Both Freemasonry and Druidry are not well known today. Those who have heard about Freemasonry may have had a father or grandfather who was a Mason. In that case they probably know something of the reality of the Craft, at least in its aspect as a fraternal organization for men of good character. Some will have heard of Freemasonry from novels and movies, which often characterize the Craft as something vaguely sinister. It is a “secret society” and somehow related to the Illuminati, who the fiction writers will say secretly rule the world.
That latter mythology of Freemasonry has been perpetuated for hundreds of years, ever since it went public with the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 and the Supreme Council 33° of the Scottish Rite in 1861. (Incidentally, the latter date was on my birthday, May 31st when I was only 481.) Anti-Masonic parties and diatribes, exposés and denunciations by the Pope have followed all along. It is the same impuse as anti-semitism and was interwoven with anti-Semitism because Jews have long been admitted to Freemasonry. Indeed, in the foundational legends of the craft, the first organized masons were Jews under King Solomon, though many were also Phoenicians, such as Grandmaster Hiram himself from Tyre.
Freemasons have been accused by outsiders of teaching lies because they teach in legends and myths and symbols. Only the very credulous within the Craft would fail to understand the difference, and this only because certain Christian sects have promulgated a mythic “history” of the world, which coincides at many points with that of Freemasonry simply because Freemasonry in modern times has been constructed around the Bible.
Personally, I feel it is fine for anyone to believe that the world started with Adam and Eve and that civilization descended through the Jewish patriarchs and so forth, as the Bible story tells us. If it is part of their religion, then embrace that legendary history. But no one has a right to foist their legends on other people as if they were indisputable facts, especially in this day and age when science has given us other stories about the age of the world and the history of humanity. Believing one’s chosen myths is healthy. Believing that they are not myths is not.
Druidry today has some of the same problems. Fortunately, Druidry is such a small movement, even after two hundred years, that it attracts very little media attention. Freemasons have a long history of sensationalist value that druids do not. If people today have heard of druids at all, it is most likely to be from fantasy role-playing games or fantasy novels. Nobody, thankfully, thinks that druids are a secret cabal ruling the world. The only criticism druids are likely to get today is from fundamentalists who think that anything “pagan” is Satanic.
In this, Druids and Masons share a kinship. They are both considered to be Satanic by those who know nothing about them except the fact that Druids and Masons are not dogmatically Christian. Freemasons often are Christian, and in Catholic-dominated cultures they are most likely Catholic, but Freemasons can espouse any religious beliefs they like. The only common denominator with Masons is that they admit to believing in a Supreme Being. This being is usually considered ineffable, which is to say that we cannot say anything about him really, even in regard to his gender. Such a God transcends all categories and can only be represented by symbols and poetic personifications, such as pagan gods and goddesses. Masons, because they do not discuss religious faith in the lodge (or politics) refer to God as the Great Architect of the Universe, or the Supreme Grandmaster. These are not names, as such, but ways of talking about our shared ideas in non-sectarian terms. Architecture and the idea of masters, grandmasters, fellows and apprentices are all terms taken from the medieval guilds of stonemasons. They serve the purpose of allowing men to gather and talk about spiritual matters without arguing over sectarian terminology and the doctrinal disputes between different theological camps.
Druidry approaches the same issue of freedom by simply leaving particular beliefs up to the individual follower of the druid way. Whether bard, ovate, or druid, the modern member of a druid order may believe in as many or as few gods or goddesses as he or she choses. This is complete religious freedom and acknoweldges that the ineffable myseries of human spirtuality cannot be reduced to any single set of symbols, myths, or indeed any single language. Conscience is absolutely free and no vows will ever truly fetter it. So, unlike Masons, druids keep no secrets and take no vows.
Some orders do not even have an organized way of teaching about druidry. Some, follow the ancient initiatic model and teach wisdom and meditational practices gradually, through a series of grades or degrees which help the student to undergo a transformation of perception and thought. It is not a system for teaching people what to think, but rather for teaching people different ways to think and perceive the world. The same can be said of Masonry, despite its secrecy.
Masonic secrecy is undoubtedly the main reason for its being attacked by outsiders with such regularity. It is certainly the reason for its sensational value to the novelist or film maker. Secrecy creates in the outsider a feeling of threat and a blank screen on which he can project all his fears. One of the greatest fears we humans have is of being secretly manipulated and controlled by a conspiracy of powerful old men. Well, this is only natural. We are, for the most part, controlled by old men. Often they conspire, often they argue with each other. Often they send young men off to kill the young men of the other competing groups of old men.
Druids have a reputation since the time of Julius Caeasar and the Gallic Wars, of being peacemakers. They often engaged in some questionable magical manipulation of people they didn’t like, but they also interposed themselves between warring armies to try to stop senseless bloodshed and competition. In this, the stood on the side of cooperation. Modern druids tend also to be on the side of cooperation, ecology, and problem-solving without resort to war and violence. They do not have Freemasonry’s history of staying apart from politics and within a druid grove politics and religion may be discussed. I’m not sure which is the better system. Both have their merits and I respect them both. In the case of druidry, the idea is that within a grove, one should treat others with respect and govern one’s anger. In a masonic lodge, the idea is that the divisive subjects of religious sects and political parties should just be avoided as a rule, to preserve the harmony of the fraternity.
The goal is the same.
Many of the founders of druid organizations in the 19th century were freemasons or at least knew enough about Freemasonry to model their organizations upon the Craft. We do not know, historically, whether the ancient Gallic, British, and Irish druids were organized into a “craft” or had organizational structures like medieval guilds, or whether they were organized more like the temple priesthoods of ancient Greece and Rome. I suspect that, given the relatively decentralized culture of the Celtic tribes, druids were not terribly centralized or uniform in their teachings. Probably there were a few remarkable thinkers, and some who simply taught what they had learned. Perhaps there were some who taught from the heart of their own personal visions and conversations with the divinities and the land. Some think that druids were natural scientists; others think they were magi. In that day and age there was little separation between those two categories. Science and magic where intermixed smoothly. Nobody was very concerned with whether you were doing magic or science. The question was more basic and ethical: Were you doing harm or good?
I come from a British druid order and so I sometimes find myself tripping over assumptions that Americans make about druids. For example, it is quite common for American neopagans to assume that druids are pagans, that there are few differences between druidry and Wicca, for instance. Certainly there are similarities, but they are not the same thing. Isaac Bonewits and his group, Ar n’Draiocht Féin (A Druid Fellowship) co-opted the name “druid” to use instead of “priest” and “priestess” in a neopagan context. This has resulted in the assumption among many American pagans that druids are all priests.
Some modern druids do consider themselves to be religious leaders, some are even ordained under the law. Some perform marriages and funeral rites for pagans, and some are avowedly neopagan and polytheistic in their views. That is, they see polytheism as a better alternative to monotheism. That religious belief is to be respected. There are good reasons and sincere feelings behind it. However, not all druids take that attitude. Some, such as me, for example, can by equally sympathetic to the monotheist, the duotheist, the polytheist and even the atheist. All of these are choices of belief and so long as I believe in the value of freedom of conscience, I must respect the differences among believers of all kinds. I would be guilty of Superbia if I thought that I had all the answers to life’s questions or could define the ineffable.
Freemasonry and Druidry thus have historical ties and philosophical similarities. Each takes up a Craft of sorts and employs its terminology and symbols in pursuit of Light. This pursuit of knowledge or gnosis, inner spiritual knowledge and understanding is common among many groups. Some might say that Druidry should cut itself off from Christianity and so from Hermeticism and Alchemy and all the Western mystery traditions and try to get back to that Old Tyme Religion practiced at some point in a distant Golden Age. Those who strive to reconstruct pre-Christian paganism are, in my opinion, little different from those 18th and 19th-century druids who sought to discover the pure antediluvian or Adamic religion. Both groups see human history as a Fall from Grace, divided into a long-lost time in which people practiced a true and admirable religion followed by a long period of centuries in which priests of various sorts took over and fooled people into believing that they had the truth just for their own selfish aggrandizement and enrichment.
There can hardly be any question that there have been corrupt priesthoods of this sort thorughout history. The trouble comes when some seem to believe that Christianity is the only religion that has suffered from this problem. People who believe that need to study more history. We have every reason to suppose that insincere charlatans have always existed among human beings alongside people of sincere spiritual vision. Those who use the credulity of others to amass power tothemselves or to destroy their competition, or who seek to “convert” others to their way of thinking are, alas, commonplaces of the history books. Whether they be trying to convert the world to Catholicism, Islam, or Capitalism and Democracy, the impuse is much the same. It may have sincere motivations but is always grounded in the assumption that “We Know Better than You”.
Freemasonry and Druidry both eschew that attitude. But that doesn’t prevent individual masons and druids from failing to understand. It doesn’t prevent a few who set themselves up as Know-it-Alls condemning other people’s beliefs and “wrong” “misguided” “mistaken” “false” or the ever-popular “Satanic.” The only thing we should be concerned about in other religious organizations is wherther they are infringing on the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of thought of their adherents.
I believe strongly in the Divine idea of free will. That means freedom to come to your own conclusions. Freedom to observe the world and listen to others and decide for yourself what you want to believe, which myths you like, which spiritual practices suit your taste. Some would call this attitude shallow and wishy-washy. But I disagree. Raising one’s children to understand spiritual beliefs is good, but I question the goodness of teaching children that you have all the answers and everyone else is wrong. That gesture teaches your children something fundamentally false — it denies the reality that human beings have invented all sorts of systems of spiritual practice, all sorts of myths, thousands of masks of God, and had hundreds of fascinating revelations and visions. This is part of being human. To hide this demonstrable fact from your children is to deceive them, and unless they remain very ignorant and lazy, they are not likely to stay deceived.
Freemasonry provides a organized and safe framework in which men can pusue their curiosity about the manifest diversity of spiritual beliefs and share their fundamental faith in Fraternitas, Caritas, and Veritas — Brotherly Love, Charity, and Truth.
For Avalon Center, my own druid organization, a scholarly center for druidic studies in the broadest sense (the cosmos really), I have chosen as a Latin triad the terms Amor Veritas Natura, which may be translated as Love, Truth, and Nature. All of these terms require some definition and discussion to fully appreciate, but it is in the nature of mottoes not to explain. Let me say only that, for me, the Druid today loves nature and truth, finds in nature the book of truth, and in love the fundamental organizing principle of nature and the justification of truth. If one’s view of nature causes one to disrespect it, then one’s view is likely untrue and crooked. If one’s love of truth causes one to disrespect nature, likewise it is probably not quite true love. And if one’s truths are not grounded in the love, respect, and attention to nature, then they are likely to be more harmful than good.
FRATERNITAS • CARITAS • VERITAS
AMOR • VERITAS • NATURA
Perhaps my final observation in this essay should be that Amor implies Caritas. Love may be measured in how it cares and gives to others unselfishly. Amor also implies Fraternitas, as indeed does Nature, for brotherly (or sisterly) love and devotion are natural. They are part of our biological inheritance as well as our human philosophical inheritance. Sometimes brotherly love fails. That is the message of the second big story of the Book of Genesis, that of Cain and Abel. Brothers sometimes kill brothers, but that is a failure of Fraternitas, and it shows that however thick blood may be, we must rely on moral education to teach us how valuable the love of mother, father, brother, and sister are to our existence. Family is so important and Freemasonry teaches us to hold on to this treasure as men, as fathers, brothers, and sons. We are strengthened by brotherhood, for good or ill. But Freemasonry’s goal is to form a brotherhood of goodness, and that is the principal reason for its secret handshakes and passwords — you cannot form a brotherhood for goodness is you let every man in because not every man is good at heart, even if we must believe that every man could be good if he tried.
Druidry also values family and the bonds between brothers, whether by blood or by spiritual affiliation. It does so by honoring the Ancestors as a central tenet of the druid way. If we remember always that we re sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters and exist in that web of loyalty, then we will likely be led to greater compassion and love, understanding, and goodness.