There are many depictions of druids, from wild white robed folk who terrorise the mountains of Scotland, to Celtic sages who cook up potions that turn small Gauls into unbeatable battering rams, but the truth of contemporary Druidry lies far away from these anachronisms. We don’t really know who the Druids were. Except for the residues of the legal and poetic systems in Ireland and Wales that endured into the 6th to 8th centuries CE, most of what was written about them was crafted by their enemies.
We know that they were an oral civilisation, that although they were known for their wisdom and intellectual acumen, the Druids did not record their knowledge in written form. They had different ways of communicating, and secret languages, and a deep, powerful relationship to the environment that still leaves ripples in our cosmology and philosophy. We don’t know where they came from, if they were distinct from the early peoples of the British Isles and Europe, or whether they were a particular class of that society. We don’t know their reach or how far they travelled, but we do know that the early Greeks wrote about them and their knowledge, suggesting that they had at least travelled as far as the Eastern Mediterranean.
Altogether mystical, it has been thought that they were the last whispers of the ancient lost civilisations of Atlantis or Lemuria, but unlike these places we know that Druids existed. We know they offered advice to kings, that they had the power to topple dynasties and stop wars. We know they took part in Celtic rituals, but there is debate over whether the druids themselves were responsible for ritualistic murder, or whether they officiated at rites that would have been far bloodier without their input.
What we do know of the ancient Druids is that they had a long and systematic education. That their leaders were well versed in multiple languages, including Greek and Latin and some suggest early Egyptian. We know that they had a deep understanding of astronomy, astrology, cosmology and philosophy, as well as the healing arts, divinatory skills and the ability to work with weather, the land and long-distance travel and communication. We know there were three orders, Bards, Vates (or Ovates), and Druids, each with their defined specialisation and authority. We also know that they were almost entirely annihilated by the Romans at Anglesy, and that the remainder were either converted or driven underground by the Christian Churches as they rose in power throughout Europe and Britain, and that the last vestige of their independent authority was known in Ireland, where they acted in government until almost the 9th Century CE.
This, however, was not the end of the druidic tradition. As Christianity rose in authority, Druid scholarship continued in hedge schools and through family lines, much like we have seen with the maintenance of ancient Ayurvedic knowledge in India. Families held their skills intact, as Bards became storytellers and poets and Ovates became healers and scientists, while Druids took up roles in law and religion and government. As late of the 19th Century, scribes were still hand copying Old Irish texts, showing that knowledge of the early languages and laws were still alive and used in modern society.
The history of the Druid revival comes out of these dark times. Born of a combination of oral history and fragmented textual evidence, the fraternal orders of Druids were born. Some of these orders claim authority dating back to Roman times, stating that they hold an unbroken line from early Druid schools in Anglesey. Yet, even without this claim, the Druid revival itself dates to the early 1700s, making it older than many Christian sects and a number of extremely popular contemporary religions. On the basis of revival alone, contemporary Druidry can hold an honourable position as a set of well-established spiritual and cultural organisations that have supported social welfare and community development across centuries.
That brings us to contemporary Druidry, which is not a unified and distinct organisation. Rather, it is a pastiche of many different orders and individuals who align themselves with their understanding of ancient Druidry. Alongside this, there are those who see contemporary Druidry as a living, expressive spiritual and social movement of its own, that while informed by the past is not reliant upon the strands of ancient teachings that are mostly apocryphal in nature. Rather, the contemporary druid is forming itself into a voice for today, offering the same access to wisdom and insight that the ancient Druids were known to offer.
While there can be a popular idea of the contemporary druid as a nature loving, pagan, medieval reenactor, this is not the case at all. Just as in the past, contemporary Druids are teachers, scholars, scientists, doctors, nurses, environmentalists, singers, writers, storytellers, celebrants and spiritual elders. They may identify as pagan, but many do not. Many people who practice and study Druidry still occupy their traditional cultural and spiritual and religious traditions, including Christians, Muslims, Jews and the Vedic traditions. There are Buddhist druids and First Nation druids. Rather than divorcing people from their cultural and religious heritages, the study and practice of Druidry often enhances a deeper appreciation of the tapestry of life that is expressed through our many cultures and religions. Druidry often causes one to honour ancient roots, and to strengthen the trunk of today so that tomorrow’s fruit is life giving and bountiful.
There are many contemporary druid traditions, including the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and the British Druid Order (BDO). There are many books written about Druidry, some more accurate than others, some more political than others. Moving into the world of the contemporary Druid can be like diving into a very deep pool and not knowing if you will ever reach the bottom. Sometimes it is best to not worry about the depths, though. Sometimes it is best to swim where you are, find what you need, and follow the current where it leads you.
So here, at Druid, we offer you a combination of skills that we have attained through our study and incorporation of Druidry into our lives. Both Michael Vlasto and Danuta Raine are members of OBOD. Michael is a Druid within the order, and Danuta is an Ovate, and they both have a background in storytelling and writing, as well as scholarship and healing. We see Druidry as a three-fold approach to life, offering the seeker a way to Inspiration, Divination and Creation.