Freemasonry and Druidism

Freemasonry and Druidism are two enigmatic, mystical, and unique traditions that have intrigued scholars, spiritual seekers, and enthusiasts alike for centuries. Due to their mysterious natures, speculative theories about their connections have been prevalent.

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that has its roots in the guilds of medieval stonemasons. Over time, these trade guilds evolved into secret societies with profound philosophical and moral teachings which attracted people from various backgrounds.

The organization still preserves much of its original symbolism derived from stonemasonry, such as the square, compass, plumb, level, and other working tools, which serve as allegoric representations of moral and ethical principles.

As Freemasonry progressed, it extended its symbolism to encompass more universal concepts, reflecting its non-denominational nature. Freemasons are expected to believe in a Supreme Being, but the fraternity does not mandate any particular religious belief.

Druidism, on the other hand, refers to the religious and spiritual practices of the ancient Celts, specifically the Druids. As the priestly caste, Druids served as the spiritual leaders, keepers of knowledge, advisers, and even judges. Little is known about the original beliefs and practices of the Druids, mainly due to the lack of written records. Much of our understanding of their practices comes from legends, folktales, and archaeological findings.

Celtic Druids

The Celtic Druids were an essential part of ancient Celtic society, which was widespread across Europe during the Iron Age and early medieval period. Primarily concentrated in the British Isles, Gaul (France), and Ireland, they were the learned caste and held influential roles in the daily lives of the Celts.

As spiritual leaders and intermediaries between the living and the spiritual world, they were responsible for performing rites and ceremonies to appease the various Celtic deities. The Druids were said to have remarkable wisdom, knowledge of astronomy, natural sciences, and healing abilities. They acted as judges and presided over disputes, and they were also consulted during times of war.

Druidic knowledge was passed down through a long oral tradition to avoid written records, which is why much of their practices and beliefs remain unknown. The limited understanding of the Druids comes primarily from Roman and Greek historians, folklore, and archaeological findings.

Ancient Druids

 

 

Imaginative illustration of ‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’, from The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815)
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The ancient Druids were part of a long-established lineage, stretching as far back as the second millennium BCE. Some scholars believe that the origins of the Druids can be traced to the late Bronze Age, around 1500 BCE. This coincides with the emergence of the Celtic people in central Europe.

The ancient Druids played a central role in the Celtic societies, and their influence was evident in the spiritual, legal, educational, and political aspects of Celtic life. They were held in high regard, and their knowledge and wisdom were sought after by kings and chieftains.

The Druids were deeply connected to the natural world, and their rituals often took place in sacred groves, near waterways and wells, or within ceremonial stone circles like Stonehenge. The Druids revered the oak tree and saw mistletoe growing on its branches as a symbol of life and fertility.

The ancient Druids were eventually suppressed by the Roman Empire, with the Romans destroying many of the Druidic sanctuaries during their conquest of Gaul and Britain. Over time, the influence of Christianity led to the Druids’ diminishing status, but their legends and folktales continued to inspire generations for centuries.

Famous Druids

Although much of the history surrounding the Druids is shrouded in mystery, there are a few figures known either as Druids themselves or associated with the Druidic tradition.

Divitiacus was a Gallic Druid who lived during the 1st century BCE. He was renowned for his knowledge of natural sciences and philosophy, and he even visited Rome as an ambassador on behalf of a Gaulish tribe. He was mentioned by Julius Caesar in his account of the Gallic Wars. Divitiacus is the only druid from antiquity whose existence is attested by name.

Merlin, the famous mythical wizard and adviser of King Arthur in Arthurian legends, is often depicted as having Druidic knowledge and powers.

Cormac mac Airt, a mythical Irish high king (3rd century CE) who associated with druids for their prophetic abilities

Modern Druids

Modern Druidry, or Neo-Druidism, is a spiritual movement that seeks to revive the ancient Druidic practices and beliefs. It began to emerge during the 18th century in conjunction with various European cultural revivals. The movement gained momentum during the 20th century and has continued to evolve, with organizations such as the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and the British Druid Order.

Modern Druidry incorporates a wide range of beliefs and practices, often emphasizing the connection with the natural world, the cycles of the seasons, and ancestral traditions. Rituals are designed to harmonize with Earth’s energies, with seasonal celebrations such as the solstices and equinoxes.

Contemporary Druids also focus on personal development and spiritual growth, often drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources, including various spiritual and esoteric traditions.

It is important to note that while modern Druidry seeks to revive and reconstruct ancient Druidic beliefs and practices, it is inherently a contemporary spiritual movement. Rather than being an authentic continuation of the ancient Druid tradition, it represents the millennia-long evolution of spiritual and cultural ideas inspired by the enigmatic and wise Druids of ancient times.

The Attraction between Freemasons and Druids

By the 18th and 19th centuries, cultural movements and revivals in Europe turned the attention of some Freemasons to the enigmatic Druids. The Freemasons were especially interested in the rich symbolism and ritualistic practices of the Druids, which they believed resonated with their own.

Several factors might have contributed to this mounting interest:

1. Freemasonry’s fascination with ancient civilizations
2. The romanticization of Druids as custodians of ancient wisdom
3. The desire to associate Freemasonry with the noble heritage of the Druids

This fascination gave birth to various Masonic degrees, orders, and societies that directly or indirectly drew their themes and principles from Druidism. The next sections will discuss some noteworthy examples of these Masonic (or pseudo-Masonic) organizations.

Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA)

The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia is a Masonic society founded in 1866 with strong connections to Druidism. It incorporates cryptic symbols, allegorical rituals, and ancient wisdom stemming from an array of esoteric traditions, including Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Alchemy, and Druidism.

The SRIA drew inspiration from the Druidic themes of secrecy, initiation, and the pursuit of knowledge.

The SRIA’s connection to Druidism is further exemplified by its affiliation with the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD). In 1874, a  founder member of the SRIA, Robert Wentworth Little, gathered together other interested members of Masonry and founded a Druidic Society which he called the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD). Although many Masons were part of the order, there was no obligation to be a Freemason to join.

The Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD) continued and in 1966, was merged with the Literary and Archaeological Order of Druids (LAOD). It is a flourishing Order to this day.

 From the LAOD website:

‘LAOD is deeply esoteric and mystical, with its rituals and teachings descending from Robert Wentworth Little in the 1800s, through Desmond Bourke in the late 1900s, through to today.

The rituals within LAOD refer to God (or in the Welsh “Duw”). Members and candidates for membership, therefore, must have a belief in, and a desire to communicate with, the supreme being that we lovingly refer to as God.

LAOD in no way conflicts with the religions of the Abrahamic faiths. The vast majority of our members identify as Christian and many are members of other Judeo-Christian esoteric Orders.

LOAD is not a masonic Order, carries no resemblance to freemasonry and does not require membership in any other Order (Masonic or otherwise).

The Druid Order (aka the Druids of primrose Hill)

 

 

John Toland. By J. D. Philippin, born Sysang (1729 – 1791) – http://www.carboneria.it/Tolandfr.htm
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

It is said that on 21 September 1716, Irish philosopher and Freethinker John Toland stood on Primrose Hill and urged Druids from across the British Isles to meet at the Apple Tree Tavern in London ‘a year and a day hence’ to form An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas, the Mother Grove of the Ancient Druid Order.

So, on 22 September 1717, Toland was elected Chief of the reconstituted Order. Toland, who was a Freemason, remained as Chief Druid until 1722, when antiquarian, archaeologist and Freemason William Stukeley took over until 1765.

There is some controversy over the timeline of the Druid Order, with some historians, notably Ronald Hutton who states that the Druid Order in its current form started around 1909 or 1912 when George Watson MacGregor Reid (1862-1946) established the group.

Whatever the legend, it is interesting to see the possible link (however spurious) between Freemasonry and Druidism – note the particular location and year Toland chose for the meeting (the Apple Tree Tavern) and the year 1717.

The Druid Order is still in existence today and is based in London.

Ancient Order of Druids (AOD)

 

 

Coat of arms of the Ancient Order of Druids, circa 1830. AOD Archives. By A.O.D. – A.O.D. archives,
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Ancient Order of Druids is a fraternal organization founded in London in 1781, which aims to promote benevolence, friendship, and brotherhood among its members.

The AOD was structured similarly to Freemasonry and took inspiration from an array of diverse traditions, including the ancient Druids and the Knights Templar.

Druidic themes significantly influenced the rituals, costumes, and organization of the AOD. For instance, they recognized the summer and winter solstices and autumn equinox as key dates for various events.

They held ceremonies within stone circles like Stonehenge and created a hierarchy, which mirrored the ancient Druidic caste system.

 

 

Druids’ magazine: a compendium of druidical proceedings.
IMAGE LINKED:  wellcome collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD)

 

 

UAOD coat of arms + motto (1834) By Chartix – Own work,
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In 1833 a schism occurred within the Ancient Order of Druids (AOD) and the United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD) was founded.

A significant part of the members of the AOD decided to create a druidic order more open to different social classes, structured as a benefit society and registered by government. During the first decades, the UAOD kept the same emblem as the AOD (a shield with three oaks surrounded by a Celtic warrior and a druid), changing the motto to united to assist.

Very soon, the UAOD proved to be a great success and many of its members travelling abroad created new lodges in United States of America (1839), Australia (1851), New Zealand, and German empire (1872).

In 1858, the UAOD separated itself in two parts, and a new fraternal society, the Order of Druids was created. After World War II the organisation faded, as the generalisation of the welfare state provided people with all that was its purpose.

Its last Lodge in England, closed in 1999 but the UAOD still remains in several countries as the United States, Australia, Germany, and Northern European countries.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Order of Druids (OD)

 

 

Order of Druids emblem
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Finally, we have the Order of Druids (OD) a fraternal and benefit organisation founded in England, in 1858 after a schism with the United Ancient Order of Druids.

The order’s emblem was a Druid with a harp and a Celtic warrior with the national emblems of United Kingdom, Australia, India and the United States.

During the Victorian era, the most important section was the Sheffield Equalized Independent Druids.

Between the two World Wars, this society was one of the three main Druidic fraternal societies in the British empire. It was heavily influential in Sheffield and the coalfields of England. After World War II and the introduction of the welfare state, it faded, and the last lodges closed during the 1970s.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Joseph Smith, Freemasonry, and Druidism

 

 

Joseph Smith – unknown painter, circa 1842. The original is owned by the Community of Christ archives.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter-day Saint movement, was an adherent of multiple esoteric influences, with deep roots in Freemasonry. He became a Master Mason in 1842 and incorporated elements of Masonic rituals into the ceremonies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

There is evidence to suggest that Smith also incorporated Druidic philosophies and concepts into his religious beliefs.

The Book of Mormon recounts the story of a lost tribe of Israel who migrated to ancient America, echoing the Druidic myths of a lost race that crossed the Atlantic and established a civilization in Britain.

Differences between Freemasonry and Druidism

Although there are many similarities and connections between Freemasonry and Druidism, it is crucial to recognize their stark differences.

1. Freemasonry has never claimed to represent itself as a singular religious tradition, whereas Druidism represents the religious and spiritual practices of the ancient Celts.
2. No evidence suggests that the ancient Druids were a fraternal brotherhood like the Freemasons, nor is there historical authentication of their rituals and practices.

Rapprochement or Merely an Inspiration?

While the connections between Freemasonry and Druidism are fascinating, it’s essential to recognize that these connections don’t imply that Freemasonry is a continuation of ancient Druidic traditions.

Instead, the organizations that emerged from the blending of these themes should be perceived as separate entities, distinct from both Freemasonry and Druidism, taking inspiration from both, but not fully assimilated with either.

To conclude, “freemasonry and druidism” connections primarily stem from the 18th and 19th centuries when Freemasons took an interest in Druidic themes. Although they share some similarities and aspects, such as symbolism, rituals, moral teachings, and philosophical undertones, their historical backgrounds and core philosophies are inherently different.

The organizations that include both Masonic and Druidic influences should be viewed as separately inspired entities rather than a direct continuation of the ancient Druid tradition.

Resources:

The Druid Order:  http://thedruidorder.org/index.html

Literary and Archaeological Order of Druids (LAOD):  https://www.archgrove.org/

Article by: Margaret S.

Margaret S. is a retired lecturer and devotes much of her time to theological and philosophical writing.

She was made a Freemason in the International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women - Le Droit Humain.

(Margaret S. is her pen name for all her masonic papers)

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