How would I become a Druid Priest? What is the highest rank in the Druid religion?
Check out www.adf.org – it’s the home page for Ar n’Draiocht Fein, the largest (AFAIK) druidic organization in the US. It got me my start in the neopagan movement.
It used to be that the 14th rank was the highest you could reach, and you could only reach it by fighting the current archdruid in hand-to-hand combat, but in the 3rd edition rules they changed it so that
–oops. Wrong messageboard.
DW’s reference is of course for the modern Druids. We know precious little about the Druids of pre-Christian Europe. It appears they were the repositories of much practical and sacred knowledge in an essentially non-literate society and gained their respect and authority from the information they were able to access from memory. So the idea of writing down the Druid body of knowledge, much less posting it to the web where non-believers can access it seems to this non-believer to be antithetical to the whole idea of being a Druid.
Julius Caesar and very few others give us our limited glimpse of the Druids of old, and they were uniformly hostile to such “barbarbians”.
FWIW, one writer (and I can’t remember who now) on classical subjects suggested that Druids predated the Celtic religion(s), and represent the belif systems and traditions of those earlier people(s). This seems reasonable, as AFAIK Celtic beliefs and literature do not seem to explicitly or implicitly refer to Druids or someone filling their role.
Well, you could also go on to become a hierophant, but that doesn’t carry any particular status. And the combat needn’t be hand to hand; it could be any format the combatants agree to, or you could just wait for the old guy to retire.
Yes, I know you were joking, but the D&D description bears about as much relation to the original Druids as the modern religion bearing the same name. If you wanted to, you could just start going around calling yourself “insider, supreme high archdruid”, and it’d have about the same validity.
Here’s the Straight Dope on druidism.
No modern group, despite their claims, has a direct tie to the ancient Celtic druids. The reintroduction of druidism came about after a Masonic-type group took a druidic name (and went about in fake beards and white cloaks) and some members became interested in the religion. (See Stuart Piggott, The Druids).
There are several major druidic groups today. Many of them have strong ties to Wicca and other modern pagan groups and diverge from ancient beliefs. This is simply because we do not know all that much about the druids and their practices and beliefs.
Ranks are individual to every group – there is no uniformity between groups. Some smaller groups, I’m sure, are not organized enough to have ranks. The previously-mentioned ADF and also the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) are the two largest groups in the United States. Both have many local chapters that you can join. It’s best to find out if you have much in common with druidic beliefs before trying to ascend the ranks. The only organized group I interacted with in person had a priest who was simply that rank because he founded the local chapter and organized the rituals for that group.
There’s no reason that you necessary need to join one of the most major groups. You have just as much access to the historical and mythological sources that they have used. I considered myself a solitary practicioning druid for quite some time. (Now I have recently joined a Unitarian fellowship as I am not quite so specific in terms of my avenue of interest in spiritual matters.)
My advice to you if you are interested in druidism is to get out there and start reading. I’d avoid any of the new-agey books, though – they generally do not give the feeling of druidism, but rather of Wicca. (Hint: if a book starts recommending athames and cauldrons, it’s not druidism.)
I’d advise historical sources first, but I got started reading the fiction of Morgan Llywelyn (Druids, Bard, Finn mac Cool) which I believe reflect a sympathetic view and do, in my opinion, present a lot of interesting viewpoints on the more alien concepts in ancient paganism (like sacrifice, the role of tribal politics, and ritual in general). In terms of actual non-fiction, you might want to read historical texts written by people who are in modern druidic groups, such as The Celtic Druid’s Year by John King. (This book, while it does go into astrology and mathematics, also includes a great deal of basic information on druids and the ancient Celts, and is widely available.) Books like Piggott’s (as I mentioned above) often show a lot of bias as most of the non-fiction out there was written by Christians, who of course do not really want to present the ancient Celts as spiritually reasonable.
You should also read some of the mythology that’s available. There are several translations that are aimed at the layman out there – I don’t have my library with me, or I’d check for my favorites. You’ll probably want to read the mythological cycles about Cu Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumhail, as well as the Welsh bard Taliesin. Keep in mind, though, that these stories were not druidic secrets and don’t contain much information about druidic practices in particular, but they will give you an idea about ancient Celtic life and beliefs and the role of druids in society.
You will also probably want to read some of the Roman works, most famously those of Julius Caesar and Tacitus. Take them with a grain of salt – after all, the Romans and Celts were none too fond, and Caesar of course orchestrated the invasion of Gaul and the slaughter/enslavement of thousands of Celts. Also, druidism and Christianity were the two major religious groups that were outlawed in Rome, so remember that druids are going to be presented in the worst possible way.
As a final note, I wouldn’t say that all modern druidic interpretations are as good (or rather, as bad) as the D&D manual. For every book by Llewelyn Publishing with the “secrets of Merlin” there are people who will scoff. Keep in mind that big publishers do not necessarily show the meat and bones of a particular religion – they’re out there for the dollar, and there are far more dollars out there for Sabrina the Teenage Witch nonsense than there are for legitimate historical research. There are just as many – probably more – silly and juvenile books out there aimed at Christians.