“Ask three Druids a question and you’ll get at least six answers.” – Modern Druid proverb.
I was having a chat with a friend on Instagram a few days ago where I was asked about Paganism and my Druid practice. I realised in that moment that I didn’t have the Druid equivalent of an “elevator pitch”, a clear and succinct definition of my Druidry.
Why is this important? Well, because outside of the small Pagan community, most people you’ll meet are not Druids. Most people may have heard of Druids only in connection with the Asterix comics or World of Warcraft. It can be astonishing to first learn that there are still people in the world in the 21st century who are Druids.
There’s just one problem:
There is no definition of Druidry.
Druidry does not have a single authoritative text, or a Pope, or anyone who can define Druidry for all Druids for all time. There are as many Druidries as there are Druids, and probably a few more as yet undiscovered too.
So all I can hope to do is define my own Druidry. Which will be different from your Druidry, or the Druidry of that grove in the next town, or the other side of the world. Because of course it will, we’re all different and we all bring our differences to our Druidry and that’s a good thing.
Is Druidry a religion? To some, yes. The Druid Network got Druidry recognised as a religion in the UK by the Charity Commission in 2010. But that’s their Druidry. ADF is a registered church in the USA. But that’s their Druidry. OBOD is not a religion, and is open to people of all faiths and none. But that’s their Druidry.
For me, I would not be comfortable calling Druidry my religion. I have a whole heap of trauma (and no, that’s not too strong a word) from the Catholic religion in which I was raised and I don’t want another religion. As a devout agnostic, my Druidry has few if any of the trappings of religion.
The word religion comes from the Latin re-ligare, meaning to tie or to bind. My Druidry is a conscious breaking of the ties that once held me. It is freedom, not binding.
I would be more likely to describe my Druidry as a spirituality, or even a philosophy, given how it is influenced by the ancient Druids who were described by Classical writers as philosophers, sages and advisers.
But OK, sure, that still doesn’t describe Druidry all that well. There are lots of religions, spiritualities and philosophies out there. What makes Druidry different?
John Michael Greer, in The Druidry Handbook, discusses the history of Druidry and in particular the Druid revival of the 1700s onwards. While the Druid Revival may be described as “British Universalist Post-Anglican Latitudinarian Pantheist Neo-Pythagorean Nature Spirituality”, the word “Druid” is shorter and has been for around 300 years a word used by people who, in opposition to the Industrial Revolution, traced out a radically different way of relating to nature and the earth, a way rooted in reverence and wonder.
The Reformed Druids of North America in 1963, created out of a College protest against the requirement to attend Chapel services, defined their Druidry as “the search for religious truth, which is a universal and never-ending search” which “may be found through the Earth Mother, which is Nature”. In simplified form, their central tenet is “Nature is good”.
In Druid Mysteries Philip Carr-Gomm looks to the etymology of the word Druid itself; “Some modern scholars agree with the classical Roman and Greek authors that the most likely derivation is from the Celtic word for oak – dru – combined with the Indo-European root wid – to know – giving their translation of the word Druid as ‘One with the knowledge of the oak’.” The oak, as one of the oldest and most revered trees in Celtic society, can be seen to stand as a symbolic figure, embodying all nature, making Druidry a “path of wild wisdom”.
What none of these above definitions do is state that any particular Druid needs to believe any particular things. This openness and freedom is what allows Druidry to be truly an organic and vital movement for the modern world, but is also the thing that makes it resist definition.
Perhaps my favourite definition for Druidry comes from Joanna van der Hoeven, who simply states:
“Druidry is loving nature and allowing that love to inspire you to live your life accordingly.”
If pressed to define my Druidry, I’d say something about it being a modern way of life inspired by the ancient Druids, that honours nature and celebrates life.
Perhaps that’s as close to a definition as I’ll ever get. And perhaps that’s for the best.
Carr-Gomm, Philip. Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century. Rider, 2002.
Greer, John Michael. The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth. Weiser, 2006.
Van der Hoeven, Joanna. The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. Moon Books, 2014.