The Gnostic Celtic Church (GCC) is an independent sacramental church of nature spirituality affiliated with the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), a contemporary Druid order. Like many other alternative spiritual groups in American society, AODA—which was originally founded in 1912—developed connections with a variety of other compatible traditions over the course of its history. One of these connections was with the Universal Gnostic Church (UGC).
After the revival of AODA began in 2003, its archdruids and members began to discuss the possibility and value of a branch of the UGC tradition specifically oriented to AODA’s system of nature spirituality and contemporary Druid teachings. After much discussion and reflection, the GCC was accordingly founded on December 22, 2010, as part of a general reorganization of AODA’s activities.
The GCC now functions as the center of the religious dimension of the AODA tradition, and is responsible for the education and ordination of Druid clergy in AODA. What sets it apart from most alternative religious groups nowadays is that the GCC does not train people for the standard American Protestant model of the clergy—a model that assigns to clergy the functions of providing weekly services to a congregation, “marrying and burying,” offering amateur counseling to parishioners, and pursuing political and social causes of one kind or another, and defines training for the ministry in terms of the same style of university education used by most other service professions.
This model evolved out of the distinctive social and theological requirements of American Protestant Christianity and has little relevance to other faiths, especially those that do not have the financial resources to support full-time ministers. It has nonetheless been adopted uncritically by a great many alternative religious traditions here in America. It was in response to the very poor fit between that model and the needs of a contemporary alternative religious movement that AODA chose to pursue an older model better suited to its own tradition and needs.
The GCC thus has chosen to establish what was once called a regular clergy, as distinct from a secular clergy—that is to say, something much closer to monks than to ministers. This was the core model for clergy in the old Celtic Church in Ireland, Wales, Brittany, and other Celtic nations, in the days before the Roman papacy imposed its rule on the lands of Europe’s far west. Members of the Celtic clergy were monks first and foremost, living lives focused on service to the Divine rather than the needs of a congregation, and those who functioned as priests for local communities did so as a small portion of a monastic lifestyle that embraced many other dimensions.
It has been suggested by scholars that the Celtic church’s monastic model of priesthood may well have been influenced by the traditions of the ancient Druids, who were still a living presence in Ireland, Wales, and elsewhere in the Celtic world at the time the Celtic Church first emerged there. Whether or not this is the case, that model is far more relevant to the modern Druid tradition than is the Protestant Christian model copied by so many alternative faiths nowadays.
The specific rules and disciplines of Christian monasticism are not relevant to a modern Druid tradition, to be sure, and a case could be made that many of them are no longer relevant to the modern world more generally. Still, there is certainly a need for men and women who are willing to embrace a new monasticism centered on a personal rule: one in which the core principle of aligning the whole life with the spiritual dimensions of reality can express itself in forms relevant to the individual practitioner and the present age, in which a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily coexist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess, and in which the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion.
This concept, which the GCC terms “the Hermitage of the Heart,” is what the GCC offers to those members of AODA who are interested in following the path of a priest or priestess. It is obviously not for everyone, but it is our belief and hope that many will find the path of the Gnostic Celtic Church relevant to their own lives.