A History of Neo-Paganism and Druidry: 9 – Discuss the origins of the Druidic revival in 18th and 19th century England, naming its key players and describing their contributions.

6 08 2017

Discuss the origins of the Druidic revival in 18th and 19th century England, naming its key players and describing their contributions. (minimum 600 words)

After a thousand years shrouded in the mist of time, the Druids were rediscovered as a part of history thanks to the Renaissance in Europe and its interest in the authors of the Classical world. It began in France, but by the end of the 16th century, the first books about Druids were being translated into English. Since then, there have been a variety of figures who have helped to define our image of the Druids and led to the revival of Druidic spirituality.

It began in 1649 with John Aubrey and his theory that Stonehenge had been built by the Druids (as opposed to the theory that it was built by the Romans) as a Temple. Henry Rolands promoted the idea that they were Old Testament style figures worshipping on stone altars in sacred Oak groves, while John Toland wrote a history of Druids in 1726 claiming that they were related to the stone circles. These writings, along with the poetry of John Thomson, William Collins and Thomas Gray, changed people’s attitudes towards Druids and created the image of the Druid as nature worshippers.

At the time, there were also major changes going on in society which helped pave the way for the emergence of the Druids into national consciousness – there was a reaction against the enlightenment and reason leading to the emergence of Romanticism. In France, the social changes led people to look to the Druids as a source of national identity and ancestry, while in Britain, there were no longer any uprisings from Celtic countries which meant the British public were more open to the contributions from Celtic culture.

In 1740, William Stukeley published “Stonehenge: A Temple Restored to the British Druids” which endorsed the theories of Aubrey. Ellis writes that Stukeley “brought the Druids to Stonehenge and into modern folklore in a way that captured the public imagination and which still has repercussions to this day.” He claimed they worshipped a giant serpent in stonehenge and were part of a priesthood traceable to Abraham.

Meanwhile Poets like William Blake and Thomas Gray helped spread an image of Druids as prophetic poets and wise sages dispensing wisdom under oak trees. Other emphasised their role in human sacrifice.

In Wales, where Druids were viewed as Bards, another key figure in the revival of Druidry was to emerge – Edward Williams, better known as Iolo Morganwg. After attending an Eisteddfod in Corwen in May 1789, he became fascinated with the Druids. He claimed they had continued in Glamorgan to his day and he created a Druidic ritual which was held on 21st June 1792 on Primrose Hill in London. He managed to convince the Eisteddfods to include his Gorsedd, and was responsible for many elements that still exist in Druid Revival groups today, such as the three orders of Bard, Ovate and Druid, the Druids wearing white robes, and the Call of Peace. After Evan Evans collected and translated Welsh poetry, claiming that they were written by 6th century poet Taliesin, Morganwg took this further and claimed the poems could teach a complete system of Druidry. While Morganwg did help to create 200 years of tradition in Celtic culture and promote respect for their cultural endeavours, his inventions and fabrications poisoned “the well of genuine scholarship in early Celtic literature for generations to come.”

Druids became very popular and even ended up in Italian Opera, while people created their own stone circles. But the next big stage in the Druid revival happened when Henry Hurle created the Ancient Order of Druids in 1781. This grew, created its own journal and included members such as Winston Churchill. While it split several times, and by 1918 there were five druid groups trying to perform rituals at Stonehenge, it also became the ancestor organisation for the new Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. This order was created by Ross Nichols in 1963 and has gone on to become the largest Druid order in the world.

The influence of the Druids has continued since the 1960’s, being embraced by the new age and hippy movement, the renewal of Celtic Christianity and appearing in many books and films since. While a lot of Revival Druidry is a modern invention, and the romantic images of the Druids probably bears little resemblance to the facts of history, there is no doubt that the influence of key figures like John Aubrey, William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and Henry Hurle has opened up new possibilities for exploring Druidry and led to its popularity in our national consciousness today.

 

Bibilography

Ellis, Peter B. The Druids. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1998. Print.

Adler, Margot. Drawing down the moon witches, Druids, goddess-worshippers, and other pagans in America today. New York, N.Y: Penguin/Arkana, 2006. Print.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

Bonewits, Isaac. “Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo-.” Web.

Bonewits, Isaac. “Frequently Asked Questions about Neopagan Druidism.” Web.

Bonewits, Isaac. “The Origins of Ár nDraíocht Féin.” Web.

Bonewits, Isaac. “What Neopagans Believe.” Web.

Bonewits, Isaac. “The Reformed Druids of North America and their Offshoots.” Web.

Hopman, Ellen Evert. “The Origins of the Henge of Keltria.” Web.

Meith, Vickie, and Howard Meith. “The Origins of the Celtic Traditionalist Order of Druids.” Web.

Thuin, Dylan Ap. “The Origins of the Insular Order of Druids.” Web

https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Golden-Bough

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Graves

http://www.keltria.org/

http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/holgreens.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handfasting_(Neopaganism)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dion_Fortune

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermetic_Order_of_the_Golden_Dawn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceremonial_magic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung

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