Not the Druids You’re Looking For
By Bro:. Daniel Molina
To begin with, Druidry has always been fascinating because it began as a secret order that has survived for as long as it has. Falling under the umbrella of paganism, it is not fixed to a particular dogma or set of beliefs, but it does have certain characteristics that all participants share in common. One number that is prominent in Druidry’s belief system is the number three as it can be found in several aspects of the order such as the elements they believe in, the three degrees in Druidry, and the goals of the system and the three separate worlds they believe the soul transcends through in reincarnating after death.
Concerning the Druidic three elements, in the West, the familiar elements are earth, water, fire and air. In Druidry, the system instead consists of three elements called Nwyfre, Gwyar, and Calas. In addition, along with carrying their own meaning, the three elements also have a particular color attributed to them. As explained in the Ancient Order of Druids in America website, Nwyfre is Welsh for “heaven” or “sky,” and the element “is the source of life and consciousness, and modern Druids often refer to it simply as the life force” (“Three Druid Orders,” 2017). The color attributed to Nwyfre is white, which coincides with the divine connotation. The second element is Gwyar, which is Welsh for “blood” but also carries the meaning of “fluidity” or “flow.” The element is attributed to the color blue, and it is also explained that “Gwyar is the source of change, motion, growth, and decay.” Finally, the last element is Calas, which is attributed to the color green and is Welsh for “solidity” or “hard.” In addition, “Calas is the source of form, differentiation, manifestation, and stability.” Knowing this, the website explains that “everything in the universe is made up of these three elements in some combination, with one element dominant” (“Three Druid Orders,” 2017).
Further explanation describes that “all are forms of primal substance, which is called manred” (“Three Druid Orders,” 2017). It’s detailed that manred’s characteristics cannot be distinguished, “except for the power to condense into calas, flow into gwyar or expand into nwyfre” (“Three Druid Orders,” 2017). To continue, while there are many denominations in Druidry, much like there are many denominations under the umbrella of paganism, as a mystery school, Druidry requires its members to pass through 3 degrees before they can obtain the mysteries that it so secretly has preserved for many years. In Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teaching of all Ages, Hall explains the three degrees in detail in his masterpiece of esoteric and occult knowledge. In the section of his work covering “The Druidic Mysteries of Britain and Gaul,” Hall explains of ancient Druidry that the lowest degree was called the Ovydd or Ovate. Considered an honorary degree that warranted no “special purification or preparation,” Hall explained that “the Ovates dressed in green, the Druidic color of learning,” and it was expected that they be knowledgeable on matters concerning “medicine, astronomy, poetry if possible, and sometimes music” (Hall 45). The second degree of Druidry was called Beirdd or Bard, and members were dressed in the sky-blue color, which was symbolic of “harmony and truth, and to them was assigned the labor of memorizing… the twenty thousand verses of Druidic sacred poetry” (Hall 45). In addition, it’s also explained that the Bards took on the roles of teachers to guide the candidates that were interested in pursuing the mysteries of the Druidic order. And, finally, Hall describes the last degree of Druid, who’s “labor was to minister to the religious needs of the people,” and it’s explained that they “always dressed in white – symbolic of their purity, and the color used by them to symbolize the sun” (Hall 45). It’s explained that an even higher degree, that of the Arch-Druid, could be obtained, but it was in the 3rd degree, that of the Druid, that the member literally and figuratively was expected to be enlightened. And, while the three degrees are still present in contemporary Druidry, the order is not as secretive as it was before. However, from this information, it can be seen that Druidry was involved in contributing to the societal changes of religion and other matters while still being covert with their teachings and practices that could only be passed down within their members.
Furthermore, the number three is also present in the three goals of Druidry, which are explained in the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids website. As expressed in the section of the website covering the beliefs of Druidry, it’s noted that “Druids seek above all the cultivation of wisdom, creativity and love” (“The Druid Way,” 2006). In addition, the website also notes the Druidic belief in reincarnation, explaining that “a number of lives on earth, rather than just one, gives us the opportunity to fully develop these qualities within us” (“The Druid Way,” 2006).
As previously stated, there is no set theological belief for practitioners. There can be Christian Druids along with members that are pantheists, animists, polytheists or any other theological stance because, as noted in the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids website, “Druidry is a spiritual path – a religion to some, a way of life to others” (“The Druid Way,” 2006). However, it’s elaborated that a Christian Druid might believe that the soul is only born on Earth one time, but most Druids believe that the soul undergoes various reincarnations that allow it to cultivate the previously stated goals of cultivating “wisdom, creativity and love,” which can come in the form of reincarnating as humans, animals or even trees and rocks. Moreover, it’s expressed that a majority of Druids believe that “to be born in this world, we have to die in the Otherworld, and conversely, that when we die here, we are born in the Otherworld” (“The Druid Way,” 2006). So, during Druidic funerals, Druids see it as a time of the soul experiencing a birth when other people are experiencing it as the death of the soul. And, this belief is attributed to Philostratus of Tyana, which is then further explained in Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of all Ages.
In Hall’s work, he describes that Druids believe in multiple worlds, which is where another instance of the number three can be found. In Quoting Jame’s Freeman Clarke’s Ten Great Religions, It’s documented that Druids “believed in three worlds and in transmigration from one to the other: In a world above this, in which happiness predominated; a world below, of misery; and this present state” (Hall 46). Ultimately, what the transmigration of the soul is supposed to accomplish is similar to Eastern religions and ways of thinking. In reincarnation, the soul gets to correct past mistakes and learn from trial and error in order to achieve a purified state. Hall explains that this was important in the Druidic order, and it is an important teaching that continues to this day. As Hall detailed, “the Druids taught that all men would be saved, but that some must return to earth many times to learn the lessons of human life and to overcome the inherent evil of their own natures” (Hall 47).
While a deeper study of the Druidic order showcases even more examples of the number three being prominent in their teachings, important archetypes and imagery add further meaning to the system. However, as previously mentioned, the three goals of cultivating wisdom, creativity and love are vital to analyzing the Druidic beliefs. In relating them to the three degrees of the order, lessons and teachings of love are attributed to the Ovate degree, lessons and teachings of creativity are attributed to the Bardic degree and the Druid is preoccupied with lessons and teachings of how to attain wisdom.
In addition, when studying their lessons and teachings, the Druidic order places an emphasis on nature and loving each other. Concerning nature, it should be noted that the order encourages a fundamental love of trees. In the website for the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, it’s mentioned that “Druids today plant trees and sacred groves, and support reforestation programmes” (“The Druid Way,” 2006). While it is known that Pagans worship nature and live by the philosophy that everything in the world is connected, the Druidic love for trees is interesting because their connection to trees dates back to the inception of the group and the name by which they adhere to. As explained by Hall in his work the Secret Teachings of all Ages, the Irish word Drui is noted to mean “the men of the oak trees,” and Hall explains that the Greeks had tree deities and forest gods that were referred to as dryades and the Sanskirt word dru translates to “timber” (Hall 43). Though there is no clear confirmation about where the Druidic name came from and theologians still dispute what the origin of the name is, it’s clear that around the world all signs point to nature, which is something that the order has prioritized since its more ancient days.
To conclude, there are many aspects of Druidry to discuss to get a full understanding of the order, and its history is rich in detail and substance to analyze for personal growth and development. While the imagery of Druidry has long been implemented in mainstream works, a study of their system and beliefs shows a different side to the order that does not coincide with the mischievous approach that the media has provided. The essence of the Druidic order has been lost in the simplification of their image through portrayals in pop culture, but their shared beliefs and common goals to cultivate wisdom, creativity and love are complex with ancient teachings passed down to educate not only moral lessons but also lessons of mankind’s relation to nature as well. This simplification might indicate that the order is moving back to the more secretive way of operation that it once had. While it’s influence in society cannot be questioned, members still continue to practice their rituals to reach a unity with the divine in hopes of becoming a better person and in turn making the world a better place as well.
Opening Art: Bro:. Daniel Molina
“Druid Beliefs.” Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, 1 Mar. 2016, www.druidry.org/druid-way/druid-beliefs
Greer, John Michael. “Three Druid Elements.” Ancient Order of Druids in America, aoda.org/publications/articles-on-druidry/threedruidelements/
Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Penguin Publishing Group, 2003.