Although there are some who might disagree, it is my personal belief that the Druids were the shamans of the Celtic peoples.
Our Order began as a Druid Order, and as such we have, over the years, pieced together a great deal of Celtic shamanism from what we have learned from what others wrote about the Druids. Works such as the Irish Lebor Gabála Erenn, or the Book of the Takings of Ireland, and the Scottish Carmina Gadelica, and the Welsh Mabinogion all give us insight into the path of the Celtic vision seeker.
Druidry saw its re-emergence as a spiritual path nearly three centuries ago. It is still a largely misunderstood path. Modern misconceptions about Druidry persist to this day. One of these misconceptions is that since all known Druids died out centuries ago, there can be no Druids today. While it is true that many Druidic practices disappeared with the coming of Christianity and the Roman Empire, it is probably also true that some of the practices of Druidry were absorbed into Christianity (for example, the custom of hanging mistletoe at Christmas). In either case, Druid Reconstructionists painstakingly research historical and archaeological records to discover what ancient Druids believed and practiced. This knowledge is then usually incorporated into the body of practice of modern Druidry.
In the 18th century, largely because of a renewed interest in archaeology in the wake of the Enlightenment, a revival of Druidry began. This revival was inspired by the works of authors like John Aubrey (1629-1697), John Toland (1670-1722), William Stukeley (1687-1765) and Edward Williams (1747-1826). In particular, Edward Williams spearheaded the Druid Revival in Wales and England. Williams is better known by his “Druid” name, Iolo Morganwg (pronounced ‘YO-lo MO-gan-ug’). He founded the Gorsedd (GOR-seth), or “Gathering of the Bards,” which goes on in Wales to this day. Morganwg is often criticized for his tendency to invent things outright, but no matter how imaginative some of his accounts of Druid practice may have been, he was instrumental in reviving Druidry as a spiritual path. His seminal work on the subject is the Barddas. This work is heavily tinged with Christianity, portraying Christ as the “First Druid.”
Although Druidry has been enjoying a revival for the past three centuries, there is no known straight-line descent from ancient to modern Druidry, just as there is no straight-line descent from ancient to modern times in religions like Christianity and Islam. This does not mean that Druidry is not a legitimate belief system for modern followers of the path. There are thousands of people today who call themselves Druids, and who practice variations of a nature-centered spirituality. Groups like the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in Great Britain and the Reformed Druids of North America in the United States have members in the thousands. Many other Druids worldwide choose for various reasons not to self-identify publicly as Druids, and decide to instead remain anonymous. Because of this, there may be as many as two million or more Druids worldwide.
There are probably as many types of Druidry as there are Druids. Some are polytheistic, some are pantheistic, and some are agnostic or even atheist. Some believe that Gods and Goddesses exist as real, separate entities, and others see Gods and Goddesses as archetypal energies.
I began the Druid path in the late 1970s. Back then there was no Internet. Finding information on Paganism was difficult; finding information on the Druids was nearly impossible. That didn’t stop me from experimenting with Druidry and shamanism. Our Grove cobbled together a system of knowledge and wisdom piece-by-piece from what we learned from shamanic journeying and the inspiration of the imbas. In the early days we were an insular group, having little contact with Druid groups outside our own. As Paganism and Druidry continued to grow and spread, we began to make contact with other groups to exchange information and to learn from each other. Much to our surprise, we soon discovered that much of what we’d created had also been replicated by these other groups! They had experienced eerily similar things in their own journeys to the Otherworld.
Although the knowledge of our ancient Ancestors may have been lost to us, it is my belief that such wisdom is still accessible to those who know how to part the mists and enter into the Otherworld to learn at the feet of those who have gone before us. The fact that many different Druid groups, working independently of each other, have arrived at the same rites and practices in our journeying seems to indicate to me that there’s magic afoot as we re-create Celtic spirituality and the Way of the Druid.
For all the diehards who insist that what Reconstructionists and Revivalists practice isn’t “real Druidry,” I would say to them, “Okay, then tell me what else to call it, and you can call it that instead.”
Ultimately, every spiritual path had a beginning, and was new at one time. Most paths began on the ashes of former systems, and The Order of the Morrigan is no exception to this rule. Focusing too heavily on what ancient Druids may have practiced, is missing the point. Any spiritual path that does not change and adapt with the times is a stagnant and dead or dying path. The world is a much different place now that it was in the time of the Ancients, and from this perspective, Druidry has merely changed and adapted to modern times. This is why the Order of the Morrigan includes information from Revivalistss like Iolo Morganwyg and Robert Graves (author of The White Goddess, who created the Celtic Tree Calendar) in our practices. While such information is not what our ancient Ancestors practiced, it has proven useful in our modern practices, so we continue to use it. This is also the reason that we changed from a nominally Druid Order to the Order of the Morrigan in 2015. As Druidry continues to solidify in the modern world, we found that the definition was becoming too restrictive and dogmatic, so we changed the name of the Order to reflect our more eclectic and inclusive approach. It is our belief that the age of an idea or the origin of an idea shouldn’t be the only criteria used to determine the idea’s validity and utility.
Some people prefer the label “neo-Druid” for contemporary Druids because there is no straight lineage between ancient and modern Druidry. They use the “neo” to differentiate modern Druids from the Ancient Ones. Isaac Bonewits, founder of Ár nDraíocht Féin (“Our Own Druidry,” in Gaelic), broke this down even further, into “Paleo-Pagan,” “Meso-Pagan,” and “Neo-Pagan.” Bonewits used Paleo-Pagan to refer to the original Pagan indigenous tribes of Europe. He used Meso-Pagan to refer to Pagan-based systems inspired by the Enlightenment era, such as Theosophy, Rosicrucians, and the Druid Revival, and Neo-Pagan to indicate modern-day Pagans.
I don’t use the term “neo.” I refer to myself only as a Druid. I also refer to my fellow Druids without the “neo” prefix. My reason for this is simple: Druids learn from nature. The natural world is our “holy book.” Since the natural world was around for billions of years before the human race came along, and will likely continue to be around long after we’re gone, our holy book hasn’t been altered since the time of the Ancient Ones. Therefore, if we’re learning from nature, we’re learning from an ancient source. Hence, I don’t refer to myself as a “neo-Druid” or a “neo-Pagan.” This viewpoint helps me to keep the focus on allowing nature to be my guide rather than relying on the sometimes dogmatic teachings of others. From this viewpoint, Druidry becomes a more experiential and individually significant path.
Another misconception about modern Druidry, probably inspired from 18th century engravings of old men in white robes, is that women cannot be Druids. Even in ancient times, there were female Druids. Certainly today, in modern times, there are female Druids as well. And even though Druidry was originally a Celtic path, there are modern Druids from every race and culture on Earth. Modern Druidry is a path that is open to people of all races, genders, and nationalities. Since Druidry is more of a life philosophy than a religion, there are people who are Christian Druids, or Buddhist Druids, or even Atheist and Agnostic Druids. This openness and eclecticism has continued into the Order of the Morrigan. You don’t have to be of Celtic ancestry to join our Order. All you have to be is a person who is interested in honoring divinity through nature.