By Vexen Crabtree 2017
|Links: Pages on Druidism, Other Religions|
|Area of Origin||UK|
|Numbers in the UK (Census results)|
|2001||1 657||2011||4 189|
Druidry is generally thought of being representative of a Celtic religion in prehistorical England1,2,3,4, but whose adherents were barred from writing down their beliefs, and, whose beliefs were only passed down to initiates5 or encoded into folk tales1,6. Much of the Druidic/Celtic lore is based on influential forgeries from the 1780s-90s by Edward Williams (also known as Iolo Morganwg)7 and others8. They probably did believe in reincarnation, like other Celtic communities around them9. Modern reconstructed Druidism is part of the neo-pagan range of religions, with no real historical ties to ancient Druidry10. There has been a lot debate over the legitimacy of modern self-proclaimed Druids11,12.
Modern Druids most identify as polytheistic13 and the major movements involve Shamanism1,14, love of the Earth and nature1,14,13, animism (the belief that natural objects have spirit)13,14 and pantheism13 (that all the natural world is itself god), adoration of the Sun2,15 and belief in reincarnation9 which in some groups is taken so seriously that they routinely spend time at meetings channelling voices from the dead16.
The most common refrain from historians is that so little is known about Celtic Druidry that it is not possible to draw sensible inferences17. For example David Hume's introduction to Druidry, written in 1688, is widely disregarded because its wide-ranging claims are simply not reflected in archaeological and historical evidence, and he may be conflating all religious-seeming activities of the time with a single imaginary system which he (and others) decided must have been Druidry. In general it is much more likely that clerics across the region portrayed some of the same spiritual characteristic due to the culture of the time, but they mostly did not constitute themselves as part of a Druid religion.
“The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government; and the Druids, who were their priests, possessed great authority among them. Besides ministering at the altar, and directing all religious duties, they presided over the education of youth; they enjoyed an immunity from wars and taxes; they possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction; they decided all controversies among states as well as among private persons.”
"The History of England, Volume I" by David Hume (1688)5
“It is probably the Druids, described in classical [Greek and Roman accounts of them] as the priestly caste of the Celts, and associated with mistletoe, oak, golden sickles, sacred groves, esoteric learning and (rather more controversial, and variously interpreted) human sacrifice, who are most eagerly seized upon from these writings for clues about Celtic spirituality. However, Piggott describes the classical sources on Druids as, once again, 'scanty and scrappy, frequently in second-hand quotation' (1993, p.18). [Classical sources are] open to interpretations and the charge that they are written by 'outsiders' who have their own agenda.”
"Contemporary Celtic Spirituality" by Marion Bowman (2002)18
“In the 1780s and 1790s, the Welsh patriot, freemason and Unitarian Edward Williams - better known as Iolo Morganwg - presented and promoted what he claimed was an authentic, ancient Druidic tradition of the British Isles which had survived in Wales through the bardic system, the distinctive Welsh language poetic tradition. [...] Morganwg's claims and writings were accepted as genuine at the time, and it was not until the late nineteenth century that they were revealed as forgeries. By that time, however, their influence had been established and it continues to this day.”
"Contemporary Celtic Spirituality" by Marion Bowman (2002)7
Most of what has been written about the Druids in previous centuries was rooted in Christian intolerance, and portrayed the Druids in every negative way possible. For example, David Hume repeats the seemingly untrue statement that the Druids practiced Human sacrifice5, despite the fact that there is no physical evidence of this at all. He also states:
“... whoever refused to submit to [the Druids] decree was exposed to the most severe penalties. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him: he was forbidden access to the sacrifices or public worship: he was debarred all intercourse with his fellow-citizens, even in the common affairs of life: his company was universally shunned, as profane and dangerous. He was refused the protection of law19; and death itself became an acceptable relief from the misery and infamy to which he was exposed. Thus, the bands of government, which were naturally loose among that rude and turbulent people, were happily corroborated by the terrors of their superstition.”
"The History of England, Volume I" by David Hume (1688)5
Some Druids are pagan, some are Christians (which went through a phase of trying to convince everyone that Druidry was a monotheistic precursor to Christianity) and some Druids are completely secular and merely enjoy cultural artefacts20. Modern neo-Druidism did grow out of paganism and it has a lot of relations to wider neo-pagan communities, starting from the time when they were founding their own Druidic movements3,21; one author in 1995 personally knew "at least four Druid Orders which had origins in Wicca and I have met a number of Druids who were, at one time, Witches"22. The largest umbrella organisation for Druid Orders (the Council of British Druid Orders) represents itself in the Pagan Federation (a similar umbrella organisation for Pagans). As far as historical evidence goes, there are few who are as meticulous as Prof. Ronald Hutton, who points out that "the founders of two of the four new pagan Druid orders of the [1980s] had been Wiccan high priests"23.
“Paganism encompasses a range of religions, belief systems and practices24,25,26,27: these include Asatrú, Celtic revivalism, Druidism, Goddess Spirituality, Heathenism, Paganism, various magical groups, some of the New Age, a few occult groups, Sacred Ecology and Wicca. It also covers the interest of previously-uninvolved Westerners in Shamanism, Native American and Native Australian spiritualism, and other primitivist belief systems. The Pagan Federation defines a Pagan as "a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion"27. In general, followers and fans are called Pagans with a capital "P" in order to differentiate them from "pagans", a historical religious term to mean anyone not a member of the traditional monotheistic religions. In the USA the term neo-Pagan is used for the same purpose.
General modern Paganism "is not a doctrinaire movement" and it is based "on experience rather than on blind faith"28. The various forms of Paganism tend to share an individualistic approach, are spiritually and magically oriented, reject monotheism29, involve a goddess of some sort ("a religion without goddesses can hardly be classified as Pagan"27), and veer away from commercialism. They claim ancient and timeless "wisdom" and draw upon elements of religions from around the world, especially Western esoterism, romanticised versions of native beliefs and Indian spirituality, and share a creative use of myth and a seasonal cycle of festivals30. Also normal are a positive and moral approach to environmentalism and feminism (or at least gender neutrality) and a generally liberal approach to human (and animal) rights in general. They do not consider the world to be bad nor ourselves to be inherently sinful31.
The resulting kaleidoscope of beliefs and practices are mostly indulged in quite lightly, all described and merged using mystical and airy language which, however kindly it is meant, tends to lack any philosophical cogency and sits, generally speaking, within the realm of the mythical and the irrational. Concerns abound from Christians and other representatives of world religions who are clearly worried about the new competition from this popular and young suite of newcomers to the world stage, however, it must be noted that "most people's prejudices [towards Paganism in general] are based on misrepresentation by the media"30 and some people still confuse Paganism with Satanism32. Critics of Paganism can also be found amongst historians, skeptics, scientists and intellectuals based on the negative effect it can all have on common sense, and, complaints also arise from the natives and other genuine gurus of the traditions from which Paganism has drawn. Despite those problems and the addiitonal one of "Pagan" not referring to any particular belief system, "there is both official and academic recognition that Paganism is a serious religion"30.”
The modern world has seen a surge in interest in 'native beliefs'. This includes Native-American "aspirational Indians" and British-orientated "Cardiac Celts"33, both interlinked with the New Age in a haphazard manner, whose audience are often disaffected souls who espouse rhetoric against capitalism and modern technology.34. There has been a lot debate over the legitimacy of many newcomers to these movements. "The terms 'Celt' and 'Celtic' have become a battle ground" says Sims-Williams (1998, p1) as popularists debate with traditionalists about who and what can be called 'Celtic'. The new wave are numerous and believe anyone can be Celtic mostly through self-declaration. John Davies, a longstanding Welsh Pagan, writes in protest against the fad for all things Celtic and fiercely resists the popularisation of Celtic lore12. Likewise, Native American tribes have declared the invalidity of New Age nativist 'gurus' and 'exploiters', criticising their knowledge and motives35.
There are huge differences in opinion as to what Druidism and Celtic Beliefs should be36. Although most Druid groups have been formed as a result of schisms, these have mostly been based on power politics and differences of opinion on social matters, rather than as a result of arguments over faith. Druidism shares a feature with neo-Paganism in general in that doctrine is so woolly that it rarely causes meaningful substantial arguments.
Ancient Order of Druids (AOD, founded in 1781 in London, UK by Henry Hurle)17 was ran along Masonic lines, with local groups being called Lodges13. This group provide no information of what they thought the ancient Druids believed - discussion of religion and philosophy was not allowed.
United Ancient Order of Druids was a split of a hundred or so of the poorer, rural lodges from the AOD (about half the total number). They wished to emphasis good-natured communal programs (creating members' social safety nets) and resented sending money to the original AOD Lodge. This form of Druidry spread beyond the UK, and is now called the now called the International Grand Lodge of Druidism13.
“Druidry is a vital and dynamic nature spirituality that is flourishing all over the world. It unites our love of the Earth with our love of creativity and the arts.
Flowing through all the exciting new developments in modern Druidism is the power of an ancient tradition: The love of land, sea and sky - the love of the earth our home.”
They claim to be based on a 300-year-old revival of Druidism that is based on correct knowledge of original Druidic teachings, passed on through coded stories and folklore. Its founder (Ross Nichols) was part of the Ancient Order of Druids for ten years, between 1954-1964.
The British Druid Order (BDO) say Druidry is a "living, breathing, animistic, shamanistic, life-affirming, Earth-honouring spirituality for the 21st century, drawing inspiration from the threefold stream of Awen's flow from its source, the Cauldron of the goddess Ceridwen"14. The BDO record their history as starting in 1974 after being inspired by Robert Graves' academically dubious book The White Goddess. Although they also mention the respectable work of Mircea Eliade. Their history shows early and frequent engagement with wider communities of Pagan and occult practitioners.3
The Council of British Druid Orders (founded in 1989)38 is an association of multiple Druid groups39, excepting a few of the largest ones all left the Council in 1996 citing "unreasonable and belligerent behaviour of some of its officers"3. They say that:
“Tradition has it that Druids, as opposed to other branches of the Pagan faith, work with the Sun and the Solar Festivals. This is because ..
"All we do. we do in the eye of the Sun and before and in the presence of the assembled congregation"
It is this Spirit of openness that has led to the spectacle of Public Ritual, and the rebirth of an ancient magical religion.”
Council of British Druid Orders2
There has been an explosion of interest in unusual, novel, untraditional, magical, counter-cultural and Earth-centered religious movements. They have some common features40 and share a number of common pull-factors attract people to new religious movements40.
Anti-consumerism and anti-materialism.44
Golden-age romanticism. Some groups promote pre-industrial or historical moral eras and attract others who think that the modern world is "lost".45. Adopting a Celtic identity allows people to escape from being English, Western, lugged with guilt over historical colonialism; to instead be an 'other', to be 'different'.46
The rise of individualism51 and protections for freedom of belief means people are free to pick-and-choose which religion to embrace.
Religious groups that arise from a particular cause will attract those interested in that cause. Two of the most popular amongst NRMs are:
Environmentalism is commonly proclaimed by all kinds of pagan, Celt, pseudo-Native and New-Age groups, and they attract many people who are similarly passionate about protecting the planet.51,52,53,54,55
For detail, see:
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(1986) Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today. Originally published 1979. Current version published by Beacon Press, Boston, USA. In "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) Chapter 4, p137.
(2002) Contemporary Celtic Spirituality. This essay is chapter 2 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p55-102).
(1992) The Celts: The Construction of a Myth. Published by St Martin's Press, New York, USA. In Bowman (2002) p61-62.
(1993) "Three Things There Are, That Are Seldom Heard: A Comment on Modern Shamanism". Published by House of the Goddess, London, UK. In Bowman (2002) p78,95.
(2000) The C of E: The State It's In. Paperback book. paperback first edition, 2000. Originally published in UK in 2000 by Stoughton.
Gardner, Martin. Died 2010 May 22 aged 95.
(1957) Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science. Paperback book. Originally published 1952 by G. P. Putnam's Sons as "In the Name of Science". Current version published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, USA.
Harvey, Graham & Hardman, Charlotte
(1995) Pagan Pathways. Paperback book. 2000 edition. Originally published 1995. Current version published by Thorsons.
(1996) The New Age Movement: Religion, Culture and Society in the Age of Postmodernity. Paperback book. Published by Blackwell Publishers Ltd, London, UK.
(1688) The History of England, Volume I. E-book. Subtitled: "From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688". Amazon Kindle digital edition prepared by David J. Cole.
(1995) The Roots of Modern Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages p3-15).
(1996) The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Paperback book. 2001 re-issue. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(1999) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Paperback book. 2001 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(1995) Pagan Theologies. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 32-46).
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p173-224).
(2002) Aspirational Indians: North American indigenous religions and the New Age. Paperback book. This essay is chapter 3 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002).
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
(1995) Druidry Today. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 65-80).
(1998) "Celtomoania and Celtoscepticism". Published in Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies vol.36 (Winter), pp1-35. In Bowman (2002) p55.
York, Michael. Principal Lecturer in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and Director of the Sophia Centre at Bath Spa University College, UK. Previously a post-doctoral reasearcher at the Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies in London.
(1995a) The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-Pagan Movement. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, USA.
(1995b) New Age and Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages p157-165).