Column: Druidry in Australia

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AUSTRALIA — Druidry is on the rise. The 2011 census recorded an all-time high of 1048 followers of Druidry or Druidism in the country. That number is expected to be larger in the latest census data, which will be released in the coming year. In recent decades, OBOD and ADF groves have been springing up, along with individuals practicing more eclectic, non-denominational forms of the religion.

Anecdotally, many of the statewide Pagan not-for-profit groups have also seen the interest in Druidry increase. Jess Johnstone of The Tasmanian Pagan Alliance offered this insight as to why this might be:

Tasmanian Pagan Alliance [Courtesy Photo]

“The Tasmanian Pagan Alliance Inc has seen a rise in interest in Druidic paths, both within our membership and throughout our wider network. We see this is following a greater awareness in the wider community of focused connection to nature, wilderness and earth friendly living,” Johnstone said.

“A small population and smaller than most Pagan community (in Tasmania) means we have many people following different paths in our membership. I believe this exposure to diversity helps people change and grow on their spiritual path and perhaps makes it easier for change when an alternative path becomes a better fit. This also may contribute to the growth of interest in Druidry locally.”

The Druids in Colonial Australia

Before discussing Druidry as a spiritual path it is worth mentioning that the first Druid group in Australia was the United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD), a group that is now part of the International Grand Lodge of Druidism. This was a fraternal society rather than a spiritual path, and it was focused on “social and intellectual intercourse” and “general philanthropy and benevolence” throughout the community.

The first Australian lodge was formed in 1861 in Melbourne, with the first female lodge opening in 1899 in Launceston, Tasmania.  By around 1925 there were 15 female lodges throughout Australia.

ADF Druidry in Australia

“I felt like a little island for a long time,” remembers Shaz Cairns, the Senior Druid of Melbourne’s Silver Birch Grove ADF, Asia Pacific Regional Druid and Deputy Regional Druid. “That’s why it was so important to join a larger organisation right from the start.”

[Courtesy Silver Birch FB page]

With no Druid groves open to the public in her hometown of Melbourne, Cairns joined Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) in early 2007, and she formed the first Australian Protogrove with a couple of friends later that year.

“I was involved in the wider Pagan community and had been invited to a few open circles, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for,” she explained. “I joined for the ADF study program initially, and for the feeling that I was part of a wider Druid community.”

Silver Birch Grove ADF has held open public rituals for every High Day since its founding. At first, these rituals were often attended by no one other than Cairns, a couple of her friends, and her sister. But a lot has changed in recent years.

The organization now frequently hosts over a dozen people in attendance at their High Day celebrations in North Fitzroy. They are fielding a lot more inquiries through their Facebook page, which now has over 200 members.

They hosted the ritual at the 34th annual Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering in 2015. The Grove also has representatives on the committee of the Pagan Collective of Victoria.

Cairns gave a few reasons for why she thought Druidry had seen a rise in popularity down under. “From speaking to people who have shown an interest, some of Druidry’s appeal seems to be its affinity with the environment, its polytheistic approach, ADF’s commitment to sound scholarship and its study program… and of course, we have mead!”

OBOD Druidry in Australia

There are currently two active OBOD groves in Australia, along with three seed groups. There is no such thing as a “pure” or initiate-only OBOD grove in Australia: they are all inclusive of non-members to varying degrees.

The Macadamia Seed Group of Queensland and Northern New South Wales was co-founded by Sandra back in 1997-1998, after she attended the first Australian OBOD Assembly.

“I was super excited to hear of our first Australian OBOD Assembly, which was being facilitated by a couple of remarkable women in Sydney – Akkadia and Zan,” Sandra writes.

“That was an amazing experience, meeting others from across Australia, most of whom had never met another OBOD member.”

Further assemblies took place near Sydney in 1998 and in South Australia in 1999. Even as late as 2015 there were 20 or so OBOD members in attendance, but that number jumped to over 40 at the 2016 assembly, which was hosted by Macadamia Grove.

This number is still growing according to Sandra, who is anticipating “close to 50” in 2017.

And, the actual groves themselves have also experienced a rise in numbers. Sandra said, “In early 2014, four of us local members met and committed to reopening a local group. In early 2017, four people joined OBOD and approached us regarding joining the Grove. In the last eight weeks, we’ve had seven people seek to join the Grove.”

The Macadamia Seed Group officially became Macadamia Grove in 2015 with members hailing from Northern New South Wales and all over Southeast Queensland. The grove perform most of their rituals in local bushland, with other weekend events on private property.

“We have approximately 28 Grove members – in addition to about 10 other local OBODies whom I am aware of, but don’t participate in group activities.”

Elkie White also found OBOD in the 1990s. “Australia is such a massive country and I’m still discovering people who were practicing earlier than I was,” she writes.

“In 1995 I thought I was the only Druid in Melbourne.”

Elkie joined OBOD in 1995 and then in 1998 started the Melbourne Grove of OBOD as a Seed Group with two other OBOD members. “I was led to it, by Life, Spirit, or whatever you want to call it… I’ve noticed that people like the fact OBOD lets you be whatever you want to be. Several members pursue more than one spiritual path; OBOD respects personal choice (and responsibility).”

Sandra gave similar reasons, saying: “It called to me, and the correspondence course is brilliant.  The ‘feel’ of it and the connection.  And also because the Chosen Chief and people ‘running’ OBOD are really good people – and that’s really important to me. It also provides a pathway through the forest, while enabling you to wander away through the trackless ways.”

Eclectic, Non-Denominational Druidry in Australia

Along with the more formal and established orders such as ADF and OBOD, some Australian Pagans strike out on their own into the world of eclectic Druidry.

“I derive my study in Druidry from many sources,” writes Blue Mountains local Julie Brett, who began her eclectic Druid path in 2007 and is currently planning a National Gathering of Druids for March 2018.

“I’m actually not sure what a Druid denomination might be, as all the study I have ever done has been openly encouraging of personal study, open mindedness to other traditions and a generally non-dogmatic approach. Druidry, in my experience, whether it is within an order or not, tends to be quite eclectic.”

So why has eclectic Druidry become such an attractive path in this day and age? Brett says, “Perhaps it’s simply a love of nature, a curiosity about one’s ancestors and our own identities, a love of Celtic stories, music or art, an interest in Celtic languages or archaeology.”

She went on to say, “An important possibility is that Druidry has a greater focus on nature than many other beliefs in a time where an interest in sustainability, environmentalism and other nature related concerns are high on the political agenda.”

Whatever the reason, Druidry is definitely alive and well in Australia, with more options and orders represented than ever before adding to a vibrant and varied Pagan tapestry down under.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.