Appearing in 'MePagan'. published by Moon Books, 2021
Druidry or Druidism is an ancient religion or spiritual path that has been re-discovered, re-interpreted and re-invented since the 18th century. The last remnants of the original Celtic Druids died out in the previous century with the last of the Bardic Schools in Ireland and Scotland, following the demise of the native culture due to the Elizabethan conquest in Ireland and the joining of the English and Scottish crowns under James I.
Ironically it was in England that the Druid revival began – under the influence of a former Irish Catholic, scholar and historian from Donegal, named John Toland. According to historian Ronald Hutton, Toland combined several Druid groves in Britain to create a Druid order in 1717, which became known as The Ancient Druid Order (ADO), An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas or just The Druid Order. However, in the republished edition of Toland’s History Of The Druid’s from 1814 (nearly 100 years after his death), there is no mention of this event in the biography of him given by R.T. Huddleston. There are no mentions of this event in any online encyclopedias I could find, so I am left wondering why this rather important event is largely un-noted.
Out of these mainly romantic origins, other Druid organisations such as The Ancient Order of Druids began in 1781 and others appeared, mostly in the 20th century onwards. One of the most successful of these is the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), which I myself am a member of. It began in 1964 with the departure of the ADO Scribe, Ross Nichols, to start his own Druid organisation. Following his death there was a hiatus until it was revived by the former ‘Chosen Chief’ Philip Carr-Gomm who was asked to take on the position by Nichols.
Many other organisations now exist such as ADF or GOD, in Britain, Ireland, North America, throughout Europe and Australasia, again all of which were created at some stage during the 20th century or are offshoots of earlier organisations. Despite the quite obvious lack of continuity between the original Celtic Druids and Bards and the organisations that sprang up after 1717, there are those who claim descent from the original Irish or British Druids.
In my research there is little evidence to corroberate any stories pertaining to ancient lineages. Some people may have a genuine link to the revival Druidry of the seventeen hundreds, but any further links are not only suspicious, but very hard to confirm. I have been fortunate to have had second-hand contact with two Druids who claimed to be members of Irish Triads (two separate ones). Many of the people who knew these two men are alive today and I’ve had the opportunity to quiz them extensively about the genuineness of their claims. An Irish Triad was basically a group of 3 people (often men) who performed the three tasks of Bard, Ovate and Druid, or more properly – File, Fáith and Ollamh (Draoi).
These two men had already been dead for a number of years when I first became aware of them and I was most fortunate to befriend a few people who had known them. Most of this exclusive group are thankfully still alive themselves, at the time of writing, and were able to discuss these men with me. One of the Triad Druids, Ben MacBrady, was quite well known in esoteric circles and was also a member of Druid Clan of Dana (An Clann Draoidheachta Danann) which I am myself a member of. DCD was started in 1992 by Lady Olivia Robertson, the co-founder of the Fellowship Of Isis, which is based at Huntington Castle, Clonegal, Ireland, which was built in 1625 on a site owned by the Esmonde family, who arrived in Ireland in 1192.
In the grounds of the castle is an ancient bulluan stone, which is linked with the Druids of old, that can be used for both cursing and healing by those who possess the knowledge of how to use it. Those of us who know how to use such an item guard this information carefully as such a stone can just as easily be used for evil as for good. And so, the knowledge has to be passed only to those who will use it in a responsible manner.
From my investigations I cannot confirm or deny MacBrady’s claims – his order (The Order) may or may not have genuine Druidic origins or it might equally be a creation of the romantic revival – at this stage we will never know for sure. What we can be sure of is that MacBrady was the last of a group of three Druids who claimed to have an ancient pedigree, even though MacBrady was also a member of a very recently created Neo-Druidic order (DCD).
The other man who I know of, who shall remain nameless, was the aquaintance of a good friend and mentor of mine, who is himself now of advanced years. When he met this Irish Triad Druid, the man was close to 90 years old and the last remaining of a group of three. My friend had enough time with this gentleman to ascertain that he was probably the ‘real McCoy’ and not an egotistical imposter. However, what knowledge he did possess died with him, and what snippets and nuggets of information he passed on remain with my friend who is himself in the closing decades of his life.
From my understanding of it, both McBrady and Druid X (for want of a better name) were of the opinion that their time was over and that what they had to say was no longer relevant or valued by Irish society. Unfortunately, whatever they did have to pass on to future generations is now lost, with the exception of the few bits and pieces that they told to their friends and aquaintances. I spent some time mulling this over, somewhat amazed and devastated by my discoveries. I had come so close to contact with perhaps the last living links with a Druidry that possibly reached back into the pre-Christian, genuine Druidic culture of Ireland.
After some time, I came to the realisation that, for whatever reason, this was how it was meant to be – that their knowledge was not meant to be retained and perhaps it actually didn’t matter after all. Modern Druidry is not the same as its ancient predecessor and we should regard that as a good thing. There is no place in the modern world for the worst excesses of ancient Druidism – war, cursing, human and animal sacrifice, rigid hierarchy, slavery etc.
The modern or Neo-Druidic movement is based on ancient foundations, albeit rediscovered via an ignorant and romantic period from the seventeen hundreds onwards. Modern Druidry continues to evolve and has gradually moved away from Masonic and Classical antecedents. The modern movement continues to explore and unearth the remnants of genuine Celtic culture and integrate what is appropriate for these times into current ideas and practice. That does not mean that the unpallatable aspects of ancient Druidism are ignored, they are noted and recorded for posterity, but they are not included in our practice because they are no longer of value in a society that is attempting to rid itself of the worst aspects of human behaviour.
Whichever Druid path or order one might wish to follow, solitary or as part of a large group or organisation, there is a general recognition that we have still much to learn about the original Druidic religion and that the Druidic spirituality of today will continue to evolve. This is a natural progression as our understanding of the past changes and so too our values and perception of the time we live in now also changes.
One should beware of anyone who makes grandiose claims with regard to Druidic knowledge, lineages or other such unlikely connections with the original Druids of western Europe. In almost all cases, such claims are fraudulent and are based in ego and self-promotion, rather than any genuine desire to pass on proven ancient Druidic wisdom. At the end of the day, we all have to follow our own path and our own judgment. For me this is a very Gnostic path, informed by my understanding of both the ancient Druidic tradition and the Neo-Druidic tradition of the last three centuries. If following the Druidic path helps one to achieve genuine wisdom and be of service to humanity and the world then whether it is ancient or modern becomes largely irrelevant.