Globalization can be understood as the “rapidly developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life” (Tomlinson, 1999:2). One result of globalization has been a legitimization of multiple worldviews. Peter Beyer suggests that this legitimization constitutes a worldwide culture of pluralism (1998:14). As an example, Eastern philosophies have legitimized mysteries that were once thought of as superstitious and this has precipitated an exploration of pre-Christian religions in the West. The rise of Pagan religion simply testifies to “the critique and confirmation of contemporary social normality” (Beyer, 1998:18). According to Beyer, globalization has resulted in a new social unit or, according to Featherstone, it is a third culture that transcends national boundaries.[i] Thus, as James Beckford points out, we should not be surprised with the growth of new religions because world empires throughout history have been closely associated with their emergence.[ii]
This paper will explore the influence of globalization on the growth of Druidry. More specifically, a theoretical framework for the construction of religious identity will be put forward as a means by which one might understand the nature of contemporary Druidry. For example, beginning in the 17th century with the search for a common religious identity in England to the 21st century postmodern identity crisis, the paper will suggest that contemporary Druidry continues with the legitimization of mysteries as it has been influenced by two features of religious identity concomitant with globalization: easternization and ancientization.
In addressing this issue the study will wind its way from the ancient to the contemporary. However, this will in no way suggest that there is a historically continuous line from the past to the present in Druidry. As Stuart Piggot noted in his monograph on the Druids, there are two foci of study. First, there are those studies which concentrate on the factual evidence derived from ancient texts and archeology and second those that deal with the idealization of Druidry.[iii] This study will look at how one Druid organization emerged in Great Britian in the 1950s from both foci. For it is from the ancient evidence that contemporary Druidry finds its identity.
As a revival of a historically identifiable pre-Christian European native religion, Druidry is gaining in popularity and attracting the attention of a few academics. One contemporary practitioner of Druidry suggests that its popularity lies in its ability to address the mysteries of life as well as its reliance on the heritage of the Western mystery religions and not to mention its freedom from dogma and theology.[iv] This study will focus on one revival movement: The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. A brief history of OBOD will be discussed shortly. In the meantime, OBOD’s description of itself is as follows:
The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids is a spiritual group dedicated to practising, teaching, and developing Druidry as a valuable and inspiring spirituality.
The Order was founded by Ross Nichols and a group of members of The Ancient Druid Order, including the writer Vera Chapman. The Ancient Druid Order developed during the early years of the last century out of the Druid Revival which began about three hundred years ago. The ADO traces its origins to 1717.
The term ‘order’ is derived from the tradition of magical orders rather than from the tradition of religious orders. Neither the Order nor Druidry is a cult. A cult revolves around a personality, a charismatic leader, or a particular deity or saint. The Order and Druidry have none of these characteristics.
Membership of the Order is open to followers of all faiths and none, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnic origin, and there are currently over eight thousand members in fifty countries.
Both the Feminine and the Masculine principles are celebrated and represented in the Order’s teachings and membership. The Order is not patriarchal or biased in favour of men many women are in leadership roles and over half the membership is female.
Although most members practise Druidry on their own, there are over ninety groups around the world that offer the opportunity for members to meet and celebrate together. In addition individual members and groups organise gatherings, retreats, conferences and workshops.[v]
In my doctoral research on a phenomenological study of contemporary Druidry I suggested that globalization had played a significant part in its growth. Namely, I suggested that globalization was important in the sense that it legitimizes religious pluralism and makes Druidry a viable religious expression in the Western marketplace.[vi] However, I did not address the important issue of the construction of a religious identity resulting from various features of globalization.
One of the questions that has emerged as I continue my research on Druidry is that of a theoretical framework for globalization’s role in religious identity construction. I hypothesize that one feature of globalization is that of antiquity, or more precisely, ancientization. It seems that antiquity can be an aspect of globalization in that, in the case of the Druids (and perhaps other New Religious Movements), the revival of pre-Christian religious expressions in the 17th-18th centuries had as much to do with the access to ancient literature (i.e. Gallic Wars) as it did with the discovery of religious others in foreign lands. So, the awareness of past (ancient) religious others helped form the religious identity of the present. As a result, I am suggesting that globalization might have as much to do with an awareness of this past as it does with the advancement of modernity, technology, etc. in the present. In essence, ancientization has a globalizing effect on the present. If this is the case, then, legitimization of religious identity is hypothesized to involve at least two salient features of globalization: antiquity (ancientization) and pluralism (expressed in easternization). There are certainly other important features of globalization, such as advances in technology, that contribute to religious identity. However, for the sake of this essay the focus will be on antiquity and pluralism.
John Tomlinson defines globalization as the “rapidly developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life.”[vii] While to some degree there is a homogenization of the world inherent in globalization, the term is better understood in the context of an interaction between traditional ways of life and the worldwide impact of modernization. There seems to be a generally recognized paradox in modern society that allows for “the contradictory processes of homogenization and globalization on the one hand and regionalization and nationalization on the other” to occur concurrently.[viii] Thus, Anthony Giddens defines globalization as “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”[ix] In this sense, globalization liberates the constraints that geography and perhaps time/history has placed on cultural peculiarities that identify the uniqueness of society in such a way that people of the society are aware of the liberation.[x] Just as the West influenced other parts of the world so other parts of the world are and have influenced the West.
One feature of globalization is the legitimization of multiple worldviews. With the increase of individualization resulting from modernity comes the freedom to choose personal convictions often resulting in cultural and religious fragmentation. Thus, an emergence of a global religious and cultural marketplace provides new options in the exercise of personal autonomy that legitimizes different worldviews, thus a worldwide culture of pluralism.[xi]
Inherent in religious pluralism is a greater tendency toward toleration of social others.[xii] As a result, religious and social others have made the West ask the question, “Who am I?” which has given impetus to the quest for discovering its cultural identity by looking at other plausibility structures.[xiii] This search for religious identity is exemplified by one Druid informant’s comment,
I believe that we all are praying, worshipping, and practicing to the same god/dess, or Spirit or the One. We just all call them a different name. We need different religions and faiths. It’s the diversity of people, culture, environment and belief that makes it so. No one religion is the right one. You have to find the one that makes sense to you and feel right. I may not agree with some of the formal religions but then some of them don’t agree with my beliefs. You practice yours and don’t bother or look down at me for my beliefs and I’ll do the same. We can all tolerate each others’ beliefs and faiths.[xiv]
Another informant communicated the sentiment of many. In regards to formal religions, “[they] can be good things as long as they are tolerant and allow other people to have their own beliefs and don’t attempt to convert people. Belief in ‘one right way’ is to my mind a simplistic and childish version of what divinity could be.”[xv]
Globalization has ushered in a state where people are asking ultimate questions that are not being answered by formal religions. Loren Dawson agrees, “Thus both the resurgence of the religious right and the rise of so many NRMs may be traced to a renewed need to address and resolve these questions, and to provide cosmic legitimation for the answers chosen.”[xvi]
Christopher Partridge defines easternization as . . . .
Globalization and pluralization/easternization combined with the rejection of the Enlightenment Project have raised the issue of Western self-identity in a way that might be understood as postmodernism. This allusive term, for good or bad, is apparently here to stay. For all its critics, however, there is use for the term. Lawrence Cahoone’s threefold classification of postmodernism is a helpful tool for understanding this phenomenon. First, historical postmodernism asserts that society, politics and culture have been sufficiently transformed to reflect a significant and distinct era from modernity. “Modernity is at an end, or is undergoing a deep transformation.”[xvii] Second, methodological postmodernism contends that this distinct era is a rejection of the “Enlightenment” notion of the possibility to establish ultimate knowledge. Cahoone suggests, “Methodological postmodernism is purely negative, that is, it claims or shows the inadequacy or problematic nature of other forms of writing and talking and theorizing, but does not explicitly offer an alternative.”[xviii]
Third, positive postmodernism attempts a positive reinterpretation of fundamental issues regarding humanity, society, art, politics, the self or God in light of postmodernist values. Michael York expresses this idea in relationship to new religions,
The postmodernity of New Age, Human Potential, goddess Spirituality and Neo-paganism does not deny the utility and validity of legitimate scientific inquiry, but it asserts the spiritual reality encoded within the metaphorical world of myth and religion. It has moved beyond the limits of logical positivism and scientific empiricism to explore what it perceives as a magical-mystical reality only fragmentedly retained or perceived in any given traditional religious belief-system.[xix]
While attempting to avoid the inconsistencies of relativism, positive postmodernism stresses the plurality of quests for certainty in knowledge. Cahoone states, “This category refers to writing that applies general postmodern themes to particular subject matters in order to offer a new vision or understanding of them.”[xx] This new vision of a contemporary culture looking back to antiquity for meaning was articulated by a number of informants. For example, one informant states,
My feelings about Druidry is that it offers one of the most direct ways of connecting with those God/Goddess manifestations and through its reverence to Nature offers mankind a stabilizing reconnection with who we really are. This is something that Western civilization is desperately in need of.[xxi]
Cahoone’s classifications are useful in the present discussion. Many in the Druid community see postmodernism as a helpful description of contemporary society. Thus, if modernity, as Jurgen Habermas suggests, is used to distinguish the period of history beginning in the late fifth century from the Roman Pagan past[xxii] and if postmodernity has the understanding of revisioning the past, as suggested by York,[xxiii] then it is posited that the revival of pre-Christian European native religions is an expression of the Western postmodern cultural milieu. In other words, postmodernism might be understood as a revisioning of the past (ancientization) for the benefit of the present.
According to Tom Oden, postmodernism can be described as a “hunger for means of social maintenance, continuity, intergenerational traditioning, historical awareness, freedom from the repressions of modernity.”[xxiv] Contemporary Druidry distinctively expresses this ideology, not only in its claims of historical continuity with antiquity, but also in its expression of religious identity. It is a revisioning of the way in which the world was or perhaps an idealizing of a world-as-wished-for. However, it is apparent that the revisioning of the past is based upon an understanding of the ancient religious other.
In the general sense, globalization as discussed above is characterized by advancements resulting from modernity. In a specific sense, globalization has as much to do with a culture of pluralism as it does with a culture of antiquity. Many religions have appealed to the past for legitimization. What makes the case of Druidry interesting is the fact that for many years, if not centuries, the Druids had all but disappeared. It is only when the Western world began to encounter native peoples and as ancient texts became accessible that a revival of interest in the ancient religious others emerged. OBOD reflects both ideas of globalization expressed in this essay.
Ross Nichols, the first chosen chief of OBOD, joined the Ancient Druid Order in 1954 and became a leader in the order. Due in part to the Iolo Morganwg’s influence on ADO as well as the influence of the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophists, Nichols left the order to form a group that focused on Celtic mythology and folklore.[xxv] According to Philip Carr-Gomm, current chosen chief of the order,
The preoccupation of eighteenth-century revivalists with seeing Druidry as a precursor to Christianity, and of nineteenth-century Theosophists and Universalists with seeing it as yet another manifestation of the Perennial Philosopy, had obscured the unique and dynamic qualities that Druidry offered the modern world.[xxvi]
He states that Nichols’ desire was to revive a Druidry that not only drew upon historical roots, but was relevant for people’s lives.[xxvii] This is inherent in the idea of ancientization.
Nichols died in 1975 and his successor decided to close the Order. It was not until nine years after his death that one of his disciples who had been initiated into the order on May Day 1969 at Glastonbury Tor “suddenly became intensely aware of his [Nichols] presence.”[xxviii] Carr-Gomm noted, “After this experience, I knew that I had to gather all the material together, and begin to meet again with others to work with the teachings.”[xxix] On St. Valentine’s Day 1988 the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was refounded.
The revival of Druidry coincided with a renewed interest in the Celts during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Cunliffe explains,
From the fourth century until the sixteenth century AD the world cared little for Celts. The classical texts are largely forgotten and lost, and the universal appeal of Christianity, with its own texts, mythologies, and stereotypes, provided all the models that were required to order behaviour and to invent origin myths and protohistories. Yet it was Christianity that kept alive a knowledge of the Celts in the manuscript copies of the classical sources preserved in monastic libraries.[xxx]
The classical sources became increasingly available for study after the advent of the printing press in 1455. By 1480, several incunabula editions of Caesar’s Gallic War were printed in Treviso, Italy by Michael Manzolus. In 1513 Gallic War and the Roman Civil War were printed in Venice at the Aldine press and made available for scholarly study by Aldo Manuzio and Andreas Torresanus. It was in Caesar’s works that the Druids were rediscovered.[xxxi] Combined with an awakening to the need of a factual prehistory of Western Europe, scholars in France and Britain began researching and writing on the origins of Europeans. Spurred perhaps by the fascination of the New World’s Noble Savage, ample comparative ethnographies were available to those interested in the prehistory of Europe.[xxxii] However, Stuart Piggot notes that, “It was the American Indian rather than the Irish Celt that influenced concepts of ancient Britons, Germans or Gauls. . . .”[xxxiii]
Nevertheless, from Caesar we learn that the Druids were educated, knowing Greek and Latin. They were also political and military leaders concerned for the well-being of their people. Caesar also commented that their beliefs were similar to his own. While he apparently relies on the work of Poseidonios, he nonetheless, has first hand knowledge of the religious caste of the Celtic people inhabiting Gaul. In fact, he reportedly traveled through Gaul with the Druid, Divitiacus. Marcus Cicero writes of him, “I myself knew of one of them [Druids], Divitiacus of the Aedui, your guest and eulogist, who declared that he was acquainted with the system of nature which the Greeks call natural philosophy and he used to predict the future by both augury and inference.”[xxxiv]
Divitiacus was residing with Cicero’s brother, a senator, during his appeal before the Roman senate for assistance against Germanic tribes. While traveling with Caesar, he attempted to persuade his people to submit to Rome for protection. However, Divitiacus’ brother, Dumnorix, who himself was a Druid, had divined that Gaul would be seized by Rome. Ultimately Divitiacus either dies or is assassinated in 54 BC and Dumnorix is captured and later killed.[xxxv] His death sparked a revolt against Roman forces and may have been the impetus in deterring Caesar from crossing the English Channel.
While Caesar understood the Gauls and Celts to be a literate people who had knowledge of the Greek alphabet and used it for their writing, information about the Celtic priests, called Druids, is obscure since theirs was an oral tradition. However, it appears that a generalized knowledge of the Druids existed among the Greeks and Romans. The responsibility of the intellectual life of the Celts resided with the literate Druids and the Vates. Chadwick described their teaching as “on a lofty plane and included such subjects as the stars and their motions, the nature and greatness of our earth, the power and majesty of the immortal gods, and other matters which comprised natural and moral philosophy.”[xxxvi] Caesar writes, “The Druids believe that their religion forbids them to commit their teachings to writing, although for most other purposes, such as public and private accounts, the Gauls use the Greek alphabet.”[xxxvii]
Caesar’s The Gallic Wars records most of what we know from an outsider’s perspective. He understood them as those who, “are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion.”[xxxviii] Caesar learned that Druids were a class of people that studied perhaps for twenty years and learned by memorization. They were not born into the class, but were sent to study by their parents. They seemingly held direct political power of some sort emphasizing justice and morality.[xxxix] Divitiacus provides an example of the political nature of the Druids when he acts as an ambassador to Rome and later travels with Caesar to promote an alliance.[xl] Caesar suggested that the system of governance was brought to Gaul from Britain. Apparently a hierarchy existed among the Druids with one who was identified as having greater authority. Caesar writes,
Over all these Druids one presides, who possesses supreme authority among them. Upon his death, if any individual among the rest is pre-eminent in dignity, he succeeds; but, if there are many equal, the election is made by the suffrages of the Druids; sometimes they even contend for the presidency with arms.[xli]
The Druids were wandering teachers who traveled around passing on their teaching to whomever would receive it.[xlii] Caesar recognized that, “They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.”[xliii] Their knowledge of the stars was well recognized by Roman and Greek writers.
Celtic religion seemed to be tribally focused with no real congruence of the gods and goddesses. The cult of a deity was identified with a location whether a spring, lake, river or forest. The deities communicated with humanity in the context of nature. Oliver Davies suggests that, “We see among the Celts, therefore, the interpenetration of religion and landscape in a way that surpasses anything we might find in the late classical world.”[xliv] It is almost impossible to identify the Celtic pantheon in any precise manner; however, Chadwick surmises that “devotees might have sought from their deities such benefits as protection in war, succour in distress and guidance in life generally.”[xlv] In Caesar’s encounter with Celtic people he identified their gods with those of his own,
They worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars.
The Druids taught that the soul was immortal and a part of the deity. In fact, according to Caesar, all Celtic peoples claimed that they were descended from the god Dis Pater. Caesar identified Dis Pater with Pluto, the god of the dead.[xlvi] H. R. Ellis Davidson finds relationships between Dis Pater and Germanic (Wodan) and Scandinavian (Odin) gods.[xlvii] Instead of being extinguished at death, the soul passed on to another body perhaps in several stages until it reached its original state of perfection.[xlviii] They had a strong belief in the after-life and this gave credence to accounts of their lack of fear of death.[xlix] Caesar writes, “They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valor, the fear of death being disregarded.”[l]
Early Christian writers were aware of the Druids as well. Hippolytus notes the connection between the Druids and Pythagoras, who believed “the soul is immortal, and that it subsists in successive bodies.”[li] Pythagoras, whose writings, if he actually wrote anything, have been lost, actually believed in the notion that a person could be reincarnated into any living object whether human, animal or plant. Jean Markale, in spite of similarities of beliefs, is doubtful that there was any connection between the Druids and Pythagoras.[lii] Nevertheless, according to Hippolytus,
And the Celtic Druids investigated to the very highest point the Pythagorean philosophy, after Zamolxis, by birth a Thracian, a servant of Pythagoras, became to them the originator of this discipline. Now after the death of Pythagoras, Zamolxis, repairing thither, became to them the originator of this philosophy. The Celts esteem these as prophets and seers, on account of their foretelling to them certain (events), from calculations and numbers by the Pythagorean art.[liii]
Clement and Cyril of Alexandria disagree with Hippolytus and suggest that Pythagoras learned from the Druids and Brahmans. Peter Berresford Ellis points out that the idea of reincarnation or transmigration was new to Pythagoras and Greek philosophy, whereas it had existed in Hindusism long before. He concludes that it is best to think of Pythagorean and Druid doctrines developing separately from each other.[liv] Piggot agrees with Ellis, “by equating Celtic belief with this [Pythagoreanism] it could be brought into a satisfactory tidy relationship with civilized systems of thought, and of course enhance the mystique of Druid philosophy.”[lv]
There was also an apparent belief in the need for atonement in order to appease the gods. Caesar writes, “because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious.”[lvi] In spite of the fact that many take this to resemble the Christian doctrine of atonement,[lvii] the Druid practice was human sacrifice as a means for appeasing their gods who were responsible for the infliction of disease as well as success in war.
While they were exempt from the act of war they were nonetheless consulted for sacrifices in order to assure success. For example, the Druid Dumnorix, as mentioned, had an apparent military role, probably as an adviser. The historian Tacitus relates a battle account involving Druids in Britain during the reign of Nero,
On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general’s appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.[lviii]
An archaeological discovery examined by Anne Ross and Don Robins suggests that Lindow Man, or Pete Marsh, was a human sacrifice of an actual Druid. Lindow Man, whose initial leg bone was discovered in a bog in 1984 by a peat cutter near Manchester, England, is thought to reveal the ancient practice of human sacrifice in Celtic religion. Ross, who is an expert on Celtic customs and beliefs, suggested that the contents of the stomach were congruent with the practice of sacrifice.[lix]
Caesar notes, “they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices.”[lx] Lucan’s account of the Druids gives more detail regarding human sacrifices. As recounted in Cunliffe, he suggests that sacrifices which were burnt were made to Taranis (god of the sky), those who were drowned to Teutates (god of the tribe) and those who were hanged to Esus (god all-competent).[lxi] Poseidonius, as cited by Strabo, states, “They used to shoot men down with arrows, impale them in the temples, or, making a large statue of straw and wood, throw into it cattle and all sorts of wild animals and human beings and thus make a burnt offering.”[lxii]
While the Celts had sacred enclosures or temples for lay-people, the Druid central places of worship were situated in the natural environments. The Greek and Roman writers suggest that the Druids worshiped gods in uninhabited groves of trees. According to Peter Berresford Ellis, it is Pliny the Elder (d. AD 79) who, in Natural History, first makes this suggestion and Tacitus probably uses his work when he refers to groves.[lxiii] They were considered sacred and enchanted places held in great awe and only approachable by the Druids. [lxiv] For them, everything pertaining to nature was good and it was humanity’s responsibility to assure that it would remain such.[lxv] They were considered the scientists and moral philosophers of the people as well as judges and arbitrators in public and private disputes.[lxvi] Caesar writes of them,
For they determine respecting almost all controversies, public and private; and if any crime has been perpetrated, if murder has been committed, if there be any dispute about an inheritance, if any about boundaries, these same persons decide it; they decree rewards and punishments; if any one, either in a private or public capacity, has not submitted to their decision, they interdict him from the sacrifices.[lxvii]
Information about the Druids is obscure since theirs was an oral tradition. However, it appears that a generalized knowledge of the Celtic religious leaders existed among the Greeks and Romans. The Druids were wandering spiritual leaders who traveled around passing on their teaching to whoever would receive it.[lxviii] They taught that the soul was immortal and a part of the deity. Instead of being extinguished at death, the soul passed on to another body perhaps in several stages until it reached its original state of perfection.[lxix] They had a strong belief in the after-life and this gave credence to accounts of their lack of fear of death.[lxx]
However, claims to a unified religious belief among the Celts are unsubstantiated. Barry Cunliffe, professor of European archaeology at the University of Oxford, states, “The immensely rich vernacular literature of the Insular Celts must be approached in the awareness that Celtic religion was not necessarily consistent across Europe, nor was it unchanging.”[lxxi] The Celtic scholar, Nora Chadwick, stated, “It would be unreasonable to seek within the whole corpus of early Irish literature a coherent summary of the beliefs of the Celts as such.”[lxxii] Oakley asserts that there is no evidence to suggest a unified pre-Christian religion in Europe. Consequently, she asserts that it is incorrect for contemporary Pagans, whether Wiccan or Druid, to claim a single surviving ancient European religious history. Instead, it is more accurate to speak of ancient systems of varying beliefs that survived in the subconscious of their adherents who called themselves Christians.[lxxiii]
Those special people who believed in their local spirits, who cultivated psychic or magic powers, who told and retold their ancient myths, who cast spells and performed divinations, who dressed in animal skins almost all considered themselves Christian once Christianity had arrived and established itself, although in rural areas this may have amounted to no more than a nominal Christianity.[lxxiv]
Accordingly, Pagan religions in contemporary Western society are wanting of historically verifiable continuity with ancient practices. Nonetheless, attempts are made to help Pagans with a sense of identity as they transmit an awareness of traditions that have continuity with the ancestors through ancientization. Michael Raoult, Chosen Chief of the Breton Druid group, traces an organizational continuity of contemporary Druidry to an underground Celtic religious remnant.[lxxv] However, there is no extant literary or archeological evidence that testifies to a continued Druidic religious practice after the fourth century. This might be due to the systematic destruction of Pagan temples and the institution of policies that deprived Paganism of its right after the missionary efforts of Christianity. Chadwick concludes, “Deprived of sanctuaries and resources, and finally of its clergy, it gradually gave way to Christianity.”[lxxvi]
Traditions and legends, on the other hand, abound in Paganism and contemporary Pagans utilize them for a sense of connectedness to their ancient past. In spite of the lack of evidence or mention of Druidry until the Renaissance, Raoult insists that the Arthurian medieval legend of Merlin the Magician, the traditions of Atlantis and Hyperborea act as a bridge between “pre-history and the Age of Aquarius.”[lxxvii] Oakley suggests that it is more accurate to posit a Druid/Christian synthesis rather than a surviving remnant. She asserts that Druidry in its contemporary expression is a new phenomenon.[lxxviii]
Classical literature was not the only source utilized in the formation of contemporary Druidry’s religious identity. Archeology play an important role in ancientization as well. William Stuckley (b. 1687), the second chosen chief of the Ancient Druid Order, was fascinated with the megalithic monuments dotting the British landscape led him to the assertion that these were sacred places of Druid worship. Stuckley built on the work of John Aubrey who, according to Piggot, combined,
The information in Caesar with the reports of the New World voyages in credible and simple form; to this he adds inferences drawn from his archaeological fieldwork in Wiltshire which were to have unexpectedly far-reaching repercussions on the creation of Druids-as-wished-for which have lasted until today.[lxxix]
Stuckley’s enthusiasm for the megalithic temples extends to this day in the minds of contemporary Druids. However, Piggot reminds us of the context of Stuckley’s enthusiasm for a “Druid-as-wished-for.” Stuckley would write,
My intent is (besides preserving the memory of these extraordinary monuments, now in great danger of ruin), to promote, as much as I am able, the knowledge and practice of ancient and true Religion, to revive in the minds of the learned the spirit of Christianity . . . to warm our hearts into that true sense of Religion, which keeps the medium between ignorant superstition and learned free-thinking, between enthusiasm and the rational worship of God, which is no where upon this earth done, in my judgment, better than in the Church of England.[lxxx]
Stuckley’s deep interest in Stonehenge and British prehistory was motivated by an even deeper interest in preserving religious unity in his country. As was the motivation for Clement of Alexandria who believed in the antiquity of Christianity and its relationship to the teachings of Plato, so Stuckley, as well as others, attempted to unite the theological controversies in England by demonstrating a common antiquity in the Druids, descendents of Noah and holders of Abraham’s religion, whose religion “is so extremely like Christianity, that in effect it differ’d from it only in this; they believed in a Messiah who was to come, as we believe in him that is come.”[lxxxi]
Christina Oakley, editor of Pagan Dawn, a Wiccan publication, and a holder of a doctorate in medieval history, asserts that there is no evidence to suggest a unified pre-Christian religion in Europe. Consequently, she asserts that it is incorrect for contemporary Pagan religions, whether Wicca or Druidry, to claim a single surviving ancient European religious history. Instead, it is more accurate to speak of ancient systems of varying beliefs that survived in the subconscious of their adherents who called themselves Christians.[lxxxii] Rodney Stark concurs,
Keep in mind, however, that I reject contemporary Wiccan fantasies concerning an active pagan underground stretching back to pre-Christian times. Paganism did not linger as an organized or even as a distinctive faith, but survived only as part of the semi-Christian folk religion of northwestern Europe.[lxxxiii]
Accordingly, Pagan religions in contemporary Western society are wanting of historically verifiable continuity with ancient practices. Emma Restall Orr, joint chosen chief of the British Druid Order, suggests that this is not important, “what appears most important is not the [historical] continuity but the colours, the detail and images that catch our eye.”[lxxxiv] Nonetheless, attempts are made to help Druids with a sense of identity as they transmit an awareness of traditions that have continuity with the ancestors.
Contemporary Druidry distinctively expresses a postmodern ideology in its claims of historical continuity with antiquity. Meaning of existence is derived from the idea that a person is a part of something greater as well as part of a “tribe.”[lxxxv] Orr illustrates the emergence of this phenomenon,
From the sixteenth century there came an increasing interest in antiquarianism, with a growing number of books being printed, including those of Classical writers. Images were being brought back to Britain from the colonies about indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas, and people were becoming interested in discovering more of their roots.[lxxxvi]
It was in part due to this interest in the native religions of others that a romantic revival of Druidry began to take place. The studies of the stone monuments at Avebury and Stonehenge suggested a connection with the ancient native priests. By the eighteenth century the interest in pre-Christian native religions was growing in Britain.
At least three lines of contemporary Druidry emerge in the 17th and 18th centuries.[lxxxvii] According to Carr-Gomm, the three types of modern Druidry emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In Wales, following the Druid rituals of Edward Williams, a stonemason who preferred the Bardic name Iolo Morganwg, the Welsh Eisteddfod became the purveyor of Celtomania.[lxxxviii] Nationalistic from its inception, it is currently focused on literary and cultural aspects of England and Wales.[lxxxix]
A second type of modern Druidry is that of the Ancient Order of Druids. On 28 November 1781 at the Old King’s Tavern in London the Order was revived. A blue square plaque with white lettering on the outside wall of the renamed tavern, King’s Pub, boldly flying a rainbow flag beneath the plaque on Poland Street, now commemorates the revival. Founded by Henry Hurle, the Ancient Order followed the lines of Freemasonary. The Ancient Order had little to do with spiritual teaching. It was more of a social group concerned with welfare issues, although not its primary focus. The Ancient Order split numerous times and at the Ablion Lodge in Oxford a young Winston Churchill was initiated in 1908.[xc]
The third line of modern Druidry begins with the Ancient Druid Order founded in 1717 by John Toland. As a Deist and free-thinker, Toland was a controversial figure in the development of Druidry who spoke and wrote pejoratively of the Druids.[xci] Nonetheless, it is from the Ancient Druid Order that we get such figures as the following chosen chiefs:
John Toland 1717-1722
William Stuckely 1722-1765
Edward Finch Hatton 1765-1771
David Samway 1771-1799
William Blake 1799-1827
Geoffrey Higgins 1827-1833
William Carpenter 1833-1874
Edward Vaughan Kenealy 1874-1880
Gerald Massey 1880-1906
John Barry O’Callaghan 1906-1909
G. W. MacGregor-Reid 1909-1946
Robt. A. F. MacGregor-Reid 1946-1964[xcii]
It is from Robert A. F. MacGregor-Reid that we can make the connection with OBOD as well as Gardnerian Wicca.
While antiquity has informed contemporary Druidry of an ancient religious identity, religious pluralism has also contributed to legitimize such an identity. OBOD, for example, responds to the following question:
Do I have to adopt any particular set of beliefs or practices when joining the Order?
No - all members are encouraged to believe and practice only those things which they feel are true and right for themselves. There is no dogma in Druidry. For this reason people with widely differing approaches are members - from Pagans and Wiccans to Christians and Buddhists, and to those with no particular ‘philosophy’ or ‘religion’.
There are, however, a few beliefs which most members probably hold in common:
In Spirit, or God/dess - in something more than just matter
In the Otherworld - in something more than just the world of appearances
In Rebirth - in life after death in some form
In the Web of Life - in the interconnectedness of all life
In the Law of the Harvest - in the law of cause and effect, that we harvest what we sow
Druidry is characterised by the qualities of tolerance and an appreciation of diversity.[xciii]
It is not surprising that OBOD would have some affinity with Buddhism. George MacGregor-Reid was initiated into Buddhism after visiting a monastery in Northern India. Ross Nichols would write, “It seems that he did not so much become a Buddhist as receive Buddhism into the conflation of faiths characteristic of the Druidic philosophy.”[xciv] Since the interconnection of various religious beliefs is found in Druidry, a focus on two particular doctrines that represent the notion of easternization is merited: reincarnation and karma.
While most Druids apparently hold to some type of reincarnation, this is not to be considered the universal view. Consider, for example, what another informant states, “One thing to keep in mind is the ancient Druids accepted the concept of reincarnation as a reality. A number of modern day Druids accept it as a reality too, but this is not required or universal.” [xcv] Still another informant commented about the after-life, “I don’t know. It is an area where I remain agnostic. At worst, nothingness and your body and its elements are recycled back into the world. At best-who can tell? It may be fun to find out.”[xcvi]
First, some Druids view death as the final step in the existence of the living. Here the view is that there is nothing after death. The person simply ceases to exist. However, just as a tree, for example, might die it continues to live due to the life-giving properties inherent in the tree. So also the deceased’s body is returned to the land and its life-giving properties continue to facilitate new life.[xcvii] While this was by far the least common response, one informant’s comment is suggestive, “Passing through the veil, to another place, perhaps return and reconstruction later, but I am uncertain. Part of me will return to earth and be recycled.”[xcviii] Graham Harvey summarizes that, “In a Nature-venerating tradition the return of Nature-given nutrients to the Earth by the dead body is worth celebrating.”[xcix]
A second way that the afterlife is conceived is in transmigration where the deceased waits to join with another living being, not necessarily human. As such, Emma Restall Orr posits that there are no limitations to species.[c] One informant writes, “The belief in transmigration of souls, held by most but not all modern druids, implies that our ancestors may take up new lives in any form, thus further sacralizing all forms of existence.”[ci] Transmigration, according to Harvey, explains the “flashes of insight some Pagans claim to have when they visit ancient sacred places if some sort of ancestral spirit is waiting there to act as tour-guide from the Otherworld.”[cii] Transmigration is the classical ancient Druid view of what happens after death.
The third and most prevalent way that Druids look at the afterlife is reincarnation. After death the deceased is translated into a community of the Otherworld and awaits reincarnation. One informant states,
I believe in reincarnation. I think there is some kind of afterlife in between, though I do not claim any understanding of what might happen during that in-between time, what shape the soul’s awareness would take in that time or how anything would look. I think some people might not reincarnate and they might stay in the Otherworld.[ciii]
While there the deceased joins the ancestors and rests until he/she is ready to return. According to Harvey, this tradition has roots in the Arthurian legend where King Arthur is at rest in Avalon awaiting an opportune time to return.[civ] Just as nature is renewed in the spring so exists the possibility of rebirth. Therefore, as one informant relates an understanding of death,
Death is but the beginning of Life - and therefore, is part of Life in all things. Whether you see it in the way the earth allows the seed to grow and then be cut down, to grow again, or in the annual cycle of seasons, it can be seen that without death there can be no Life. This is also seen in the way we leave an old life to take on a new one. Death does not necessarily relate to the final act of a person’s body on this earth. It can be shedding old views to absorb new ones. New ideas to replace old. The Life-Death-Life cycle is ever-present in all things. Thus the circle is always renewing.[cv]
In the reincarnation view of death that is prevalent in contemporary Druidry there is the notion of karma. Carr-Gomm suggests that this karma follows one into the next re-embodiment and provides continuity in one’s identity with the ancestors. It is while one is in the Otherworld that instruction is given for the next life.[cvi] The idea of karma, however, does not seem to be understood in the sense that reincarnation is “pay-back” for the good or bad that was done in the previous life. Karma seems to be understood as simply the lessons one has learned. Those lessons follow the individual into the next life. One informant explains, “The life’s lessons we got from that last [incarnation] follow us to the next where we can hope we learn more than from the previous life to carry us to the next life.” [cvii] OBOD’s beliefs make these ideas explicit and a clear indication of the thesis of this essay. Both easternization and ancientization are clearly expressed. Regarding reincarnation:
While a Christian Druid may believe that the soul is only born once on Earth, most Druids adopt the belief of their ancient forebears that the soul undergoes a process of successive reincarnations either always in human form, or in a variety of forms that might include trees and even rocks as well as animals.
Many Druids share the view reported by Philostratus of Tyana in the second century that the Celts believed that to be born in this world, we have to die in the Otherworld, and conversely, that when we die here, we are born into the Otherworld. For this reason, Druid funerals try to focus on the idea that the soul is experiencing a time of birth, even though we are experiencing that as their death to us.[cviii]
Related to the idea that we are all connected in one great web of life is the belief held by most Druids that whatever we do in the world creates an effect which will ultimately also affect us. A similar idea is found in many different traditions and cultures: folk wisdom in Britain says that ‘what goes around comes around’ and in ancient Egypt, the idea attributed to Jesus when he said ‘As ye sow, so shall ye reap,’ was spoken by the god Thoth several thousand years earlier in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, when he said ‘Truth is the harvest scythe. What is sown - love or anger or bitterness - that shall be your bread. The corn is no better than its seed, then let what you plant be good.’ In Hinduism and Buddhism the idea is expressed as the doctrine of cause and effect (karma).
The two beliefs - that all is connected and that we will harvest the consequences of our actions - come naturally to Druids because they represent ideas that evolve out of an observation of the natural world. Just as the feeling of our being part of the great web of life can come to us as we gaze in awe at the beauty of nature, so the awareness that we will reap the consequences of our actions also comes to us as we observe the processes of sowing and harvesting.[cix]
Ancientization, as I have used the term, can be understood as a utilization of knowledge obtained from ancient sources, whether literary or archeological, for the construction of a contemporary identity. It offers a legitimizing effect in the minds of the postmodern as it addresses the way things should be. Just as pluralization, or in this case, easternization, is a result of the global community shrinking so ancientization is a result of reconnecting with a lost past. In part, due to advances in technology (i.e. printing press) and a curiosity for connectedness, Western society is situated in such a way to give a meaningful identity to its religious future by looking at the past. Future studies of new religious movements, I would suggest, should consider how ancientization affects respective religious identities.
[i]Peter Beyer, Religion and Globalization (London: Sage, 1994), 8; M. Featherstone, “Global Culture: An Introduction,” in Global Culture, ed. M. Featherstone (London: Sage, 1990), 6.
[ii]James A. Beckford, “Religious Movements and Globalization,” in Global Social Movements, ed. Robin Cohen and Shirin M. Rai (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 165.
[iii]Stuart Piggot, The Druids (Hamondsworth, England: Penguin, 1968), 3.
[iv]Philip Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century (London: Rider, 2002), 10, 55.
[v]Information from http://druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload&name= PagEd&file=index&topic_id=2&page_id=79 Accessed 4 June 2007.
[vi]Michael T. Cooper, “Prolegomena to a Christian Encounter with Contemporary Druidry: An Etic Perspective of a European Traditional Religion and Its Relationship to the Western Religious Landscape” (Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).
[vii]John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1999), 2.
[viii]Loek Halman and Thorleif Pettersson, “Globalization and Patterns of Religious Belief Systems,” in Religion in Secularizing Society: Europeans’ Religion at the End of the 20th Century, ed. Loek Halman and Ole Riis (Boston: Brill, 2003), 186.
[ix]Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, 1990), 64.
[x]Malcom Waters, Globalization (London: Routledge, 1995), 3.
[xi]Halman and Pettersson, “Globalization and Patterns of Religious Belief Systems,” 190. Cf. Peter Beyer, “Globalisation and the Religion of Nature,” in Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World ed. Joanne Pearson, Richard H. Roberts and Geoffrey Samuel (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 1998), 14.
[xii]Christians of the first three centuries may not have agreed. Roman society considered them atheists and did not exhibit the tolerance we see in contemporary society.
[xiii]See Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), chapter 8.
[xvi]Loren L. Dawson, “The Cultural Significance of New Religious Movements and Globalization: A Theoretical Prolegomenon,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37, no. 4 (1998): 587.
[xvii]Lawrence Cahoone, “Introduction,” in From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology, ed. Lawrence E. Cahoone (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 17.
[xviii]Cahoone, “Introduction,” 18.
[xix]Michael York, “Postmodernity, Architecture, Society and Religion: ‘A Heap of Broken Images’ or ‘A Change of Heart,’” in Postmodernity, Sociology and Religion, ed. Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp, 48-63 (London: MacMillan, 1996), 58.
[xx]Cahoone, “Introduction,” 18.
[xxii]Jurgen Habermas, “ModernityAn Incomplete Project,” in Postmodernism: A Reader, ed Thomas Docherty, 98-109 (Hertfordshire, England: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), 98.
[xxiii]York, “Postmodernity, Architecture, Society and Religion,” 50.
[xxiv]Thomas C. Oden, Agenda for Theology: Recovering Christian Roots (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979), 38.
[xxv]Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries, 48-49.
[xxviii]Philip Carr-Gomm, “Forward,” in Ross Nichols, The Book of Druidry (London: Thorson, 1990 ), 11.
[xxx]Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts, 10.
[xxxi]Ellis, A Brief History of the Druids, 252.
[xxxii]Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts, 10-11.
[xxxiii]Piggot, The Druids, 127.
[xxxiv]Marcus Cicero, De Divinatione I, 40 cited in Peter Berresford Ellis, A Brief Histoy of the Druids (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 57.
[xxxv]Ellis, A Brief History of the Druids, 58.
[xxxvi]Chadwick, The Celts, 68-72.
[xxxvii]Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars, VI 13.
[xxxviii]Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars, VI, 13.
[xxxix]M. Forthomme Nicholson, “Celtic Theology: Pelagius” in An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, ed. James P. Mackey (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1995), 401.
[xl]Jean Markale, The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, trans. Jon Graham (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1999), 28.
[xli]Caesar, The Gallic Wars, VI, 13.
[xlii]Jones and Pennick, The History of Pagan Europe, 85.
[xliii]Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, Book 6, Chapter 14.
[xliv]Oliver Davies, “Celtic Christianity,” Epiphany 14, no. 3 (1994): 10.
[xlv]Chadwick, The Celts, 147.
[xlvi]Markale, The Druids, 90.
[xlvii]H. R. Ellis Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1988), 208.
[xlviii]Nicholson, “Celtic Theology: Pelagius,” 402.
[xlix]Chadwick, The Celts, 154.
[l]Caesar, The Gallic Wars, XIV.
[li]Hippolytus, The Refutation of all Heresies Book 1, Chapter 2.
[lii]Markale, The Druids, 7.
[liii]Hippolytus, The Refutation of all Heresies Book 1, Chapter 22. Zamolxis, according to Eusebius, was a man who was deified by the Getaeo-Thracians (modern day Romanians). Heredotus questions his existence.
[liv]Ellis, A Brief History of the Druids, 171-177.
[lv]Piggot, The Druids, 114-115.
[lvi]Caesar, The Gallic Wars, VI, 13.
[lvii]See Gordon Strachan, Jesus the Master Builder: Druid Mysteries and the Dawn of Christianity (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1998); C. C. Dobson, Did Our Lord Visit Britain As They Say in Cornwall or Somerset? (London: Covenant, 1989).
[lviii]Tacitus, Annales XIV.30.
[lix]Anne Ross and Don Robins, The Life and Death of a Druid Prince (London: Summit Books, 1989), 12-13.
[lx]Caesar, The Gallic Wars, XVI.
[lxi]Lucan, Pharsalia, cited in Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts, 191.
[lxii]Strabo, Geography, 4. 4. 6.
[lxiii]Peter Berresford Ellis, A Brief History of the Druids (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 62.
[lxiv]Jones and Pennick, The History of Pagan Europe, 81.
[lxv]Nicholson, “Celtic Theology: Pelagius,” 401. Nicholson might be reading more into the Druid ecological understanding than is necessary.
[lxvi]Jones and Pennick, The History of Pagan Europe, 81.
[lxvii]Caesar, The Gallic Wars, XIII.
[lxviii]Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 85.
[lxix]M. Forthomme Nicholson, “Celtic Theology: Pelagius” in An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, ed. James P. Mackey (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1995), 402.
[lxx]Chadwick, The Celts, 154.
[lxxi]Barry Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts (London: Penguin, 1997), 183.
[lxxii]Chadwick, The Celts, 183.
[lxxiii]Oakley, “Druids and Witches,” 278.
[lxxv]Michael Raoult, “The Druid Revival in Brittany, France and Europe,” in The Druid Renaissance: The Voice of Druidry Today, ed. Philip Carr-Gomm (London: Thorsons, 1996), 100-122.
[lxxvi]Chadwick, The Celts, 194.
[lxxvii]Raoult, “The Druid Revival,” 104.
[lxxviii]Oakley, “Druids and Witches,” 260-261.
[lxxix]Piggot, The Druids, 130.
[lxxx]William Stuckley, cited in Piggot, The Druids, 150.
[lxxxii]Oakley, “Druids and Witches,” 278.
[lxxxiii]Rodney Stark, “Efforts to Christianize Europe, 400-2000,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 16, no. 1 (2001): 115.
[lxxxiv]Emma Restall Orr, Principles of Druidry (London: Thorsons, 1998), 18.
[lxxxv]Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries, 112.
[lxxxvi]Emma Restall Orr, Principles of Druidry (London: Thorsons, 1998), 41.
[lxxxvii]Markale, The Druids, 199-200.
[lxxxviii]Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts, 12.
[lxxxix]Markale, The Druids, 199.
[xc]Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries, 43; cf. Piggot, The Druids, 180.
[xci]Piggot, The Druids, 135-136.
[xciii]Information retrieved from http://druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload &name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=2&page_id=6#section6. Accessed 5 June 2007.
[xciv]Nichols, The Book of Druidry, 107.
[xcvii]Graham Harvey, “Handfasting, Funerals and Other Druid Rites of Passage,” in The Druid Renaissance: The Voice of Druidry Today, ed. Philip Carr-Gomm (London: Thorsons, 1996), 215.
[xcix]Harvey, “Death and Remembrance in Modern Paganism,” 117.
[c]Emma Restall Orr, Principles of Druidry (London: Thorsons, 1998), 11.
[cii]Harvey, “Death and Remembrance in Modern Paganism,” 117.
[civ]Harvey, “Handfasting, Funerals and Other Druid Rites of Passage,” 215.
[cvi]Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries, 114.
[cviii]Information retrieved from http://druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload &name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=1&page_id=30#section3. Accessed 5 June 2007.
[cix]Information retrieved from http://druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload &name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=1&page_id=30#section8. Accessed 5 June 2007.