Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Druid Order for the 21st Century

Like many Druids, I can say that once I found a formal association of Druids (OBOD and then a few years later, AODA) I knew that in some sense that is difficult to explain, I had always been a Druid. Even as a child, when I look back on my many trips to the woods to sit at the foot of a large pine, on a rock, overlooking a spring, I was drawn instinctively to sky, earth and sea. The elements spoke. The pine connected above and below and I found myself there anew each time. They helped me navigate the chaos in my world.

And yet, having found "formal Druidry" to some extent I find myself disillusioned with the hierarchical nature of the typical Druid orders. I have joined revival Druidry organizations. They are the more liberal of the orders and yet, even with OBOD and AODA, one only need scratch the surface and they bleed fraternal lodges' blood, Masonry in particular. One need not scratch AODA much at all. It's fraternal lodge structure and hierarchy is very near the surface, and I find that to be an impediment to my path. OBOD has done a better job of making distance from that past, but that past is there. Both of these orders of Druids claim to be and are to a large extent attempts at living Druidry in the 21st century, but they do so with structures built in from an era gone by. Elements of secrecy, top-down flow of power, degrees or grades of initiation, cult of personality, elements of exclusivity--all of these to some degree or another exist in the fraternal lodge structures out of which OBOD and AODA have grown. And yet, they leave their mark and the present experience of Druidry through such orders.

The irony, for me, is that Revival Druidry while not claiming to hail back to ancient Druids, is driven more (AODA) or less (OBOD) by fraternal lodge models of the 17-19th centuries. It's a latent reconstruction, if you will. And this is not inherent in revival Druidry, or Druidry of any particular kind. I have witnessed this in several religious communities--that regardless of how much they claim to be doing a particular work now, as long as their past goes unexamined, that past inserts and asserts its influence. And when I say unexamined I am observing that the past of a religious community is always in the background asserting and inserting its influence. When a community stops noticing that, the past has all the more influence.

So, I find myself reflecting often these days about what a Druidry for the 21st century would look like if I were to create one (and why not?). I am sold on some aspects of revival druidry that I have gleaned from both OBOD and AODA.

1) We do not have a conscious, direct line from ancient Druids.
2) We do have modern sources that can help us craft a spiritual path that rings true to what
Druidry means to us, like environmentalism, social justice, Jungian spirituality,
sustainability practices, and wisdom traditions from many sources.
3) We have fragments of history, myth, magic and culture that allow us to weave together
a Druidry that works for us in this time on this planet.

So, what would a Druidry for the 21st Century look like if I were to put it together? Even as I attempt to construct my own idea of a Druidry for the 21st century, I am indebted to both of the orders I belong to, to some of the ideas and practices I benefit from in them, and, in rejecting some of their historical structures, am even by the rejection of what I consider to be a hindrance, connected to them. It's another example, of course, of what we call in UU-sim, the Interconnected Web of all Being. Here's my list, thus far of what a Druidry for the 21st century would look like:

--The beginning principle: Modern Druids work together with the various levels and aspects of earth's nature. (That's meant to be wide open--extending from very material biology to very metaphysical energy, as people are led).

--A community based on a circle and not a hierarchy. The grove as the central symbol would be the reality, in fact. Roles in ritual and in leadership would always be interchangeable and shared. In other words, with adequate practice, any member of the community could take any role in group ritual. There would be no "special" or reserved seats.

--The core principle, even underneath the beginning principle above, would be respecting and honoring integrity--the integrity of one's own individual self, the integrity of the other, the integrity of nature, of the earth, of the universe, and seeing that this is, finally, one interconnected web of being.

--Every member, from newest to eldest, would be considered a priest, and that all aspects of nature would be vehicles of divine communication. The question would not be "what degree are you", but " what shape is your priesthood taking?"

--There would be no degrees, but there would be a basic commitment to walking the path, growing in wisdom, and life-long learning and working together at times in community as well as solitarily. The notion of spirals to work on is a good one, but no one would control them, prescribe them, or limit them. At the same time, every Druid priest would be sharing with the community what she/he was working on at the time.

--Leadership would be about structure and helping maintain a structure for the community, but it would be based on transparency, facilitation, democracy and service to the community. It would have short terms, and renewed often. Leadership would not be the image of the ones at the top, but those who tend the foundations.

--This Druidry would provide choices for people and invite them to explore areas of interest in order to build a personal path of self-discovery.

--This Druidry would emphasize social justice--a concern that everyone have what he/she needed to survive and thrive--another aspect of respecting integrity, but now recognizing the social, political and cultural aspect of that integrity.

--This Druidry would hold regular sessions of discernment asking only three questions: what are we doing that is working? what are we doing that is not working? If we were to change one thing to make things work better for us, what would it be?

That's it. That's my list. That's my idea of a Druidry for the 21st century. So, if I found a group of poeple willing to launch an order of Druidry for the 21st century that looked like the above, would I resign from OBOD and AODA? Likely not. I have benefitted from them both, and continue to, though admittedly sometimes it is a benefit through the negative--becoming clear about what is an impediment, what is not working. Still, that is a benefit, and finally, no religious or spiritual organization in my experience is flawless. The challenge to be vigilant in constant reform and renewal is a relentless one, and necessary for any group that wishes to remain alive and of service to people. Otherwise, a religious group becomes the tyrant that demands servitude from its members. As I've said before: I didn't need to become a Druid to find that.

I welcome comments.



Gordd Cymru said...

For me, Druidry is a personal philosophy. Based upon the concepts outlined by you and AODA and others, I am and have been a Druid for a long time. I might give myself many adjectives: pantheist, deist, zen martial artist, Celtist, naturalist, historian, fantasy author, and scholar. We have discussed these concepts in our study group.

And like you, I have found myself slightly disillusioned by the organizations. I belong to AODA and plan to continue as a member, although I am partly ambivalent on achieving status through degrees in the heirarchy. I continue to study many subjects that juxtapose over the Druid ideals. If they choose to recognize my efforts, I will be pleased. If not, I will not change to fit their mold and will learn what I can from their members as I would any group I admire.

I came to AODA because of John Michael Greer. His clarity of writing and vision appealed to me. I have read books from other neo-Druidry authors and felt that they led to a path of personality, cult, and gnostic secret society rather than a path of personal and community growth. Joining AODA, I have found other similar minded individuals such as yourself.

I remain in the background on the AODA email group, gleaning some good ideas from some of the postings. But from the beginning, I felt that my slightly different way of visualizing a discussion and how to debate issues did not match the moderators. I believe that my main failing was that I advocated that one could ignore the moderators goals and rules in following your own path. I was never critical of the individual or their idea, merely the subtle enforement of policy and again I state that I will not let someone else dictate how my views may be revealed.

Your list of guiding principles provide for a more open community that recognizes individuality of life and purpose, held together by an integral core community of sharing. It could be described as a modern social network. I understand your statements about the issue of priest, but feel that the use of the word carries too many modern associations of the role of that individual. I would prefer that we reclaim the use of the word Druid, with the selection of an ancient or modern derivative. Once a member of the Druid Order social network has been 'initiated', (for as you have stated, rituals have their place and initiation is merely a ritual of recognition - a personal gate rather than a barred gate) they are a member with full rights. Their abilities, strengths, and their selection of 'spirals' will lead them to their place within the order. There would not be heirarchical leaders, but there are always individuals to whom others turn for answers, those who are elected by fault of spirit. Leadership is more a foundation of organization, the use of tools, meetings, and information to link the many aspects of the community together around the core principles.

We are all seekers.

Fiach MacMara said...


Thanks for another great blog post. I really identify with a lot of what you had to say regarding modern Druid Orders. I have not been involved with OBOD and AODA for all that long (less than a year) but I have certainly seen the same trends that you speak of. I love the OBOD course as it is really a great introduction to a lot of the ideas for someone like myself who had no prior experience at all. I also like how AODA's is more self-directed. However, for me at least, with Druidry being such a personal path, I am not sure if there should be any direction or if we should each be walking our own path.

As I mentioned before, I am very new to all of this and so my learning is really just beginning. It has also been put on hold at times while I finish my Bachelor's Degree and take care of things in my personal life. At the same time though all of those real life issues can be an important part of the learning process and can add dividends to my own Druid walk.

I really wish that I knew of more Druids in my local area so that I could get together and do many of the things I hear of others doing who have their own groves or seedgroups. Sometimes the online nature of our community is an annoyance to me when all I really want is to be outdoors and not sitting in front of a computer. I get enough of that at work (i.e. right now!)

Lana Gramlich said...

A group w/o a hierarchy, etc. is a gathering of solitaries. Why go through such mental gymnastics trying to make it fit the "group" mold?
Unfortunately religious/spiritual groups tend to attract 2 kinds of people;
1. People who WANT to be in power, (more often than not for the WRONG reasons,) &
2. People who WANT to hand their own power to someone else (which is a bad sign in of itself.)
Even groups as liberal as you describe will be filled with these 2 kinds of people, & you'll continue to have the same old problems that every other group ends up with (if, indeed, they don't start OUT with them.)
Religious/spiritual groups, regardless of their setup, are breeding grounds for codependence & inherently unhealthy relationships, regardless of any attempts to make them otherwise.
But good luck, anyway...

Bondof said...

Hi Lana,

I have seen the dynamics you are talking about. It is typical of culture that thinks in either-or terms. So, yes, in our culture, it is likely that religious groups will be filled with those two opposite. Unless. Unless a group forms itself with intention to do something else. A third thing if you will. Some of that intentionality might look like this: leadership that shares power with others rather than holding it over; forming community in circlular and multi-valent schemes rather than upper and lower, superior and inferior schemes.

So, while I agree that you will see a lot of what you describe, I do not agree that it's all there is. for me, this is real magic--imagining, and then working to call into being what it is we really need for wholeness.

Clearly, the dynamics you point out are unhealthy. I've never seen leaders who wanted power and followers who wanted to be told what to do that produced anything but more wounds, finally.

Thanks for responding.


Kat said...

I can really relate to your blog. I always go back to Ifa which is where I initially started my earth based practice. Talk about initiations and heirarchy, there is so much of it in Ifa that one often feels a hindrance of connecting with spirit in a meaningful way. When one attends a ceremony all the bowing and greetings based on initiation level take up the majority of time and as with many other faiths there is a lot of abuse of power! More recently what has begun to make sense in my matrix is that of Jungian/Myss archetypal wheels. I cast my wheel recently and found that in my house of spirituality the hermit came up. Bingo! It made sense because I have explored many paths but have often found myself more comfortable practicing as a solitare and less within a community of people. That is not to say that community does not offer benefits but as far as my archetypal contract less community is more benefical. I never believed there should be an intermediary between myself and the divine. The intermediary is on the same path as myself and we all know that everyone learns lessons in their own time. Why not have a direct conversation with the divine and stop relying on others to interpret what is already inside of one's self. When we tune in, listen and reflect we often hear the "answer" very clearly. Thanks for an insightful blog.
Blessings, Kat

Wendy D. Bradley said...

Like you, I've found myself taking what sits well with me from being in organisations(OBOD & Associations with other druids) I also learn a lot by doing my own thing, making my own sense of connecting with Earth, Trees and Animals etc and I gain much from drawing on my inner wisdom.
I enjoy group ritual but find there is a need for solitary time in my own space.
I think the whole Druid concept is growing and evolving and there is no 'true' way, rather it's a path to learning and soul healing for the individual, but group contact can make it all the more enjoyable and encourage creative activity.

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Edain: said...

Thanks for the well written and well thought out comments.

As a Druid of the ADF in Canada, I have a similar problems.

Just to be clear I am a English woman who has recently moved to Canada and who has friends that run an ADF Protogrove. Whilst in the UK I was a member of The Druid Network also.

Anyhoo, just wanted to say thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post. :)

lancemfoster said...

hi Bob

I too have had my struggles with AODA, though I remain a member. I think as far as formal organizations go, AODA is the most open of the bunch...yet it too has its peculiarities which makes me unsure as to how far I will go formally. Certainly there are members I do, and likely always will, hold in high personal esteem, such as John Michael Greer and Gordon Cooper.

However, I apparently at times have offended the sensibilities of folks in the moderators' level, because I am now on permanent moderation and have been rejected as a mentor when they are in publicly stated need of such. That's fine, if I am not suitable because of my modes or content of self-expression, no problem.

However, I have never expressed anything criminal, bizarre, or hateful. I have never been "shushed" in my personal or public life, or my academic writings. The only groups that have "shushed" me are higher ups in several bureaucratic jobs I have held, and AODA and the Catholic indeed the hierarchy thing is apparently not my forte LOL

We will see what happens. But apparently no matter how hard I try to fit in, amiable though I may be, I am just not built that way...whether it is a Druid group or the Catholic Church!