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My relationship with Druidry is growing deeper, more committed and a little bit complicated. Tree roots come to mind.

I began searching out information on modern expressions of Druidism a few years ago, finding The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) first. I immediately connected with the spirit of the organization, and was delighted that they put such a great emphasis on creativity. I’m a writer and musician, and I’ve always sought out ways to express my spirituality through my creative gifts. That this tradition was encouraging it seemed like a sign that I was in the right place.

After a period of a few months working through their Bardic course, I drifted away from OBOD. Looking back, I attribute that to a lack of community around my spiritual work, as well as a lack of a religious structure. I got a great deal out of it, but there was something missing. Leaving the studies wasn’t a failure in my eyes; it was just the choice that felt best for me.

Then I found Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), the group I’m working with now. ADF is a religious organization, and through them I found the structure and religiosity I was missing with OBOD. The community I was searching for has, more or less, been available to me, and I’m working my way though the year-long course of the Dedicant Path.

Here’s where the roots begin jutting out in yet another direction.

I just read The Druidry Handbook, written by John Michael Greer, Archdruid of yet another Druid group, The Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). I flew through the book, and found myself enchanted by their philosophy and approach. I loved the book so much that I purchased The Druid Magic Handbook, a follow up title built on the principles in the first book.

If you are unaware of the subtle differences between these organizations, and their respective takes on Druidry, let me try and explain one key point. OBOD and AODA accept the work created during the “Druid Revival” of the 18th and 19th century as valid material, created by inspired individuals and worthy to include in a modern spiritual practice of Druidry. They both acknowledge that some of the work created during this period was forged and misrepresented, and that there were great historical inaccuracies in the Revivalists’ perspective about Druids and Celtic culture. But, in accepting that they also believe in the idea that if the writing and traditions which originated from that period are inspiring and useful, then they should be celebrated and made use of. In the end, for them, its all about doing what works.

ADF takes a different perspective altogether. The emphasis, for them, is on building a new tradition around what is historically accurate, as best we know, about the ancient religious practices of not just the Celts, but the Indo-European cultures as a whole. ADF dismisses the writing created during the Revival, and places the emphasis on striving for a kind of historical authenticity that feels, to me, to be bordering on re-constructionism. It isn’t quite that rigid, but it still is searching to graft the new ways on top of the old, as best we can assess what those were. Being as true as can be to the “old ways” is very important in ADF.

Now, back to me.

I feel a pull towards the writing and approach of the Revivalist Movement, and I don’t really care that they made up or borrowed a great deal of what they were doing. What they created speaks to my heart, and that counts for a great deal, I think. I’m seeking to live a life that is rooted in this world, and that allows me to expand in my creative expression and my spiritual awareness. I’m looking to grow in my connectedness to the world while simultaneously become more fully myself. Shouldn’t the heart lead the way in that quest?

The question is, must I be a strict adherent to any one of these traditions in order to accomplish that? Can I be an ADF member, following through on my commitment to the Dedicant Path, while still harboring this love for the Druid Revivalists and their modern spiritual offspring?

I’m open to thoughts and comments from members of any of these groups. What has your experience been like? What resonates about ADF, OBOD or AODA for you, and why do you lean towards one or the other? Or, do you pull from all three traditions? Tell me about your tree roots and Druid groups.

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17 Responses to Tree Roots and Druid Groups

  1. Good post. I have lots of respect for everyone I have met from OBOD and AODA. I also have lots of respect for John Michael Greer, whose blog I read regularly. However, I was definitely drawn more to ADF than the other groups primarily due to the fact that for ADF, Druidry and Paganism are completely interwoven and inseparable.

    OBOD and AODA’s stance that Druidry is simply a discipline that can applied to any religion (or none at all) just doesn’t sit well with me. I just can’t agree with the idea of a Christian Druid.

    That’s not to say that I don’t find value in some of their teachings, but as organizations I don’t feel that they have much to offer me.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Thanks, Kevin, for your comment.

      I respect your desire to work in a group that ties together Druidry and Paganism as ADF does. That’s in large part why I was drawn to it in the first place. I also understand how you find it difficult to reconcile the idea of a Christian Druid. That subject is worthy of greater exploration, and I won’t try to unpack it here just now. Perhaps we can speak about it at Wellspring!

      • Heh.

        To me, it’s like deciding that I’m going to call myself a monk and follow the rule of St. Benedict, but instead of the Holy Trinity I’m just going to worship Odin, Thor, and Freya instead.

  2. Resa says:

    I researched OBOD before I joined ADF and decided to join ADF and not OBOD for a number of reasons. I like the reconstructionist aspects of ADF. Many of the OBOD people seem to be in the UK and I was looking for a group more active here in the US. I missed AODA somehow, don’t know why that happened. I also poked at a couple of other Celtic reconstructionist type groups, but some of them take the reconstruction so far they paralyze themselves into inaction. I think ADF hits a good balance of research and ritual.

    I have an example of “works for me” in my own life. When I do Tarot, I use the Thoth Tarot deck. I’m not all that into Crowley. I did study with the OTO for about 18 months, but that was years after I started using the Thoth and I ultimately found that OTO is not for me.

    So why do I use a Tarot deck that is reviled by many Tarot users, that has some strictly “made up” elements that deviate from more traditional Tarot? For whatever reason, that’s the Tarot that speaks to me. The art, the system, all of it, it resonates with me better than any other Tarot I’ve come across. After a bunch of soul-searching, I decided not to stress about it. Thoth enriches my life and works for me. I don’t read much for other people, so I don’t have to worry about freaking out others with it.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      You bring up a great point, Resa. OBOD is very much a UK organization. There have been times where I was listening to the Druidcast Podcast, WISHING I lived over there! It seems like such a vibrant group of people.

      I like the example you give, and that helps me a lot. You’re working with a deck that speaks to you (as I do with the Alchemical Tarot, or the DruidCraft Tarot) even though it doesn’t subscribe to the standard symbolism, and I think that’s a sign that you know yourself. Ultimately, we should be driven by that self-knowledge.

      Thank you for this comment. I really appreciate it.

  3. Like many, I also looked into OBOD but found them to be lacking in several things I needed. That said, there are many in ADF who are also members of OBOD and/or AODA! You *can* make it work if that is what calls you. Best of luck!

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Glad you know, Grey! I’ve only met a few ADF member in the flesh (I’ll meet a great number more at Wellspring), so I’ve never really been sure what the norm was. And I like the way you put it – “if that is what calls you.” I’m listening for that call. Intently!

      Blessings to you!

  4. I’m a member of both OBOD (Bardic Grade) and AODA (almost completed the Second Degree), but since neither Orders have active groups in my area, I attend rituals and events hosted by the local ADF grove. I’m also just beginning work with another (non-local!) Druidic group – the Druid Order of the Three Realms – who were founded by friends of mine down in the Atlanta, Georgia, and who are slowly spreading their own roots and branches out in many directions.

    In my experience, AODA and OBOD called to me for many of the reasons you mention – their willingness to embrace Romanticism and the inspiration of Awen, rather than trying to run from it into the arms of overly-dry scholarship (as some Reconstructionist groups do, though certainly not all of them!). Scholarship has remained important to me, and my work in AODA has encouraged research and critical thinking on par with the kind of work ADF has in its Dedicant program.

    On the other hand, the community life has sometimes left something to be desired. OBOD is mainly based in the UK, as someone else already mentioned. Also it is not a religious organization, but rather – something many folks, even members, don’t always realize – a for-profit business that promotes the work (books, CDs, workshops and talks) of a select few influential leaders of the group. AODA is a self-professed “church” that does offer ordination and clergy training as part of their degree program… but it can at times feel a bit too much like a John Michael Greer fanclub. (Members who have criticized JMG’s ideas, or simply stated disagreements with them, have been asked – or made – to leave on occasion, which doesn’t exactly sit well with me.) Also, being a small group, their community is primarily an online one.

    On the other hand, the local ADF grove has always been very friendly and works hard to cultivate community. I enjoy their rituals and events – my partner and I plan on taking his kids to their Beltane festival this year! I haven’t joined ADF mostly because I do not agree with their general approach to liturgy and theology (it can get a bit too Dungeons and Dragons for me!), but they’ve always been a lovely group of people.

    The Druid Order of the Three Realms was established as a break-away from AODA, in hopes of remedying some of the less desirable aspects of Revival Druidry (like a tendency to rely on outdated hierarchical models or exclusionary practices like secret oaths) while still staying true to the spirit of Revival Druidry more broadly. It’s a very new group, and pretty small, but full of enthusiasm. I think for now, I’m happy being a member of a long-distance group, while finding community among other Druids and Pagans from a diverse number of organizations and traditions closer to home.

    –Ali

    • lol D&D theology.

      Careful now, or I may have to whack you with my Shileagh +2.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Alison – thank you so much for this comment. I appreciate the insight and the honesty about your experiences. I’ve always resisted the “either/or” approach to my spiritual path, but the situation continues to present itself to me. You’ve offered a nice reminder of the message – it can be both, neither, or many.

      I also appreciate the heads up about some of the AODA’s missteps. All human organizations are subject to error, and I hope they don’t make to hard and fast a policy of removing members with dissenting opinions. That would be truly unfortunate, and it seems out of step with the frame of mind that I read in JMG’s books.

      I look forward to following your writing online, and I hope you pay another visit to the blog. Your comments are always welcome.

      Teo

  5. Mam Adar says:

    “The question is, must I be a strict adherent to any one of these traditions in order to accomplish that? Can I be an ADF member, following through on my commitment to the Dedicant Path, while still harboring this love for the Druid Revivalists and their modern spiritual offspring?”

    My answer to that is you can be a member of both ADF and AODA if you don’t allow either group to dictate dogma to you. In my opinion, ADF has a greater tendency to dictate than AODA does.

    AODA is a church only in the U.S. tax code sense of the word. There are other Pagan and even Wiccan groups who also use that designation, like the Aquarian Tabernacle church (http://www.aquariantabernaclechurch.org/).

    If you’re concerned about the Masonic connections of AODA and its preference for the lodge system of organization, I strongly suggest you read JMG’s Inside a Magical Lodge. It’s particularly illuminating on the issue of secrecy in magical groups. You could also talk to a Mason. *g*

    I’ve been a member of AODA for five years and a member of ADF intermittently. I’m not a member of OBOD mainly because I’ve never felt I was able to afford the correspondence course. While I have a lot of respect for OBOD, I think their training does assume the student lives in Britain, Ireland, or at least in Europe. They also tend to talk as if there’s a historical connection between the Revival and the ancient Druids and the folks who built Stonehenge. We know there isn’t, but the 18-century amateur scholars who made the Revival didn’t know that. As ADF likes to say, they were working from the best available scholarship of their day.

    What do I like about AODA? It is non-dogmatic; there is no party line. It takes the Revival seriously as an example of a new spirituality coming out of an industrialized culture, the kind of culture we still live in. It has a strong emphasis on local druidries, spirituality crafted in place. To someone raised Anglican like myself, it is instantly recognizable as a relative of that tradition; the Revival founders were Anglicans or perhaps Methodists, after all (and the Wesleys themselves were Anglican). At times I think Druids are more Anglican than Anglicans are, considering all the crazy going on in the world-wide Communion.

    As for AODA being a JMG fan club, I *could* be snarky and say that ADF is merely an Isaac Bonewits fan club… but I won’t.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Thank you for this comment. I really appreciate you being so thorough, and I’m happy to hear the perspective of another former Anglican! I’ve written several posts on Bishop In The Grove about the profound influence of those early experiences in my current practice. Perhaps AODA would be a good place for me to integrate them into my druidry.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to respond. 🙂

  6. Michael says:

    I was a member of ADF for a year but I never got very far in the the Dedicant studies. Something about their approach seemed confining to me, plus the study program was too unstructured … I really couldn’t figure out where to start with it.

    I’m about to join AODA, and have enjoyed JMG’s books as much as you did. I’ve been mulling how to think about the revival period and I’ve come to something like this:

    Just as much of modern Christianity is influenced by the theologians of the Protestant reformation and later, why shouldn’t modern Druidry be influenced by the Druid theologians of more recent times?

    If they were Christian organizations, ADF would using nothing more than the Bible and the first century or two of church fathers, probably stopping with Augustine, where AODA would be reading Calvin and Luther and Cranmer and even Spong, John A.T. Robinson and Rob Bell.

    One approach sees religion — Christianity, Druidry or whatever — as an artifact of a fixed point in the past. The other sees it as a living tradition, growing and changing and adapting to the needs of the age.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Michael – thank you so much for this comment. It hits home.

      I’m still on the fence about what to do. What you say about the need for a living tradition speaks to me on so many levels. Perhaps AODA does that better than ADF, or maybe not. Hard to tell without seeing it in practice, you know? And, at this point, it all still feels very book-ish (with the exception of my daily practice, which came only after starting up with ADF).

      But the parallel you draw between Druidry and Christianity really makes sense to me. You’re one of the few people I’ve connected with who’s made that connection.

      Is there an AODA group near you, or would you be starting up (as would I) as a solitary?

      • Michael says:

        My fiancee will be working through it with me, but there’s no AODA grove nearby. There is an ADF grove about an hour’s drive away, and a couple of decently-sized eclectic pagan groups closer by.

        We find our spiritual community in a UU church, which keeps us exposed to a variety of theologies and a supportive environment.

        One difference I neglected to mention with my analogy to Christianity is that Christianity does have a continuity where Druidry has a gap of several centuries before being revived. Even so, I’d say the Reformers made a pretty radical break from much of what had come before them.

        • Teo Bishop says:

          Its interesting to me that you mention UU – yet another parallel between our worlds. I’ve found a real welcoming UU community that I’ve considering becoming more a part of. They host a Pagan group that meets primarily around the lunar cycle, but also for other workshops and events. I’ve really missed church, you know? Lower case church. That’s something that Pagans haven’t quite figured out how to do.

          You make great point, Michael. I’m grateful that you’re sharing your ideas here. Keep ’em coming!