Symbols of Druid Identity

(Version 2.8)

Copyright © 1985, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

One of the many reasons why people join organizations and movements is to gain a sense of belonging, of having a family of others who share their worldview. To this end, most groups use certain images as signs of membership. These shared symbols of identity help to create the psychological, social and psychic connections so necessary for effective group action. Provided that these images are used as positive signs of inclusion, rather than as negative signs of exclusion, they can only be of benefit to us.

So what are some of the symbols of being a Mesopagan or Neopagan Druid? The most obvious ones are the “Druid Sigil,” the “Awen,” organizational logos, the use of white clothing and various signs of “rank.”

The Druid Sigil

The Druid Sigil is most often rendered as a circle with two vertical lines passing through it (see left). Frequently this is drawn, painted, embroidered, etc. as a wreath of leaves with two staves (or spears for the warrior types) passing through (see right). Twenty years back, a ceremonial tabbard was made with a tree in full leaf on the front and the Sigil on the back with its wreath and stavewood matching. I always thought it would be nice to have more vestments that followed this pattern, changing the leaf colors or tree species for each season.

Where did the Druid Sigil come from? Nobody knows for sure. It first became associated with Druidism in modern times by the founder of the Reformed Druids of North America, David Fisher, in 1963 c.e.. He claimed that it was a symbol of Druidism in general and the Earth Mother in particular. Some think he may have gotten the design from a hasty glance at a picture in Piggott’s book The Druids, which showed the foundations of an old Roman-Celtic temple. Others think he may have gotten it from some Mesopagan Druid organization to which he may have belonged. However, with the two lines running horizontally, the Druid Sigil is known to electricians as the sign for a female plug/socket, and with the lines diagonal, it’s an old alchemical sign for oil, both concepts that could lead to some fruitful meditations.

Regardless of its historical origins, I think that it is a quintessentially female symbol and is thus psychologically powerful. For political and metaphysical reasons, I think it’s important for members of a religion that many folks erroneously assume is male-dominated to have a constant reminder of the eternal power of the female force(s) of Nature. As a magical sign, I’ve used the Druid Sigil for over thirty years as both a blessing symbol and as a banishing sign. From a magical point of view, it is fully as powerful as a pentagram, Seal of Solomon or cross, and meditation upon it will provide many insights. The silver Druid Sigil on the left was made from my design by Merlin of Amulets by Merlin and may be ordered from him [along with other Isaac Bonewits designs].

While the Reformed Druids of North America and their immediate offshoots have kept the Druid Sigil as their primary organizational symbol, and many members of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) use it as well, other Neopagan and Mesopagan Druid groups have altered it or ignored it completely.

The Awen

The Mesopagan Druids have as their most common symbol the “Awen” or “three bars of light,” shown here (left) in the simplest form. The word “awen” means “inspiration” in Middle Welsh, and in Mesopagan Druidism it represents the primal sound and light caused by “the” Supreme Being pronouncing “His” name to create the universe. Mesopagan Druids have a great deal of metaphysical theory based on this and related triplicities — most of it coming from the early Unitarian preacher and prolific forger of ancient manuscripts, Iolo Morganwyg (who pretty much created Mesopagan Druidry to begin with). The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids places the Awen inside a set of three circles (right), representing Iolo’s three “stages of existence.” As you can see, some people use the Awen with and some without the three dots symbolizing the Supreme Being (and some with a single dot).

The word “awen” is used by some modern Druids as a Celtic equivalent to the Sanscrit word “aum,” intoning it when doing trancework, thusly: “aah-ooo-enn...”


Organizational Logos

The original ADF logo was inspired by the badge for the Scottish clan of MacEwen (shown here on the left), which depicts new branches sprouting from an oak tree stump. The original (1983) ADF logo (right) was drawn by the well-known Neopagan, science fiction and fantasy artist Nybor, based on my vague description. It had one thin shoot with five leaves rising from the stump, and no letters around it or in the bottom three loops. The symbolism of ADF’s logo is obviously that of survival and revival — indeed, the MacEwen clan motto is, “Reviresco,” which is Latin for “We (re)grow green.” The axe marks in Nybor’s original rendition made it clear that the tree of Druidism, like that of the MacEwen clan, was reviving after having been deliberately chopped down. Nybor added the interlacing to show that, although ADF is a Pan-Indo-European tradition, “we have Celtic roots.”

The lettering was added, originally with Letraset American Uncial (their only Celtic face at the time) early on, just in time for the first ADF t-shirts. In 1986 or so, I scanned the ADF logo into a Macintosh computer and converted it to an Adobe Illustrator file. I then added the lettering now used (Zapf Chancery), deciding to forgo the previous overtly Celtic font in favor of one with a generic European feel, since we were already receiving complaints that ADF was “too Irish.”

In 1993, I edited the logo again to make the version now being used, with a slightly thicker trunk rising from the stump and a total of twenty-five leaves. Every ten years or so, I think the logo should be updated to add more leaves and branches. Eventually, we should have a healthy, full-grown oak tree with offspring growing all around it.

The ADF logo usually appears only in black and white, although several colored versions of it have been done (such as the one on the right). Usually the heavy lines of the roots, stump and branch are black or dark brown, with the outside stump lines fading into dark green on the horizontal line, which in turn fades into dark blue as it rises into the circle. The oak leaves are green, the inside above-ground sky is blue, and the inside below-ground area is light brown.

Keltria, a Neopagan Druid organization that branched off from ADF, has kept the Druid Sigil as a wreath and added the Awen in the center (as shown left). Various local groves of ADF (and Keltria?) have done variations of the Sigil with additional symbols added (Mugwort Grove, ADF, for example, uses the Sigil with a large sprig of mugwort leaf in the center).

Beannaithe ag Draoithe - Blessed by Druids

According to Ellen Evert Hopman of the Order of the Whiteoak (Ord Na Darach Gile), “this symbol, designed by J. Craig Melia, is meant to function as a Druidic equivalent to the Kosher marks used in Judaism. The Triskellion is an ancient symbol and can be found throughout Europe, from Greece to Ireland. The variation used here, which incorporates the spiral into the design, is found throughout Celtic lands. This design was developed by consensus from Druids of several Orders, in the US, Canada, England, Ireland and other countries. We offer it freely as a gift to anyone who wants to use it. It is a logo that means ‘blessed by Druids’ and can be used on foods, medicines, religious statues, and on any item which has been Druidically blessed.” This particular idea, though nice, doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.

Druidical Clothing

At one time, wearing white berets was an identifying symbol for ADF members. The story behind the white berets is this: When we first started having local grove meetings in the New York City area, we were meeting in coffeehouses in Greenwich Village. Since many of the folks at the early gatherings knew about ADF only through the mails, and had never met me or each other, we needed some sort of identification signal to help us find our fellow Druids. Since I was wearing a white beret at the time (along with a lot of other white clothing), I suggested that the others do the same. Red, brown, black, and other colors of berets were and are still worn in the Village, but white ones were and are fairly rare. This enabled us to find each other easily.

Later, when I sent out a mailing to midwest ADF members about plans for an upcoming Pagan Spirit Gathering, I suggested that those who were going to attend PSG could also wear white berets. Some did so, and more did at subsequent festivals. With anywhere from 100 to 500 people at the average Pagan festival, this easily visible symbol came in handy. Then we found out that the Ku Klux Klan was using white berets as an identifying symbol for its members! The Mother Grove immediately decided to abandon the use of them, for fear that our folks would be confused with theirs. In some ways this was a pity, for the hats were an easy symbol that could be spotted from a distance, and the ADF t-shirts never caught on the same way.

How historically authentic was this custom? Not very. A few people have pointed out that the ancient Celts usually wore no headgear at all, and the only headcovering examples we have at all seem to be the hoods of capes and warriors’ helmets. We do know, on the other hand, that the color white was associated with the Paleopagan clergy. This is one reason why I tend to wear white clothing (with various colors of decoration) as my public and private “clergy garb,” a habit some other Neopagan Druids have picked up. There’s no particular reason why one’s “Druid hat” should be a beret, I just thought that it looked appropriately ancient and was a way of honoring my Breton and Gaulish ancestors. Perhaps someone else will come up with a different sort of hat for Druids to wear — preferably something with a brim that will keep the sun out of our eyes during long rituals!

Long white robes have been popular for Mesopagan and Neopagan Druids for a long time. The British Mesopagan Druids wear robes with vaguely Egyptian hoods, apparently because of Masonic associations of the Druids and the Egyptians with Atlantis, and therefore with each other. When they go to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice, some of them wear solid white, blue or green robes to signify who among them are the Druids, Bards or Ovates (diviners) respectively. Also popular with Mesopagan Druids are various crowns, breastplates, rings and other ceremonial tools, many of which are taken from the (very obsolete) scholarship of the early “antiquarians,” including miss-identified items that are really pre-Celtic.

Signs of Druidical Rank

The founders of the RDNA, perhaps in imitation of the stylish garb shown on Dr. Maughan (above right), “stole” the idea of using ribbons to indicate who was a Druid of the Third (clergy) Order. Originally these were given to new clergy in sets of two — a red ribbon for the Summer Half of the Year and a white one for the Winter Half. Later, as “higher orders” were invented, many of them used differently colored ribbons to indicate membership. The big advantage to defining ribbons as minimal clergy gear was that they could be carried in a pocket and quickly draped around one’s neck over normal school clothing, should either security or lack of sewing skills be a problem, yet they looked nice over elaborate robes as well.

What about signs of rank among the Neopagan Druids? While I’m not too sure its a good idea to encourage them, they seem to be a universal human need. The idea I originally came up with for ADF was to use narrow bands of interlace or similar designs (Celtic, Norse, Slavic, Greek, etc) climbing up the sleeves and hems of our robes. I suggested that we use the colors associated with the old Indo-European castes: black/brown/green for First Circle members, red/blue for Second, white (with green and blue outlining) for Third, with perhaps silver and gold colored threads for Fourth and Fifth Circle members (none of whom exist yet). The magnificient white robe that Karen Dougherty embroidered for me uses this color coding combined with symbols for the Three Worlds of Land, Sea, and Sky, plus lunar and solar symbols. This system wasn’t used very much, but many of our members came up with their own, often stunning, ceremonial costumes based on their own research and artistic skills.

One idea that never caught on in ADF was for only those intending to work their way into the Third or inner Circles to wear full length white robes, and for others to wear tunics or other premedieval garb. Apparently this made the others feel like second-class citizens, so we dropped it. However, I still advise that hoods on white robes should not completely cover the face, especially in groves south of the Mason-Dixon line in the USA.

And lest you think that ADF Druids wear only white, here’s a picture of Ian Corrigan and myself at Starwood a few years ago (I’m the little guy on the right).

Copyright © 1985, 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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