Many people coming across the Reformed Druid movement for the first time may very well be confused as to it’s exact nature, and for good reason – Reformed Druidism is very confusing, even (or perhaps especially) to its members. Therefore, this introduction may help to place certain concepts into perspective.
Reformed Druidism (or, at least, the first known Branch of the Reform) was started as a lark at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota in the Spring of 1963 c.e. (common era) as a protest to the college’s requirement that all students attend a certain number of religious services or meetings per semester. One of the ways in which this requirement could be fulfilled was by attending the services of one’s own religion. The original Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) was founded in order to test the amount of freedom granted under this clause – by inventing a new and unheard of religion on the spot.
As originally founded, Reformed Druidism was ideal for this attack. It had a perfect combination of “exotic ritual” plus “some relevance to the so-called Judeo-Christian Tradition.” If religious attendance credit had been given then the requirement would have been shown up as totally ineffective. If, instead, credit had been denied, then the college could have been charged with creedism.
The initial attitude of the college administrators was “If we ignore them, they’ll go away.” But the RDNA not only did not go away, it grew, acquired a faculty advisor and became a registered student organization – one that has existed, off and on, to this very day.
In June of 1964 c.e., the religious requirement was repealed. Even though the Druids rejoiced at this triumph, some of them realized that their job was not yet over. For many members, the movement had come to represent more than a practical joke and an excuse to miss Sunday Chapel – It had come to represent a valuable part of their spiritual lives. And so, to the surprise of the original Founders, the RDNA continued to exist and grow; with graduates of Carleton College spreading the movement (and its offshoots) across the country.
The principles of the original RDNA are quite simple and are referred to as the “Basic Tenets.” We quote here from The Book of the Law, Verses 4-6, as they appear in the Lughnasadh 14 y.r. Edition of The Druid Chronicles (Evolved):
“4. Now the Basic Tenets of Reformed Druidism are these:
5. The object of the search for religious truth, which is a universal and a never-ending search, may be found through the Earth-Mother; which is Nature; but this is one way, yea, one way among many.
6. And great is the importance, which is of a spiritual importance, of Nature, which is the Earth-Mother; for it is one of the objects of Creation, and with it do people live, yea, even as they do struggle through life are they come face-to-face with it.”
This has since been abbreviated, in The Outline of the Foundation of the Fundamentals, to the following statements:
“1. Nature is good! And the second is like unto the first:
2. Nature is good!”
It appears that all Reformed Druids, of every Branch of the Reform, believe in the above principles, though all have their own interpretations of the words. In all the Branches of the Reform, the material realm, Nature, is personified as the Earth-Mother (one of the oldest archetypes known to humanity). The abstract essence of the universe(s), in distinction from the material world, is referred to as Be’al, from a word which the Ancient Celts applied to an abstract supreme being (based on the root “Bel”, meaning “good, shining, bright”). The “object of Humanity’s search” is called “awareness” and it is defined as “unity with Be’al”.
The Branches of the Reform
There are at present (Lughnasadh 42 y.r.) several overlapping Branches of Reformed Druidism: the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), the New Reformed Druids of North America (NRDNA), the Schismatic Druids of North America (SDNA), the Hasidic Druids of North America (HDNA), The Reformed Druids of Gaia (RDG) and rumblings of a few others (including Zen Druidism, Chaoist Druidism, Norse Druidism, etc.)
The RDNA is, of course, the original group and looks somewhat askance at the offshoots. The NRDNA and the SDNA were founded during Foghamhar 12 y.r. (Fall of 1974 c.e.), the HDNA during Samradh 14 y.r. (Summer of 1976 c.e.), and the RDG during Samradh 45 y.r (Summer of 2006) . The other offshoots are as yet twinkles in their Founders’ eyes.
The various branches neither categorically deny nor accept the validity of any particular faith, including its own. This is one of the most important principles of the Reform. It means that anyone may become this kind of Druid without feeling obligated to renounce her or his present religious beliefs and without being committed to anything but the Basic Tenets. Many find this approach to mysticism liberating, although some may also feel that it prevents them from answering the question, “Is my Druidism valid?” The answer to that question must be found on an individual level and a Druid would say “It will come with awareness.”
While the original RDNA includes Jews, Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, Marxist and members of other faiths in its ranks, the NRDNA and RDG seem to include many Neopagans as well and one Grove at least is headed further and further in that direction. However, the major distinctions between the NRDNA, RDG and the RDNA appear to be in their political structure rather than their philosophy (see below).
The SDNA is emphatically Neopagan in its philosophy (although in an antidogmatic fashion) and defines itself as follows: “The SDNA is a Branch of Reformed Druidism, emphasizing its own nature as an Eclectic Reconstructionist Neopagan Priestcraft, based primarily upon Gaulish and Celtic sources, but open to ideas, deities and rituals from many other Neopagan belief systems. We worship the Earth-Mother as the feminine personification of Manifestation, Be’al as the masculine personification of Essence, and numerous Gods and Goddesses as personification of various aspects of our experience. We offer no dogmas or final answers but only continual questions. Our goal is increased awareness and harmony within ourselves and all of Nature. We are willing to interact philosophically and ritual with members of all other belief systems, including all other Branches of the Reform, that are compatible with our own approach and Nature. We accept our duty to assist Evolution, on all levels, and to work for the survival of our Holy Mother the Earth.”
The HDNA is an offshoot from the SDNA. It too considers itself to be a form of Neopaganism and has chosen to orient itself around a total Neopagan Lifestyle, based upon “repaganized” patterns taken from Jewish origins. It is currently offering the following self-definition, until a better one is evolved: “The HDNA is a Branch of Reformed Druidism, emphasizing its own nature as an Eclectic Reconstructionist Neopagan Lifestyle, based primarily upon Gaulish, Celtic, Yiddish and Hebrew Paleopagan sources, but open to ideas, deities and rituals from many other Neopagan belief systems…” [the rest of their definition follows that of the SDNA]
The newest branch, Reformed Druids of Gaia, is the offspring of the Order of the Mithril Star, itself the offspring of an illicit affair between the RDNA and the Church of All Worlds. The OMS, while holding to the two basic tenets adds a third borrowed from the CAW: “thou art God/dess.” In addition, and being a most eclectic group, OMS has borrowed from Discordianism, Thelema, Faery Wicca, Tibetan Buddhism, Quakerism, and Theasophy. With a little of this and a little of that added in for flavor. They are most definitely “neo-pagan” and could also be accused to pantheism and solipcism.The RDG is much closer to the RDNA tradition in that it only requires acceptance of the original two tenets and de-emphasizes the CAW like tendencies of it’s mother. OMS has subordinated itself to the RDG, becoming an order within that body, organized to support and promote the internationalism of the RDG.
It should be remembered that most of the members of the RDNA do not consider themselves to be Pagans of any sort, but rather followers of a way of inquiry that is applicable to any faith. Druids believe that among the many obstacles to spiritual growth are Dogmatism and Orthodoxy; the formalization of beliefs in a fashion that discourages continual spiritual inquiry, or that encourages others to adopt them without their own inquiry. Many also feel that most of the world’s religions are beset by these problems and must constantly combat their ossifying influence. The Neopagans agree that it is necessary to keep a wary eye and a keen sense of humor about the whole problem. Still, many of the older members of the RDNA disapprove of Neopagan Druidism, considering it a dangerous step backwards.
The SDNA, HDNA, and RDG seem to place more of an emphasis than the RDNA and the NRDNA (except for the Berkeley Grove) upon the following areas; Magic, craft, Poetry, Song, Dance, use of Solar and Lunar cycles, Neopagan ecumenical rites, civil liberties actions and active worship of many Gods not mentioned in the original RDNA literature. All Reformed Druid movements are interested in ecological activities and in the creation of new liturgies.
There are many members of the NRDNA who agree with the philosophy of the SDNA and/or the HDNA, but who prefer to remain with the organizational structure of the RDNA. This is what we mean when we say that the Branches of the Reform “overlap”. Also of interest is the fact that, thanks to the Apostolic Succession from Carleton College (maintained by using the same basic ordination ceremony, with or without additions, for the Priesthood), all Third Order priests and priestesses of any Branch of the Reform are equally “legitimate”, though personal beliefs vary widely and some groups may not allow priests of a different Branch to lead some of their specialized rites.
In none of the currently existing Branches of the Reform is either sex (or sexual preference) given precedence over the other, nor any race, color, nationality or culture considered superior. The SDNA, HDNA and RDG accept only Pagans for the Priesthood. The Priesthood of the RDNA and the NRDNA, on the other hand, are open to members of all faiths.
All Branches of the Reform operate locally in “Groves”. Each Grove has at least three officers; an Archdruid/ess, who must be at least a Third Order Druid or Druidess, to direct worship; a Preceptor (or Preceptress) who must be of at least the Second Order, to handle business matters; and a Server, who must be of at least the First Order, to assist the Archdruid/ess. In the SDNA, HDNA and RDG, other officers are added, including an Assistant Archdruid/ess, to preside over services when the regular Archdruid/ess is absent, and a Bard, to direct all the music, poetry, singing and dancing. The RDG has a “Scribe” who handles the business end of the Grove. Some Groves may also appoint an Astrologer to select the proper dates for services, etc. (Note: The RDG uses the word “degree” rather than “order” for these various “ranks.”)
To become a First Order Druid/ess, a person must partake of the waters-of-life and affirm her or his acceptance of the Basic Tenets. (Some Groves feel that acceptance of the tenets is enough).
To become a Second Order Druid/ess, one must pledge himself or herself to the service of Druidism, as well as have an understanding of basic Reformed Druidism (In the RDG, one must complete a beginners course in Druidism, and pledge oneself through an initiation rite).
To become a Third Order Druid/ess (priest or priestess), one must dedicate herself or himself to a life of Druidic inquiry, the beginning of which is an all night fast and vigil in the outdoors. The SDNA and the HDNA add various other requirements for this Order, including, amongst others, (1) a statement to the members of the Grove that one does indeed think of oneself as a Pagan, (2) progress in the learning of magical , religious and parapsychological knowledge, (3) progress in the learning of various crafts and fine arts, and (4) an agreement between the candidate and the ordaining Archdruid/ess that a genuine vocation is evident. The normal time period in the SDNA and the HDNA from becoming a member of the First Order to being ordained to the Third Order (for those who are not already clergy in other Neopagan religions) is a year and a day.
The RDNA and the NRDNA also encourage the ordination only of those with vocations, however, they define this differently and do not necessarily consider holding of Neopagan priesthood as evidence of such.
In order to establish a legal Grove, in any Branch, it is necessary to have three people, at least one of whom is of the Third Order and one of the Second, to adopt one of the standard forms of a Constitution and (for the offshoots) to register the fact of the Grove’s existence with the head of one’s Branch.
Each Grove, in every Branch of the Reform, is an independent entity, or “autonomous collective”, as is each Branch. In the RDNA, there is no governing structure what so ever, though in recent times some legalistic decisions have been made by a kind of mob mentality prevailing in the rdnatalk e-group on the internet.
The NRDNA formed, in part, over this lack of governing structure. Three of the five RDNA Groves (Berkeley, Chicago and Stanford) decided in August 1974 c.e. to stage a coup d’etat and form a Provisional Council of ArchDruids, inviting the leaders of all active Groves to join. Further details on this action, and the confusion accompanying it, can be found in The Book of Changes.
The fifth Grove (the Twin Cities) began to schism from the RDNA at the same time. The reasons for the schism (whether full or partial, temporary or permanent, has never been decided) were dissatisfaction with the religious vaguenesses and overly anarchistic disorganization that they believed to exist in the original Druid organization, a desire to make their form of Druidism more available to the public, and a feeling that it was unfair to all parties involved to use the same name. It is currently headquartered in Berkeley California (The Mother Grove, which has an overlapping membership with the Berkeley Grove, NRDNA).
The HDNA was formed as an offshoot of the SDNA, with its full cooperation, and is currently headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri (the Arch Grove)
The Archdruids of the NRDNA, SDNA and HDNA Groves used to belong to the Provisional Council of Archdruids (PCoADS), which was in correspondence with the RDNA Archdruids. However, PCoADS is now defunct and the political structure of all these Branches will no doubt continue to evolve as time goes on.
The SDNA has arranged for legal minister and church status to be granted to any Druid priest/ess or Grove so desiring (in any Branch) via a federally recognized Nonprofit Religious Association (the Association for the Advancement of Aquarian Age Awareness). [I.e. “Pentalpha”]
RDG has a three branch governmental structure. The “executive branch” is the RDG Mother Grove (currently in Eureka CA); the “legislative branch” is called the “Nematon of Dalon ap Landu” and consists of all 3rd degree members. The “the judicial branch” is known as the Council of “Archdruids” and consists of all the 3rd degrees that lead either local Groves or Orders.
Within the RDNA there are “Higher Orders,” from the Fourth to the Twelth, that are “reserved for outstanding insight and dedication over a period of time. They are similar to academic degrees in that they represent personal achievement, but carry no special authority.” Each of these Higher Orders is dedicated to one of the aspects of Nature mentioned below (under “Ritual”). There are at present only four of these Orders operating (the Fourth through Seventh), since the Patriarch of the Seventh Order resigned several years ago (as did the Patriarch of the Fourth Order more recently) and the RDNA has never instituted or executed any procedures for selecting replacements for the heads of the Higher Orders. Since the heads (Patriarchs and Matriarchs) of each Higher Orders are elected by the members of each Order directly below, this means that the Eight, Ninth and Tenth Orders have no leaders and no members.
There are also other Orders associated with the other Branches of the Reform, including the Order of Oberon and the Order of Merddyn in the SDNA (which are Bardic and Ceremonial Magical Orders, respectively), the Order of Diancecht in the NRDNA ( a Healing Order), etc. As a general rule, these Orders have only whatever “authority” in a local Grove may choose to grant them. For example, in the Twin Cities Grove, the Order of Oberon is headed by the Grove’s Bard and is in charge of all music, poetry, ritual dramas, etc. The Matriarch or Patriarch of each special Order is usually self-appointed and exercises whatever internal authority they can get away with, which isn’t much.
Order of the Mithril Star is a teaching order within the Reform, and is recognized as an such within both the RDNA and the RDG. In the past year however, most of OMS activity has been focused to further the RDG.
In accordance with the Basic Tenets, all Reformed Druid worship is directed towards Nature. For this reason, many customs and rituals (real, reconstructed, or fancied) of the Ancient (Paleopagan) Druids are retained. The Berkeley Grove seems to have done the most research in this area so far, having a gigantic library of Celtic materials and holding many of its services in Gaelic. Druid worship should in so far as is possible, be held in the out-of-doors. An oak grove, beach, hill or other place of natural beauty is ideal. Order of the Mithril Star prefers Redwood groves.
During the winter, especially in the Northern parts of the country, frequent outdoor services are impractical. The Berkeley Grove solved this by having “Celtic Nights” every other week during the winter, and the Twin Cities Grove experimented with weekly Taoist meditation services, which seemed to fit quite well with the Reformed druid idea.
According to custom, the officiating Third Order Druids, and other who so wish, ought to be clad in long robes (white is traditional, but any color other than black is acceptable), with the robe of the presiding Archdruid/ess having a distinctive color or decoration. The official mark of the Priesthood is the red or white ribbon (depending on the season) worn around the neck. This is the actual minimum of vestments and some Groves may choose to wear ordinary clothes or dress in some other manner. Ribbons of other colors are worn as insignia by the various Orders as well. Groves with large OMS membership, weather permitting, prefer “sky-clad” or nude rituals. This is a preference said to have been picked up from Phillip Carr-Gomm of OBOD.
The waters-of-life are usually passed to all present as a symbol of the link we have with Nature. Incantation and other Paleopagan ritual devices are also used, but in all Branches of the Reform human and animal sacrifice is forbidden (actually there is very little to support the idea that human sacrifice was ever very common among the Ancient Druids anyway). The sacrifice that is used instead is usually the leaves and branches of a living plant (often, but not always, an oak tree).
In order to focus attention on Nature, various aspects of Her retain the names of their corresponding Celtic and Gaulish Gods and Goddesses:
Dalon Ap Landu, Lord of the Groves
Grannos, God of Healing Springs
Braciaca, God of Malt and Brewing
Belenos, God of the Sun
Sirona, Goddess of Rivers
Taranis, God of Thunder and Lightning
Llyr, God of the Sea
Danu, Goddess of Fertility
These deities are referred to by all Branches of the Reform, though their relative importance varies from Grove to Grove. In the HDNA, SDNA, RDG and some parts of the NRDNA, several other deities are added. For details concerning these and other deities, see Miscellaneous Customs and Liturgical Notes, The Book of Footnotes, A Guide to Gaelic Deitiesand the appropriate books in A Bibliography of Druidism.
There are two standard services for weekly use, called the “Orders of Common Worship,” one for the Summer half of the year and one for the Winter half (RDG differs here in that they do not recognize the Winter half or “time of sleep.” There are also “Special Orders of the Worship” for the High Days (see below), most of them written by the Berkeley Grove, and all of them optional. Many other ceremonies, some required and some optional, have been created over the years and more are still being invented. For copies of these rituals, see The Liturgy of the Druids.
Festivals and Holy Days
The Druid festivals that are held in common by most Branches correspond to the important dates of the old Celtic year. Celebration always begins at sundown of the previous evening and includes bonfires and revelry appropriate to the season. The High Days are divided into Major and Minor ones:
Samhain occurs around November 1st, is a Major High Day and begins the period of Geimredh.
Midwinter occurs around December 21st, is a Minor High Day and marks the Winter Solstice.
Oimelc occurs around February 1st, is a Major High Day and begins the period of Earrach.
Spring occurs around March 21st, is a Minor High Day, the Vernal equinox is not celebrated by the RDNA.
Beltane occurs around May 1st, is a Major High Day and begins the period of Samradh.
Midsummer occurs around June 21st, is a Minor High Day and marks the Summer Solstice.
Lughnasadh occurs around August 1st, is a Major High Day and begins the period of Foghamhar.
Fall or Autumn occurs around September 21st, is a Minor High Day, the Autumnal Equinox is not celebrated in the RDNA.
These dates are all calculated in different ways by different Groves, and are extremely flexible in any event. The phases of the moon are closely watched and attempt is made to begin projects when the moon is waxing and to end them when it is waning. The night of the full moon is a night of rejoicing, while many Druids use the night of the new moon for solemn vigils and fasting. There are numerous other holidays and festivals, especially in the SDNA and the HDNA, kept by individual Druids and Groves.
For more information about these matters, see The Tally of the Years and the Druid Calendars.
There are a number of collected writings held in greater or lesser reverence by various Druids. The Chronicles of the Foundation, originally entitled The Druid Chronicles (Reformed), are the only writings universally held to be of “sacred” status. The Books of the Apocrypha consist of a variety of letters sent out by members of the Priesthood to each other. The Liturgy of the Druids is a collection of rites performed by both large and small numbers of Druids. Further Laws, Customs and Ordinances is the title for several pieces of constitutional and legislative material, as well as articles on the calendrical systems and miscellaneous customs developed by various individual Druids and Groves. The Great Druish Books are those held to by the Hasidic Druids (and a very few others). The Druid Miscellany is a number of short articles concerning matters historical, linguistic, polytheological, Bardic and bibliographical. All of these items will be found in The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) which is currently found on the web at http://rdna.info
The Green Book is a collection of favorite meditational passages and poems used by the Carleton Grove.. The Black Book is the name for the Carleton Archdruids’ copy of the liturgy.
The Order of the Mithril Star finds great inspiration in Robert A. Heinleins novel, Stranger In A Strange Land as well as the writings of the His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. OMS also favors The Principia Discordia.
We hope that this brief Introduction has answered some of your more important questions about the different organizations called themselves part of the Reformed Druid movements. Obviously , only a thorough and careful reading of all of the literature of the various Branches will acquaint you completely with each one. Naturally each Branch of the Reform likes itself the best and wishes to be distinguished from the others (especially the RDNA, which wishes to be kept completely distinct from its offshoots). It is up to the reader to decide which, if any, of the Reformed Druid movements strikes a responsive chord.
Cylch Cerddwyr Rhwng y Bydoedd Grove, RDG
Reformed Druids of Gaia P.O. Box 6753 Eureka CA 95502-6753