Fellow OBOD Druid Christian Brunner tells of a friend who questions why we call what Druids do “Druidry” or “Druidism.” Druids were the priests, advisors, and keepers of records and lore for their Celtic societies – “Druid” was a role and a title. His friend suggests this is like Christians calling their religion “priestism” or “preacherism” (I’ve known some preachers whose religion was preacherism, but that’s another rant for another time).
The answer is that when the Druid revival began, no one (or almost no one) was trying to revive ancient Celtic religion. They were Christians living in a thoroughly Christian world. Instead, they tried to reconcile what they knew and what they thought they knew about the ancient Celts with Christianity and the Bible, and they tried to make the Druids into the British version of the Hebrew patriarchs – the forerunners of Christ. Naming it Druidry (“what Druids do”) aligned it with Masonry (“what Masons do”) linguistically, and probably esoterically too.
In our time, Druidry is generally considered to be one of the major Pagan traditions. But is it a religion? When The Druid Network was granted charity status in Britain in 2010, OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr Gomm asked this question, then proceeded to answer it with “it’s all up to you.”
OBOD is definitely not a religion. It’s a set of spiritual technologies that are helpful in almost any religion. At the 2012 East Coast Gathering, Philip emphasized that OBOD is compatible with many religions: there are Pagan Druids, Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids, atheist Druids, and Spiritual But Not Religious Druids.
ADF, on the other hand, was founded as a Pagan church. I’ve never liked the term “church” for a non-Christian religious group, but I understand why Isaac Bonewits chose it – he wanted to emphasize that ADF was a religious organization, not an esoteric order. He wanted to see local “congregations” performing open rituals and having the kind of public presence that churches, mosques, and synagogues have. Still, while ADF is a church (or at least, it’s structured like a church), I’ve never heard anyone call it a religion.
I’m inspired by the ancient Druids. I model much of my spiritual practice on what we know and what we think we know about them. While I cannot prove it to the satisfaction of skeptics, I was called by the same Gods, ancestors, and spirits of Nature who called the original Druids (as are other contemporary Druids, not just me). If you want certification, I’m a full member of the Druid grade of the largest Druid order in the world. I do what Druids do – I am a Druid.
But Druidry is not my religion.
If none of these paths and traditions and movements are my religion, then what is my religion?
Religion is hard to define and harder to separate cleanly from culture, spirituality, and even philosophy. I’ve loosely defined religion as dealing with the Big Questions of Life: why are we here? What’s the nature of Life? What happens after death? These questions can take the questioner in many different directions – they take me in the direction of Nature and the Gods.
My religion is building and maintaining reciprocal relationships with the Gods, ancestors, and spirits.
My religion is building and maintaining reciprocal relationships with my family of blood and my family of choice, and with those with whom I occasionally share common interests.
My religion is understanding that Nature is sacred and then acting accordingly.
My religion is exploring and testing my own values, strengthening those that prove helpful and changing those that aren’t.
My religion is finding the things of value that are bigger than me and doing my part to make them a reality in this world, even if they won’t be close to finished in my lifetime.
My religion is the spiritual practices that strengthen and support all these efforts.
Is there a name for this religion? None fit perfectly. Does this mean I’m a religion of one? Clearly, no. Many names fit partially, which is why I’m a Druid, a Pagan, a UU, and a polytheist.
Some people say “labels just divide us.” I don’t agree. OBOD Druidry and ADF Druidry are compatible and even complementary with each other, but they’re two different things and it’s necessary to understand those differences if we want to practice them authentically. All our religious concepts, beliefs, and identities help us deepen and refine our practices. They help us understand that doing different things in different ways will bring different results, and if we don’t like the results, we need to change our beliefs and practices.
Some people need the clearly defined boundaries of one specific tradition. Some people find everything they need in one specific tradition. If their religion is OBOD Druidry, or Gardnerian Wicca, or Roman Catholicism, so be it.
My religion is more complicated than that. Complicated doesn’t mean better, but that’s what I need. My religion is my beliefs and practices.
I’m a Druid, but Druidry is not my religion.