Druidry: The Rise, Fall, Revival and Life

In the deepest recesses of the mind, people can find some information that they have picked up along the way pertaining to the Druids. Tall figures clad in white robes chanting around Stonehenge, perhaps. For all that one may think they may know about these ancient beings, very little has actually been discovered to lead one into the true nature of the Druids. These mysterious people are based in truths all stemming from Celtic areas in Europe. The word 'druid' has itself been the center of investigation. ".most modern authorities agree with the classical authors that the most likely derivation is from the word for oak, combined with the Indo-European root wid - to know, giving their translation of the word Druid as 'One with knowledge of the oak' or 'Wise man of the oak'" (Carr-Gomm x).

Though the origins of the Druids are unknown, it does not stop people from making educated guesses. "[Where did the druids come from?] Some say from the West, while others say from the East. Esoteric tradition states that they originated from Atlantis in the West, while exoteric scholarship suggests that the Druids are known to us in the classical texts evolved as a result of the merging of local Neolithic culture with the incoming Celts, who originated in the East" (Carr-Gomm 6). However, they ended up settling in the modern day British Isles. When the Roman Empire was on the move and spreading Christianity like wildfire, not many rocks were left unturned. ".many Druids were killed or forced to convert to Christianity (which in the first several years A.D. was becoming the only religion tolerated)" (Franco 1). The Druids were forced to go into hiding. The only members of the Druidic society accepted by the Christian church were the Bards. These figures, not forced into hiding, could freely pass down the information that kept the Druid tradition alive though the hard years that would pass until the revival came about.

It was hard for many to keep up the practices of Druidry while the Christian church was so influential within the community. Many of the people who kept up the traditions were in fact, "people who became disillusioned with a church increasingly aligned with the state" (Carr-Gomm 18). In essence, the church was no longer controlling only the spiritual aspects of life, but also the political. As it became larger, it became more materialistic, creating discomfiture with many whose beliefs were held elsewhere.

During the Renaissance in Europe, texts dealing with the Druids were found and reprinted, giving the people a look at their pre-Christianity ancestry. When the New World was 'discovered', the people of Europe were taken aback at what they saw as likenesses between the Native American people and the Druids. They both were seen as savage and solitary peoples.
One man in particular helped along the revival by the ideas that he held. John Aubrey, a writer and antiquarian, conducted fieldwork on the great monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge. Many people believed that the monuments were built by the Romans of perhaps even later. Aubrey, though, was convinced that they were centers for Druidic ceremonies. Excerpts from his book, Monumenta Britannica, were published and have had a lasting effect on the populous by creating a correlation between Stonehenge and the Druids. Thus, the revival of the Druids was brought into full swing.

Today, Druids can still be found all over the world. In 1963, at Carleton College, it became mandatory for all students to attend a certain number of chapel services. However, if a student was of another religion, he or she could avoid the regulation. They formed the RDNA, Reformed Druids of North America and began holding their services to escape the chapel services. The rule was abolished the next year, but the RDNA kept on spreading. By the mid seventies, it had spread like wildfire, covering seven states. Other groups formed from this main group - "The NRDNA [New Reformed Druids of North America] include, or used to include, such groups as the Norse Druids in San Diego, Zen Druids in Olympia, Wiccan Druids in Minneapolis, Irish Druids in San Francisco, Hassidic Druids in St. Louis and Eclectic Druids elsewhere" (Carr-Gomm 36). Of course, North America is not the only place housing these groups. Britain has numerous groups as well, the Ancient Order of Druids, The United Ancient Order of Druids, the Glastonbury Order of Druids, the Universal Druid Order, the Ancient Druid Order, the College of Druidism in Edinburgh, and Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and Welsh, Breton and Cornish Druid groups. All of these groups are different and attract different types of people.

The Druids, like any other spiritual group, has its own collection of ceremonies and holy days. There are eight major ceremonies on the Druidic calendar: The Summer Solstice, the Winter Solstice, Autumnal Equinox, and Vernal Equinox are four dates that they celebrate. There are also Samhuinn, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. Samhuinn is celebrated between October 31 and November 2. In the ancient ideology of Druids, the Celts knew that chaos has to reign over a period of time and that even their structured way of life has to give at some point. Thus, Samhuinn was created. During the three days of the festival, men and women did fanatical things such as dressing as the opposite gender. "'Farmers gates were unhinged and left in the ditches, peoples' horses were moved to different fields, and the children would knock on neighbours' doors for food and treats." (Carr-Gomm 70).We see this tradition still alive today, every Halloween when children trick-or-treat. One can clearly see the way that the religion of Christianity built upon the pagan festivals in order to make a smoother transition. The Druids also knew that within these three days lay a deeper and more powerful meaning, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the Ancestors was very thin. Therefore, one of the main concerns of the festival of Samhuinn was to prepare to make the journey safely to the other side.

Next in the cycle would come the Winter Solstice or the Druid Tradition Alban Arthuan. Meaning the Light of Arthur, this event is a time to celebrate death and rebirth. The Christian connection to the pagan festival is Christmas. For even though records show that Jesus was probably born sometime in the spring, the Church rested the jubilee of his birth to coincide with the Winter Solstice. On the night of February 1, the Druids observe Imbolc, also known as Oimelc. This is a gentle festival to honor the Mother Goddess. The Vernal Equinox is next on the Druidic calendar, and is met with great celebration as the hours of daylight gradually become longer.

Beltane, celebrated on May 1, is a celebration of adolescence. Spring has hit full force and the people light two fires over which they leap in hope of fertility or good fortune. This observance is celebrated today as May Day, where the young children dance around the Maypole. During the Summer Solstice, the days have become longer than the nights and the most complex ceremony is begun. "Starting at midnight on the eve of the Solstice, a vigil is held through the night, seated around the Solstice fire. The night is over in a matter of hours and as light breaks, the Dawn Ceremony marks the time of the sun's rising on this his most powerful day. At noon a further ceremony is held. It is the dawn ceremony at Stonehenge that has attracted so much publicity, and which has been banned for the last two years, amidst much public outcry" (Carr-Gomm 72)

August 1, the time of Lughnasadh, is a time to begin the harvest. It was a time of marriages and games and the marriages that were performed at this time could also be annulled at the same time the following year, The Christianized version of Lughnasadh is Lammas, which means loaf-mass. As Lughnasadh marks the start of the harvest, so too does the Autumnal Equinox mark its end. The days and nights are once again equal and the people give thanks to the Mother Goddess for her kindness and generosity. Thus, the cycle begins anew.

Hence, one can see the great complexity of the Druidic ways. They have survived for thousands of years and seem to have no intention of fading out anytime soon. Through their passed down beliefs and festivals that are such a major part of the faith, they have kept Druidry alive. The monumental force backing this ancient people has persevered through mass persecution and has continued to spread throughout the world, gaining it global recognition. They are more than just the old stereotype of tall figures clad in white robes chanting around Stonehenge and have extended the faith to people who one might never suspect of having dealt with Druidry.