[NOTE: this post grew from a comment I posted on Kullervo’s blog a few weeks ago.]
There are at least as many images of Druids as there are people who ever wrote about them, multiplied by the number of people who ever read what they wrote and probably some factor greater than that if you count how people talked about what they’d read. From the ancient world there are the bloodthirsty human-sacrificing Druids, the wise mystical leader Druids, and the powerful magician Druids; later you could choose from the proto-Christian Druids, the secret society/cabal Druids, the bloodthirsty human-sacrificing Druids (again)… and so on. Lately we have the keepers-of-ancient-esoteric-wisdom Druids (again), the eco-activist Druids, and the nature mystic tree-hugging Druids (which is where I come in).
I’ve been involved in the Druid community for as long as in the Hellenic community, albeit to a lesser degree – about eight years now. Most of that involvement has been through ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin); although in the year or two that we were actually gathering with a functioning protogrove it was through OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, where I am still an associate member).
I have recently decided to let my ADF membership lapse, and to look around more closely at other parts of the Druid world. This is certainly not due to any defect on the part of ADF – I still have a lot of respect for the group and the work we/they have done and are doing, but I just feel that it’s time to let that particular wheel turn. Also, as mentioned above, I’ve come to realize that my Druid side is really more oriented to an open-ended nature mysticism, and that doesn’t get a lot of play in ADF in my experience. My semi-hard polytheist leanings find expression in my Hellenic practice, and I’m finding that I am more comfortable leaving them there – my Druidry is increasingly more inclusive and less certain of the boundaries between the Realms and the Kindreds.
I would bump up my OBOD membership from associate to full if I ever had the money to spare, but it’s expensive… although the study materials are quite good, from what I’ve seen of them, and you get a lot for that money. In many ways, of the Druid groups that are most active in the US, OBOD is probably closest to my own philosophy – the published holiday rituals all have “O Spirit/Great Spirit/God(s)/Goddess(es)” printed whenever Deity is addressed, leaving the theological expression up to the Grove or the individual worshipper. They also seem to be the most liturgical, the most Anglican if you will, of the Orders.
I am a liturgical person by nature – it’s the one thing that I really miss from Christianity, particularly the Episcopalian variety. I am familiar and comfortable with OBOD’s set liturgy (they even have propers and ordinaries! Joy! :), and I like feeling that the words and actions I’m performing are being done and have been done by others at the same time and with the same intention before and will be again. (ADF will eventually have some of that with the Core Order of Ritual, but not to the same degree).
I’ve considered the AODA (Ancient Order of Druids in America) as well… I have a lot of respect for John Michael Greer, we have something of a history of personal correspondence, and some of my favorite bloggers are members. (yes, that’s five!) That so many thoughtful, intelligent and articulate spiritual writers have been drawn to this Order says something to me… although I have to admit that the Order logo looks way too much like the Simon game I had as a child. :-p
I have read JMG’s Druidry Handbook, which lays out the basic study regimen for the AODA’s Apprentice grade, and I am impressed with the rigor of both the intellectual and spiritual work required; it feels more focused to me in places than the equivalent Dedicant program in ADF. (I can’t fully compare the OBOD training program – although as an associate member I theoretically have access to all the materials through my friend who has completed the Bardic grade, since we basically never see each other any more it’s a moot point.)
All of the Orders that I have discussed have a lot to offer, and while there is of necessity a large degree of overlap, each Order also has unique aspects that are not there or not stressed in the others. This, I’m sure, is why Isaac Bonewits suggests that every Druid should belong to at least three Orders in order to get a feel for the full breadth of the movement. I am inclined to agree.