Who are the Neo-Druids and What do They Believe?

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Contemporary Druidism, also referred to as Neo-Druidism, is a religious expression that claims ties to the ancient Druids of Indo-European origin (1). Many Neo-Druids live in the west where interest in the beliefs, rituals, and expressions of Neo-paganism and other new religious movements is growing (2). Contemporary Druidry is one such expression of an ancient European religious tradition emerging in Western society, although it is by no means found only in the western world. According to A Druid Fellowship, which identifies itself as a “pagan church”:

“NeoPagan Druidry is a group of religions, philosophies and ways of life, rooted in ancient soil yet reaching for the stars. We are part of the larger NeoPagan movement, one of the world’s most vital and creative new religious awakenings. Like much of that movement we are polytheistic nature worshippers, working with the best aspects of the Pagan religions of our predecessors within a modern scientific, artistic, ecological and wholistic context using a non dogmatic and pluralistic approach” (3).

Concept of Deity and the Sacred

Many Neo-Druids are pantheists who view God as being present within and connected to the natural world. The result is a passionate reverence for nature, the Earth, and the body (4). Nature is viewed as sacred, benign, and interconnected, which includes human beings, animals, and plants. Certain animals, particularly the female red deer, receive special veneration as they are thought to provide humans with special gifts such as inner knowledge, vitality, and healing. Neo-Druids also adopt monotheistic, polytheistic, or duotheistic concepts of God belief. Monotheistic Druids believe in a single God or Goddess while duotheists hold to a deity who exists as a pair of forces or beings, which they often characterize as the God and Goddess. Polytheistic Neo-Druids believe that many gods and goddesses exist, and worship both male and female deities.

Concept of the “Otherworld”

Neo-Druids do not believe that the physical world of sense experience is the only one to exist (5). A fundamental belief is in the existence of the “Otherworld”, which is a realm or realms where people travel to upon death, although it can be visited during one’s lifetime through dreams, meditation, hypnosis, or in shamanic trances. According to The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, there are three reasons why Neo-Druids believe in the Otherworld realm(s),

“Firstly, all religions or spiritualities hold the view that another reality exists beyond the physical world, rather than agreeing with Materialism, that holds that only matter exists and is real. Secondly, Celtic mythology, which inspires so much of Druidism, is replete with descriptions of this Otherworld. Thirdly, the existence of the Otherworld is implicit in ‘the greatest belief’ of the ancient Druids, since classical writers stated that the Druids believed in a process that has been described as reincarnation or metempsychosis (in which a soul lives in a succession of forms, including both human and animal). In between each life in human or animal form the soul rests in the Otherworld” (6).

Many Neo-Druids believe that that the soul undergoes a process of successive reincarnations, which can occur in human or animal form, or in the form of a variety of inanimate objects such as trees and rocks.

Prayer, Practices, and Rituals

Prayer is central to spiritual life. There exist no prescribed prayers, which means that adherents are encouraged to use prayers that feel right to them and to their own unique situations (7). The Neo-Druids also engage in rituals, which take inspiration from the natural world, old myths, and stories, believed to deepen one’s awareness of the sacred and the present moment, while also heightening one’s awareness of reverence for all of life (8). Neo-Druids possess a fascination with stone circles that some create to celebrate within (9). Participants also come together in the shape of a circle symbolizing the unity of the world and all of humanity. Participants say prayers, and chant the word “Awen” to provide blessings to the circle, and sometimes participants are blessed with water and fire. Another common Neo-Druid spiritual practice is meditation, which is believed to bring calm and inspiration to the mind and healing to the body. To the Neo-Druids, meditation is used to honour the physical, natural world, and to deepen one’s awareness of its sacredness and sense of connection to all life.

Tolerance and Diversity

Neo-Druids do not have any sacred religious text(s) and view their religious tradition as one free of rigid dogma and any fixed set of beliefs or practices. This allows practitioners to pursue their own spiritual journeys (10). They have a version of a church called a “grove”, and many places of worship are located in natural environments inspired by the ancient Druids who worshiped gods in the uninhabited groves of trees. Many contemporary Neo-Druid gatherings are open to people who have a range of views on Gods and religion, which is an openness underpinned by their conviction that no-one possesses a monopoly on religious truth, and that diversity is not a threat but something healthy and natural.

The Number of Neo-Druids and Conversions

There are many reasons why people convert to a religion. In the case of conversion to Neo-Druidism, a common theme is a disillusionment with western Christianity (11). Religion scholar Michael Cooper has investigated western Neo-Druidism and writes that,

“Druids look at the Christian era as one of destruction and futility. To them, western Christianity has been an oppressive force that has subordinated women and disregarded the environment. Similarly, it is characterized by its emphasis on reason at the expense of imagination. This reliance on rationalism resulted in the demythologization of the universe…” (12)

Cooper discovered that 37% of Druids in his sample were formerly a part of a Christian denomination, which far exceeds converts who were once atheist (1%), agnostic (5%), or from some other non-Christian religion (11%). Statistics on the number of Neo-Druids around the world are not available, but The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid organization claims that 25 000 people have joined them since their distance learning program was started in 1988 (13). 1200 people across the world are studying their course at any one time. Some estimates have put the total number of Neo-Pagans, within which Neo-Druidism is a part (alongside Wicca and witchcraft) between 150 000 and 200 000 in the United States (14), 21 080 in Canada (15), and 1049 (Neo-Druids) in Australia (16).

References

1. Cooper, Michael. 2009. “Pathways to Druidry: A Case Study of Ár nDraíocht.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 12(3): 40-59.

2. Partridge, Christopher. 2004. The Re-Enchantment of the West, Volume 1. London: T&T Clark. p. 8-16.

3. A Druid Fellowship. Neopagan Druidry – Concepts and Organization. Available.

4. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. The Use of Ritual in Druidry. Available.

5. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. Druid Beliefs. Available.

6. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. Druid Beliefs. Available.

7. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. Druid Prayer and Devotion. Available.

8. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. The Use of Ritual in Druidry. Available. https://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/use-ritual-druidry

9. Lichtenwalner, Shawna. 2005. “”In the Eye of the Light”: Ancient Druids and International Influences.” The Wordsworth Circle 36(1): p. 9-11.

10. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. Druid Beliefs. Available.

11. Cooper, Michael. 2009. Ibid. p. 48.

12. Cooper, Michael. 2009. Ibid. p. 48.

13. The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druid. Frequently Asked Questions. Available.

14. Berger, Helen. 2013. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (Studies in Comparative Religion). Columbia University of South Carolina Press. p. 9.

15. Todd, Douglas. 2010. University of Victoria chaplain marks solstice with pagan rituals. Available.

16. Australian Census. 2011. Results of the 2011 Census.

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