A Brief History of
Druidry, as practiced today, is a modern system of philosophy
and spiritual practice with roots in traditions going back into
Druidry has had a long and complex past, and has gone through
numerous cycles of evolution and reconstruction.
The earliest known “Druids” predate any historical
records. Almost our only knowledge of these people is the great
stone monuments they left throughout Britain and Gaul, such as the
famous Stonehenge circle on Salisbury Plain in England. Many
scholars refuse to call these astronomers, architects, and
stonemasons “Druids” precisely because we know almost
nothing about them - they instead call these the
The earliest historical accounts of Druids come from Julius
Caesar, writing about the Celts during his military campaigns in the
first century BCE. At that time, the Celts covered much of Western
Europe, from northern Spain to Turkey. Julius’ writing is the
earliest detailed record of the organization of the Druid class, or
caste, among the Celts of Gaul and Britain. He marked three distinct
divisions within this group.
The Bards were the storytellers, artists, minstrels, and oral
memory of the Celts.
The Ovates were the diviners and healers.
The Druids served as priests, philosophers, advisors, and
judges. They were traditionally held in higher esteem than the kings
and clan chieftains.
Although the Celts were literate, writing primarily in Greek
and Latin, and had their own runic alphabet, the teachings of the
Druids were never written down, but were instead passed from teacher
to student as oral history. As a result, there is no authoritative
“Book” of the Druids. All that remains in writing comes
from records made by Christian monks after the Druids had been
removed from power and their religion co-opted by Christianity.
While these remaining records constitute a rich tradition of stories
and teachings from which much can be inferred, the original
curriculum of training for Druids has been lost.
In the 400’s CE, as the Roman Empire lost its grasp of
its outlying regions, Druidry was still a strong force in Ireland
and parts of Britain and Gaul. Many believe that the historical King
Arthur, if he existed, dates from this period of Roman withdrawal,
and the mythic figure of Merlin clearly represents the role of the
Druid within Celtic society as magician, priest, and advisor to
kings. When Rome returned to Ireland in the 800’s in the form
of official emissaries of the Roman Catholic Church, they found
Christianity already well-established, and no substantial trace of
the Druids remaining. However, it appears that the Bards, Ovates,
and Druids continued to practice their skills, though under the
wrappings of the new religion. The Bards had become minstrels,
poets, and scribes. The Ovates continued to practice healing under
Christian premises. The Druids openly converted to Christianity and
became monks, scholars, lawyers, and judges. The Druidic colleges
for Bards, where poetry, music, story and song were taught, were not
considered a threat to Catholic Christianity, and continued to exist
well into the 1600’s in Ireland, and the 1700’s in
In the late 1700’s, there was a resurgence of
‘Romantic Druidry,’ which was more like modern
Freemasonry or many of the other lodge activities that exploded in
the 1800’s. While it drew from what was left of the original
Druidic traditions, as well as from folk tales and folk traditions
as they still existed, it had differences. It became primarily a
men’s organization, where the original Celtic Druidry had made
very little distinction between sexes. In Wales, it was strongly
associated with Welsh national pride. Long-disconnected from the
necessary matters of keeping oral histories intact, midwifery and
medicine, engineering and astronomy, and keeping the peace, the new
Druidry was a fundamentally more spiritual and individual pursuit.
The evolution of Druidry throughout the 19th and 20th centuries is a
complex study in its own right.
The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) was founded in
the 1960’s in England. Like all of the modern forms of
Druidry, while it has roots in the ancient past, it is an
essentially modern spiritual practice.
What Druids Do
The most visible thing that Druids do, is to celebrate the
eight solar calendar festivals of the year in ritual. These are
called “solar calendar festivals” because their timing
is based on the position of the sun throughout the year. These
are (for the northern hemisphere):
The festivals marked in gold are the “Sun
festivals,” and are the shortest day, longest day, and the two
equal-length-day-and-night days of the year. The festivals marked in
red are the “Fire festivals,” and are approximately
halfway between the two Sun festivals on either side.
Although no single folk tradition prior to modern times is
known to have celebrated all eight of these festivals, all eight
have deep roots with different peoples throughout Europe and the
rest of the world. Any agricultural society must keep track of the
year, for planting and harvesting, and the major turning points of
the year are always marked with celebration and ritual. So it is no
surprise that these dates are considered sacred by many people in
many unrelated cultures.
As a modern tradition, Druidry is adapted to the times and
tastes of modern people. The rituals are all done in the language of
the people participating. Flashlights replace candles when
appropriate. Candles are lit with a butane lighter. Many concessions
are made to modern schedules and comforts. Whatever kinds of
sacrifices, animal or human, might have been made in the ancient
past to ensure fertility of the crops or the safety of the people,
nothing of that sort is ever done in any modern ritual - Hollywood
Less publicly, Druids meet in large and small gatherings to
tell stories, share food and wine and song, and to simply have fun.
Privately, Druids - or Druids-in-training - study and practice
a body of material intended to strengthen the intuition, awaken the
poetic and artistic spirit, and embrace the joy of living.
One thing that Druids do not do is proselytize. Druidry is not
considered necessary for anyone’s salvation or well-being.
While it is a gentle and beautiful practice, it is not appropriate
or meaningful for everyone. Recognizing this, Druids do not - in
general - push themselves or their practices on others.
What Druids Believe
Druidry hasn’t much to do with beliefs: there is no
creed or catechism. Druidry has to do with learning and experiencing
for oneself. As a result, Druidry can be and is practiced by
Christians, by Pagans, by Buddhists, or by scientific materialists.
Druids do have some common attitudes.
One such attitude is toward peace. Traditionally, Druids were
peacemakers and advisors to more hot-headed kings and chieftains.
They were revered enough in Celtic society that on occasion, they
stopped battles with the armies already arrayed on the battlefield.
A central piece of every public Druid ceremony is giving peace to
the four directions, envisioning it passing out into the world in
that direction until it encircles the globe and returns to us. When
possible, we seek to manifest that peace within ourselves, our seed
groups, our groves, and the larger circles and communities in which
Druids often speak of the unseen world, or the spiritual
world. Whether this is viewed as something that exists in its own
right, or as “merely” an artifact of our common brain
structure as human beings, the unseen world is a common element of
human experience. Druids approach the unseen world with respect, and
with an open attitude of learning, appreciation, and discrimination.
In our ceremonies, we give thanks to the Great Spirit, to the
Elements, and to the local spirits of place, time, and community. A
Christian can view this as gratitude to God, and awe at the angelic
realms. A scientific materialist can view this as an exploration of
the numinous collective unconscious.
Druids respect and revere the natural world as our home. We
can learn from the trees, the plants, the beasts, and each other. We
have an obligation to ourselves, our communities, and our
descendants to take proper care of our resources and environment.
There is no one attitude or belief system prevalent among Druids as
to exactly what this means, but we seek to approach our different
beliefs and attitudes in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation.
Druids come freely to the order, and go freely from the
order*. There are no binding vows or commitments. The purpose of
druidic studies is as an aid to individual experience and spiritual
growth. Only the student knows whether this is happening, and the
student is expected to seek out other paths if it becomes
Druids are not priests*. However, it is generally true that
those who seek personal spiritual growth often find themselves
called upon by other individuals or their communities to perform
ritual or facilitate community closure. The Treehenge Druidic Circle, in
particular, enjoys “dressing up” for public ritual, as
do many other druidic groups.
*This is not true of all
orders of Druidry. Some orders do have postulancies, priesthoods,
and vows of service, and some of those organizations do seek full
non-profit religious organization status under U.S. tax law, and
can perform legally recognized marriage ceremonies and other rites.