Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Reformed Druids Of North America

The Reformed Druids Of North America Cover While modern Druidism came to North America first in the form of fraternal druidic organizations in the nineteenth century and orders such as the Ancient Order of Druids in America were founded as distinct American groups as early as 1912, the Neopagan branch of Druidism can be traced to one particular root in the Reformed Druids of North America, which was founded by protesting college students. The history of this organization is interesting and one of the best documented histories of any neo-druidic organization.

The founding of the first congregation of the Reformed Druids of North America, or RDNA, at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, in 1963, though not itself Neopagan proved influential in the birth of other Neopagan organizations. Carleton’s requirement at the time that each student participate regularly in religious services (of the student’s choice) caused a minor rebellion among several students who started calling themselves “druids”. This tongue-in-cheek religion was designed initially primarily to challenge the administration’s attempt to enforce religious attendance. It developed its own religious practices (to conform to the college’s definition of “regular religious services”), which to the astonishment of the founders began to draw increasing numbers who saw them as a legitimate spiritual outlet.

The original RDNA services involved periodically gathering in a wooded area, or “Grove”. Meetings involved several possible components: the ritual consumption of “spirits” (Scotch whisky or Irish whiskey blended with water) called “the water of life” (uisce beatha, or whisky), the singing of religious songs, the performance of ceremonial chanting, and, a meditation, occasionally a sermon, typically exploring other religious traditions. RDNA celebrated the solstices and the High Celtic days of Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc). Some later Reformed Druid groups added the equinoxes. These high days are celebrated with religious songs, dancing in circles, and other festivities. Various individuals will also have their own private ceremonies. Often small groups will break off and perform their own separated ceremonies before rejoining the general group — these groups are often split along initiatory lines as those of higher degree work their own ceremonies.

Individual choice is a major theme of Reformed Druidism, as is ecology and the principle of living lightly on the land.

The major gods are, in RDNA liturgy, the Earth-Mother (addressed as “our Mother”), seen as the personification of all material reality, Beal, the personification of nonmaterial essence, and Dalon Ap Landu, the Lord of Groves. Some individuals prefer to devote most of their praise, however, to other gods, like Health or Music (usually also named in Gaelic). And “A Druid Fellowship” has various scholastic posts and honors, though usually in the arts as devoted to religious praise rather than as formal studies.

Neo-druidism is often considered a Neopagan religion, though some orders consider Druidry to be a philosophical and spiritual movement rather than a religion along the lines of the major religions with centralized authority structures. It is important, however, to realize that the founders of RDNA intended it to complement or supplement “organized” religion, not to supplant it; most of the founders were practicing Christians. They were very surprised when RDNA continued after the college repealed the religious attendance requirement. As someone put it, “Apparently our disorganized religion appealed to those who couldn’t stomach organized religion!” Present-day adherents range from those who are exclusively neo-druids to those for whom it is, indeed, a complement to another faith.

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