Druidry 101 Lecture Notes
What we know about the ancient Druids:
A tantalizing amount, considering they were an oral tradition that left
very few written records.
We know that they were the priestly caste, the scholars and seers and
healers of the ancient Celtic world. In the few contemporary source
we have on them, theyre called philosophers and wizards. They
are described as making sacrifices and reading omens and invoking Gods,
which were priestly duties at the time the Druids had contact with classical
Greece and then classical Rome.
The role of the Druids in Celtic society was probably similar to that
of Hindu Brahmins or the Flavium priestly class of Rome.
The Celtic territory originally extended from Galatia to Ireland- Asia
minor to Britain, up to Denmark, south to the mediterranean. The term
Keltoi is Greek and means Hidden People- as in hidden in the woods.
By the time of the Roman Empire the Celts lived in Spain, Gaul (modern
France), Britain, and Ireland. The Roman invasion of Gaul and Britain
wiped out the Druids in those places, and Christianity finished the
job in Ireland and anywhere else they may have survived.
The Celts were much like their Indo-European neighbors, intermarried
with them, traded with them, and probably had similar religious ideas.
Saxons, Norse, Germanic tribes, Iberian tribes, the Greeks and even
the Romans. Vedic and Hindu worship is also Indo-European, and all of
these groups did, or do, similar things in ritual and religion.
The Celtic Goddesses and Gods were frequently regional ones, or there
were regional variants- even the names of pan-celtic deities like Brigid
changed as you went from tribe to tribe.
There are over 300 names for celtic gods. And probably 1000 ways of
Druid Dru-Wid, probably means Oak Knowledge- in the sense of Big Knowledge.
It could also be derived from the Indo-European Dru uid- Highly Wise.
Druids venerated many different trees, not just the Oak, and animals
and plants as well. Druids met in groves, and the Celts were a woodworking
The Druids were not a hereditary class. Druidry was not inherited. According
to Caesar, Druid students trained for 20 years, mostly memorizing verses
and types of rhetoric. When you were done, for example, you would know
all 150 versions of Druid ogham rune writing, and be able to compose
a poem in one of the150 different poetic styles in any one of the 150
ogham forms, on command. This gave you the ability to negotiate, to
raise someone up by praising them, and also to satirize someone to the
point where theyd be expelled from the community. Druids worked
with words, and words had a lot more power then than they do now. A
Druid could mock and tease someone to death, or until rats fell dead
from the ceiling.
The druids were divided into many different classes- people who interpreted
sacrifices, people who were negotiators between warring tribes- they
kept the geneaologies, had techniques for trance-working, knew the local
plant lore... etc... they were allowed to go from tribe to tribe unmolested,
and to walk freely on battlefields untouched- sometimes. There are also
many stories of Druids using their magic against one another in tribal
It's said that the Druids believed in reincarnation after a brief rest
in something like a summerland.
Druids were both male and female (and still are). There is ample evidence
for this in stories and accounts and inscriptions- and no evidence at
all that they were just men. Anyone who says otherwise just hasn't done
Druids spoke first in public debates, even chiefs and warriors speaking
after them. They were responsible for the terms of trade between the
tribes, and frequently mediated in wars.
They did not build Stonehenge, but they most likely used it- and, if
it was in your backyard, you'd use it too.
And, finally, Druidry was not the religion of the Druids. The Druids
were the priestly class of the Celts, and the religion of the Celts,
like that of most people at the time, didnt really have a name.
To a Celt, it was just our religion, if they thought about
it at all. It was more like: I need an omen before I go into battle,
better ask a Druid if he should make an offering to the Gods for me.
The word Druidry was invented by Ross Nicols, of the Ancient
Order of Druids in the middle of the last century.
Its a good name for the various modern reconstructions of the
religion that the Druids presided over, as the word Druidry
sounds like a craft to be practiced, like carpentry, rather than Druidism,
which sounds rather dogmatic.
So, how do we know all this stuff about the Druids?:
First- Archeological sources- sacred sites, forts, sacred deposits-
things were offered to wells or buried ritually, hill figures, bog bodies...
things like that.
Those are pretty much what we have for primary sources from the Druids
Secondly, we have epigrams from inscriptions- mostly Roman, equating
Celtic deities with Roman ones.
Thirdly, we have historical sources from Greek and Roman authors (Cicero,
Pliny, Lucian, Tacticus, and others)- and when we look at these we have
to consider to what purpose they were writing: the Roman generals, including
Caeser, were trying to convince the Roman people to support conquering
the Gauls and invading Britain. So, they're not going to portray the
Celts as very civilised. The Greeks seem to have had a rather romantic
view of the Druids, equating them with Babylonian and Egyptian magicians.
And, a lot of ancient writers had no actual personal contact with the
Druids, they were writing hearsay, or of stories told by travelers.
Fourth, we have histories and storys and myths and tales compiled hundreds
of years after Druidry ceased to be a religion, and most of them written
down by monks who sometimes transposed christian elements into the stories
in order to make the stories into teaching lessons for the christian
religion. These were stories that survived with wandering Bards and
Poets. These are still very useful sources. There are various manuscripts-
the Irish history of invasions, the Book of Ballymote, the Scholar's
Primer from the 9th C., the Welsh Mabinogi...
Fifth- and the stuff we like the best- folk traditions. Wassailing apple
trees, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, the Hill Figures, folklore and
fairy stories, songs, things like that.
And, Sixth, we can learn from other Indo-European religions that bordered
We try to use all of this in creating ADF Druid ritual, drawing from
any source we can get our hands on.
What is Druidry like today? The modern Druid revival started in the
Small druid reconstruction groups in the 1700s concerned with preserving
celtic and particularly british folk culture, and preserving Gaelic
languages- all good things.
Druid Circle of the Universal Bond was organized in 1717 by John Toland.
In 1781 the Ancient Order of Druids was founded by Henry Hurle.
In addition, there were quasi-masonic groups in the 17 and 1800s that
called themselves Druids. None of these were Pagan religious groups.
Most people in Britain or Ireland who claim that Druidry runs in their
families- this is generally what they're talking about.
In 1792 Iolo Morganwyg (Ed Williams) founded the first Druidic Bardic
Gorsedd in Wales. This led to the first annual Eistedfoddau (Eistenfod)
a gathering of Welsh culture, music, stories, dance and poetry, which
continues to this day.
In 1912 in Boston, Massachusetts, an American branch of the Ancient
and Archaeological Order of Druids, which was founded in 1874 in London
by Robert Wentworth Little, was chartered. Im mentioning this
because John Michael Greer, a prominent author and occultist, just recently
revived that organization in the US as the Ancient Order of Druids in
Skipping over the decades-
In 1960 the Druids of North America founded at Carlton College in Minnesota,
as a way to get out of religious services required by the college.
In 1963 the RDNA- Reformed Druids of North America founded.
in 1964 the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was founded in Britain
by Ross Nichols after a schism in the Ancient Order of Druids. Nichols
and current ArchDruid Philip Carr-Gomm wanted to lead Druidry back to
its Pagan roots and make it live as a real Pagan religion.
In 1975 the Golden Section was founded by Colin Murray.
In 1983 Isaac Bonewits, member of RDNA, and a number of friends who
were Celtic Wiccans organized ADF, Ar nDraiocht Fein, Our Own Druidry.
They were trying for a more scholary reconstruction of Druidry that
was free from unnecessary dogma. Hence, ADF is a NeoPagan group that
encompasses both religious reconstructionists and more electic Druids.
Although it's an American Druid group, ADF has honorary membership in
the British Council of Druids, which is a council of British Druid groups.
We have over 1500 members now, and groves all over the country. Grove
of the Other Gods, our grove, is one of 2 ADF Groves in New Jersey,
and there are two former ADF groves active in the state.
There's a group called Keltria that split off from ADF in the early
90s. I think that they also have a grove or two active in NJ.
There is a North East Druid Coalition led by Ellen Evert Hopman, which
loosely unites all the Druid groups that have groves in the Northeast
US and eastern Canada.
And, on Samhain 1990, Green Man Grove- ADF members in the NY NJ area-
held its first ritual in Liberty State Park under the skirts of the
Goddess of Liberty. In 2002 we changed our name to Grove of the Other