Druids Doing It Solo: ADF and The Solitary Druid Fellowship

Teo Bishop —  December 18, 2012 — 15 Comments

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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.

SDF Logo

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!

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Teo Bishop

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Teo Bishop is a contemplative, a bard, and the author of Bishop in the Grove.
  • http://sageandstarshine.wordpress.com/ Daniel Grey

    Thanks for all your hard work, Teo. I think this is what keeps me in ADF.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Wow, Daniel – thank you. I’m glad that this resonates with you, and I hope that you continue to find it a valuable resource.

      • http://sageandstarshine.wordpress.com/ Daniel Grey

        I just got your Winter Solstice ritual and read through it – and it’s fantastic! I will definitely let you and the other SDFers know how it goes. This concept of shared liturgy and experience… I don’t quite know how to articulate it, but I think you’ve touched upon something that’s been desperately missing from my 5+ years as a solitary. (My brief experience with college or local groups was never that fruitful, and unfortunately the nearest ADF grove is far enough away from me that actually hauling myself over there for High Days takes more planning than I have the spoons for.)

        Are there any preliminary numbers as to how many folks are engaging with SDF right now?

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          I’m so glad you are into it, Daniel, and I look forward to hearing what it’s like for you to use it in your High Day observance!

          As of right now (10:10 MST) there are over 150 people who have received the liturgy (which is AMAZING!), and at least one new person signs up every couple of minutes. There’s no way to know how many people will actually use the liturgy, but there is definitely an interest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Drake/23306952 Drake

    The Download for the ritual does not appear to be working. There is no direct link on the page, and after giving my email I have not received it in my inbox. Is it automated, or does an actual person have to send them out?

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Hi Drake. The e-mail is automated, and I can see that you signed up to receive it earlier this morning. Has it come through? There was no bounce-back, so perhaps it landed in your spam.

      If you don’t have it, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook and we can sort it out.

    • Derek_anny

      I suspect it’s automated. When I submitted my email, it did it’s little proccessing thing, then said to check my email, and there it was. Less than 5 seconds from when I hit submit. Did you check your spam filter? It came from Teo at solitarydruid.org.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    The concept of a solitary Druid seems counter intuitive, to me.

    When I first enter the ‘pagan world’, Druidry was the path I initially chose. At the time, everyone I spoke to and everything I read was pretty clear that it is not a solitary path. For that, and other reasons, I changed direction.

    My question is this: how can something that was very much designed for the group/community work for the solitary practitioner?

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for your comment, Leoht. I appreciate you engaging in this dialogue.

      There’s a great book called “The Solitary Druid” by Rev. Robert Lee (Skip) Ellison. He is a former Archdruid of ADF, and he outlines the way in which a person might engage in the practice of Druidry as a solitaire. While there is a strong group tradition in Druidry, there is also a large solitary population as well — especially in ADF.

      To answer your question, a solitary practitioner might build their solitary practice around certain modern, Druidic traditions and principles. SDF, for example, builds it’s liturgy around ADF’s Core Order of Ritual. So, a solitary practitioner who uses the liturgy is doing something in solitude that is connected, by form, to the group.

      Many modern Druids observe the High Holidays of the year in solitude by keeping a home shrine, developing a solitary meditative practice, and by engaging with the land on their own. In fact, there are a lot of ways to build upon the teachings of Druidry as a solitary practitioner.

      Again, thank you for the comment. I hope my response was helpful.

      Blessings.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Very much so. As I said, my stance was formed by my formative steps into the world of paganism. I was told several times that I could not claim to be a Druid until I had been properly instructed (and initiated) by the right people and that no amount of books would change that.

        It is good to see that stance has changed (in America, at least, I haven’t spoken to anyone about British Druidry in a while) and that there is more acceptance of solitary paths in Druidry nowadays,

        • Daniel SnowKestral

          I highly recommend “Natural Druidry” by Kristoffer Hughes. This is one of my utmost favorites on Druidry–more specifically Cymric/Welsh Druidry. A great read :)
          I, personally, practice the Fairy Faith (Creadeimh Sidhe) with Druidic and Witchy underpinnings. My own personal Triad. Hope this helps!

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I have to confess, I tend to use historical sources more, nowadays.

    • http://sageandstarshine.wordpress.com/ Daniel Grey

      I can talk about my own experiences a bit.

      I think the term “Druidry” has definitely evolved beyond its original meaning (or maybe “expanded” is a better term). I’m a solitary Druid (or druidic practitioner, or Celtic-flavored mystic, or whatever you’d like to call it) 90% because of circumstance, 10% because I prefer it that way. My Pagan fellowshipping exists almost exclusively through the internet, and has for several years. I was drawn to Druidry (ADF in specific) a few years ago. I appreciated their liturgy and their program of study, and how they struck a good balance, in my opinion, between the mystic and rational halves of spirituality. So far I’ve only participated in one ADF rite, and thoroughly, utterly enjoyed myself. But at this point I am a Druid alone.

      But that doesn’t make my Druidry worthless. The skills and wisdom (hoped for wisdom, at least!) I gain from my practice, I apply every day and in every situation. I’m active in my local UU Church and practice community-building and outreach skills there; I volunteer with a local early education program at a nature center, which gets kids environmentally literate; I make jewelry, blog, and cook with great gusto; I also work in non-Druidic contexts (namely Kemetic polytheism and a witchcraft tradition dedicated to the Morrígan) which, while mostly separate from my Druidry, are inextricably informed by it.

      This also brings up a good question of “just what IS a modern Druid anyway?” which isn’t a definition I think I can tackle at the moment. I’m drawn to Druidry the same way I’m drawn to witchcraft; I can’t exactly explain what either practice is beyond some vague gut-feelings and images, but both of them feel right, deep down to my bones, and I feel comfortable enough embracing them even if there’s ambiguity over definitions, identity, and purpose.

      I hope that was in some way helpful! Sorry for the rambling, my coffee is just now kicking in. :)

      Cheers,
      Danny

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I know what you mean by the 90% circumstance thing. It is not really easy to meet many Pagans in the flesh, let alone path-specific pagans of the right ‘flavour’.

        In the UK, the Pagan Federation is (I believe) the largest Pagan organisation and it has somewhere in the region of 4,000 members. If all of those people lived in my town, that would still only be one in ten.

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    Thank you for all your hard work in creating this page; I have been waiting, excitedly so, since you incepted your idea, and it has fruitioned into a reality! I look forward to reading the ritual liturgy for the Winter Solstice (Mean Geimrhidhe)! This is certainly the time of the year, during Samhaintide, to be Cauldron Born.