The Reformed Druids of North America and their Offshoots

(Version 2.1)

Copyright © 1996, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

RDNA's Earth-Mother SigilThe Reformed Druids of North America (“R.D.N.A.”) started out as a quasi-religious Mesopagan protest against coerced religion at a small midwestern college, back in 1963 c.e. The RDNA was invented in order to test the freedom allowed by the colleges rules requiring all students to attend church. Much to the surprise of the founders, even after they had won their protest, many of the Druids wanted to continue the movement. The prayers to the Earth-Mother and the old Celtic divinities, combined with Zen meditations, Christian mystical writings and the Founders anarchistic philosophy now represented a valuable part of their spiritual lives. Graduates of Carleton College spread the Reformed Druid movement wherever they went.

Stephen Abbot and Joan Carruth, NRDNA clergyIt was in Berkeley, California that one of these alumni, Robert Larson, became the local Archdruid for a group of people, including myself, who were already thinking of ourselves as Neopagans. Under our influence (and my own not-entirely-appreciated agitation) an increasing overlap between RDNA and the Neopagan community began to form. Today, the handful of active RDNA groves (congregations), such as those led by Stephen Abbot in California and Joan Carruth in New Hampshire (see photo on right) are almost all Neopagan and are using the name “NRDNA” (for New RDNA), while other Druidic movements, such as ADF and Keltria, have grown from the RDNAs trunk as specifically Neopagan branches.

According to one Reformed Druid document, The Book of the Law, the Basic Beliefs of Reformed Druidism run thusly:

“The object of the search for religious truth, which is a universal and a never-ending search, may be found through the Earth-Mother; which is Nature; but this is on way, yea, one way among many. And great is the importance, which is of spiritual importance, of Nature, which is the Earth-Mother; for it is one of the objects of Creation, and with it do people live, yea, even as they do struggle through life are they come face-to-face with it.”

This has since been abbreviated, in The Outline of the Foundation of Fundamentals, to the following statements:

“1. Nature is good! and the second is like unto the first: 2. Nature is good!”

The material realm is personified as the “Earth-Mother” (or Mother Nature), one of the oldest archetypes known to humanity. Many now apply this name to the biosphere as a whole, in order to emphasize our dependence upon Her (though She is usually called “Gaia” then). The nonmaterial essence of the universe(s) is called “Béal” (which is believed to be an ancient Celtic name of an abstract divinity, based on “Bel” or “shining one”), and the concept is rather similar to some versions of the Native American idea of the Great Spirit. Thus a polarity (not a dualism) of matter and energy, female and male, darkness and light, is established; but it is vital to realize that neither half of the polarity is believed to be superior to the other.

The “object of Humanitys search” is called “awareness,” and is defined as “unity with Béal.” a task that can only be accomplished by also attaining unity with the Earth-Mother. Thus Reformed Druids are urged to develop all the different aspects of their beings — physical, mental, emotional, psychic, artistic and spiritual — in order to attain the required state of dynamic balance that will lead them towards awareness.

Beyond these fundamentals, the philosophy and (poly)theology of Reformed Druidism are kept deliberately vague. It is up to each Reformed Druid to work out her or his own path towards awareness.

The Reformed Druids are organized into congregations called “groves,” each with from three to ten or more members (though dozens of others may show up for major holiday celebrations). Only a handful of these are still active, though a couple of dozen have been founded over the years. Every grove is an independent entity, and each may operate its own “flavor” of Reformed Druidism. At times there have been groves practicing (among the Neopagans) Norse, Wiccan, Eclectic, Zen and even Hasidic Druidism. The older RDNA groves (i.e., the ones run by original Carleton graduates) often continue to mix Christian, Taoist, Native American, and other mystical traditions with their Druidism. Individuals frequently follow more than one variety at a time, depending upon their personal interests.

Attempts to keep any sort of national structure going have been fruitless due to the strong individualism of the members.

Obviously, Reformed Druidism is a uniquely American phenomenon. Because of its tolerance for theological and philosophical differences, its lack of discrimination against women and other minority groups, its sense of humor about itself, and its distrust of all organizational structures, it is drastically different from most other philosophical and religious movements that have called themselves “Druidic” previously.

And yet the Reformed Druids do have some fundamental concepts in common with the Paleopagan and Mesopagan Druids who preceded them and the Neopagan Druids who developed from them. Down through the ages, their communities have known how to tell who the Druids among them were, because the role of the Druid has always been clear — scholar and artist, poet and priest, philosopher and magician — the one who seeks, preserves and extends the highest wisdom her or his people are capable of handling safely, and who uses that knowledge and inspiration for the benefit of their community.

For more information about the RDNA, and to read former Carleton Arch Druid Michael Schardings senior thesis, A Reformed Druid Anthology, visit A Psuedo-Official Homepage of the RDNA maintained by the Carleton Grove of the RDNA. If you can physically visit Northfield, Minnesota, you might want to see the Carleton College ArchivesModern Druids Collection. According to College Archivist, Eric Hillemann, “the Modern Druids Collection includes the archives of the Reformed Druids of North America, and in particular of the Carleton grove, as well as a reference collection on other post-1963 druidic groups (RDNA offshoots and others) consisting of donated publications and other material.” St. Olafs College across the street from Carleton supposedly also has a collection of Mesopagan Druid materials which may have influenced the founders of the RDNA. For more on how ADF was influenced by my participation in the RDNA, read my essay on the Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin.

Copyright © 1996, 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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