In “Why Hellenism?“, I mentioned in passing that we joined ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin) in 2001. I was already moving towards Hellenism at that point, but had not fully arrived; I had been peripherally aware of modern Druidry for a while, but had always viewed it as part of the “Celtic thing” and so had not paid it too much attention.
Then in early 2001 some good friends of ours joined OBOD, and that sparked us to do some research. I was already becoming aware that while there are certainly individuals in the Hellenic movement who are quite nature-oriented in their spirituality, that aspect is not by any means a central feature of the overall movement, and I might have to seek elsewhere to fully express that aspect of my faith.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am basically panentheistic; I see the universe and “all who sail in her”, including the Gods and ourselves as well as the natural world, as part of the Divine. The 12-century Catholic writer Hugh of St. Victor expressed a variant of this sentiment very neatly:
“For this whole visible world is a book written by the finger of God…”
As did Shakespeare (in “As You Like It”):
“And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and God in everything.”
Obviously, then, nature-oriented spirituality (as opposed to “nature worship”, which if it actually exists outside right-wing Christian polemic is something else entirely) is central to my religious identity; it would not be going too far to say that I am a budding nature mystic – and the older I get the more I begin to see the natural revelation as more direct and primary than any secondary revelation given through people or scriptures.
We looked at OBOD and then discovered ADF, and decided in the end to join ADF both because the initial cost was lower, and because ADF was not UK-centric; while we are both confirmed lifelong Anglophiles, I was still leery of getting involved in the “Celtic thing” as I was quite sure my calling did not lie in that direction. While there is certainly a strong Celtic contingent in ADF (there are Kindreds or at least e-lists for those interested in any of the major Celtic traditions, both insular and continental), the explicit inclusion of Hellenic and other non-Celtic spiritual traditions under the ADF umbrella gave me hope that it would help me to combine the two primary elements of my pagan spirituality – and it has indeed worked out that way.
The only problem with ADF is one of location – we’re the only members anywhere within several hours’ drive of where we live, so our experience of the group is almost entirely through the e-lists. This has both benefits and drawbacks – the drawbacks are pretty obvious, mostly having to do with the lack of real face-to-face community. The benefits are more subtle, but center around having access to a disparate group of thoughtful, committed pagans who are serious both about their religion and about accurate scholarship. I have been blessed with the opportunity to have extended correspondence with John Michael Greer and Ceisiwr Serith, among many others, that has informed the way I think about and experience both my Druidry and my relationships with the Gods.
As time went by, our OBOD friends began holding regular rituals marking the Wheel of the Year, and they invited us to attend. Finally, we had a local Druid *community*, even if it was not of our Order… and after a year or so of this, we joined OBOD as “associate” members, which granted us the right to use our friends’ course material for the Bardic grade (which I am doing, *very* slowly!).
Having now some knowledge and experience of both ADF and OBOD, I find that they offer very different Druid experiences. It’s overly simplistic (and untrue) to say – as some do – that ADF is focused on scholarship at the expense of spirit, and OBOD is the other way round… but I do find that in my experience, what I personally get from each group falls roughly into those categories. I appreciate intellectually what ADF is attempting to do with its Order of Ritual, and I have become reasonably comfortable writing and enacting ADF rituals, but I admit that they don’t resonate with me spiritually the way that OBOD rituals do. ADF is explicitly neo-pagan in its focus (and most of the members that I have encountered are fairly “hard” polytheists), which I appreciate but which I know is not everybody’s cup of tea; OBOD is a descendant of the Druid Revival, and is more inclusive of non-pagan spirituality and seems to have a larger “soft” polytheist/monist population. In all, between the two Orders I have found a good balance and a wonderful opportunity to deepen my understanding and experience of the “Western tradition”. (A deeper comparison between the two can be found in this essay by John Greer.)
In his book “The Essential Guide to Druidism”, Isaac Bonewits recommends joining at least three different Druid groups to get the full flavor of modern Druidry; I haven’t gotten to the that point yet, but if/when I ever get through OBOD’s Bardic grade I probably will – reading John Michael’s “Druidry Handbook” has got me interested in AODA as well!