Last weekend, more than a hundred members of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) and guests gathered in the Poconos forests of Pennsylvania, for the annual OBOD East Coast gathering. Over four days, our time was filled with re-connecting with old friends and making new ones. Folks came as far as Oregon and California in the West and from Greece and England in the East. There was a litany of rituals, ceremonies, and an agenda packed with workshops.
After having the opening ritual carried out by my “Mystic River Grove” (the oldest continuous OBOD Grove), we initiated a number of Bards, Ovates, and Druids into their respective grades, and celebrated the coming of age of a member’s teenage daughter and the rite of passage into their last segment of life for some nine women with a big and moving ceremony. Actually, I do not know what happened during one half of that rite, because that was for women only. But I was proud to have been chosen by the family of the teenager and the “crones” to lead the “co-ed” parts at the beginning and at the end of the ceremony.
When I, still buzzing from the energy of the gathering, stumbled into a discussion on Facebook today about whether or not one needs to be a member of an Order to become or be a Druid, my first reaction was: ‘Can’t you see? How can you have an experience like the Gathering without a community around you?’
Obviously, that wouldn’t be a satisfying discourse, so here are some thoughts I’d like to offer:
Anyone has the potential to embark on the path of Druidry. Not everyone is equipped to do so, or stay on it, naturally and right away, but the potential is inherent.
Yet when does one become a Druid? Is it after a certain time of study? And how much would one have to study, and what exactly? And how do we know that that person has comprehended the material, mastered Druidry enough to be considered a Druid?
If someone were to choose the path of Hedge-Druidry, i.e. a path walked alone, studying from books and being taught by nature, that person will certainly gain a great body of knowledge and insight, without doubt. And, would that person then decide to practice their Druidry as a service to their community, that community might very well consider the person a Druid, for what they see may fit their expectations. Not unlike with “shamans” (as a placeholder for the local expression) of indigenous people, who are considered shamans by virtue of the community’s opinion. Folks see what the shaman is capable of, and therefore accept them as theirs.
This is where shamanism and Druidry are a bit different. Druidry is also a mystery school. In antiquity, the established Druids held secrets they only revealed to their students when they appeared ready to deal with these mysteries. Today, these secrets are held by the various Orders and they reveal these mysteries through initiation rites and teachings meant for the ears of Order members only.
That’s why the community, who didn’t and still doesn’t know these secrets, wouldn’t be able to tell whether these secret mysteries were revealed to someone on the Druid path yet or not. And without that knowledge, the community couldn’t make a definite decision on whether someone is a Druid. Only those who know the secrets can.
Why is that important? Druidry is a path of service. The tribes of old didn’t feed and house their Druids so that they can withdraw from their communities and search for their own enlightenment. They needed the Druids to work for them, as judges, diviners, keepers of the tribe’s history, teachers and so on and so forth. And it can only be in the best interest of the community that a person or a committe that knows everything, i.e. also the secret mysteries, is the judge of whether or not one has mastered the path of Druidry enough where it’s safe to be let loose onto the community. Was that judge the old, established Druid in antiquity, so it is the Orders today that make sure the candidates have the necessary body of knowledge and skills, and the integrity, to fulfill important roles in the community.
That is why I wholeheartedly think that anyone on the Druid path should consider membership in an Order, (almost) no matter which one.
But even if you still disagree with my ramblings, let me tell you that we had great fun and great mead, heard spell-binding stories, and listened to awe-inspiring music at the nightly bonfires at our Order’s gathering.