Should I join a Druid group/Order/organization?
It’s a question I’ve seen popping up around various Druid oriented groups on social media. This is usually met by some typical response demonizing Druid organizations as being strict, greedy, and forceful with their beliefs, controlling, snobbish, etc. by individuals who even say they are not a part of a group and haven’t been. This is also typically met by many other supportive comments about individual experiences within groups, but then you also have comments from solitary Druids with no real interest in joining a group.
See how this can be confusing to someone seeking advice or information on Druid organizations? Because of that, I wanted to do a little blog of my own on my thoughts and experiences with groups. I am a member for 3 Druid organizations (OBOD, AODA, and DOGD) and have also studied with other esoteric Western Mystery Tradition group (Builders of the Adytum, Ordo Aurum Solis, and Fraternity of the Hidden Light). I was a solitary Pagan and Druid for about 8 years before I joined up with any group. This wasn’t because I didn’t have interest, but because I didn’t have the time and resources with being in college at the peak of that time and before then I was too young and clueless. I’ve been working with groups for of 6 years now.
With my experiences in a number of groups, I feel like I can speak fairly and informed on the topic. Do keep in mind that these are groups of modern Druids and we do not claim to do things completely how they were done in ancient times. We are a new generation of Druids in a completely different world with different needs. If the fact that none of us practice or know a replicated ancient system of Druidry is a problem, Druidry may not be the path for you. I would also recommend listening to discussion on the topic of authenticity vs. validity with John Michael Greer and Philip Carr-Gomm on the OBOD podcast “Druidcast” episode 68.
What is the reality of joining a group? Is it strict, controlling, and money driven like some unaffiliated people believe? Quite frankly, no, and I find it a bit unfair for someone with no experience with a group to put it under a certain label and present that as fact to others. Before I go any further, let me preface with this: If you do find a group that tells you that you have to believe a specific thing and that it is the only truth or if they seem focused on monetary gains, or are just plan rude and controlling, run the other way. This is not a group you want to affiliate with. Fortunately, I have never come across a group like that in my journey.
My experiences in groups have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Do keep in mind that different groups may have different beliefs and approaches to the world, but they typically aren’t enforced like universal law and you’re typically encouraged to find your own truth. If something doesn’t fit with you, you change it or replace it with something that does. Year long correspondence and candidate courses are common to give you an introduction to the flavor of the group and it provides you with a framework from the group that you can build upon. This doesn’t mean that it is strictly enforced and that you have to believe in a specific way rather, it gives you a base level understanding of the groups dynamics, their style of Druidry (or Western Tradition) and whether or not it feels right for you. If not, no hard feelings at all.
What are the benefits of joining a group? I personally believe that the strongest benefits of belonging to a group are the community, structure, and support. The communities of people I have met and conversed with have been some of the kindest and most interesting people I have met. They have been extremely supportive of one another in their journeys into spirituality and Druidry, even if it doesn’t match with what they believe. The Druid groups I belong to encourage the individual to discover and craft their Druidry into a personal spirituality or practice that benefits them through various methods such as research and experience. The different organizations do have their different focuses and benefits, so I will do a brief breakdown of the three I belong to at the end of this blog.
Another topic I see discussed is money. I agree that if a group is focused more on financial gain than spirituality, you have to be wary. However, just because group has membership dues doesn’t make them a financial based group. Membership dues help to keep the group functioning and typically go towards website costs, administrative and clerical functions, group events, and group educational materials. Even secular professional organizations can have membership dues. I pay for re-certification costs and annual dues for professional organizations I belong to for my job, EC-Council being one. By members of EC-Council paying annual dues, the organization is able to continue providing professional certifications for people in careers relating cyber security and e-business.
What I’m trying to say there is not to jump to any conclusions if a group has dues, take a closer look and see what they are doing with those dues. Some people turn their noses when they see the cost of OBOD’s Bardic course without taking a moment to see just how much material is included in the course. The value of that material is up to the person and refunds are available for those who don’t jive with the course. Expecting an organization to send that much material for free, paying for all of the material costs to produce the course and the shipping costs out of their own pocket (and I’m not even counting the Ovate and Druid courses), is unreasonable and OBOD probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the membership demand and wouldn’t be able to fund it, ending up a defunct organization.
I have also seen people taking issue with secrecy in groups and demand everything be made public. They seem to think that this is elitist, but allow me to provide another perspective. Traditions are kept whole and historically preserved through secrecy. If everything was put out into the public it would be taken from its context and diluted and warped into something else. Traditional Wicca, for example, is an initiatory religion with its own secrets. Once Scott Cunningham and other authors began releasing books on Wicca with a “do what you want” frame, public Wicca became something completely different for better or worse. Part of the secrecy is also part of the transformation of the individual.
Working toward a goal of initiation or reaching the next “level” is part of the fun and it allows for gradual exploration and experience preparing the individual for the next phase of training. Compare this to having it all available at once and it becomes a bit more difficult to go bit by bit and really focus on what you need to at that time to progress forward later. The element of surprise in ritual as well provides a fantastical and mystical experience during things like initiation rituals. The initiate is able to experience and be in the moment of the ritual without any preconceived ideas or expectations of what is supposed to happen.
So what about solitary practice? It’s completely fine as well! Not everyone wants to join a group or feels comfortable with a group and there’s nothing wrong with that. Solitary practice is still completely valid as long as it serves a purpose for the person. In fact, many organization affiliated Druids still consider themselves solitary due to no established study groups, groves, etc. being close to their location.
So would joining an Order be good for you? Only you can really answer that question. I feel that if you’re looking for a community of like minded people and you find that a structure to work from is helpful to your studies, you will benefit from it.
I can only really speak to my own experiences. Through Order study I have learned so much about my own bio-region and local environment. I’ve learned to play instruments, how to plant trees and care for plants, I’ve learned new forms of divination and methods of ritual work. I’ve also discovered a deeper spiritual connection to the land and Earth. But all of this does still depend on your own drive and initiative to learn and study.
More about my three Druid groups:
Ancient Order of Druids in America: U.S. based with members across the world. I consider AODA to be my primary mother Order. It is the first Order I came across through books and it was the first I wanted to join. The origins of this order come from the Revival Druid movement, Western Mystery Tradition, and an interesting mix of history. One of the things I love about AODA is the focus on the importance of your own local environment and bio-region. I personally feel that a practical education on local environment is important for a potential Druid. I also love that you are able to customize your curriculum to focus on the things that you are interested in learning about.
Order of Bards Ovates and Druids: UK based with members all over the world. Also has origins in the Revival Druidry movement and Western Mystery Tradition among its history. They have one of the most organized courses available. The different courses (Bardic, Ovate, Druid) are a wealth of information and are done in monthly lessons sent to your door on recycled paper. The price tag can be off putting, but I feel that the amount of material and information you receive is definitely worth it (I did a monthly payment plan instead of all at once).
Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn: This is a Druid magical order created and led by John Michael Greer. As a magical order the focus is on Druid magic rather than a religion or spirituality. As the name suggests, the system is influenced and inspired by early Druidical Golden Dawn groups.
Feel free to comment or message me if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer or try to provide you with resources if I can.