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A Druid Lodge

One of my way-to-many-projects is the creation of a Druid Lodge, which is a “grove” that meets during the inclement months inside a Masonic Lodge building.  The idea intrigues me because the history of British Druid Orders suggests that there was some amount of influence from Freemasonry upon those orders.  Ronald Hutton’s book, Blood and Mistletoe is the place to go to discover the fascinating details of Druid orders and the whole enthusiasm for “friendly societies”  that came over Britain and America during the 19th century.

Masons look back wistfully at the days when lodge’s had members numbering in the hundreds and cities had many such lodges. Freemasonry has waxed and waned in this way (numbers of lodge members) through its whole recorded history.  It seems as if every war gave Masonry a boost: Men surviving a war seemed to desire the fraternal experience and to seek a deeper meaning in life.  Since Freemasonry directs a man to face his own death and legacy, men who have faced death on the battlefield and lived, may justly feel they have been reborn in a sense, gaining a new life.  This is precisely what Freemasonry offers its initiates.

Druidry, on the other hand, has grown quite steadily over the past 300 years.  The history of Druidry in modern times may be more than a little legendary,and suffers from lack of documentation.  Nevertheless, the claim is made that the Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1717, the same year as the foundation of the first grand lodge of freemasons. Thus there is a hint that the two societies had members in common or were running on the same cultural energies.  My theory is that the men who chose to call themselves “druids” did so because they wished to draw upon the legendary figure of the white-robed, bearded wise man of Britain.  However dodgy the evidence might have been for this vision of the noble wizard of past Celtic times, its Romantic appeal was so strong that it seized the imaginations of men and women of the 19th century. 

Today, we have a lot more well-documented and careful scholarship on the ancient druids and bards, but even professional scholars in the field must acknowledge that research has only begun to scratch the surface of documents that might hold further keys to the wisdom and practices of ancient bards and druids.  The figure of the ancient druid emerges from the mists of time and the lack of documentation about him makes the druid a perfect vehicle for our own modern yearnings for a closeness to nature and reverence for the wild that we sorely miss in our paved-over urban civilization.  Yet more, the bard fills our desire for art and poetry, for Beauty — something that has been lost to us in some measure because Beauty has become a commodity and the property of advertising agencies and film producers.  The result is that instead of experiencing natural beauty, much less making beautiful things of our own, modern men and women are constantly being bombarded with images and music manufactured by someone else.

That is not to say that we do not have great artists and musicians, poets and bards today.  On the contrary.  But they are not honored in our culture with the same simple, spiritual reverence and joy that we suppose them to have been honored among the ancient Celts.  The denizen of urbania or “disturbia” as it is wryly called, seeks the values offered by Druidry.  Some of the “druid” orders in the early days of the movement got together primarily to sing songs and have a good time.  If that was paganism, well, so be it.

Values and Symbols

Freemasons offer a set of values and symbols taken from the tools and work of the ancient stonemasons, the temple-builders, and the geniuses behind Gothic cathedrals.  Architecture provides an extended metaphor for the orderly life of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, which lays the foundation for the practice of true brotherly love and the revelation of truth.  The differences between Masonry and Druidry are perhaps fewer than the similarities.  However, modern Druidry did not become hidebound — tied to the verbatim transmission of rituals and lectures.  As a result, it has evolved and taken many forms.  Within the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (the largest international order today), the teaching turned to a highly flexible and open method.

While the lessons of Masonry are presented in 18th century language and explained with 19th century lectures, there is no organized method for teaching a Masonic brother how to practice Masonry.  The rituals are three in number (though other Masonic organizations have proliferated additional “degrees”), so all that Masonry has to say is contained within those rituals and it is the study of them that will open up the actual work of being a Mason. 

By contrast, OBOD’s lessons contain a variety of material, teaching by triads, myths and legends, folklore and rituals designed to be understood intuitively and performed creatively, not by rote memorization and recitation.  As a teaching order and initiatic mystery school, OBOD draws upon current educational methods and psychological ideas that address how we learn, intellectually, emotionally, intuitively, and physically.  Druids learn by doing things, not by simply having symbols and ideas presented to them in a passive state.  Masons ought to work the same way, and there are clues in the “work” that suggest that whoever wrote our rituals did so with more in mind that taking three months to be led through three rituals and memorizing a brief recapitulation of the ritual to be recited before the lodge as a demonstration of one’s “proficiency.”

Druids tend to demand that proficiency in each “degree” or “grade” of the order actually means that one has learned a body of knowledge and practices, and can demonstrate that knowledge and true understanding before being allowed to pass on to the next grade.  Freemasons do not seem to know what to do.  They have passed on a system of simply “going through the motions” and saying the words, for three or four generations at least, with the result that as the numbers of Masons increased, so did the lack of understanding of what they were intended to do.

When a new brother is charged seriously to walk as a true and upright Mason, to keep himself from using the name of Deity in irreverent ways, and to attend lodge regularly to seek conversation and further teaching from knowledgeable brothers, those instructions are unambiguous.  If a Mason walks away from that charge and tells himself that he doesn’t need to come to lodge anymore, that there is nothing more to learn there, he is simply not following the charge he has been given.  But do modern men even understand what it means to be charged with duties?  Maybe not.  It is serious business and is not surely intended to be taken lightly.  Nor is the behavior required idly, as a sort of option.  If a Mason uses “God” as a constant, lazy expletive in his daily conversation, or if he denigrates women, or members of other faiths than his own, or other political persuasions or nationalities and ethnicities, he is failing as a Mason and is a disgrace to the order.

If he goes out and gets drunk regularly, especially with other Masons, he is showing the world a very poor picture of what Masonry is intended to be.  Our forefathers and brother-ancestors who wrote our rituals and polished them into precise language did so for a reason and with intent.  If a Mason hears the word, but does not take it to heart, then he fails as a Mason, no matter how many “higher” degrees he sits through, or how many other organizations he joins that are for Masons-only.  Even if he serves as an officer of his lodge and takes part in the rituals and dramas of the lodge degrees, if he is just memorizing and cannot take it to heart, he has not actually received the instruction he is offered.

The same thing, of course, is true for druids.  While druids may be men or women, what they are being asked to do is very similar.  Druids are instructed to learn, to expand their understanding, their knowledge, and their sense of justice.  They are instructed to respect all things, especially all living beings, and too look beyond the merely physical life toward a reality that extends to other worlds.  By which I mean, the Otherworlds of the Faerie folk, the hidden people of the hills.  Bards, the first degree of Druidry, are asked to open their minds and cultivate imagination that they might develop the Sight and see into the underlying intelligences that are everywhere in nature.  They are not handed a dogma that demands they believe in something “on faith.”  Nor, indeed, are druids asked to practice any particular form of religion.  Druidry, like Freemasonry, is a spiritual practice that should not interfere with one’s faith, precisely because it does not tell you what to believe about divine entities or the supreme being.  It tells you instead, how to cultivate your own inner resources — intellect, imagination, compassion — and to join yourself to the cycles of nature — seasons, phases of the moon, the sun’s voyage through the constellations of the zodiac.

Both Freemasonry and Druidry draw the devotees attention to the cycle of life too: birth, growth, maturation, decay, death, and rebirth into the Springtime of new life.  These themes run through both systems.

Officers and Rituals

A Druid lodge, like a Masonic lodge, would have three principal officers.  Corresponding to the Master, Senior Warden, and Junior Warden of Masonry are the more colorfully named Chief Druid, Pendragon, and Herald of the grove.  These roles are taken from Arthurian legend and its symbolic structure.  King Arthur was the Pendragon or Head Dragon.  A Herald speaks for a king.  The Chief Druid stands, like Merlin as the guiding hand behind the king and his round table.

Like the Wardens of Masonry, the Pendragon oversees the work of the grove by drawing the magic circle around the center, thereby symbolizing unity and deity, the sun, and the earth.  The Herald proclaims the rituals of the grove circle, and leads the procession into and out of the sacred space.  In this respect, the Herald may be compared to the Jr. Warden, whose job it is to supervise the “Craft” when they are at refreshment (taking a break from labor in the sacred space of the lodge room to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s fellowship).

As in the Masonic Lodge there are four more officers, but they are not Deacons and Stewards.  They are the Gaurdians of the four directions — the elemental guardians of the gates to North, South, West, and East.  Respectively, they represent Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.  Each of the four elements is understood to be not only a quality within the material world, but a quality within the spiritual world also.  Earth is the quality of solidity, repose, and reflection;  Fire, that of change, transformation, and agency; Water, that of feeling, relationship, love and dreaming; and Air the quality of intellect, reason, and communication.

It is around these four elements and their association with the four cardinal directions, four stages of life, and four seasons that the druidic circle and its rituals moves.  The opening and closing of every circle turns upon these symbols.  A Druid lodge would celebrate the eight seasonal festivals (the usual four seasons, each divided into halves).  Four are determined by the solstices and equinoxes and so fall roughly upon 21 June, 21 September, 21 December, and 21 March.  The other four are determined by ancient agricultural festivals marking the appearance of the spring lambs on 1 February, the planting of new seeds on 1 May, the harvest of the grain on 1 August, and the final harvest of squash and root vegetables, and the culling of the heard in preparation for Winter upon 1 November.

A Druid lodge would employ the traditional Gaelic names for these celebratory seasonal rites, and would mark them in a continuous cycle from year to year.  The meetings for teaching, learning, and advancement in the Light of Druidry would be held at the Full Moon and the New Moon.  Each marks a changing in energy, a turning point in the eternal play of light and darkness within all things. Not good and evil, only, but all that might be symbolized by Light or its absence.  For the druid, darkness symbolizes gestation and withdrawal into meditation.  The dark half of the year, the winter season especially, was a time to stay warm inside the round house, feed the fire, and tell stories, sing songs and wait for the rebirth of life in the spring.  Similarly, this drama of light and dark is played out every 28 days by the Moon.

If the pattern were strictly followed, the meetings of the lodge could not be fixed on a particular day of the week and that would be a challenge for coordinating scheduling with other groups using the lodge room and the facilities of the a Masonic temple.  Yet, to adhere to the awareness of the natural cycles of sun and moon, it would have to be done as well as possible.

Grades or Degrees

What would happen at these meetings?  Well, in the first instance, the lodge officers would have to be prepared to conduct groves in each of the three grades.  The bards would meet and study myth, legend, triad and virtue, music, dance, and joy.  Once they passed to the degree of Ovate, a grove brother or sister would gather to study, herbs, trees, divination, and traveling across the veils of the worlds.  In general the work of the ovate is more studious and serious.

In theory there would also be druid-grade meetings at which only the druid-grade members of the grove would attend and they would work on the higher matters of that grade, including teaching the bards and ovates, and continuing to seek more light and draw it down into the world of matter. Druid-grade brothers and sisters are like Master Masons, prepared to enter into sublime work — work that transcends merely mortal concerns.  It is work that joins the mind of the wizard with the Divine in creative processes. 

If the supreme being of Masons is addressed as the Great Architect of the Universe, the supreme being of Druids is addressed as the twofold Mother Earth and Father Sky — a natural pairing, complementary and inseparable.  In Druid symbolism, the Architect does not design the Temple on paper and oversee its construction.  Rather, the Creative Impulse within nature is self-creating, self-transforming, and always engaged in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

There would be no zipping through the degrees of a druid lodge.  One would begin as a Bard, not quite as lowly-sounding as an apprentice, but similar in being the first of three initiation rites.  In druidry, one can speak of being initiated as an ovate and as a druid, because each grade is like a new level of work, both higher and built upon the work that went before.  Yet, unlike in Masonry, being a lodge brother or sister in the Bardic Grade does not imply any inferiority or subordination, nor is there any stigma if one choses to remain a Bard for many years — perhaps for life.  It depends on the calling of the individual, and no expectation is placed upon a brother or sister to advance to the next grade until they wish to do so and the druids of the grove believe them to be ready.

OBOD’s instructional system is designed to be capable of completion within three years.  Few do it that fast.  However, to create a working druid lodge it would be best if the seven officers of the line could do so, working with deliberation to become druid companions of the grove and so serve it as instructors for each new crop of candidates for the “degrees.”

Such is my vision.  It needs to be all worked out in writing and it remains to be seen whether persons joining our druid lodge would have to be required to enroll in the OBOD course of study.  It might be best, rather than reinventing the wheel or leaving the instruction too loose and individualized.  A shared experience and shared knowledge is of utmost importance to feeling united in a grove or lodge.

Would there be secrets and vows of secrecy?  For druids such is not part of the tradition.  Yet, obligating a member at each grade to seriously apply himself or herself is important as a sign of dedication.

So, it would unfold, I hope.

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