In pre-Roman times, a Druid was part of the class system of the ancient Celts while today’s Druids are a reconstruction of that belief and philosophical system. There are many myths still surrounding ancient Druids and the practices that modern Druids follow. The biggest myth is that the Druids built the structure Stonehenge as a place of worship and to mark the solar calendar. Archeological evidence has shown that Stonehenge took over 1400 years to build and was in place well before the Celts arrived in Britain.
The second biggest myth, still held today by many people, is that Druids (both ancient and modern) engage in ritual blood sacrifice, specifically the blood of other humans. There is no historical evidence of this having been the case in ancient times and certainly isn’t true of modern followers! The Christian concept of a witch or evil sorceress comes from the fact that Celtic women were equal to Celtic men when it came to matters of religion, among other areas. Most of the reconstruction paths were originally only for men because of this belief and some modern female Druids prefer to be called a Druidess instead.
After all that, what do Druids believe? Just like the very first article on the subject of Pagan beliefs, that answer will vary depending on who you ask. There are a few people who call themselves Druid but only follow it as a philosophy, not as a religion. Druids who do follow this as a religious path will have different deities, depending on location and path, but do have some common values. Common values, as both religion and philosophy, are a reverence for the earth and the animals and plants on it. Every living being has a spirit and it is connected to everything else. A Druid’s path is more about personal healing and balance than it is about outside forces. There is also a deep reverence for ancestors.
Ancient Druids saw everything in groups, or laws, of three and modern Druids place great emphasis on trinities as well. When revering ancestors, there are three types to honor: genetic (personal bloodline), heritage (original Druids), and land (spirits that dwell in the land a Druid lives on). Also seen in threes was the physical world: land, sea, and sky. The world of land can be further broken into three parts: the Circle of Abred (land of the living and the dead), the Circle of Gwynvyd (land of immortal beings), and the Circle of Ceugant (land of the one source, or God).
There are even three sets of deities, with subsets to each: British, Irish, and Gallic. British Druids have three divisions of Gods: the Children of Don, the Children of Llyr, and deities that aren’t children of either. Each of these divisions had three main God/desses to offer worship to. The Children of Don’s main Gods are: Arianrhod, Gwydion, and Lleu Llaw Gyffes (son of the previous two deities). The three deities associated with the Children of Llyr are: Manawyddan, Bran, and Branwen. The three deities not associated with either Don or Llyr are: Rhiannon, Arawn, and Cerridwen.
Irish Druids place faith in the Tuatha De Danaan, or the Children of Danu (the mother of all and Goddess of rivers). The main God/desses followed in this path are: Dagda, Morrigan, Angus Og, Lugh, Brigid, Manannan Mac Lir, and Crom Dubh. There are no divisions regarding Gallic Gods and very few have been carried over into modern times. The powerful triad of this group is Esus, Taranis, and Teutates while Cernunnos and Epona given slightly less powerful roles.
Modern Druids may be part of an order or they may be solitary practitioners, which is completely acceptable since emphasis is placed on personal healing and transformation. Some modern orders are OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) established in 1717 and refounded by Ross Nichols in the 1960’s. OBOD offers three year training for each of its three levels (bard, ovate, and druid). The British Druid Order and the Druid Network recognize the three levels of degree that OBOD does but does not off the same type of training.
ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein) is a modern Druid path founded in 1983 by Issac Bonewits for North American Druids. The order’s name is Gaelic for “Our Own Druidism.” ADF does offer training but not degrees because they believe all followers to be equal. An offshoot of ADF is Henge of Keltria, established 1987. Henge of Keltria places focus and worship specifically on Celtic Druidry whereas other groups may combine their faith with native traditions and faiths.
Modern Druids follow the same holiday cycle as Wiccans but ancient Druids only focused on four days from the earth cycle: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh (or Lammas). Samhain is also known as the Pagan New Year because that it is the first sign of winter and of the dark half of the year. It is a time when Druids (and Wiccans alike) place more focus on personal reflection and what they would like to bring forth in their life when the light returns. The only other noticeable difference between Druids and Wiccans is that Druids have a staff as part of their tools and do not need a pentacle to represent the earth on their alter.
The Grove of the Rising Phoenix, located in Phoenix, is an ADF group that offers local classes and dedicant discussions monthly. Another equally well known Celtic path located in Scottsdale is Desert Moon Circle. They identify themselves as Wiccan and were mentioned in the previous articles. They offer teaching and classes on a regular basis as well.