large number of "Here today, gone tomorrow" modern druidic groups. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (a descendant of the Universal Bond group) formed in 1964 under the direction of Nuinn Ross-Nicholls in London. In 1963 David Fisher and friends formed the Reformed Druids of North America in Northfield, Minnesota. In 1983 Isaac (PEI) Bonewits left the RDNA and formed Ar nDraiocht Fein (Our Druidry) in Berkeley, California. In 1989 Sable and Tony Taylor left ADF after four years and formed the Henge of Keltria. In 1992-93 Erynn Laurie and Lorax formed the Inis Glas Hedge School. There were many other small groups formed, dissolved, and re- formed- modern druids rarely formalize their practices to the extent of registering their group with the government or publishing their books.
Sacred or Revered Texts :
The Classical Druids are believed to have retained their vast body of knowledge in an oral tradition. The Celts as a cultural and linguistic group, and especially the brythonic Celts, (who later became known as the Welsh, Breton, Cornish, and Manx language groups) used Greek letters to write their language in daily personal and business life. The oral tradition which contained the 'sacred lore' was written down only by later religious or historical scholars, and is necessarily incomplete and inaccurate. Scholars today are attempting to sort out what is the pure form of the history, law, science, art and religion of the Celtic peoples.
The Revival Druids lived in a time prior to the development of archeology and history as areas of rigorous scientific study, so were influenced by broad speculation. The Druids were a fascination of the popular culture of the time; over 260 authors wrote about Druids from 1514-1744 (Raoult).
Modern Druids have developed writings within the various groups which may be considered sacred texts. The Henge of Keltria's Book of Ritual may be considered sacred to the members of that group. Other contemporary Druids will refer to favorite books written about the Druids or Celts. Books by and about Druids appear in greater numbers than ever before. Following the emphasis on learning traditionally ascribed to the ancients, today's Druids often have long reading lists of respected material. Likewise, many will list books or authors they consider fraudulent or based on fantasy. (see Selected References). Some Celtic Reconstructionists are writing books or articles about material they receive as guided inspiration from their gods or other nature spirits. These works are accepted by some and not by others. Since no governing authority presides over the entire Druid movement, there is no final word on what becomes holy writ. Many Druids rely on the stories and reports which have been preserved in the form of myth or fairy tales to inform their religious belief.
Size of Group :
There is no way to estimate the number of Druids worldwide. A modern druid gathering may number from three to perhaps a thousand. Many druids also belong to affiliated groups and so could be counted more than once. Others belong to no formal group at all, and can be inferred only from book sales.
A current (1999) movement in the modern neopagan community is to encourage all neopagans and occultists to enter the 2000 US Census line under religion as "pagan" in order to register a unified presence. This would remove the statistical tendency to list 'pagan', neo-pagan', 'heathen', 'wiccan', 'witch', 'druid', and 'bard' as separate and non-related categories.
Cult or Sect:
Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Remarks : The best way to assess the current groups is to visit their web sites, and to read reference books and articles with an eye to seperating information into that referring to the three types of druidry referenced in this page.

II. History
Classical Druids :
Modern day knowledge of the actual practice and beliefs of the ancient Druids is limited by the records which survive. Scholars continue to sift through such evidence as archeological samples, Roman inscriptions and the written literature of Wales, Ireland and Britain. It is known that ancient Druids were poets, lawgivers, seers, healers, magicians and philosophers. They had a special relationship with nature as divine. Druids could be trained in the colleges that existed if they were born to a Druid family or if they demonstrated the necessary ability.
Memory was especially important, as their teachings relied on an oral tradition. It is not certain that they acted as clergy to the general population, but they were spiritual leaders and advisors with status almost as great as a king. Some of the names of ancient druids survive in writings by Caesar, Strabo, etc. Scholars are still working to decipher what may have actually been their practices and beliefs, as most of the writing about the druids was done by people who were antagonistic to their ways. Some modern druids claim to be linked to these ancient druids.
Revival Druids :
Druid belief and practice varied widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. Professor Ronald Hutton gives us an idea of the characterizations of the Druids made by writers of the time in his introduction to The Druid Renaissance ("Who Possesses the Past?"), Philip Carr-Gomm, ed. The Druids were variously the orthodoxy of the Anglican church, the pre-Christian prophets who foresaw the coming of Christianity before the birth of Christ, the superstitious, the barbarous or the political advocates of radical democracy. The practicing Druids of the time concentrated on community service, creating a system of mutual insurance, visiting the sick, widows and orphans, even offering loans to buy houses.
The Druid groups achieved such acceptance in society that even the Prince of Wales is said to have been a member of one of them. The Bardic tradition of Druids formed by Iolo Morganwg in 1792 did a great deal to revive the Celtic roots of the movement, though modern scholars have determined much of the material he based his group upon to have been invented by the bard himself. It is this overlay of poetic romanticism and fantasy (imagination and faith) which influences much of the belief of Druids since that time.
Modern Druids :
Many contemporary Druids concentrate on learning as much as possible about the actual practices and beliefs of the ancients, in order to rebuild a Druidic religion. They will quickly point out that reviving the old ways is done thoughtfully, to avoid such horrors as human or animal sacrifice. Druidism is still strictly a fraternal order to some, not intended as a religion. Some Druids are unconcerned about authenticity, looking to the Celtic tradition of poetic romanticism inspired by Morganwg. Whether informed by fact or fantasy, the modern Druid values creativity, faith and the pursuit of knowledge equally as the basis of their practice and belief.
Here is a sample of the development of several contemporary modern Druid groups:
In 1963, David Fisher and some other students at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota decided to come up with an alternative to attendance at religious services required by the college. They formed the Reformed Druids of North America, which exists to this day as a philosophical group at the college. The RDNA was found by the college to fulfill the church attendance requirement. In 1964, the requirement was lifted, but students continue to meet as Druids.
In 1969, Isaac Bonewits joined the RDNA. After starting several other Druid groups in an attempt to meet his need for real religious practice combined with excellence in scholarship, in 1983 he formed ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein, A Druid Fellowship). Though it had a Celtic name, ADF was Pan-Indo-European in study and worship.\
In 1985, Sable Taylor and Tony Taylor met up with ADF. After four years, they formed the Henge of Keltria in order to create a tribal setting where small groups(called groves) could work within a specifically Celtic framework and yet still interact with other clans of druids. Asked to describe the development of modern Druidism, Tony Taylor says, "Re-construction makes sense. If you are renovating an old building, you replace the old wiring, the lead pipes, you bring it up to code. In Keltria, we are taking material that makes sense and putting it in a modern context, in a form that still makes sense."
Other groups have been formed in the past few decades, some claiming ancestral lineage back to the ancient Druids, some with links to the Revival era groups. Some Druids are individuals who are simply drawn to the spiritual life centered in nature or the poetic wanderings of the romantic bard.
This is a short, by no means complete, list:
  • Green Druidic Order of Ronan ab Lugh, 1960s, Belgium
  • Reformed Druids of North America, formed by David Fisher, Minnesota, USA, 1963
  • Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (O.B.O.D.), formed by Ross Nichols, London, 1964
  • Ar nDraiocht Fein, formed by PEI (Isaac) Bonewits, USA, 1983
  • Druidic Church of Gaul, formed by Pierre de la Crau, 1985 in Paris.
  • Druidic Group of Gaul, 1987, east and central France.
  • Henge of Keltria, formed by Tony Taylor and Sable Taylor, Minnesota,USA, 1989
  • Grand College du Chene d'Or, 1992, Belgium.
  • Comardiia Druvidiacta Aremorica, 1993, Brittany.
  • The British Druid Order, led by Philip Shallcrass.
  • For a comprehensive list of modern Druid Movements, see:
    Raoult, Michel. 1992.
    Les Druides, Les Societes Initiatiques Celtiques Contemporaines . Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1992, third edition, revised.
    Shallcrass, Philip. nd.
    A Druid Directory . privately published by The British Druid Order, PO Box 29, St. Leonards-on-Sea, E. Sussex TN37 7UP, England.

III. Beliefs of Druids
For some, the practice of Celtic or Druid religion is a private matter. It can be the rigorous pursuit of intellectual excellence carried out in furious debate over computerized mailing lists.
For others, the practice of their faith requires them to venture forth, to act upon their beliefs by doing volunteer work in their communities, political activism or building a compost heap in their own backyard.
They tend to abhor dogma, the result being slow growth within the movement as agreements are slowly negotiated about how to conduct a ritual or what officers should represent the group. The modern Druids stress personal responsibility and education.
While no two Druids will believe exactly the same way or worship the same gods, there are some commonalities.
  • They can be monotheistic; some Druids say they are Christian, though this is not the norm.
  • Some Druids are following a racist or nationalist agenda, but once again, this is not typical of the majority.
  • Some are polytheistic (honoring one or more of the many ancient Celtic gods or heroes, including ancestor worship).
  • They are usually animists, believing that everything in nature possesses a soul or spirit.
  • They practice magic.
  • Most celebrate the Solstices and Equinoxes as well as the festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lugnasash.
  • They revere nature, often becoming involved in efforts to sustain a balanced ecology.
  • They honor their ancestors, whether the mighty dead or grandparents who deserve respect and special attention.
  • Their sometimes tribal form of worship can revitalize the values of extended family and community.
Many have considered themselves to be Druid for years before even realizing that other people shared some of their beliefs.

IV. Links to Druid Web Sites
Celtic Pages
Links to many, many Druid web sites. Go here first!
Henge of Keltria
Home page for the Henge of Keltria, Inc., an organization formed to teach and to worship the gods and goddesses of this Celtic tradition. Good links to other related pages.
Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids
Website for a large organization based in England. Some problems with the page design have been reported, but are being fixed.
Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF)
One of the better known American druidic groups, this page has good text about the modern movement.
Celtic Druidism
The Druid page on the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance page. Excellent overview of the Druid tradition.
Druidism Guide
British Druid Order
Isaac Bonewit's Home Page
Meet the Archruid Emeritus of ADF.
The Celtic Traditional Order of Druids
Night Moon Pagan Network
A very extensive set of links to all sorts of Pagan related sites. Visit their site to directly access their links to more Druid pages.

V. Bibliography
Adler, Margot, 1986
Drawing Down the Moon. . Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Bonewits, P.E.I., 1971
Real Magic . New York: Berkeley Publishing.
Carr-Gomm, Philip, 1996
The Druid Renaissance . London, San Fransicso: Thorson's.
Chadwick, Nora K., 1966
The Druids : Cardiff, Wales: U.K.
Ellis, Peter Berresford, 1994
The Druids . London: Constable.
Frazer, James George, 1981
The Golden Bough New York: Avenel Books (originally published 1890, two volumes).
Hopman, Ellen Evert & Bond, Lawrence, 1996
People of the Earth . Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.
Kendrick, T.D., 1927
The Druids, A Study in Keltic Prehistory . New York: R.V. Coleman.
Piggott, Stuart, 1975
The Druids . London: Thames and Hudson.
Rutherford, Ward, 1978
The Druids and Their Heritage . London, New York: Gordon and Cremonesi.
Spence, Lewis, 1971
The History and Origins of Druidism . New York: Samuel Weiser.
Sutton, Maya Magee, Nicholas R. Mann, Philip Carr-Gomm. 2000.
Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Wright, Dudley, 1974
Druidism: The Ancient Faith of Britain. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield.

Created by: Karen Junker
For the Religious Movements Homepage
Ms. Junker was a student at the University of Washington when this page was created.
Fall 1999
Last modified: 08/21/01