History of Neopaganism and Druidry

Exit Standard 1. Define Paleopaganism, Mesopaganism, and Neopaganism, giving examples of each. (minimum 100 words for each)

Paleopaganism is, “…is a general term for the original polytheistic, nature-centered faiths of tribal Europe…” (Bonewits) and is used freely within the ranks of ADF although it has not been widely accepted in the Pagan community yet. In Europe, this would include all of the ancients before the coming of Christianity, including the religions of the Greeks, Romans, Germans, Norse, Celts, etc. Bonewits also states that the ancient Hindis, Taoists and Shinto practitioners also fit the category despite their reluctance to use the expression. Beyond the continent of Europe the aboriginal peoples of Africa, the Americas, Oceana and Australia who practice the ‘old ways’ and have resisted the weight of Christianity would also be covered by the umbrella of the terminology. It can be safely stated that throughout the world there are millions of Paleopagans worshipping their deities in the manner of the old ways.

Mesopaganism is according to Bonewits in his essay, A Very Brief History of Mesopagan Druidism, the term which is generally ascribed to as representing the attempts by several diverse groups who are either attempting to resurrect or resume aspects that were conceived as being the best characteristics of what our ancestors practiced. Unfortunately there is the problem of outside influence being exerted from the viewpoints of faiths such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or early Buddhism. (A Very Brief History 2-3) Various fraternal movements like the Freemasons, several Neopagan religions like Thelema, some types of Heathenry, most orthodox denominations of Wicca, Rosicrucianism, the religious groups created by the slave traffic out of their homeland religions influenced by Christianity, Theosophy, Spiritualism, and those forms of Druidry influenced by the above, would also be in this category.

Neopaganism is a general term coined by Oberon Zell, a founder of the Church of All Worlds, and is used to cover a variety of movements that are both organized and nonorganized that started around 1960 c.e. as attempts to recreate, revive or continue what their founders believed were the best aspects of the Paleopagan ways of their ancestors. These beliefs are then blended with modern humanistic, pluralist and inclusionary ideals, while consciously striving to eliminate as much as possible of the traditional Western monotheism, dualism, and Puritanism. Generally, Neopagan religions believe in multiple deities, perceive those deities as both immanent and transcendent, are committed to environmental awareness, and perform magical as well as spiritual rituals to help both themselves and others. Wicca, Ásatrú, and many varieties of Druidism such as practiced by ADF, the Henge of Keltria and O.B.O.D., and some Norse Paganism would be included in this definition.


Exit Standard 2. Name and describe several of the literary sources that contributed to Neopaganism in the first quarter of the 20th century, and discuss their impact on its development. (minimum 300 words)

Written by a Scottish anthropologist, Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, in particular the third edition which was published in 1922 as a one-volume abridgement, was a work that was (and still is in reality) highly influential in the early 20th century to the development of the Neopagan movement. This book has been cited as being enormously significant in the writings of others in the early development such as Robert Graves, Margaret Murray, and Gerald Gardner. The Golden Bough is a work of comparative mythology

That focuses on the mythological cycle of The Goddess’ lover and son, the solar God who dies and is reborn.

From 1923 to 1925 Frazer delivered and printed several lectures under the title The Worship of Nature. He based his theories for these lectures on classical and missionary accounts combined. Analyzing these accounts, Frazer explains how it is that various religious communities throughout time and space have deified the Sky, Earth and Sun. The universality of such nature-worship throughout human history leads him to conclude that all societies, at some point in time, attempt to explain the world around them by ascribing meaning and personality to natural phenomena. Still available as papers these lectures provide a great deal of information for the Neo-Pagan, particularly in relation to Hellenic or Roman hearth cultures. His comparison to the worship of nature in Africa, Egypt, Greece and Rome provided an excellent platform upon which Nature Worship could be resurrected.

Margaret Murray’s The Witch-cult in Western Europe, which was published in 1921, was written during an interlude when she was unable to do field work in Egypt. The tome laid out the essential elements of her thesis that there was a common pattern of underground pagan resistance to the Christian Church and that this resistance existed across Europe. This work and her later book, “The God of the Witches” published in 1933, were greatly influential for the next couple of decades. The premise of these books combined was the principle idea that witchcraft could be traced back to Paleopagan times as an organized religion that may have been the “ancient religion of Western Europe.” (Adler 45)   The God of the Witches, published in 1931 expanded on her contention that the witch cult had worshiped a Horned God whose origins went back to prehistory. This deity was a two-faced horned god, called variously Janus or Dianus. The female form of the latter name, Diana, gave Murray her name for the religion, the Dianic Cult. Modern Wicca is still attached to these ideas. A modern historian, Norman Cohn in his Europe’s Inner Demons published in 1975, thoroughly discredited her theories. (Adler 49-52)



Exit Standard 3. Describe several examples of authentic folk customs absorbed into Neopaganism, and describe how they have been adapted. (minimum 300 words)

One of the first customs that comes to mind is the Maypole, a hangover from Latha Bealltainn or simply Bealltainn (Beltane). It has been speculated that it originally had some importance in the Germanic paganism and early mediaeval cultures, and that the tradition survived the Christian invasion, albeit losing any original meaning that it had. The symbolism of the maypole has been continuously debated by folklorists for centuries, ranging from a symbol of the world tree and reverence for the sacred trees to some viewing them as having phallic symbolism although no set conclusion has ever been arrived at. (Wikipedia)

Another tradition that has carried over from Beltane is that of bonfires. Beltane was a time of impressive purification. It is said that the Druids in ancient Scotland used to drive the cattle between two bonfires kindled out of sacred woods in order to drive off disease before the cattle were sent up to the higher pastures to range after spending the winter penned in. (Ross 134) Every year in Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival is held on the evening of May Day’s Eve and into the early hours of May Day on the city’s Calton Hill.  This festival takes the form of a dramatic pageant which culminates in a bonfire scene that symbolizes the old tradition where farmers would drive their herds between two bonfires at this time of year to bless them. And in Ireland bonfires are still lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter. (Squire 410)

Coinciding with the rise in Neopaganism is the return to folklore healing, sometimes referred to as botanical healing, involving the use of herbal extracts, herbal treatments, poultices, teas and supplements. People on all continents have used literally hundreds to thousands of indigenous plants for treatment of ailments for seemingly eons of time. Indigenous healers often claim to have learned by observing that sick animals change their food preferences to nibble at bitter herbs they would normally reject and such observations have developed into a skill set beneficial to humankind. This return to earth centered healing has led to new fields of research in medicine and the increased revival in the practice by Neopagans and others.


Exit Standard 4. Of the following names, identify and explain the importance each has had in Neopagan history and/or the magical revival (minimum 100 words for each):

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Brousseau Gardner lived from 1884 to 1964 and sometimes used the craft name Scire, was an influential English Wiccan. He was instrumental in bringing the Neopagan religion of Wicca to public attention in Britain and wrote some of its definitive religious texts which were only published after 1950 due to the anti-witchcraft laws in Britain prior to this date. He himself typically referred to the faith as “witchcraft” or “the witch-cult”, its adherents “the Wica”, and he claimed that it was the survival of a pre-Christian pagan Witch cult that he had been initiated into by a New Forest coven in 1939. He would go on to develop his own variant of the Craft that has come to be named after him, Gardnerian Wicca, which combined the teachings that he had received from the New Forest coven with additional ideas taken from a number of disparate sources, including Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, the esoteric sides of Catholicism, Theosophy, mediaeval grimoires and the writings of the occultist Aleister Crowley, a man whom Gardner knew personally, all of which contributed to the development of witchcraft as we see it today and which included the common elements of all of these with new beliefs contrived to fill in any gaps found through the intermingling.

Robert Graves

Robert Ranke Graves, English poet, translator and novelist, lived from 1895 to 1985. During his long life he produced more than 140 works, but the most notable for Neopagans was his work The White Goddess which was published in 1948 and which subsequently gave rise to a form of wholly invented Celtic astrology. Graves was very influential in the development of the concept of the goddess and the god and in the development of the Goddess as a triple aspect; mother, maiden and crone that is so prevalent in the Neopagan movement today. Despite the fact that his father, Charles Graves, a well-known scholar on the topic, frequently denied the use of the Ogham as a divinatory method, Robert was integral in the development of Ogham as a modern Neopagan divinatory method. In spite of his popularity among those of the Wicca movement, Margot Adler cites a conversation with Isaac Bonewits in which he said, “Graves is a sloppy scholar. The White Goddess has caused more bad anthropology to occur among Wicca groups than almost any other work.” (Adler 57) Bonewits goes on to say that while the book is a lovely metaphor and myth, an inspirational source of religious ideas to people, it is the not the scholarly work that Graves purported it to be when he claimed that people should accept it as being true. Graves himself said that it was written in a few weeks in a storm of passion and in his own mind it was clearly a poetic metaphor. Whatever the case, it is touted among Wiccans as a great source and it seems to be interpreted too literally by some.

Dion Fortune

Violet Mary Firth Evans was born Violet Mary Firth but is better known as Dion Fortune, was a Welsh born occultist and author who took the name Dion Fortune, from her magical motto of Deo non Fortuna (“by God, not by chance”) and wrote her books and articles using this name. She began writing in 1919 with two of her novels, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, becoming influential within the religion of Wicca. Perhaps her best remembered books are; The Cosmic Doctrine, The Mystical Qabalah, and Psychic Self Defence. She was one of the primary founders of the Fraternity of the Inner Light (a Christian magical order) which later changed to The Society of the Inner Light. This change of name occurred following their departure from the group, Alpha et Omega, which was an order descended from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Society of the Inner Light was to be the focus of her work for the rest of her life and is considered to be her masterpiece by occultists and occult sympathizers.

Oberon Zell

Was born Timothy Zell, in 1942, in St. Louis, Missouri, and is also formerly known as Otter G’Zell. He is a co-founder of the Church of All Worlds, as well as a writer and speaker on the subject of Neopaganism. He is also the creator of one of the biggest Neopagan magazines, The Green Egg, which was one of the greatest networking resources available at the time but ceased publication in the 1990’s. Oberon Zell, along with his wife Morning Glory Zell and others, also popularized the practice of polyamory, the concept that people can have more than one partner, among Neopagans. Zell, his magazine The Green Egg and the Church of All Worlds have had a strong influence on the modern practice of Paganism as we see it today.


Starhawk was born Miriam Simos in 1951 and is an American writer, anarchist activist, and self-described witch. She is well known as a theorist of Neopaganism, and is one of the foremost popular voices of ecofeminism which is a social and political movement that points to the existence of considerable common ground between environmentalism and feminism. Her most influential literary work is The Spiral Dance has been cited as causing a proliferation in the number of covens and an enormous amount of political feminist activism. Starhawk has been very actively involved in the Reclaiming movement, an international community of women and men working to combine earth-based spirituality and political activism, a movement which she co-founded. From her activity and works she has been and still is inspirational to a number of modern Pagans with her book, The Spiral Dance, providing a great deal of credibility to Paganism.

Isaac Bonewits

Isaac Bonewits was born Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits in 1949 was an influential American Druid who published a number of books on the subject of Neopaganism and magic. His first book Real Magic was published in 1971. Subsequent works that have heavily influenced the Neopagan movement include Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism and Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Ritual That Work, and numerous papers and articles that are still actively used as scholarly references to this day. Bonewits has had an influence on a number of Pagan groups over the years and he especially influenced a number of modern Druid churches such as RDNA, NRDNA, ADF, and Henge Keltria. He is best known for his founding of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) as a Neopagan religion based in scholarship in the 1980’s. The motto for ADF of “Why Not Excellence” is reflected in the Study Program started by Bonewits, whose goal of producing credible, knowledgeable Neopagan clergy; actual druid priests and priestesses, who would be able to fulfill all the roles of modern clergy for other Neopagans, such as birth, marriage, and funerary rites is being realized today.

(Up to two other individuals of your choice)

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875, and also known as both Frater Perdurabo, meaning “I shall endure to the end.,”  and The Great Beast, was an influential, albeit controversial, English occultist, mystic and ceremonial magician, responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema, essentially a polytheistic religion, with the deities adopted from Ancient Egyptian religion. “As Crowley developed the religion, founding an organization known as the A∴A∴ to propagate it, he wrote widely on the topic, producing what are collectively termed the Holy Books of Thelema. He also included into it ideas from occultism, Yoga and both Eastern and Western mysticism, especially the Qabalah.” (Aleister Crowley Wikipedia) Crowley first joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898 and was advanced in rank only when a schism between members occurred and in which he sided with MacGregor Mathers the founder. Even though Mathers had been ousted from the Order, he still held the post of chief at the time (strangely not yet having had the title removed from him despite his ouster) and in his role as chief was able to initiate Crowley into the Adeptus Minor grade. In 1904 near Cairo, Egypt he claims to have heard the disembodied voice of Aiwass speak to him and who dictated to Crowley the text of “The Book of the Law” which was probably his most important work, over a three-day period. Crowley was sexist, racist, a prolific drug user and teller of false tales (organizations like the Freemasons that he claimed he belonged to have no record of his membership and did not recognize the organized branches that he belonged to as regular lodges.) He often introduced new terminology for spiritual and magickal practices and theory, something that Gerald Gardner incorporated into his practices later. Fan or detractor it is hard to dismiss Crowley as not being influential to the Neopagan movement.

Robert Lee “Skip” Ellison

‘Skip Ellison is a Druid priest and liturgist and an author in the fields of Druidry, Magic and divination. He is also an Archdruid Emeritus of Ár nDraíocht Féin. Ellison’s books include The Wheel of the Year at Muin Mound Grove ADF: A Cycle of Druid Rituals, The Druids’ Alphabet: What Do We Know About the Oghams?, and The Solitary Druid: Walking the Path of Wisdom and Spirit. As a faculty member of the Grey School of Wizardry, he is: Dean of the Department of Divination; Dean of the Department of Beast Mastery; Professor of Divination; and Instructor in Magickal Creatures, Druidry, History, Camping and Woodcraft. One of the most beneficial books that I have found as an ADF Solitary has been his work The Solitary Druid: Walking the Path of Wisdom and Spirit, a book that he partially “Dedicated to the solitaries in ADF, whose questions and comments led to this book …” (Ellison Dedication) What makes this book extraordinary to me is that it covers so much territory in an easy to follow and comprehend manner. Examples are plentiful and very significant for the novice practitioner who is self-conscious and desirous to perform rituals in an accurate and suitable manner. Through his work over the years and the influence he has exerted over so many individuals Ellison stands out as a ‘mentor’ that ranks alongside Isaac Bonewits and Ian Corrigan in ADF and other Neopagan circles.


Exit Standard 5. Compare and contrast your understanding of three various forms of Neopaganism, such as Wicca, Ásatrú, eclectic Neopaganism, shamanism, and discordianism. (minimum 300 words)

This is one of those questions that compel one to go beyond common knowledge, which is often misconception based upon media hype and dramatization. It is also one that could be a springboard to further in-depth scholarly study, writing and possible publication. For the purposes of this assignment I will be dealing with the practices of shamanism, Wicca, and Discordianism.

Shamanism involves the practice of a range of beliefs and procedures regarding communication with the spiritual world but it is not a religion. Traditional shamanism was practiced by the more primitive stages of ancient cultures, and is practiced today among the aboriginal peoples of America, Australia and South America, among others. Shamanism encompasses the belief that shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. While this may sound much the same as functions analogous to the Druids there is dissimilarity in that they do espouse affinity to particular deities or religious faiths. Shamans are the medicine men, psychopomps, magicians and healers; they tend to work alone (though they may have help by drummers, etc.) My first close exposure to shamanism was amongst the Hmong people in Vietnam and Laos in the early 1970’s. Here the shaman or the “shi yi”, acts as healer. The Shi Yi also performs rituals or ceremonies designed to call upon the soul from its many travels back to the physical human body. A Shi Yi may use several shamanistic tools such as swords, divinity horns, a gong, a drum, finger bells, feathers, roosters, shakes that are transformed from rattles, and jingles. All of these tools are used to protect the spirits from the eyes of the unknown, which enables the Shi Yi to deliver souls back to their proper owner. The Shi Yi may wear a white, red, or black veil to disguise the soul from its attackers in the spiritual dimension. Shamanistic techniques have also been used in New Age therapies which use enactment and association with other realities as an intervention.

Even though there have been claims of Ancient Celtic Witchcraft and various other claims, notably by Margaret Murray who published several books detailing her theories that those persecuted as witches during the Early Modern period in Europe were not, as the persecutors had claimed, followers of Satanism, but adherents of a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion – the Witch-Cult, they have been thoroughly discredited by further historical research. Wicca is a predominantly duotheistic religion with a focus on the worship of the Goddess and the God. These two are traditionally viewed as the Triple Goddess, in the guise of Maiden, Mother, and Crone rather than the customary Celtic triplication of three sisters and her consort the Horned God. Wicca is typically small group oriented with a coven up to the size of thirteen members. One of the early and most notable members of Wicca was Gerald Gardner who after initiation into the New Forest Coven formed his own version of the Craft which quickly became the most widespread form in the British Isles.  Wicca celebrates 8 High Days called Sabbats, which have been adopted by many other Neopagan groups. They also celebrate some minor holidays which are often involving phases of the moon and are called Esbats. In most Wiccan rites circles are cast to create sacred space and to protect the participants against evil. This is often done by spreading salt in a circle around the participants. Wiccans also honor four elements earth, air, fire, and water by invoking their powers at each of the “cardinal points” or directions. Unlike Shamanism, Wicca does not envision themselves as intermediaries but more as practitioners and in contrast to Shamanism which does not link itself to any particular deities, Wicca espouses the premise of a God and Goddess. Despite political and religious opposition in recent years, almost reminiscent of earlier times, Wicca continues to attract and initiate many into its ranks.

Discordianism is a religion centered on the idea that, unlike many Neopagan religions which idealize harmony and order, chaos is all that there is, and that disorder and order are both illusions that are imposed on chaos. The foundational document of Discordianism is the Principia Discordia written by Malaclypse The Younger, an alias of Greg Hill. The matron deity of Discordianism is the Greek goddess Eris, of discord, identified by the Romans as Discordia. There are as many interpretations of Discordianism as there are Discordians, The original sect of Discordia founded by Malaclypse the Younger is called the Paratheo-Anametamystikhood Of Eris Esoteric (POEE), a “Non-Prophet Irreligious Disorganisation. Essentially, Discordians try to teach themselves and others to not take themselves too seriously in an attempt to dispel “the curse of Greyface”. Greyface was a man who lived in the year 1166 BC and taught that life is serious and play is sin. The curse is the psychological and spiritual imbalance that results from these beliefs. A principle of Discordia is the, “…Law of Eristic Escalation which states that “Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos”. It elaborates on this point by saying that the more order imposed the longer it takes for the chaos to arise and the greater the chaos that arises.” (Wikipedia-Discordianism) This is one of the most severe differences between Shamanism, Wicca and Discordianism. While the former two place a great emphasis on balance and order, the latter stresses the antipathic stance of Chaos being the central objective. The rise of popularity in Discordianism is somewhat intriguing and it is said that at one point they numbered twenty cabals but, “Since radical decentralization is a Discordian principle, it is impossible to know how many Discordians there were and are, or what they are doing.” (Adler 347)


Exit Standard 6. Discuss the origins and practices of hermetic or ceremonial magic, and how they have influenced Neopaganism. (minimum 300 words)

Ceremonial magic is a label used to identify magical practices that are conducted in ceremonial fashion, often with the accompaniment of a number of specific accoutrements and trimmings that are regarded as indispensable for the proper observance of these rites. “From medieval alchemists to Renaissance astrologers to modern adepts of secret fraternities like the Golden Dawn, the ceremonial magician has combined scholarship with an intricate system of symbols and rituals to master the forces of the spiritual world.” (McColman 243) Because of the nature of the work and the encounters that can be made in ceremonial magic, it is not an art that should be attempted without careful preparation and instruction. Books like Francis Barrett’s The Magus have influenced the Neopagan movement to an immeasurable extent and can be cited as one of the major influences in the renewed interest by many in the Neopagan movement.

Hermetic magic is one form of ceremonial magic but are terms used almost synonymously (an inaccuracy in my opinion) to describe a broad assortment of protracted, convoluted, formal procedures that are almost ritualistic in nature. “Hermetic Magic is the magical tradition practiced by the Order of Hermes, in accordance with the universal theory of magic invented by Bonisagus and perfected over the centuries by his descendants. Practitioners of Hermetic magic are called magi.” (Gronosky, “Project Redcap”) The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a specifically Hermetic society, teaching the arts of alchemy, Qabalah, and the magic of Hermes along with the principles of occult science. The order maintained the tightest of secrecy by severe penalties for loose lips. Overall, the general public was left oblivious to the actions and even existence of the Golden Dawn, making the policies a success. This secrecy was broken first by Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, and Israel Regardie.  Regardie was vocal with claims that there are many who know what the members  do with magic from what has been leaked out of the Golden Dawn, by what he regards “renegade members” yet he himself ‘leaked’ information in 1940, giving a detailed account of the order’s teachings to the general public.

Between the 2nd and 7th centuries CE in a period referred to generally as Late Antiquity, religions and practices such as Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and early Christianity emerged in an analogous fashion with Hermeticism. These groups showed a practice that was, “characterized by a resistance to the dominance of either pure rationality or doctrinal faith”. (van den Broek vii) After centuries of being in disfavor Hermeticism reappeared in 1460 but again fell into controversy in 1613 when their text was heavily disputed for authenticity. There was again a lull which lasted until the 1960’s when it again was resurrected by, “…Dame Frances Yates’ re-introduction of the works to the world as part of her work on Renaissance culture.” (Greer 224)


Exit Standard 7. Discuss the influence of the Pagan festival movement, and how the festivals changed Paganism in the 1980s. (minimum 100 words)

Festivals of every organization are well renowned for the congregating and exchanging of ideas, philosophies, camaraderie and talent. Prior to the 1980’s this venue was not utilized by the Neopagan movement. In large part this was due to the skepticism and disapproval that was engendered by the mainstream religious populace and the hesitancy which led to secrecy by the Neopagan populace. Once the festivals began they quite quickly gathered in number and size as more individuals came to attend, participate and learn about the ‘novelty’ of Neopaganism. The gatherings offered a place that was informal and instructive while being a ‘neutral’ territory. As people began to explore and discover what there was in the world beyond their own group there began a transition that caused some consternation among group leaders who saw that those who were disaffected with their group joining another group with whom they felt closer affinity. Although typically only a small percentage of movement members attend a festival the affect is like that of a pebble in a pond because when they return from their experience they bring back excitement, revitalization coupled with new ideas and procedures that they share, hence the spreading of the experience and knowledge is multiplied within the community exponentially.


Exit Standard 8. Discuss the influence of the Internet, and how it has changed Paganism in the 1990s (minimum 100 words)

Just as the festivals brought change and openness to Paganism, the internet expanded the movement beyond anyone’s imagination. Now people who wanted to learn about the beliefs and organizational philosophies of groups could do so without leaving their homes. Conversely this also produced the problem that people with less than honorable intent could falsify their identity, and as has been discovered there are individuals who seclude themselves entirely and not practice the very basic premise of Paganism, communing with Nature.

One of the greatest positive impacts that has transpired because of the Internet is the communication factor and the speed with which groups and individuals can interface. Solitaires in organizations like ADF can now feel as close to the Mother Grove as they desire. They no longer need to feel isolated because of their geographical location but can share information, ideas, practices and reviews with the Pagan community at large. The Internet can be seen as an extremely large international festival because the Internet is a high-speed, international medium that allows members around the globe to communicate openly and freely with others of like mind. In ADF I cannot help but think of the number of people who are aided by the Healers Guild in a very expeditious manner. Instead of waiting for Oak Leaves or some other organizational publications to disseminate information to members there are a number of e-mail lists and articles covering a large number of applicable topics available to members of organizations like ADF, RDNA, and the Henge of Keltria.


Exit Standard 9. Discuss the origins of the Druidic revival in 18th and 19th century England, naming its key players and describing their contributions. (minimum 600 words)

It is interesting, almost fascinating, how the Druidic Revival progressed, especially in England which has such close affinity historically to Druidism. Admittedly there are several factors that slowly allowed the revival process to explode in the 18th and 19th centuries starting with a growing interest in ancient what Greek and Latin writers such as Pliny, Tacitus, and of course Julius Caesar especially regarding their descriptions of the Celtic world. It is an amusing trait that we believe without much question what these writers detailed and yet further investigation reveals that they followed the tradition of writing history from their viewpoint as conquerors and outsiders without much in the way of scholarly support. That their word was accepted after a millennia of ignorance and used to start a revitalized interest in Druidry is both fortunate yet farcical.

In 1659 John Aubrey countered the claim of Inigo Jones that, “…Stonehenge is the remains of a Roman Temple of the Tuscan order…” (Poole) and might instead be an edifice constructed by the Druids. He based this assertion upon his fieldwork that he conducted at Stonehenge. Working this theory quietly for several years he encountered John Toland who enthusiastically joined in promulgating the premise after learning of it. In A Very Brief History of Mesopagan Druidism, Bonewits writes, “In 1695, excerpts from Aubrey’s book were published, including his theory about Druids at Stonehenge…” (Bonewits) an event brought a much larger and wider audience to the theory.

In 1717 a young archeologist named William Stuckeley managed to get access to a copy of Aubrey’s complete manuscript of Templa Druidim including portions that had not previously been published. It has also been claimed that John Toland the same year, held a meeting at which, “Druidic and Bardic representatives from Wales, Cornwall, Britanny, Ireland, Scotland, Anglesey, Man, York, Oxford and London,” (A Very Brief History) congregated and created the Universal Druid Bond. Six years later, Rev. Henry Rowlands created something called the “the Druid stone altar” in his work the Mona Antiqua Restaurata. This “invention” brought a new phase into the ‘supposed culture’ of the Druids transitioniung them from using altars made of sod or tree stumps into altars that were cairns (piles of stones) and the capstones of cromlechs (roofs of passage graves), a very enchanting transformation!

Ironically in 1726, John Toland published his History of the Druids which was very derogatory in nature in its portrayal of Druids but still maintained the theory that Stonehenge was Druidic. This is the same John Toland who had earlier help create the U.D.B. at the congregation of Druidic and Bardic representatives. Instead of causing the disbandonment of the organization it is claimed to still be in existence.

From 1726 until 1781 when Henry Hurle set up the Ancient Order of Druids, Druid groups appeared along with Rosicrucian and Freemasonic organizations. Hurle’s group was a secret society based on Masonic patterns and because it was sometimes referred to as the Druid Order a great deal of confusion arose inasmuch as there have been several groups using the same title over the years. In 1833, about half of the AOD, numbering over a hundred lodges, split from the Grand Lodge in protest, and formed the United Ancient Order of Druids.This event has subsequently become known as “the Great Secession” amongst members of the Order.

Whilst this activity had been transpiring in England, the strongest bastion of Druidic tradition was in Wales where eisteddfodau or festivals of literature, music and performance. The tradition of such a meeting of Welsh artists dates back to at least the 12th century, when a festival of poetry and music was held by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth at his court in Cardigan in 1176 but, with the decline of the bardic tradition, it fell into abeyance. The present-day format owes much to an eighteenth-century revival arising out of a number of informal eisteddfodau. In spite of some strong political opposition the eisteddfod continued under control of a council that issued licenses. Iolo Morganwg (bardic name of Edward Williams) founded “Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain” (Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain) in 1792 to restore and replace the ancient eisteddfod.

Notwithstanding the disreputable character of its founder, the Gorsedd continues today and is an important fount of Welsh literary and poetic work. Later writers such as Robert Graves and Gerald Gardner were influenced by Morganwg’s work. A great deal of the ceremony and belief that was formed during this period of Druidic revival later influenced Hermeticism, ceremonial magic, and even the RDNA. Religious groups with roots in these traditions continue to perform many elements of these earlier Mesopagan customs.

Exit Standard 10. Discuss the origins of the RDNA, and the influence of Isaac Bonewits, and the founding of ADF. (minimum 600 words)

Starting out as a quasi-religious protest against coerced religion at small Midwestern Carleton College in 1963 C.E. the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) was invented in order to test the freedom allowed by the college’s rules requiring all students to attend church.  The loophole in the requirements regarding students attending a specific number of religious services or meetings allowed a group of students to form their own religion fashioned on an earth centered polytheistic Celtic deity foundation.

What started as a protest ‘lark’ grew to fulfill the needs of the members once the college requirements were changed. Prayers to the Earth-Mother and the old Celtic divinities, combined with Zen meditations, Christian mystical writings and the Founders’ anarchistic philosophy now represented a valuable part of their spiritual lives. Thus established, members of the RDNA spread their Druidic beliefs wherever they went following graduation.

It was in 1966 at Berkley that Robert Larson, one of the alumni, formed a grove and became the Archdruid of the group. One member of this group was Isaac Bonewits, who already identified himself as a Neopagan. Bonewits and several others met with some agitation as they sought a more Neopagan outlook for the group. This began a schismatic division in the group that led to the formation of three distinct groups, the RDNA, the New Reformed Druids of North America (NRDNA) and the Schismatic Druids of North America (SDNA).

According to a Reformed Druid document titled, The Book of the Law, the Basic Beliefs of Reformed Druidism are put forth in this manner in The Reformed Druids of North America and their Offshoots, “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. And great is the importance, which is of 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.” (Reformed Druids of N.A.) This has been altered and abbreviated in The Outline of the Foundation of Fundamentals to read now as two simple statements “1. Nature is good! and the second is like unto the first: 2. Nature is good!”

Bonewits still retained his belief in Druidry despite branching out into several Neopagan movements. His firm belief that  the roles of a Druid were  “scholar and artist, poet and priest, philosopher and magician – the one who seeks, preserves and extends the highest wisdom her or his people are capable of handling safely, and who uses that knowledge and inspiration for the benefit of their community.” It was with this premise that he drafted an open letter to the Neopagan community in 1983. It was an attempt to create a form of Reconstructionist Neopagan Druidry. In this letter, reproduced and found in The Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin, Bonewits announced to the community the formation of Ár n’Draíocht Féin (ADF), a Druid Fellowship, which would be more than a pan-Celtic belief organization, but rather it would be pan-Indo-European in scope meaning as he put it to, “include all of the European branches of the Indo-European culture and language tree — Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, even the pre-Classical Greek & Roman.” (Origins of ADF)

Bonewits’ vision of what ADF would be was also spelled out in the second part of The Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin and reads as, “ADF will be a Neopagan religion based on solid (but imaginative) scholarship in the fields of linguistics, Indo-European studies, comparative religion, archeology, anthropology, Celtic & Norse & Baltic & Slavic studies, history, musicology and polytheology.” (Bonewits) His vision of what ADF would be has subsequently been by and large met and even surpassed the original concept although initially the correspondence course was not accomplished a version of that is now in effect as evidenced by courses such as this that are open to members. As is natural in any organization a relatively small percentage of members undertake the scholarly work and the greater majority benefit from their research and writing.

ADF has since its humble beginnings grown to an international organization with thousands of members. Isaac Bonewits’ dream has far surpassed that which he initially imagined I am sure. The growth has been exponential due to the allure of a more open Indo-European study of Druidism rather than being limited in scope to only pan-Celtic studies. The equality of women and men is another facet that has a great amount of appeal and let us not ignore the contribution of Festivals and the Internet to the dissemination of information and the ease of communication among the Neopagan community. Disinterested and disenfranchised people from other religious groups can more readily explore and find, as I initially did, what alternate to conformist religious activity is available and see if it meets their needs. My search for and research into the various organizations led me to ADF and it immediately resonated as being what I needed, just as it has for others and will in the future for still more others.

Exit Standard 11. Describe the groups that have split off from ADF, their history and work. (minimum 600 words)

Everywhere that egos and emotions are involved, which is virtually a prevalent trait in every group or organization; there will be those who become offended for whatever reason that may be valid to them and a small group that will congregate to support their stance. On occasion these perspectives can be altered through mediation or negotiation, on those occasions that they cannot be ameliorated a schism generally forms and the two (or more) groups go their separate ways. This unfortunately is the nature of belief, practice, and opinion and within ADF it is no different. Since its founding in 1983 there have been few groups that have left to form new organizations.

Initially an offshoot of Ar nDraíocht Féin, the Henge of Keltria is a non-profit church and the largest Celtic-focused Druid organization in the United States. “At the Pagan Spirit Gathering in 1986, five people, Tony Taylor, Pat Taylor, Ellen Evert Hopman, Michael, and Beth, after careful consideration created a list of concerns regarding Ár nDraíocht Féin. That list was taped on Isaac Bonewits’ van door. It was meant to be humorous in a way, mimicking Martin Luther and the Ninety-Five Theses that he nailed to the Wittenberg church door. At the same time there was a serious side. It outlined thirteen concerns, numbered “1-12…95,” which we felt were important enough to be addressed by Isaac and the ADF leadership. In our estimation a number of these issues warranted immediate attention. During the course of the following year, none of the identified concerns were adequately addressed, so Pat and I decided to leave ADF and found The Henge of Keltria.” (Hopman) The Henge of Keltria says that they are a spiritual path dedicated to revering the Nature Spirits, honoring the Ancestors, and worshipping the Deities of their ancient Irish ancestors. The primary concern at the time of their schism was that ADF embraced many pantheons of the Indo-European culture whereas they believed that Druidism should be entirely Celtic in nature. Another factor of importance to them was that they also believed ritual should not be public while ADF maintains the practice of public ritual has been and still is one of the constant foci of their organization. At the time of the division, ADF did not have a magical practice either and the founders of Henge Keltria believed that the mystical arts should be part of Druidic custom. From their web page of FAQ’s the provided list gives further insight to their doctrine.

Another fragmentary group that broke off and formed  in 1986 is the Celtic Traditionalist Order of Druids (CTOD)  whose webpage explains that the CTOD, “…is a teaching Order, dedicated to the preservation and rebirth of the worship of the ancient Gods and Goddesses, primarily those of the Celtic Nations — Cymru (Wales), Éire (Ireland), Kernow (Cornwall), Bretagne (Brittany), Alba (Scotland), Albion, Basque (Northern Spain), Gaul/Galica (France) as well as other related lands and peoples.” (Meith) They had a study program that incorporated Health, Hearth, History, Creativity, Compassion, Communication, Magic, Musecraft and Management. The concept and practice seemed ready to flourish following a successful public ritual when the Order grew quickly but inevitably egos and emotions caused a power struggle among the leadership and the founders left the Order whereupon it quickly dissolved.

There have been several splinters that have attempted to gain strength also, most notably: The Shadow Path Grove in the mid 1980’s, Uxello-Druidactios in 1988, Divine Circle of the Sacred Grove in 1991, American Druidic Church in 1992, Primitive Celtic Church in 1992, Comhaltacht Draiochtin 2004, and the Fellowship of Druidism for the Latter Age (FODLA) in 2006. Of these groups the strongest is the FODLA which is according to their website situated in only 3 states, California, Arizona and New York. The potential for growth is certainly available and their use of the internet promulgates this option. From reading their Vision Statement it appears that although they espouse the polytheistic philosophy, strong research and scholarly study the emphasis of their belief is Celtic rather than Pan Indo-European. There are many similarities to ADF and this could stem from the fact that the Founder and current Chief of the Fellowship, Rev. Todd Covert, is a former member of ADF and cites in his online forum called “The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum” the reason for his split as being that there were “too much politics at the expense of spirituality and the pursuit of excellence among its leadership.” (Covert)

The one feature that these splinterations have caused is the strengthening of the tree from which they have departed. Just as selective pruning is essential for the healthy growth of fruit bearing trees, these groups that for whatever reason have chosen to go their ways have wrought positive change within ADF and that is a needful thing in any group or organization.




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–          The Reformed Druids of North America and their Offshoots (version 2.1), ADF 2005 c.e. August 15, 2010

–          The Origins of ADF ADF 1996 c.e. August 15, 2010

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http://www.ecauldron.net/forum/index.php?topic=1165.new May 25, 2007. Web September 22, 2010

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Hopman, Ellen Evert. The Origins of the Henge of Keltria Version 1.1 (An Interview with Tony Taylor) 2005 c.e. September 22, 2010

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