What is Druidry?

(Information from the Western Order of Druids about Druidry in general and themselves in particular.)

Druidry is a philosophy, or way of life, which includes faith and belief without being in or of itself a religion. It is loosely based upon the culture of the ancient Celts, and customarily celebrates the eight Celtic annual festivals. Most Druids are British, though there are also many in north-western France, and a growing number in America. People of Celtic ethnicity are often attracted to Druidry, though all are most welcome.

If it’s not a religion, what do Druids believe?

There are many Druid Orders. Some of the older ones, are made up almost entirely of practicing Christians. The more modern Orders tend to have a majority of Pagan members. There are Druids who are also members of a variety of other faiths. Druids generally agree that every faith contains within it a ray of the true Light, and that no names given to God, to gods, or to goddesses are necessarily better or more correct than any others.

Druidry has no dogma, though common belief in the sanctity of life and of living things, in the force of individual conscience, and in a typically Celtic passion for justice, balance and fair play, are well-known unifying factors.

Are there then no gods in Druidry?

A few Druids have carefully reconstructed the religion of the ancient Celts, which they practice, but generally the recognition of gods is seen as a matter for individual conscience. Most Druids would be happy to recognise, in the appropriate context, the single, transcendental God of the Christians, Jews, or Muslims, the Earth Spirit (often called ‘Gaia’), any of the members of pantheons ancient or modern, or prophets and teachers such as the Buddha. Finding connections between faiths, and correspondences between gods, is something of a hobby among some academic Druids.

What do Druids do?

All Druid Orders recognise the legacy of the ancient Celts, and most endeavour to celebrate the old Celtic festivals of:

Yule (the Winter Solstice) 21 December.

Imbolc (or Candlemas) 1-2 February.

Ostara (the vernal equinox) 21 March.

Beltane 30 April.

Litha (the summer solstice) 21 June.

Lughnassadh 1 August.

Mabon (the autumnal equinox) 21 Sepember.

and Samhain (the Celtic New Year) 31 October.

These celebrations are non-denominational, and invoke spirits rather than gods. The traditional spirits of Air, Fire, Water and Earth are often called upon. In many cases celebrations include multi-faith groups; Imbolc, or Candlemas, for example, is often celebrated in conjuction with Pagans,Christians and Druids alike.

Celebration always involves the exercise of the skills of the Celtic bard, who may sing or recite as required.

In addition to the maintenance of the Celtic ritual and bardic traditions, most Orders of Druidry see themselves as having a purpose or calling beyond this.

Some Orders are very formal and academic, and offer comprehensive courses of study and qualifications. Their purpose is primarily educational, seeking to pass on the Celtic wisdom to a new generation.

Some Orders see their purpose as primarily social. They endeavour to assist those who may have ‘fallen through the net’ of the social services, such as travellers, the homeless, and those damaged by drink or drugs.

Some Orders adopt causes, such as environmental ones. There are Orders of Druidry, who are:

militant in their support of protests against unnecessary development and the destruction of the rural landscape.

Some Orders continue the Edwardian tradition of ‘good works’, and concentrate their attention on conventional fund-raising for charities.

The Western Order of Druids carry out mostly ceremonial and social work, though they also occasionally offer support to environmental causes.

Where do Druids go?

If possible, Druids would prefer to celebrate festivals at one of the many ancient ritual places.

The major gatherings happening at well known sacred sites, such as Stonehenge, Callanish, Glastonbury or Avebury. (though they would cheerfully admit that stone circles were built not by Celtic Druids, but by their Neolithic predecessors).

Celebration of Litha at Stonehenge became controversial in the early 1980s, when intemperance, intolerance and bad behaviour on the part of the authorities and of certain celebrants led to breaches of the peace. These historical difficulties have slowly been resolved by careful and patient negotiation between celebrants (the people), Druids, pagan representives and official bodies such as English Heritage and the Police; these, and druidical endeavours to persuade other celebrants of their responsibilities, have been so successful, that free and open for access for all at Summer-Solstice is now an annual Event, along with Winter solstice and the Equinox’s.

Who becomes a Druid, and how?

Unlike some religions, the philosophy of Druidry does not proselytise, and makes no stipulation about who may be its member. When celebrating, Druids normally form a circle, and open the circle further to include anyone who wants to join it. Of those who do, a few usually enquire afterwards about joining an Order. Those attracted to Druidry naturally attend festivals with this in mind.

Does ‘individual conscience’ allow law-breaking?

It may. Historically bad laws tend to be repealed only when they are challenged by defiance. Most Druids, favouring balance in all things, prefer to keep their activities within the law, while reserving the right to protest against injustice or moral wrong. A common belief among Druids is that one may instruct only by example; it must be “do as I do,” rather than “do as I say.” On this basis the maintenance of the Queen’s Peace by all is a priority.

A militant Order, may in the course of protest action adopt tactics (such as refusing to emerge from tunnels or tree-houses) which they know will eventually lead to their arrest. Generally their relations with the Police are remarkably friendly despite this, probably because of their strict non-violence and compliance with other laws, though they are as an hair upon the tongue of certain Planning Authorities, and anathema to certain property-developers.

Do Druids always support environmental causes?

No. Whenever the support of an Order is requested by, for example, those trying to save trees from felling, the case is always investigated before support is offered. Of the last three tree-protest support requests made to the now Western Order of Druids, for example, only one (the Shepton Mallet Tesco case) was granted, the other two being deemed inappropriate (in one case the two trees involved were only twenty years old, and very much in the way, and in the other, sadder case, a seventy-year old Holly had to be felled to prevent its roots from further damaging an important historic building thought to be many hundreds of years old).

Are Druids anti-capitalist?

Not exactly. An intellectual desire to find the root causes of problems leads many Druids to believe that people have worshipped money as a god for too long, and that as we have sown, so are we likely to reap. Druids generally would prefer to deal with this problem proactively, by finding ways to wean ourselves off the consumerist paradigm, rather than reactively, as in the regrettable examples of damage to American-owned property caused on occasion by ‘anti-capitalist protestors’.

What is the political alignment of Druidry?

There isn’t one. Druids may have any kind of personal political beliefs, but often tend to vote for politicians who listen to, and act upon, the views of their constituents. This common-sense approach sometimes seems difficult for the political establishment to understand.

What is the connection between Druidry and Wicca?

In modern management terms, it would be called a ‘strong dotted-line relationship’; in traditional trades-union terms, they would be called ‘related trades’.

It would be wrong of Druids to speak for Wiccans, who will speak for themselves; however, a few observations can be made.

Druids and Wiccans share a number of ritual conventions. This is because both are British reconstructions of earlier practices, configured into the modern world by the addition of later work. Druidry in its modern form is slightly older than Wicca. Some of the early Wiccans were also Druids, leading to a number of technical similarities in practices.

There seem to be more female Wiccans than male ones, whereas there are probably more male Druids than female ones.

Druids prefer to conduct ceremonial in public, and usually wear clothing varying from the dramatic to the spectacular. Wiccans prefer to work in private, and may not wear clothes at all.

Druids may adopt a firm stance on worldly issues, and may take forceful and organised, though non-violent, action to express this. Wiccans, though they may take personal positions on such issues, rarely act as a body in the world.

Druidry concentrates more closely on the Celtic tradition than does Wicca. Variants of Wicca exist in respect of, for example, Pictish and Saxon traditions; this is not the case with Druidry.

The largest group of Wiccans is usually the coven, of a dozen or so, while Druidry sometimes assembles very large groups for ceremonial or other purposes.

Many Wiccans, like Druids, say that their practice is a philosophy and not a religion. Their degree of unanimity in this view could be fairly assessed only by other Wiccans.

Didn’t Druids do human sacrifices?

The Romans said so. Many modern Druids would reply “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

Archaeologists seem to think that human sacrifice did occur at some points in the history of these islands, because they have found remains that suggest it, but it is very difficult to ascribe it conclusively to ancient Druidry. It is sometimes alleged (again, based only on Roman sources) that the last survivors of the old Druids, driven to bay on Anglesey by the Roman genocide, resorted to human sacrifice in a desperate attempt to use their ultimate deterrent, black magic, against their overwhelming enemy. This is a romantic notion, but apparently lacking any basis in fact.

The ancient Celts were what would now be called head-hunters. They regarded the head with great veneration as the seat of the soul, and customarily decapitated dead enemies, attaching the severed heads to their chariots as the pre-Roman equivalent of furry dice. This practice has not, of course, been reconstructed by modern Druidry, but it is curious to note that so little modern attention is paid to this well-documented if rather savage Celtic tradition, maintained for centuries, while so much is paid to the scarcely substantiable Roman allegations about human sacrifice. Some believe that this is due to adoption of the allegations, and their repetition as fact, by members of the early and zealous Christian Church.

Do Druids believe in an afterlife?

Usually. Those who follow faiths which prescribe an afterlife in a particular idiom are already provided for; among the others, a belief in reincarnation and the ‘do as you would be done by’ principle expressed by the Sanskrit word karma is very common.

If Druidry isn’t a religion, why do Druids pray?

Druids usually repeat the Druid Vow when they gather. It goes like this:

We swear, by peace and love, to stand
Heart to heart, and hand in hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now,
Confirming this, our sacred vow.

The ‘Spirit’ mentioned means whatever the individual Druid understands it to mean. A Christian Druid would call it God; a modern Gaian would call it Gaia; a follower of Native American tradition might see it as Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit in the Sky; a wholly secular Druid might regard it, perhaps, as the principle of Reason. What matters is not who is invoked, but what they are called upon to witness.

Why do some Druids carry weapons?

The sword is used in Druidical ritual to demonstrate that it is not, in fact, required. The chief celebrant holds the sword over their head, half-unsheaths it, and demands “Is there peace?” The circle replies “There is peace.” Turning through one-third of a turn, the celebrant again demands “Is there peace?” Once again the circle replies “There is peace.” After another third of a turn, the question and answer occur for a third time (Druidical ritual favours triplicities). Finally the celebrant declares “Peace there is!” and sheaths and lowers the sword; the ritual then proceeds.

Druid ritual swords are, like all ceremonial swords, normally unsharpened. The Police have generally been of great assistance in recognising the ritual nature of Druid swords.

The staves carried by many Druids are sometimes called ‘magical weapons’, but are never used as physical ones. Were a Druid threatened with violence, they might well put their precious staff to one side, to ensure that it remained undamaged in whatever followed. Staves are often tipped with a quartz crystal, for magical reasons.

What is the curious sign worn by some Druids?

The thing that looks like three sticks stacked up, with three dots over them, is called the Awen. It symbolises the triplicities so common in Celtic culture and the Druidical tradition.