The Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin
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interesting historical documents, here are (1) the original open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 ADFs 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 Wont 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, Ive decided to try once again to
see what I can do to create a form of reconstructionist
As many of you may know (perhaps from reading
my book Real Magic
or Margot Adlers Drawing
Down the Moon), I ve been a priest of
the Reformed Druids of North America since 1969. Ive 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). Im also
a priest and elder of the Craft, and Ive been a Neopagan
magician and occultist for nearly twenty years.
Ive 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 theyre
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 doesnt 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 1980s? 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
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 thats 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.
Ive 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 Im going to need feedback, advice
and research help from many people in order to make this project
work. Unfortunately, Im also going to need some sort of
minimal financing in order to devote the time necessary to do
this right (Im talking about 10-20 hours a week for 2-3
years). Otherwise I simply cant do the huge job of coordinating
the research and writing the book in anything less than 5-10
What I have in mind is this: despite my experiences
with Pagan publishing in the past, Im 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 everyones cup of
tea, so Im not expecting a large response to this announcement.
Professional journals for specialized interest groups charge
as much as $50 per year, but Im 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 wont 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 youre 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 arent enough
people who are enthusiastic about the project, the envelopes
will be used to return the money of those who have responded.
Otherwise, Ill 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
Original Declarations of What
ADF Will and Wont 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 wont 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 Im 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
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
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
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 ADFs 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 ADFs adventures, visit
the ADF website.
Copyright © , 1983, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This
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