Frequently Asked Questions
What are the goals of Druidry and the Order?
We see the aims of Druidry and the Order as helping us experience and express Love, Wisdom and Creativity. Creativity - in opening us to our full potential: for bringing beauty into the world, for discovering the stories deep within us, and the stories that can be found in each and every person, and in the world of Nature. Wisdom - in the old myths and legends, in the Welsh & Irish triads, and in the centuries of scholarship to be found in the Druid tradition. Love - in the love of trees and stones, the love of animals and the body, the love of story and myth, the love of beauty and peace, the love of each other and the love of life.
Where do the teachings of the Order come from?
Many people believe that the teachings of the Druids were lost with the coming of Christianity, and that we couldn’t possibly be teaching authentic Druid wisdom. We, however, believe that we are. The teachings given in the course derive from five strands:
The first, and most important, comes – surprisingly to many – from very far back in time, and almost certainly to the teachings of the Druids before the coming of Christianity. We believe these teachings were entrusted to future generations by being encoded in certain ancient stories. Within these stories we can find embedded entire programmes of Druidic training, which form the core of the teachings that we present in the training of the Order. In addition to this material, we draw on the wisdom of the Druidic triads, which were recorded by Christian clerics but which reflect much of the wisdom of their pre-Christian ancestors.
The second strand has its source in the much later period of the Druid Revival, which began over three hundred years ago, at the end of the seventeenth century. Our Order traces its lineage to this period, and from this source of teachings we have inherited certain ritual forms and teachings. Some of these we have discarded as inappropriate to the modern age, but others have been kept, not only for their beauty and relevance, but because they too might well derive from earlier sources, or draw their inspiration from them.
The third strand comes from a more recent time, almost fifty years ago, when the previous Chief of the Order, Philip Ross Nichols, together with a group of fellow-druid members of The Ancient Druid Order, formed The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, still honouring its connections through The Ancient Druid Order back to its founding in the time of the Druid Revival, but taking the decision to incorporate more study of Celtic source material, and to include celebration of the four Celtic fire festivals.
Ross Nichols was a friend of Gerald Gardner, the founder of the modern Wicca movement, and the evidence of the intellectual cross-fertilisation that occurred between them can now be seen in both Wiccan and Druid teachings. Nichols edited Gardner’s first book on Wicca, and contributed material to his second book.
The fourth strand comes from the contribution of the present head of the Order, Philip Carr-Gomm, to the teachings. Having trained with Ross Nichols, and having trained in psychology and psychotherapy, (in particular Jungian analytical therapy and Psychosynthesis) Philip was asked to lead the Order in 1988.
The fifth strand comes from the contributions of many contemporary scholars and specialists in Druidry and Celtic spirituality, who have offered their insights and writings to the world, and in some cases specifically to the Order, to help build a body of teachings that are truly relevant and helpful to students of Druidry in the modern world. Their contributions are referenced in detail in the bibliographies and indexes provided at each stage in the Order's training.
Are the teachings given in a Correspondence Course?
Although the Order's training programme is sometimes described as a 'correspondence course' this is not an accurate description of the training programme which works primarily with your experience, and does not require essays, exams or tests in the conventional sense. Instead the course works as 'home learning' or 'distance learning', and in its audio format we have tried to create a contemporary version of training in what was originally an oral tradition. You can read more about this way of learning Druidry, and listen to sample audio clips here.
How many members are there?
Over fifteen thousand people have joined since the distance learning programme was started in 1988. At any one time about 1200 people across the world are studying the course. They come from all walks of life and many different countries, including Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Finland, The United States, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa, Hungary, Bulgaria, Brazil, Israel and Poland.
What sort of people are members?
All kinds! About half are female, half male. We have teenagers and retired people following the course. Because it is experiential, it can be followed whether you left school at 16 or whether you have a doctorate. We have teachers and carpenters, farmers and shopkeepers, musicians and artists, doctors, lawyers, college professors, priests, Pagans, Wiccans, Christians and Buddhists, all enjoying the training programme.
What is the difference between a Seed Group and a Grove?
A Seed Group can be formed by any member at any point in their studies. Each group is different, but they are designed to be informal and relaxed - giving members the opportunity to meet and meditate together, and to discuss the course, their studies, and topics of mutual interest. Many groups celebrate the seasonal festivals together, and to attend a Seed Group you do not necessarily need to be a member of the Order.
A Grove is a group which meets regularly and which is led by at least two members who are in the Druid Grade. A fully functioning Grove will celebrate the eight festivals, give initiations, and may also hold Groves in each of the three grades.
Do I have to adopt any particular set of beliefs or practices when joining the Order?
No - all members are encouraged to believe and practice only those things which they feel are true and right for themselves. There is no dogma in Druidry, which instead is characterised by the qualities of tolerance and an appreciation of diversity. For this reason people with widely differing approaches are members, from Pagans and Wiccans to Christians and Buddhists, and to those with no particular philosophy or religion.
There are, however, a few beliefs which most members probably hold in common:
In Spirit, or God/dess - in something more than just matter
In the Otherworld - in something more than just the world of appearances
In Rebirth - in life after death in some form
In the Web of Life - in the interconnectedness of all life
In the Law of the Harvest - in the law of cause and effect, that we harvest the result of what we have sown.
Is the Course suitable for me if I have had mental health issues?
Many people go through difficult times in their life, and the course can be very helpful and supportive at such times. But you should not enrol on the course if you have ever been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or a psychotic condition.The reason for this is that while much of the course material can be instructive and helpful to anyone, the course does offer meditations, visualizations and rituals which are designed to 'open people up' to their unconscious states and potentially other levels of perception. For those who haven't suffered from such a condition this process can be helpful, but if you have, these exercises have the potential to be counter-productive. If the training was undertaken in a face-to-face situation the exercises could be paced and adjusted to suit the individual, but since the course is administered from a distance, such adjustment and monitoring just isn't possible.
Although the distance learning programme is not suitable if you have had these challenges, Druidry can still be followed as a spiritual way/philosophy/religion by making use of the many resources available on the web and in books.
In the old days they say it took nineteen years to train a Druid, how can you do it in three years?
In ancient times it took nineteen years to become a Druid, but this course of training included many of those subjects that we learn today at school. And nineteen years is also a symbolic length of time: it represents a Metonic cycle: a calculation of the time between two almost identical eclipses, and a calculation which also succeeded in uniting the solar and lunar calendars. And so nineteen years symbolises the time it might take for someone to unite the sun and moon, the Masculine and the Feminine, within their beings.
Today it still takes a long time to achieve this union in the depths of our souls, and the study of Druidry is a lifetime pursuit for many. But we no longer need to train for nineteen years before we can call ourselves a Druid. In fact the term Druid has now come to denote, for many, the type of spirituality they follow. And as for training, we have found that many members taking the course reach the Druid level of training in about three years, although it is possible to achieve this in just over two years. Members are free to take as long as they like to work through the training.
I'm a Wiccan. Can I be a Druid too?
Yes! Many members are Wiccan, and find Druidry a powerful and valuable complement to their path.
See the special section on this website: Wicca & DruidCraft
I'm a Christian. Can I be a Druid too?
One of the unusual attributes of Druidry is that it has links with both Paganism and Christianity. One of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions. Rather than polarising the Pagan and Christian viewpoints, Druidry serves a vital role in bridge-building between the different traditions, and we have members of many faiths, including Christian.
Although the ancient Druids flourished before the arrival of Christianity in western Europe, ever since the period of the Druid Revival, about three hundred years ago, Christians have been interested in Druidism, and some have found that following Druidry can enhance their appreciation of Christianity.
In the early part of the last century Druids became interested in Universalism - the idea that there are certain universal truths reflected in all religions. This idea also preoccupied Theosophists. The Chief of the Ancient Druid Order was involved in the Universalist Church, just as the Druid Iolo Morganwg was involved in helping promote Unitarianism more than a century earlier. Later these two churches merged and today represent the most liberal and open-minded of all Christian movements, even facilitating Pagan meetings and ceremonies in their churches.
A number of members of the Order consider themselves Christian and find no conflict in following the Order's course and practicing their faith. Although some Pagans believe Druidry and Christianity to be incompatible, due to the repressive and patriarchal attitudes and behaviour of certain forms of Christianity, others are interested in the common ground they share.
Druidry today is characterised by its appreciation of diversity, its respect for individual differences and beliefs, and its attitude of tolerance. Members of the Order may see themselves as Pagan, as Buddhist, as Christian, as Wiccan, as Taoist, or in any number of different ways. Others may not ally themselves with any particular path, religion or label, and may sense themselves as just 'spiritual seekers' or simply as Druids.
There is a special section on this website that explores Christianity & Druidry
There is also a special section that explores the connections between Druidry and the ancient Indian religions of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism: Druidry & Dharma
Are there any connections between Druid and Native American Ways?
Yes, they have much in common: sacred circles, the honouring of the directions, a deep reverence for the natural world, a belief in animal guides, and an abiding sense that the land itself is sacred. There is even evidence that the Druids worked in sweat-lodges and we know that birds' feathers were used in ceremonial clothing and headdress. In America some Native American teachers express the opinion that "white people" are taking their traditions from them, just as they have taken their land. "They should make connection with their own roots first," they have told us. "Then they can come to us if they like, but first let them make peace with their own ancestors."
While being wary of generalizing, because there are always exceptions, we believe they are probably right. Once we can feel fully at home in our own indigenous tradition, then somehow it is easier for us to relate to other traditions. Coming from a secure, rooted base we no longer have the feel of an outsider or a predator, and we can transcend the divisions of race and culture to feel truly at home in all traditions, with all of humanity.
Is there any gender bias in the Order?
Not at all. Membership is divided almost equally between women and men, with there probably now being more women than men in the Order. And women and men are equally involved in the administration and direction of the Order.
Is there any gender bias in Druidry?
Druidry was influenced by Freemasonry in the 18th and 19th centuries - a period not noted for its belief in the equality of the sexes - and consequently in those times it tended to be male-dominated. But this no longer applies in modern Druidry as taught by The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. In ancient times Druids were male and female.
Is the Goddess honoured in Druidry?
Very much so - and this is discussed in the Bardic course. Members are free to conceive of Deity in their own way.
Do I have to be a Celt to be a Druid?
Anyone can follow the Druid path, regardless of ethnic origins, gender, or sexual orientation. Over 200 million people in Europe, America and Australasia can trace their ancestry to the Celtic lands. The tribes called Celtic by the Greeks and Romans were so varied and intermingled so much, Celtic scholar Dr Anne Ross concludes that the Celts are the ancestors of most modern Europeans, and therefore of most people of European origin. In addition, many people of Afro-Caribbean origin have Celtic ancestry too, since Oliver Cromwell sent many 'slaves' (indentured servants) to the Caribbean, and they inter-married with descendants of slaves of African origin.
If, like the ancient Druids, you believe in reincarnation, then our genetic ancestry is only one strand of our inheritance. Whatever our ethnic origins in this lifetime, we will have had other origins in other lives. And in the final analysis, we are all members of just one race: humanity. Druidry celebrates our humanity, and is not restricted to just one ethnic or cultural group.
Is Druidry shamanic?
Michael Harner, a world authority on shamanism, speaks of the shamanic way as one which is best defined as a method to open a door and enter a different reality. Much Druid ceremony and meditation has as its goal journeying into other realities, and the word 'Druid' is related to words meaning both 'oak' and 'door' - with the symbol of the door or gateway being central in Druidic teaching.
We can find many shamanic elements woven into the philosophy and practice of Druidry, and in summary we can say that some elements of Druidry are certainly shamanic, but Druidry is not exclusively so - it has alchemical, magical, and philosophical dimensions too.
How can the Order help me in my everyday life?
Most of our problems, both individual and social, seem to come from our sense of alienation, of being disconnected: from Nature, from our hearts, from our Selves, from others, from Spirit. Joining the Order helps us re-build these connections, or re-member them. By celebrating the seasonal festivals and working with the sacred plants and animals of Druid tradition, we get closer in touch with the natural world. By working with the experiential exercises in the course and on retreats, workshops and camps we open up to our hearts and the hearts of others. And as we connect and network across the world with others of like mind and feeling, we come to experience a real sense of community, which touches us even deeper when we actually meet in the physical world.
How can I get involved in the Order's work?
Members who would like to contribute to the work and aims of the Order are most welcome. As examples: musicians in the Order have created compilation albums of their work, poets in the Order have done likewise. Members help to run magazines in Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, camps, assemblies and workshops, the mentoring system, the website. Members contribute to the Order Archives and to the teaching programme. If you have an idea or suggestion let us know!
Should you be charging money for your course? Shouldn't spiritual teachings be free?
We received this email one day. Our reply follows. "Why should I take your course when I can get lots of information from a book? I respect your organisation and the time and effort you have put forth to develop a training program. However, I firmly believe you cannot charge a fee for religion. If you were offering an educational degree recognised in college or university, that, of course, would be a different story. As it is, I disagree with your methods, if not your motives. Best of luck to you in any case. May the Lord and Lady be with you."
We replied: "Many thanks for your message. We respect your point of view, but would just like to mention some points you may not have considered: you say you can get the same information for less in book format, but the whole point of the course is that it is not just about information - you become a member of a worldwide community who meet, sometimes physically at workshops, retreats and summercamps, sometimes through the social networking, or through the Order's journals, and hopefully sometimes in the Inner World too.
The course is experiential more than informational, and can take you on an experiential journey that a book cannot. Being in dialogue with a mentor is also something that a book cannot provide. So, although a book can provide information, it cannot provide you with these relationships: with an Order, with a spiritual community, with a mentor. The course guides you on a journey in an interactive and growing way over a period of time - again, a book cannot do this.
It would be great if all this could be provided for free, but the world isn't like that and all these things cost money to set up and maintain. Each year, for example, students receive over 52 lessons, together with audios and a monthly copy of the magazine Touchstone. So in terms of value for money, we do not feel that the course is too expensive for what is provided. While I understand that many people feel that money and spirituality are incompatible, this is really an idea that comes from a dualistic approach to life which tends to put money, dirt, evil, the Earth, the body, sex, matter and the Feminine on one side of the fence, and Spirit, mind, purity and good on the other side. We have to spend money on paper, printing, mailing, offices, computers and staff, and that money has to come from somewhere. We feel that £3.46 a week is not a lot to spend in return for all that you receive, and it is probably far less than many people would spend on a movie, beer or a good book!"
Isn’t the division of Druid training into three grades limiting or artificial – after all, aren’t we all simply seekers on the path, so why create divisions or separate groupings?
Certainly we make a mistake if we consider one grade superior, or even totally separate from the others, but there is a profound value in having these separations, which are more accurately described as specialisations.
Each of the grades awakens or resonates with a particular aspect of the soul, which is quite unique and distinct. The Bardic grade is designed to help us awaken to our inherent creativity – to stimulate those aspects of our soul that long to express themselves in the world. You could say that the purpose of the Bardic grade is to help us sing the song of our soul. This is to be taken in its widest sense; for some of us it may literally help us to sing out, while for others it may help us to express ourselves creatively in other ways.
The Ovate grade’s purpose and design is to help us awaken to the inner ‘Wild Person’ – to ignite the ‘green fire’ in our souls that feels at one with the spirit of all Nature. This inner ‘wild person’ can be seen as the ‘inner shaman’ or ‘inner healer’ too, who is able to unite instinct with intuition.
The Druid grade’s purpose and design is to help us awaken to the inner Sage – that wise person who exists in each of us – who is sometimes only heard as a ‘still small voice’ offering counsel, but is often not heard or heeded at all.
By understanding the grades in this way, we can see how the Bardic grade is opening us to our hearts, to our feelings, upon which our creativity depends; the Ovate grade is awakening us to our bodies and our instincts (which is why we work with our ancestry and with healing in this grade); and the Druid grade is awakening us to the deeper powers of our mind.
Just as the body, heart and mind form a triad which makes up the human being, so the Bardic, Ovate and Druid grades form a triad which makes up the path or spiritual way of Druidry.
It is often useful to separate work on the human being into these three parts, to focus specifically on the body, the emotions or the intellect, but in reality the human being is one. Likewise with Druidry and with membership in the Order: it is helpful to work within these three schools of learning, but in essence we are all simply followers of the Druid Way, coming together within the fellowship of the Order to learn, and to love.
You can find more FAQs about the Order's course and instructions on how to enrol in the Join section