The most honest answer to this question is "nobody really knows." According to the very sparse surviving sources, they were a sacred caste among the Celtic tribes of Britain, Ireland, and Gaul (modern France) in ancient times. Some sources call them philosophers, others call them wizards; nobody actually calls them priests, though this is the most popular interpretation among scholars nowadays. They had traditions, passed on by oral transmission, that dealt with theology, astronomy, divination, and other matters, but essentially all of this was lost with the coming of Christianity. Plenty of books have been written about what the ancient Druids were or were not, but they're pretty much speculation based on a few fragmentary references in Greek, Latin, and medieval Irish writings.
Again, nobody knows. Sweeping, confident claims have been made on both sides of this question over the last three hundred years or so, but the fact remains that nobody knows for sure where the ancient Druids came from, or whether they had connections with the people who built Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments in northwestern Europe. Many scholars these days believe that the Druids were an indigenous priesthood of the Celts, but nobody knows for sure when the Celts reached Britain - or for that matter whether or not it was a matter of a particular people expanding across Europe, as opposed to the subtler spread of ideas and cultural connections. A minority among modern scholars suggests that the ancient Druids may have had links to the hypothetical priestly class of megalithic times. Probably no one will ever know the truth of the matter - which hasn't stopped people who should have known better from making dogmatic claims on the subject.
The short answer here is "the Roman Empire, followed by Christianity." Most of the countries where the ancient Druids are known to have been active fell under Roman control during the years when Roman power was at its height. The Romans were not particularly intolerant about religious matters, but a powerful, organized caste with political interests was another matter, and Druids suffered persecution under Roman rule. Christianity took up where the Romans left off, and squeezed out what was left of the Druid tradition. The last Druids mentioned in written sources lived in what is now Scotland in the ninth century of the common era, where they tried - unsuccessfully - to stop the conversion of the Picts. Thereafter some pieces of Druid lore may have survived in Irish and Highland Scots bardic tradition, but the Druids themselves were extinct.
The Druid Revival is one of the most fascinating events in modern history. Starting in the late seventeenth century, people in Britain - and a little later on, in several other countries - turned to what little was known about the ancient Druids as a source of inspiration and a basis for a new spirituality founded on nature and personal experience. The time was ripe for such a project; between the rigid dogmatism of early modern Christianity and the equally rigid materialism of the Scientific Revolution, many people felt the need for another option. The Druid Revival provided it. Ironically, many modern groups descended from or inspired by the Revival have tried to distance themselves from this heritage, often motivated by very inaccurate ideas of what the Revival was and is. (Click here for a more detailed article about the Druid Revival.)
No, and we have our doubts about any group that claims a direct connection to the original Druids; the evidence simply doesn't support such claims. The AODA was originally chartered in 1912 in Boston, Massachusetts, as the American branch of the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids, which was founded in 1874 in London by Robert Wentworth Little. Behind the AAOD lies a long history of English Druid orders as well as less formal groupings, reaching back to the beginning of the Druid Revival in the second half of the seventeenth century. Although the Revival drew on a variety of Celtic sources, among many other things, there's no evidence that any of it can be traced back twelve hundred years or more to the time when the original Druids still existed.
Fake what? We don't pretend to be ancient Druids; we're participants in the Druid Revival, a movement of nature spirituality that has been active in the Western world for nearly three hundred years. The Druid Revival has put three centuries of hard work into its teachings and practices, and it has distinguished contributions in many fields to its credit. It's certainly true that it doesn't date back to antiquity, but great age by itself is no guarantee of relevance or validity. It's rather funny, really, to watch people who wouldn't think of using a two-year-old computer insist that a spiritual tradition can't be valid unless it dates back to Neolithic times.
This is unfortunately true - unfortunately, because it confuses newcomers, and makes the Druid community look bad in the eyes of historians and archeologists. Like many other modern spiritual traditions, Druidry has had its problems with freshly invented "family traditions" and innovators who haven't been honest about the sources of their inspiration. As opinions in historical scholarship change, too, it's seen conflicts between people whose versions of Druidry are based on the latest scholarship, and insist that this is the only valid form of Druidry, and people who have inherited Druid traditions from earlier in the Revival and wish to keep following teachings that have proved their worth. AODA holds that each person has the right to follow their own personal inspiration or, as many Druids say, their own Awen. Of course that means there will be many different kinds of Druids in the world, but we see this as an advantage, not a problem.
There are some Druid groups who insist that you have to be descended from one of the Celtic ethnic groups - Welsh, Irish, Highland Scots, Cornish, Breton, Manx, or Galician - to be a Druid. There are others who insist that you have to be fluent in one of the Celtic languages. AODA doesn't require either of these. We respect the right of people everywhere to cultural survival and self-determination, and we don't claim to be honorary Celts just because we follow a modern spiritual path inspired by the ancient Druids. (Some of us do have Celtic ancestry and/or speak or read one or another of the modern Celtic languages, but that's another matter.) AODA's traditions include lore from Celtic tradition, among other things, but the Druid Revival has been an international, multicultural phenomenon from its beginnings, and the AODA welcomes members from all national, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds.
The term "Druidry" stresses that the Druid path was not an "ism," an ideology or set of beliefs, but a craft, a set of practices and traditions sharing common principles. The English language gives the suffix "-ry" to any number of crafts, such as pottery and forestry. More recently the difference between "Druidry" and "Druidism" has become a convenient label for the major division in the Druid community, with "Druidism" used most often by recent Celtic Reconstructionist groups who base their versions of the Druid way on modern scholarship, while "Druidry" is used most often by older groups who work with the heritage of the Druid Revival. AODA uses it partly to affirm our Druid Revival roots, partly to affirm our commitment to a living spirituality that is open, tolerant, practical, and free from dogma and ideology.
To some extent that depends on the Druid you ask; there have been very few attempts to set up a Druid orthodoxy, and none of them got far. Druids have always been an independent-minded (not to say bloody-minded) lot! Broadly speaking, though, the Druidry of the Druid Revival is nature spirituality. Druidry sees divinity expressed primarily in the world of nature, and pursues nature awareness and a life in harmony with nature's cycles. A set of seasonal celebrations of nature's changes during the year play an important role in nearly all traditional Druid Orders. Methods of meditation and spiritual development also have central places in traditional Druidry. The Druid Revival, like most spiritual traditions, has also developed a variety of auxiliary arts that express its values in practice; these include poetry and music, methods of natural healing, and a variety of esoteric studies including divination, magic, sacred geometry, and the quest to comprehend the meaning and powers of ancient sites such as Stonehenge and Glastonbury.
Again, that depends on the individual Druid you ask. AODA's approach to spirituality is experiential rather than dogmatic, and we don't presume to define divinity for our members; that's up to each individual. We do believe in the presence of divinity in the universe, the sanctity of nature, and the existence of a spiritual dimension in each human being, but each Druid approaches divinity in whatever way he or she finds most meaningful; thus some of our members are Pagans, some are Christians, some are Taoists, some are animists, and some never do explain. We expect members to be tolerant and courteous with one another, especially on the topic of one another's personal spiritual beliefs, and celebrate and learn from the rich diversity of perspectives our members bring to AODA.
Not really, though it's certainly Pagan-friendly. AODA is an inclusive order teaching Druid nature spirituality. Because it focuses on experience and spiritual practice, rather than ideology or dogma, it cuts across the barriers that divide religious traditions from one another, and opens its portals to all those who revere nature and seek to experience divine presence within nature, whatever names or forms they use for divinity. Thus AODA has Pagan members from many different traditions, but it also has Christian members, Jewish members, Buddhist members, and members who belong to no particular tradition but find that Druid nature spirituality speaks to their needs and their understanding of the world. In Druidry, as in nature itself, diversity is something to be celebrated, not merely tolerated!
You'll read claims in some places that Druid Revival organizations are Masonic, or quasi-Masonic, or descended from Masonry; there's a grain of truth in that, but it's a very small grain. Some leading figures in the Druid Revival were Masons, though others were not, and at a time when fraternal orders such as Freemasonry were a common template for all kinds of social organizations in the Western world, some symbols and practices found their way from Masonry to Druidry. For its part, AODA was founded by Freemasons who were also interested in Druidry, but it gradually untied itself from Masonic apron strings and at present has no connection with the Masonic Craft at all. Some of its members are also Freemasons, but the great majority are not.
Like most Druid Revival traditions, AODA requests its members to celebrate four special days in the course of the year - the two solstices (December 21 and June 21) and the two equinoxes (March 21 and September 22). We encourage members who wish to celebrate other holy days in the course of the year to do so.
Our training program is based on individual study rather than a formal correspondence course. The curricula for the First Degree, Second Degree, and Third Degree training can be found here on the website. If you prefer to work with a more structured training program, we heartily recommend the correspondence course offered by the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD); through AODA's transfer credit program, those who complete the three levels of the OBOD course also qualify for AODA's First and Second Degrees.
People join the AODA as Candidates for the First Degree, the degree of Druid Apprentice, and receive the Candidate Initiation, which may be received from an AODA Study Group or Grove if there's one in their area, or performed as a solitary self-initiation. Then it's up to them to work through the First Degree training program and qualify for the First Degree. There's a minimum period of one year involved, though this can be waived by the Grand Grove, the governing body of the Order. The First Degree training program has published in a book, The Druidry Handbook, by the current Grand Archdruid, John Michael Greer. It has four parts: the Earth Path, which is about nature awareness and personal responsibility for the environment; the Sun Path, which is about celebrating the holy days of the year; the Moon Path, which is about meditation; and one of the Explorations into the arts of the Bard (arts and crafts), Ovate (ecology and the natural sciences), and Druid (philosophy, spirituality, and ritual). Once this work is completed, the Candidate passes an examination and receives the First Degree initiation ceremony.
Yes, for those willing to put in the time and effort to qualify for them. A more advanced course of study with more focus on personal talents and interests, and at least two years in the First Degree, qualifies the Druid Apprentice for the Second Degree, the degree of Druid Companion. Each Druid Companion has the right to organize a chartered AODA Study Group. Most members stop here, but those who proceed onward through a more challenging, self-designed program of Druid study, training and practice, or who make significant individual contributions to the Druid tradition, may be elected to the Third Degree, the degree of Druid Adept. Initiation into the Third Degree brings the right to organize a chartered Grove of AODA.
The AODA’s sister organization, the Gnostic Celtic Church (GCC), manages the Order’s training program for clergy. Initiates of the First Degree may apply for reception as deacons in the GCC, and thereafter pursue a course of study and practice that parallels the AODA study program for the Second Degree. Second Degree initiates who have fulfilled the GCC’s requirements may be ordained as priests and priestesses, and those who choose to do so may thereafter go on to a more demanding course of study in preparation for consecration as bishops of the Gnostic Celtic Church.
Please be aware, however, that the GCC program is not primarily designed for those who are seeking ordination to perform weddings and the like. It is intended for those who choose to devote their lives to the inner dimensions of Druid nature spirituality. If this interests you, more details can be found at the link above.
Not unless you know one personally, and then, it's up to the priest or priestess. Providing clergy for weddings and other public services is not a service that we offer.
It's traditional but not required for members of the AODA to take a name or title, generally in a Celtic language. AODA Druid names tend to be longer than the "Craft names" used in some other modern traditions, and are rarely if ever the names of gods or legendary heroes; rather, they reflect aspects of the natural world. For example, Past Grand Archdruid Betty Reeves' Druid name was Aerach Crann Crithaec, "Great Quaking Aspen," and current Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer's Druid name is Creyr Glas Cynwyddon, "Blue Heron Loremaster."
We encourage members of all grades to meet informally, help one another with the training program, and celebrate the holy days together. AODA also charters two types of more formal local groups: study groups and Groves. Study groups (equivalent to "seed groups" or "protogroves" in other Druid organizations) are headed by a Second Degree initiate of our order. The right to organize a Grove, or fully recognized and empowered local body within AODA, is among the traditional privileges of the Third Degree.
AODA at this point in its history has a relatively small number of study groups and Groves, and not all of them are open to new members or to the public. One important difference between AODA and most of today’s Pagan traditions is that our local groups are chartered for the benefit of members of the Order, not for that of the community or the public at large, and exist to carry out the work of the Order, not to put on public ceremonies. A few AODA Groves have ceremonies open to nonmembers, but most do not. If you simply want to attend seasonal ceremonies and have no interest in AODA’s training program, like many of the people who contact us, your needs will be better met elsewhere.
If you are interested in the training program but would like to find out if there is a Grove or study group in your area, on the other hand, the best way is to join the AODA Public Forum, and ask there.
The governing body of AODA is the Grand Grove, which consists of four Archdruids - the Archdruid of the East, who is responsible for ritual; the Archdruid of the South, who is responsible for the funds and resources of AODA; the Archdruid of the West, who is responsible for the study program and membership; and the Archdruid of the North or Grand Archdruid, the presiding officer of the Grand Grove, who has ultimate responsibility for all. Archdruids hold office for a life term, unless they retire or leave AODA, and vacancies are filled from the ranks of Third Degree members by unanimous vote of the other members of the Grand Grove.
Granted, but it works. Too many spiritual organizations that try to run their affairs by vote end up paralyzed or torn apart by internal politics. The AODA's bylaws are structured to prevent that by keeping politics to an absolute minimum. Membership in AODA is entirely voluntary, and members pay a one-time lifetime membership fee for each degree, so those who disagree with the decisions of the Grand Grove or the Grand Archdruid can vote with their feet, or simply ignore the Grand Grove's shenanigans and keep following their own Druid path. In practice, the Grand Grove mostly functions as a way to keep the study program on track, facilitate contact between members of the Order, and take care of the very limited business end of keeping a Druid order operational.
Not at all. The AODA was originally chartered as the American branch of the Ancient and Archeological Order of Druids (AAOD), in keeping with a custom in which each country has its own independent grand body within a common initiatory tradition. As we know of no other currently existing Druid orders descended from the AAOD we welcome candidates for membership from anywhere in the world. When there are at least four Druid Companions of the AODA in a given country, they may ask for and receive a charter for an independent Grand Grove and begin initiating and training Druids on their own.
Of course; in fact, we encourage this. Every tradition within the Druid Revival has something unique to teach, and strengths and beauties of its own to share. There has unfortunately been a certain amount of factionalism in the Druid movement, with some groups claiming exclusive right to the word "Druid" and denouncing everyone else. This is as counterproductive as it is silly, and links among Druid organizations through overlapping membership offers one simple way to bridge such gaps and renew an awareness of our common goals and values.
Again, this is not a problem at all. The Druid Revival has always had a strong tradition of tolerance and respect for all spiritual paths. The AODA has historically had links with a number of entirely non-Druidic spiritual organizations, including the Universal Gnostic Church and the Modern Order of Essenes. The work of Druidry is to build bridges, not to raise walls, and in a world all too full of religious discrimination and sectarian violence, this may be one of the greatest gifts Druidry has to offer.
Initiation, participation, and training in a traditional Druid Revival order, combined with the opportunity to develop a personal approach to Druidry together with people of like mind. Our training program concentrates on developing skills and practices relevant to a modern Druid path, such as meditation, ritual, and awareness of nature, and it makes ample room for personal talents and interests. No two AODA Druids end up practicing exactly the same Druidry, and this is as it should be.