Quicky 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, they’re 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 pronouncing them.

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 culture.

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 they’d 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 wars.

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 the research.

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, didn’t 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.
It’s 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 themselves.

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 the Celts.
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 1700s.

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. I’m 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 America.

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 Gods.