Neodruids… Modern druidism emerged with (and essentially as the answer to) the development of an urban-oriented industrialization of society in human civilization. The revival far predates both the modern New Age Movement and contemporary Wicca as an underground counter-cultural movement or secret society — both public and private.
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The early 18th Century revival in England coincides with the rebirth of the Freemasonic tradition. The Freemasons began to allow “Accepted Masons,” those who were not masons by trade, into their ranks. [Many founding figures of the early neodruid organizations were Masons and Rosicrucians.] Neodruidic revival occurred during the Anti-Witchcraft and Magick Acts (see Book of Elven Faerie or The Druid Compleat), so members were cautious not to be interpreted as “sorcerers” or “witches.” This forced many of the organizations to operate as ecological, charitable and social rotary clubs.
The sacred sites of the Celts and antiquarian interest in the Druids promoted a renaissance of “Celtic Reconstructionism” and neo-druidism. The interpretation of this revival, the differing beliefs and personal inclinations of individuals caused the first of many underground neodruidic schisms. [This entire blog/lesson is excerpted officially from ARCANUM by Joshua Free.]
John Toland originally sought to unify the antiquarian movement in 1717 when he founded the (British) Druid Circle of the Universal Bond [“An Druidh Uileach Braithreaches” (ADUB)]. It maintained international membership from the start and was rooted in Toland’s personal researches into the Druid Histories. [Toland’s secret society also went by the name of the “Ancient Druid Order” (ADO).]
Some “mesopagan” Druids, like Henry Hurle, saw neo-druidism as an extension, if not a purely Celtic equivalent, to Eurasian Freemasonry, which was revived in England in the same year and place [“The Apple Tree Tavern”] as John Toland’s ADO in 1717. Hurle led the formation of the “Ancient Order of Druids” (AOD) in 1781 emphasizing his background in Masonry, Rosicrucianism and the Kabbalah. Some members disliked the occult focus, preferring participation in the social-charitable organizations.
These members formed their own branch or offshoot called the “United Ancient Order of Druids” (UAOD) in 1833, which retained the “rotary club” ideals. Other Masonic-Druids joined the “Ancient Archaeological Order of Druids” (AAOD), which was formed by Robert Wentworth Little in 1874, later changing its name to the “Ancient Masonic Order of Druids” (AMOD) in 1886. These Masonic and Rosicrucian-oriented Druids went onto evolve the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (GD). Other Hermetic and Kabbalistic organizations of neodruids continued to form.
Once the revival had been organized it immediately became a public and national identity. Sacred sites such as Stonehenge and Woodhenge would entertain guests by the thousands during neodruidic activities. Large media events were planned around the dramatic reenactments and ceremonies performed by neodruids in full wizard’s attire. The more publicized displays coincided with the autumn equinox and summer solstice festivals. The full eight-fold wheel of the year, now common in the New Age, was not yet a part of the revival. [See ARCANUM for further information regarding this.]
In the 19th Century, when Quasi-Masonic neodruidry was developing, a separate nationalist movement was growing alongside. These “reconstructionists” sought to reinvestigate the Bardic Tradition as a national custom in Wales. Figures such as Iolo Morganwg (compiler of the Barddas), William Blake and Edward Davies all desired to preservation of the language and Druidism of Wales. This led to a revival of the “Gorsedd of Bards” and a “National Eisteddfodd” held annually in public to celebrate the Welsh tradition. With some offbeat claims of “authenticity,” the Welsh revival (and the more recent neo-Pheryllt system) has been subject to historical and mystical controversy in relation to other organizations and revival efforts.
Organized neodruidism did not reach America until the early 1900s as an extension of AAOD/AMOD. Though originally a more Masonic-based secret society, the “Ancient Order of Druids in America” (AODA), as they called themselves, evolved into a standard green magick system under the direction of John Michael Greer, including neo-paganism and sacred geometry. The 1960s displayed a more publicly visible forum for “reformed” neodruidism, evident by the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), founded by Minnesota college students: first as a rebellion to the religious requirements of Carleton College, but it became a widespread modern contemporary avenue toward New Age ideals.
Ross Nichols had been a member of ADO for a decade when Arch Druid Robert MacGregor Reid passed away in 1963. The election for a new Chosen Chief produced a schism in the organization. Nichols felt that the Rosicrucian-Theosophical approach to neodruidism did not “feel” truly “druidic,” so he formed the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). The order still incorporated some Eastern philosophies but remained primarily Celtic. After his death, OBOD was passed down to Philip Carr-Gomm who jump-started the organization again in 1988. Most of the modern revival traditions of the 1990s-to-present seem heavily dependent on the OBOD materials and social networking. Most major contemporary neodruidic figures/authors have some connection to OBOD in England (or to COBOD, the Council of British Orders of the Druids).
Back in America, the RDNA tradition gave rise to an only slightly more solemn practice in the early 1980s under the direction of Isaac Bonewits. The new order, A Druid Fellowship (ADF) sought to provide for America what OBOD does for Europe. Both organizations eventually became an international success. But then, as is common in neo-druidism, another schism erupted. In 1986, some members broke away from ADF to form the Henge of Keltria (HK), which justifiably sought to remove the wiccan influence that overran the ADF materials.
The neodruidism of the 21st Century really belongs to the youth of society, the young and middle-aged seekers. At one time it seemed to be a social organization aimed at the older and more established working class. Today, the ecological responsibility proposed by the “Druid Way” speaks to those that fear the near-future state of the Earth Planet. It is the younger generations that are feeling the effects and fearing the future as they work to solidify their own lives on an ever-changing canvas. The long-term effects of crude oil use, chlorine-based refrigerants, freshwater pollution and air quality are beginning to take affect, though it seems the elder mongers with cash interests in these products simply don’t care about those of us that will still be alive in the oncoming decades. The world of neodruidism has come into existence among the common classes because of the calling felt to aid in the restoration and balance of Nature… —Joshua Free
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