The Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF), an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), was launched last week at SolitaryDruid.org. The Fellowship released the first SDF shared liturgy on December 17th, just in time for the Winter Solstice.
To get a sense of what the Fellowship is, and how it fits into the broader world of Neopagan Druidry, we need to first take a closer look at how ADF functions.
ADF is in large part an organization built to encourage the practice of group worship. ADF members gather in Protogroves and Groves, celebrating the High Days together and building a religious practice in the company of other ADF members. Those who take part in group worship on a regular basis have experiences of congregation, and this experience can be tremendously valuable.
But ADF solitaries, or solitaries in general, rarely experience congregation in this way. Our religious work is done without the immediate feedback of a community. And while this independence can be empowering to some of us, it can also be quite challenging. Whether we are solitary by choice or by circumstance, our task is to keep our personal practice relevant, interesting, and sustainable throughout the year.
We are monks without monasteries.
ADF solitaries do have ways of connecting to the broader ADF membership body. ADF uses an e-mail listserv as the primary means of communication within the organization, but for many of us – myself included – the format feels antiquated and cumbersome. Social networking on Facebook and Twitter is available, but only slightly better.
However, none of these forms of online interaction provide solitaries with what I think is a more interesting, more esoteric form of connection.
The Development of A Shared Practice
Liturgy is an underutilized tool in the service to solitaries. Liturgy, when organized around and synchronized with the Wheel of the Year, provides a way for uniting solitaries in a shared practice that does not simply approximate the experience that one can have in a Protogrove or Grove; it does something altogether different.
By joining one another in a shared liturgical practice, we make possible a transcendental experience of congregation. The one becomes the many, and we experience congregation in solitude.
This is where SDF enters in.
The Fellowship is organized to provide solitary Druids, as well as any solitary practitioner in the general public, with an opportunity to engage more deeply with their ritual practice by adopting a shared liturgical form. This form is unique to the Fellowship, just as the rituals designed within ADF Protogroves and Groves are unique to them.
The shared liturgical practice is also a work in progress, fashioned to be revised and reshaped, used and repurposed by anyone who downloads the ritual (which is free). It it protected under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, and there is the expectation that participants will – should – customize the liturgy to suit their needs. In time, it will become clear which parts of the liturgy are most useful to solitaries, and how the language can be refined.
From High Day to High Day, SDF will seek to help transition ADF solitary members and non-member participants through the changing seasons (which, admittedly, gets tricky when considering both hemispheres). On the week of the High Day, SDF distributes the shared liturgy (as it did on Monday), and solitaries can celebrate the High Day in solitude. On the following week, participants will be called upon to reflect on their experiences of shared, solitary worship, and the cycle begins again as we move toward the next High Day.
By taking part in this communal, albeit private practice, participants join one another in a kind of long distance fellowship; in a shared celebration of the gods, the ancestors, and the spirits of the land on which we each live, using many of the same words, invocations, and prayers.
All of this through liturgy.
Why SDF is Not An “Online Community”
It should be made clear that what is happening with the Solitary Druid Fellowship is not some kind of virtual experience. That word characterized much of the “cyberspace” gathering that took place in the 90’s and early 00’s, and it lessens the magnitude of the work done in solitude by painting it as merely a digital imitation of a “real world” format.
The Solitary Druid Fellowship is offering something altogether different. It will provide a service which is meant to enrich, inform and provide structure for the work of solitary ADF members, and solitary Pagans who have never been exposed to ADF. In this way, the Fellowship is living out Isaac Bonewits’ vision for ADF to be a Pagan church that serves the greater Pagan public.
From the SDF blog:
The Solitary Druid Fellowship is not an “online community”, nor is it a “virtual grove”. These terms, and any which place an on-ground phenomenon firmly on the Internet, do not describe the work we’re embarking on here.
What we are doing is an exercise in hybridity.
The Fellowship utilizes the Internet as a means for organization, and as a method for distribution of ideas and liturgy. But aside from those things, the Fellowship is an on-ground organization; it’s simply on a number of different grounds, spread out far and wide across the land. The Fellowship is centered around the work of the individual solitary Pagan. This work, while connected in part to the resources provided on SolitaryDruid.org, is done away from a computer within the sacred space of one’s own ritual practice.
SDF also provides a resource to members of Groves and Protogroves who find themselves in a place of solitude. As written by ADF Reverend Michael J. Dangler:
I have been quoted more than once as saying, “The fire on our hearth is the fire in our hearts.” The notion that I’m always trying to convey with this idea is that though many of us have the option to find community and to worship in groups, each of us must also keep the fire of piety burning within us.
But the two fires are not exactly the same: the fire at the center of our community is a flame that is kindled when others are near. It’s our public fire, the flame that ignites fellowship and community. The fire at the center of our heart is the flame that ignites (diversity) and piety, pushing us to deepen our work for our own sake, and for the sake of the Spirits.
The true secret of these flames is that the fire in our heart is the source of the flame that kindles our communal fires. We must keep it well, or the communal fire will never seem as bright as they should.
What SDF Very Much Is
The Fellowship is an experiment in Pagan liturgy, a leap into an uncertain, but thoroughly exciting future, and a chance for solitaries to participate in something that is both completely new and also very traditional. It is taking the best parts of the liturgical approach and mashing them together with the best parts of modern Druidry. It is imperfect, and evolving, but it is sincere.
Perhaps the best way to understand what the Solitary Druid Fellowship offers is to visit SolitaryDruid.org, browse through the blog, and download the SDF Winter Solstice liturgy. If you feel so moved, join along in the shared practice on the Solstice.
You may just have the transcendental experience of congregation in solitude!