The Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin

(Version 3.1.1)

Copyright © 1983, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Inc., or ADF, has now been around over 18 years. Just as interesting historical documents, here are (1) the original open letter that began ADF’s public existence in 1983, with interjected material from the rewrite that appeared in the first issue of The Druids’ Progress, published the following year, (2) the rest of the What ADF Will and Won’t Be, article from that first DP, and (3) a few current notes.

The Original Open Letter from Isaac Bonewits

This announcement is going out to all the people who have written to me wanting Neopagan Druid literature, training and/or fellow Druids with whom to worship. After a great deal of soul-searching, I’ve decided to try once again to see what I can do to create a form of “reconstructionist” Neopagan Druidism.

As many of you may know (perhaps from reading my book Real Magic or Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon), I ’ve been a priest of the Reformed Druids of North America since 1969. I’ve led groves (congregations) in Berkeley and Minneapolis, and founded others elsewhere; published newsletters (both Druidic and general Neopagan); and wrote most of, edited and produced The Druid Chronicles (Evolved), (the closest thing to official scriptures the RDNA has). I’m also a priest and elder of the Craft, and I’ve been a Neopagan magician and occultist for nearly twenty years.

I’ve studied, practiced and written about many different forms of magic and religion over the years, yet always I find myself going back to Druidism. Many people have written to me to tell of similar spiritual histories, of their knowledge that they are meant to walk the Druid Path. Yet what can we, who wish to worship and to grow as Neopagan Druids, do for fellowship? The Masonic Druids have much to teach us, yet they are not Neopagan. The “Druidic” traditions of Wicca are interesting, but they’re not really very Druidic. The members of the RDNA have no interest at all in being organized by anyone, nor in recruiting and training would-be Neopagan Druids. There doesn’t seem to be any organized group of people trying to reconstruct what the Paleopagan Druids actually believed and did, nor trying to apply such knowledge to creating a Neopagan religion fit for the Space Age.

What can we do? We can do it ourselves! Thanks to the research of such scholars as Dumezil, [Ross,] Gimbutas, Piggott, Duran and others, we now have a sizable amount of realistic data about Indo-European Paleopaganism and its clergy. But how do we apply this knowledge to creating a modern Neopagan religion? What does it mean to be a Druid in the 1980’s? Using accurate information as a starting point, how do we create rituals and fellowship, art and music, polytheologies and lifestyles that will give meaning to our lives and those of others?

Well, of course, I have my ideas and my visions. I see Druids as being artists and intellectuals, magicians and clergy, holders of the highest wisdom their cultures (or subcultures) have to offer. This is what they used to be, and what they could be again.

The purpose of this letter is an announcement of, and an invitation for your participation in, the creation of a new Neopagan religion: Ár nDraíocht Féin. The Irish words [pronounced “arn ree-ocht fane”] mean “Our own Druidism,” and that’s what I have in mind — a brand new form of Druidism, not just Pan-Celtic, but Pan-European. [By this latter term, I mean to include all of the European branches of the Indo-European culture and language tree — Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, even the pre-Classical Greek & Roman.] Paradoxically, this would resemble the original Paleopagan Druidism far more than any efforts of the last thousand years. It would be based on the best scholarly research available, combined with what has been learned [about art, psychology, small group politics and economics] through the theory and practice of modern Neopaganism, and my own knowledge of [the polytheological and practical details] magical and religious phenomena.

I’ve already started this project, through the organizing of my notes and the beginning of a new book. The purpose of [“The Druid Handbook”] will be to enable anyone who has a copy to start up their own Druidic grove, or to practice as a solitary Druid. Everything necessary will be included: history, polytheology, liturgy, legal structures, art and music, calendars and customs, etc.

This is where you come in. I would like to make sure that what I am creating will fulfill genuine needs in other Neopagans. So I’m going to need feedback, advice and research help from many people in order to make this project work. Unfortunately, I’m also going to need some sort of minimal financing in order to devote the time necessary to do this right (I’m talking about 10-20 hours a week for 2-3 years). Otherwise I simply can’t do the huge job of coordinating the research and writing the book in anything less than 5-10 years.

What I have in mind is this: despite my experiences with Pagan publishing in the past, I’m willing to produce a highly irregular, nonscheduled Druid publication. This would come out four or five times per year, and would simply consist of xeroxed sheets of dot matrix type like this letter. Issues would include selections from the work in progress; research materials (advice, requests and reports for and from the readers); scholarly, liturgical and polytheological debates; Druidic rituals and guided meditations, and anything else that looked interesting and Druidic around publication time.

Now Druidism is not everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m not expecting a large response to this announcement. Professional journals for specialized interest groups charge as much as $50 per year, but I’m willing to mail out this stuff to people donating $20 or more per year (depending upon what each supporting subscriber honestly feels they can afford to contribute to the project). That won’t be enough for me to “earn a living from my religion,” but it could enable me to devote the time and energy needed without my actually losing money.

If you’re interested, send your donation to me with a clearly printed or typed name, mailing address, zip or postal code, home & work & message phones (optional) with hours you can be reached at each, areas of expertise (languages, arts, research background, etc.) and areas of special interest (what you want to see published). Postdate your check or money order to March 1st, make it out to “P.E.I. Bonewits,” and enclose a (larqe) self-addressed stamped envelope. If there aren’t enough people who are enthusiastic about the project, the envelopes will be used to return the money of those who have responded. Otherwise, I’ll use them to mail out the first issue.

With a little bit of luck, the blessings of the Gods and a great deal of hard work, we can create an authentically Druidic Neopagan religion our ancestors would be proud of.

Bail o na Deíthe ort… Blessings of the Gods on you!

Isaac Bonewits, Ard-draoi, Ár nDraíocht Féin

Original Declarations of What ADF Will and Won’t Be"

ADF is an idea I have been wrestling with for years: a Neopagan Druid Order whose members would not be ashamed to honestly compare themselves with the original Druids. This requires mature, dedicated and talented people who are willing to invest both time and energy over a long period (remember, the original Druids took up to twenty years each to be fully trained, and they had an intact tradition).

At this point in the birthing process, details are in short supply, but the general outlines are becoming increasingly clear. I can at least give you some specific ideas as to what Ár nDraíocht Féin will and won’t be:

ADF will be a Neopagan religion based on solid (but imaginative) scholarship in the fields of linguistics, Indo-European studies, comparative religion, archeology, anthropology, Celtic & Norse & Baltic & Slavic studies, history, musicology and polytheology. The scholars we will be basing our research on include Georges Dumezil, Mircea Eliade, Anne Ross, Stuart Piggott, G. S. Littleton, Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, Proinsias MacCana, Myles Dillon, Nora Chadwick, etc. We will not be accepting Lewis Spence, Margaret Murray, Robert Graves, Merlin Stone, H. P. Blavatsky or Iolo Morganwg as scholarly authorities (although some of them may provide poetic inspiration now and then). If we have to fill in gaps in our knowledge with our own imagination, spiritual visions and/or borrowings from non-IE sources, we will go ahead and do so, but always in full awareness of what we are doing (and with full documentation of the process).

ADF will be developing a slow, careful and steady system of training for Druidic clergy, equivalent to that gone through by professional clergy in other religions. We will not be in any hurry to initiate people (though we may create and publish self-dedication rituals for the first level of participation [we did]), since an obsession with rank and titles is usually counterproductive to actual spiritual, artistic and scholarly growth. A correspondance course has been suggested and I’m willing to give it serious consideration, once we have the basics figured out. [It never happened.]

Although our primary focus will be on the beliefs and practices of our Indo-European ancestors, and on how these can be adapted to modern circumstances, we will not tolerate racism or nonsense about “Aryan blood.” The Indo-Europeans were a motley assortment of tribes speaking related languages — not a “race.” All of our ancestors are of mixed blood, and most of the black people in America have (however involuntarily) some European genes. So anybody, regardless of their race or color, who is sincerely interested in participating in ADF will be made welcome. Similarly, the IE peoples are known to have had both male and female clergy, and those tribes influenced by shamanistic practices frequently had clergy who were ambiguous in their gender identification. For these historical reasons, as well as the fact that ADF is a Neopagan religion, we will not tolerate sexism nor restrict membership or rank on the basis of gender or affectional preferences. Having said all that, let me add that I have no intentions of letting extremists of any persuasion use ADF for purposes not in keeping with our original goals.

We will have a carefully structured hierarchy, based on actual skills and knowledge obtained and demonstrated, with both upward and downward mobility [the latter was swiftly forgotten]. The training system will involve the setting of specific standards in all the areas necessary for functioning at the different levels, and these standards will be published in the Handbook and widely disseminated throughout the Neopagan media, in order to prevent false claims of rank. Our primary approach is going to be the attainment not just of competency, but of excellence. Democratic safeguards will be built in, but we do not expect everyone in ADF to be qualified for (or even interested in) attaining the rank of clergy. After all, the original Druids were only a small percentage of their Paleopagan communities, and not everyone has (or needs) a clerical vocation. Nor will rank in other Neopagan organizations guarantee equivalent rank in ADF, since we have no way of knowing what standards other groups are using, nor how strictly enforced they are.

The Ancient Druids were polytheists rather than mono- or duotheists; so our main approach will be a pluralistic one. We are not going to promote any One True Right and Only Way of Druidism, merely whatever happens to work for us. This means, among other things, that we intend to maintain friendly relations with as many other Druid organizations as possible, and will encourage our members to investigate these alternate Druid paths.

We are going to take our time putting the whole system together. Based on solid research and a knowledge of the mistakes made by other Neopagan groups in the past, we can create something magnificent. But like an oak tree, it will take time to become strong, and we have no intentions of trying to force its growth. Within two to three years we should get the primary seeds planted. Then the results will be up to the individuals who have heard the trees whispering in their ears, and who know that they are meant to walk a Druid way.

The View from Twenty+ Years Later

Members of ADF who have been around a while will find parts of the original open letter amusing indeed. The 10-20 hours per week turned into 40-50, the 2-3 years into over twenty, and the single “Druid Handbook” into multiple publications! As for managing to do it without it actually costing me money… well, let’s just say that I (and several others) poured tens of thousands of dollars into keeping ADF growing — and I, for one, would do it again in a heartbeat.

Most of the promises about basing what we were doing on serious scholarship were kept (although only a handful of members did the research that everyone else used), as were the non-discriminatory ideals. We never did do a correspondance course, which may be just as well, since they require a huge investment of time to administer. Our clergy training program was indeed ambitious and was published to loud howls of outrage from other Neopagan groups — some of whom quickly copied it — then was dramatically revised after my resignation as Archdruid. We managed to stay pluralistic within our declared boundries, annoying both the Celtophiles and the Newage Wannabe Indians alike.

ADF sprouted new branches, planted many groves, made legal breakthroughs for Neopaganism and Druidism, and has been a proud and vigorous member of the American Neopagan community ever since. I am deeply proud to have been ADF’s Chief Unindicted Co-conspirator for so many years and I look forward to watching how Our Own Druidism evolves in the future.

To keep up with ADF’s adventures, visit the ADF website.

Copyright © , 1983, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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