The term “Druid” refer to a wide assortment of spiritual paths and practices, all of them rooted in nature-based spirituality. That is, druids seek connection, healing, and strength through their connection to the living earth. Druidry today is inspired by the Ancient Druids who were physicians, astronomers, mathematicians, musicians, poets, philosophers, legislators and judges of the people as well as their educators in the matter of religion and learning. The term Druid has been agreed upon by many scholars to mean “oak knowledge” or more generally, “deep knowledge.” Modern Druidry draws upon the spirit of these ancient sages and the stories, teachings, and bits of history that are left behind to create nature-based spiritual practices. The tradition that I follow, the Druid Revival tradition, dates back 350 years and is represented in modern druid orders including the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. For more on druidry, you might check out this article I wrote for Spirituality and Health magazine.
Druids today draw upon these ancient traditions and stories to develop a spiritual connection with nature, seek “awen” or divine inspiration, and emphasize a close connection to the living world. Some druids are neo-pagan, while other druids seek to combine a nature-spirituality with other world religions such as Christianity or Buddhism, while still others think of druidry not as a religion but a spiritual path or way of living. If you ask 5 different druids their definition of druidry, they’ll be likely to give you 15 different answers–and that’s part of the beauty of this path.
Some Druid orders are “teaching orders,” including both orders that I belong to. These orders provide a curriculum that is non-dogmatic and gives a set of individualized practices and/or lessons for spiritual growth. The goal of these teachings is to orient people with specific concepts, lore, and studies within druidry while also helping them find their own personal spiritual path.
Some of the concepts central to druidry are as follows:
Respect/Reverence of the Earth: In all of our work, we engage in specific practices that respect and revere the earth. While some druids certainly perform rituals and ceremonies out of respect, we druids are ultimately a pragmatic bunch and also focus our energies on preserving and tending the earth.
Knowledge of the Natural World: Today, knowledge of survival, edible wild herbs and plants, how to grow one’s own food or fuel, or how to make acorn bread has been long forgotten in the minds of most individuals. However, as Druids we seek a path of knowledge to learn more about nature in her may ways. Druids are in a unique position to retain and practice these traditional skills. In this way, we can continue to embody the literal meaning of the term “Druid.” If these skills are ever again important, and it is likely that they may be, Druids can once again serve their communities as those with “oak knowledge.”
Awen (pronounced ah-o-en): a Welsh word means the spark of creative or divine inspiration or illumination. Awen is what sparks an idea and gives it form. Awen is often symbolized by three rays of light. It is, in the druid tradition, represented by the concept of nywfre.
Seasonal Celebrations: Many druids celebrate the Wheel of the Year, while others celebrate the solstices/equinoxes or other meaningful holidays. These holidays bring us in closeness and communion with the land and her ever-changing seasons. I have a number of posts on these celebrations and seasons.
The Number Three and the Triad: Just as Awen is represented as three rays of light, the number three is important to many druids. Things that come in threes within some druidic traditions include: thinking in tertiaries rather than binaries; the triple aspects of deity; the summer solstice, equinoxes, and winter solstices; the land, sea, and sky; the fire, well, and tree; or the Bard, Ovate, and Druid. The “triad” is another concept that connects with the three–these are Welsh proverbs that have three parts. Here’s a PDF of them from Druidic Dawn.
Peace: At the beginning of each of our ceremonies, we declare peace in the quarters (the four directions). Individually, OBOD members worldwide in prayers and meditations for peace during each full moon. Druidry is a path of peace; and this is a central philosophy.
Meditation: We include meditation as part of our ritual and seasonal celebratory practices as well as daily to help us connect with ourselves and nature. Mediations are frequently on the natural world.
Observation: Observation and interaction with nature is another key aspect of druid practice. In the AODA, we spend at least 15 minutes in nature each week engaging in various observation practices.
Trees, particularly the oak: The term Druid has been agreed upon by many scholars to mean “oak knowledge” or more generally, “deep knowledge.” Ells argues that “Oak knowledge” in the early tribal culture of the Celts was very important for survival. Those with “oak knowledge,” the Druids, were those able to help others survive through their extensive knowledge of the use of the Oak tree and other natural resources. The root of the Ancient Celts’ reverence of the Oak tree has a lesson to teach us as modern Druids. While we are quick to embrace the concepts of a Druid from contemporary cultural sources, we should be wise to remember that every symbol has a unique history and series of knowledge behind it.
Symbols, like languages, are born from the material and physical circumstances in which we find ourselves. When we Druids of today think about what it is we revere, our modern perspective on the value of the Oak and other trees is slightly different than just that of sustenance. Certainly trees provide to us many things such as wood for our homes and sustenance. On a global perspective, the tree is a symbol of hope to us as a reducer of Carbon Dioxide and as a habitat to endangered species. Oak trees also have roots as deep as they are high—so when you look at an Oak tree, you will only see half the tree. This is a reminder to us to work against the superficial—spreading wide and spreading shallow. But without deep roots like the oak, a tree will topple over. The Oak reminds us that need to put in deep roots, grow deeply and work to gain deep, sustained experiences. In AODA, candidates are required to plant one tree and tend it well–deepening our connection with the living earth.
We can draw upon the Oak not just as a symbol that we have chosen because it was important to our spiritual past but rather because it remains a valued and important symbol of life and hope in the future survival of our planet and species.
The Elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit): The four elements are present in everything, and we work with those elements as druids. While these meanings vary to some degree, here are some general features of each of the elements: Air, in the east represented by a hawk, includes knowledge, reason, fairness, objectivity, communication, freedom, new beginnings, and learning; Fire, in the south represented by the stag, represents passion, power, energy, sensuality, drive, creativity, and the inner fire; Water, in the west represented by the salmon, represents emotion, healing, rest, intuition, spirituality, and connection; and finally, Earth, in the north represented by the great bear, represents stability, connection with the earth, the home, and the hearth, prosperity, grounding, and steadfastness.
I hope that this short introduction was helpful to you!
For more on Druidry, I highly recommend Phillip Carr Gomm’s What do Druids Believe? If you are interested in becoming a druid, I suggest reading John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook or checking out the Ancient Order of Druids in America or the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.