A New Tradition of Neopagan Druidism
(c) 1984 P. E. I. Bonewits
Reprinted from "The Druids' Progress" #1
As many of you may know (perhaps from reading my book "Real
Magic" or Margot Adler's "Drawing Down the Moon"), I've been a
priest of the Reformed Druids of North America ("RDNA") since
1969. I've led groves (congregations) in Berkeley and Minneapo-
lis, and founded others elsewhere; published newsletters (both
Druidic and general Neopagan); and wrote most of, edited and
produced "The Druid Chronicles Evolved", (the closest thing to
official scriptures the RDNA has). I'm also a priest and elder of
the Craft, and I've been a Neopagan magician and occultist for
nearly twenty years.
I've studied, practiced and written about many different forms
of magic and religion over the years, yet always I find myself
going back to Druidism. Many people have written to me to tell of
similar spiritual histories, of their knowledge that they are
meant to walk a Druid path. Yet what can we, who wish to worship
and to grow as Neopagan Druids, do for fellowship? The Masonic
Druids have much to teach us, yet they are not Neopagan. The
"Druidic" traditions of Wicca are interesting, but they're not
really very Druidic. The members of the RDNA have no interest at
all in being organized by anyone, nor in recruiting and training
would-be Neopagan Druids. There doesn't seem to be any organized
group of people trying to reconstruct what the Paleopagan Druids
actually believed and did, nor trying to apply such knowledge to
creating a Neopagan religion fit for the Space Age.
What can we do? We can do it ourselves! Thanks to the work of
such scholars as Dumezil, Ross, Piggott, Duran and others, we now
have a sizable amount of realistic data about Indo-European
Paleopaganism and its clergy. But how do we apply this knowledge
to creating a modern Neopagan religion? What does it mean to be a
Druid in the 1980's? Using accurate information as a starting
point, how do we create rituals and fellowship, art and music,
polytheologies and lifestyles that will give meaning to our lives
and those of others?
Well, of course, I have my own vision of Neopagan Druidism. I
see Druids as artists and intellectuals, magicians and clergy,
holders of the highest wisdom their cultures (or subcultures)
have to offer. This is what they used to be, and what (with
sufficient hard work and dedication) they could be again. A
number of people have told me that they share my vision and
approve of the ways in which I think it could be accomplished.
So, after a great deal of soul-searching, I've decided to try
once again to see what I can do to create a form of "reconstruc-
tionist" Neopagan Druidism.
Theis is an announcement of, and an invitation for your parti-
cipation in, the creation of: Ar nDraiocht Fein. The Irish words
(pronounced "arn ree-ocht fane") mean "Our own Druidism," and
that's what I have in mind -- a brand new form of Druidism, not
just Pan-Celtic, but Pan-European. By this latter term, I mean 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. Paradoxically, this would resemble
the original Paleopagan Druidism far more than any efforts of the
last thousand years. It would be based on the best scholarly
research available, combined with what has been learned (about
art, psychology, small group politics and economics) through the
theory and practice of modern Neopaganism, and my own knowledge
of the polytheological and practical details of magical and
I've already started this project, through the organizing of
my notes and the beginning of a new book. The purpose of "The
Druid Handbook" will be to enable anyone who has a copy to start
up their own Druidic grove, or to practice as a solitary Druid.
Everything necessary will be included: history, polytheology,
liturgy, legal structures, art and music, calendars and customs,
ADF is an idea I have been wrestling with for years: a Neopa-
gan Druid Order whose members would not be ashamed to honestly
compare themselves with the original Druids. This requires ma-
ture, dedicated and talented people who are willing to invest
both time and energy over a long period (remember, the original
Druids took up to twenty years each to be fully trained, and they
had an intact tradition).
At this point in the birthing process, details are in short
supply, but the general outlines are becoming increasingly clear.
I can at least give you some specific ideas as to what Ar
nDraiocht Fein will and won't be:
ADF will be a Neopagan religion based on solid (but imagina-
tive) scholarship in the fields of linguistics, Indo-European
studies, comparative religion, archeology, anthropology, Celtic &
Norse & Baltic & Slavic studies, history, musicology and polythe-
ology. The scholars we will be basing our research on include
Georges Dumezil, Mircea Eliade, Anne Ross, Stuart Piggott, G. S.
Littleton, Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, Proinsias MacCana, Myles
Dillon, Nora Chadwick, etc. We will not be accepting Lewis
Spence, Margaret Murray, Robert Graves, Merlin Stone, H. P.
Blavatsky or Iolo Morganwg as scholarly authorities (although
some of them may provide poetic inspiration now and then). If we
have to fill in gaps in our knowledge with our own imagination,
spiritual visions and/or borrowings from non-IE sources, we will
go ahead and do so, but always in full awareness of what we are
doing (and with full documentation of the process).
ADF will be developing a slow, careful and steady system of
training for Druidic clergy, equivalent to that gone through by
professional clergy in other religions. We will not be in any
hurry to initiate people (though we may create and publish self-
dedication rituals for the first level of participation), since
an obsession with rank and titles is usually counterproductive to
actual spiritual, artistic and scholarly growth. A correspondance
course has been suggested and I'm willing to give it serious
consideration, once we have the basics figured out.
Although our primary focus will be on the beliefs and prac-
tices of our Indo-European ancestors, and on how these can be
adapted to modern circumstances, we will not tolerate racism or
nonsense about "Aryan blood." The Indo-Europeans were a motley
assortment of tribes speaking related languages -- not a "race."
All of our ancestors are of mixed blood, and most of the black
people in America have (however involuntarily) some European
genes. So anybody, regardless of their race or color, who is
sincerely interested in participating in ADF will be made wel-
come. Similarly, the IE peoples are known to have had both male
and female clergy, and those tribes influenced by shamanistic
practices frequently had clergy who were ambiguous in their
gender identification. For these historical reasons, as well as
the fact that ADF is a Neopagan religion, we will not tolerate
sexism nor restrict membership or rank on the basis of gender or
affectional preferences. Having said all that, let me add that I
have no intentions of letting extremists of any persuasion use
ADF for purposes not in keeping with our original goals.
We will have a carefully structured hierarchy, based on actual
skills and knowledge obtained and demonstrated, with both upward
and downward mobility. The training system will involve the
setting of specific standards in all the areas necessary for
functioning at the different levels, and these standards will be
published in the Handbook and widely disseminated throughout the
Neopagan media, in order to prevent false claims of rank. Our
primary approach is going to be the attainment not just of compe-
tency, but of excellence. Democratic safeguards will be built in,
but we do not expect everyone in ADF to be qualified for (or even
interested in) attaining the rank of clergy. After all, the
original Druids were only a small percentage of their Paleopagan
communities, and not everyone has (or needs) a clerical vocation.
Nor will rank in other Neopagan organizations guarantee equiva-
lent rank in ADF, since we have no way of knowing what standards
other groups are using, nor how strictly enforced they are.
The Ancient Druids were polytheists rather than mono- or duo-
theists; so our main approach will be a pluralistic one. We are
not going to promote any One True Right and Only Way of Druidism,
merely whatever happens to work for us. This means, among other
things, that we intend to maintain friendly relations with as
many other Druid organizations as possible, and will encourage
our members to investigate these alternate Druid paths.
We are going to take our time putting the whole system toget-
her. Based on solid research and a knowledge of the mistakes made
by other Neopagan groups in the past, we can create something
magnificent. But like an oak tree, it will take time to become
strong, and we have no intentions of trying to force its growth.
Within two to three years we should get the primary seeds plant-
ed. Then the results will be up to the individuals who have heard
the trees whispering in their ears, and who know that they are
meant to walk a Druid way.
This article has been reprinted from "The Druids' Progress",
issue #1, and is copyright 1984 by P. E. I. Bonewits. "DP" is the
irregular journal of a Neopagan Druid group called "Ar nDraiocht
Fein", founded by Bonewits (author of "Real Magic"). For more
data, send an S.A.S.E. to: Box 9398, Berkeley, CA, USA 94709.
Permission to distribute via BBS's is hereby granted, provided
that the entire article, including this notice, is kept intact.