* The views and opinions in this article are from my personal experiences after 25 years on the path. The suggestions may be helpful or you may dismiss them. Take from them what you will.
All too often I hear people in the Pagan community, especially those that are Druids talking about groups. How to start a new group, not knowing where to begin and all the trappings that could be involved. It's always the same complaint- *I'm a solitary Druid, there is no one in my area to celebrate with (more on that later) Generally these people are Neo-Pagan/Neo-Druids. They want to form a seed group, a grove, or some form of "Druid" related group. Ultimately therein is part of the problem. The Druid was/is a social/polical title for someone that underwent specific training to be of service to their people. They belonged to a certain Culture; that culture had its faith and traditions and within that faith the Druids role was only part of the equation.
A deep study and look into Gaelic culture will reveal that the culture and faith can not be separated, they are interwoven, overlap, and without one the other is barren and devoid of all substance. Don't believe me, spend some time on a Native American rezervation. A culture has its mother tongue- its native langauge, its customs and traditions that are spiritual and yet also mundane. Beyond the use of language in daily life the music, foods, history, lore/stories, art, burial practices, and laws define and give a culture its unique substance that makes it what it is. Not just poorly translated mythology and modern rituals. Please read my Blog post: This Thing We call Druidry. http://dreoilin.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-look-at-this-thing-people-call-druidry.html
This idea of having a 'Druid group' for "Clergy only" is not Gaelic and certainly not Celtic in the broad sense of our ancestral traditions. I am not saying there is no value in what they might do, and I am not bashing them; but I am calling them out on their focus on faith separated from culture. This romantic idea of Druid-priest-craft is absurd. I'm sorry to inform you, but your rotary club druid tradition of wearing long white robes wandering about neolithic sites has nothing to do with the iron age Celtic people, let alone their Gaelic decedents. It's 1700's Welsh Bardo-Romantic fantasy. Does it have value, sure it has some; but while the Masonic aristocrats of that time period were trying to re-invent a Celtic past they looked to foreign elements of Christian mysticism, alchemy, kabalah, Arthurian myths; Instead of looking to rural places of their neighbors like Ireland, and the Highlands of Scotland where the "folk tradition" remained and still remains strong. Why? Because at that time they were oppressing them as inferiors.
Celtic traditions, specifically Gaelic ones are about "the people". The tribe, the clan, the family, the roles each person had within the community. Within those four seasonal rituals where the Draoi (Druid) served as mediator between the people and the Gods. Making sure ritual was done correctly doesn't mean always leading or holding the ritual itself. It sometimes simply meant 'over-seeing' and being present. Rituals were and are 'for the people'. This means all of the people, the children, the grandparents, everyone. They bring their offerings to the sacrificer or Draoi to make the sacrifice on their behalf. Not this modern notion of each individual having a voice to offer song, poem, or other offering in the middle of ritual. Can you imagine hundreds of people doing this in ritual, it would take hours. You can't imagine it because they didnt. Personal offerings were given after the rites, or communal offerings made and the proper care taken over the entire offering as a 'collective offering'. Peoples personal offerings of gifts like story, poems, and songs were heard at the feast, which held just as much importance as the ritual itself. These feasts were not a buffet or casual event. They had protocol and ritual to them as well. Who sits where and why, who is served first, who was a cup bearer and why, is there a heros portion, to whom does it go? Who speaks 1st, what type of conversation was prohibited, etc. Feasts just like Rituals defined the culture.
The trappings of starting a Druid Group are many. You'll get ego-manics arguing about who is qualified to do what, to even who has been on the path longer. You'll get one uppers, drama queens that want everything their way because they read it in once in a book. You might get strangers that are pedophiles, sexual predators, or even people with mental illnesses like bi-polar or schizophrenia. These types often do wander into "the occult" thinking they have something to gain like power or magic; its also a perfect hunting ground for warped people looking to exploit the good nature of strangers. You open your home a few times and you get robbed a year later, I've seen it happen. To people like that, they see your group is based on Druids; you must be about magic and such so they come looking for power, attention, and validation. I've seen groups of all types over the years. Ones that do not allow children but allow you to bring your dog. Some that are one gender only, to even those that require you to have sex with their higher ups to advance in their spiritual/educational program. I've seen seed groups that are merely "study groups" that have been reading the same 2 books for 5 years! My all time favorite was a group very overweight gay men who only allowed other overweight gay men to join that only met at the mall food-court.
As stated, many complain there is no one to celebrate with or they don't know where to begin, meaning they don't know how to formally start a group. For those like that I will provide a helpful link at the end of this article. The reason though you have a hard time forming a Druid or otherwise Pagan group is because its an unnatural process. What do I mean by unnatural? The religious traditions of our ancestors was ingrained into every aspect of the day, it was their world view and more. Things like magic were everywhere all the time, and there was different types of Magic as well. The entirety of the people they knew were of the same faith, albeit with differences from tribe to tribe and place to place, they shared common belief structure. They didn't have this umbrella term Pagan which can include conflicting philosophical elements into a culture.
Then and even now very successful groups form and maintain a bond because they form from families, families merging with other families, and so forth until there is a community. I am not talking just a husband and a wife and a few neighbors. I'm talking about a husband and his family, his brothers their wives and children, sisters, parents and grandparents. His wife, her family and the same applied to the other families. They need not all be family, but your close friends and their families is a good start. This is how you form a group, a tribe, a people must share the same culture, and that culture should be as Celtic as possible. The Gaelic tradition is a cultural thing with the spiritual aspect being only part of it. Yes, the spiritual part is every day, all day. It's the virtues, ethics, and simple things like how we do this or that. Though here is the major crux...
Even in this Gaelic Pagan format you cant just expect something to blossom from just having tea and cookies. You cant just all read the same books and then poof, your a people now. You must, and this is imperative; you must have a few people that are not only educated in this area, and other areas; but they also must be able to lead. The ability to direct, teach, and hold the group with a focus. The problem of taking someone out of the Neo Druid tradition and placing them in the role of Draoi within a Tuath or Pobal is not going to translate or work out smoothly. Again, you must have a few people that are educated and have experience in the ability to educate and lead, in roles of respected honor seen by 'the people' for your group to even have a chance of being productive. This is why so often groves and seed groups become study groups, and social club in nature.
Something to be said about this thing so many call Tuath (Tribe). At one time on the continent this meant a good 300,000 people for one tribe spread out over very large areas. In places like Ireland 30,000 people could easily make up a Tribe, sometimes even being on more than one Island where they lives in Scotland, Wales, or even Cornwall. This idea that there are no people for me to celebrate within my town is not accurate depiction of our ancestral customs. Somehow good ole' Hollywood transformed us to thinking that the people of your tribe must live within your village. This is not borne out of the evidence, as often times one would travel by foot or horse for day or half day to visit members of their Tribe, Clan or Family. How did we just measure distance? By time not by miles or kilometers. We measure distance by time, when I ask how far does Michael live? You might reply, "oh he's just up the road about 15 min from here." Not miles away. Same for our ancestors. So on that, given that we do not have to walk or ride horses to visit and we have cars, buses, trains and planes what is a 3, 6, or 12 hour trip to see "Tribe" if you only see some of them once or twice a year for major festivals like Lughnasadh? Personally, I will gladly make the time and travel for those that live 3-4 hours away a few times a year, or meet them in the middle for a day, or stay a weekend. Some families have reunions, Lughnasadh is often like this for many of us.
So, back to 'Groups'. It might be wise to consider reading some more material about the customs and traditions of these people that are our ancestors, and Druids within a Gaelic context not a Neo-Pagan context. Please see my Blog Post: Celtic Reading List http://dreoilin.blogspot.com/2017/01/suggested-celtic-reading-list.html
Here is my suggestion:
You could easily start a "Gaelic Pagan" group which is much more inclusive to all people and not just those who have an obsession to be Clergy. Ditch the neo-trappings of the ego boosting title seekers. Maybe your Gaelic Pagan group studies the language, the lore, and gets together to play seisiún music. Start with you family, network with other families. Attend Highland Games as a group & Irish Festivals. Do things as a family and extended family unit. Form a solid core group that has become family.
* Remember - you must have a few people that are educated and have experience in the ability to educate and lead, in roles of respected honor seen by 'the people' for your group to even have a chance of being productive.
Get together to talk, have cookies and tea monthly. Learn some Irish dancing, get involved together within the community as a group. Use the language with one another as much as possible. Make and share meals, work in the kitchen together. Once you have a strong family bond with these other families you then might consider something like Craigslist to reach other Pagans in your area. Always see it as cultural with the spirituality being part of the culture and not a spiritual group like a grove. Try and meet at a park for the new comers. Let them see that the group functions as a family unit and the visitors will either love it or they wont attend again. Especially if the people like Cean (head) or Draoi (Druid) are kind yet firm about what is accepted and what is not tolerated.
The things I've been talking about are mainly those traditions that are Celtic re-constructionist- CR, and Sinnsreachd. These are just some groups that exist which work in such fashions.
To focus your entire group on Druids is honestly a disservice to the culture and traditions of your ancestors. If you want to train to be a Draoi for your people, wonderful- Do it! Read, study, read some more, learn the language of your people like Irish/Scottish/Manx. Attend University, specialize in a few crafts of your trade, offer a service to your people and then and only then if they accept you will you be a Draoi. A tribe must be willing to have you, & require your services. After all, you'll be at the hospital when someone is ill, you'll see the newborns arrive, you'll be the one to give last rites to their/your loved ones. It will be up to you to be available to the drunk person to pick them up at 2am to make sure they are safe. You should be able to offer marriage counseling, perform legal rites like weddings, and so much more. Education and service, your people come first. I'm writing this at 1:22am and have to be up at 6am. Why am I doing this? Because this is apart of my service work, to offer insight for others that might be looking for something but have hit a dead end.
Ask yourself an honest question. Is the culture and faith of our ancestors worth preserving and passing on, or would you rather continue being involved in something that isn't culturally based that often focuses not on 'the people'? Shouldn't it be a family tradition that grows, one that includes everyone not just clergy celebrating festivals. I am not saying groups like ADF or OBOD do not offer value within their systems, but no one says you cant be involved in other more traditional things either at the same time. Try both and see what works best for you.
On that I offer you some helpful links.
The Organization called Comhaltacht na nGaedheal (Fellowship of the Gael) exists is for any individual, family, or group that wishes more information on getting your own group started.
Sinnsreachd on FB - https://www.facebook.com/groups/sinnsreachd
Sinnsreachd on G+ https://plus.google.com/communites/107627130709484664219
Comhaltacht na nGaedheal Fellowship of the Gael Blog - http://bloggy.nan-gaidheal.org#home
Comhaltacht na nGaedheal Fellowship of the Gael Twitter - https://mobile.twitter.com/Nan_Gaildheal
* Earlier I mentioned "I'm a solitary Druid, there is no one in my area to celebrate with."
The role of the Draoi is much like that of a Rabbi, and less like a Priest. Do not forget its a social/political role. A Draoi is an earned title. The Draoi being educated in the culture/faith serves the people, the community. This idea of Neo-Druidry spirituality where one is a solitary "Druid" has missed a major point. The main point is once again a cultural one. Neo-Druidry is faith based with no focus on the culture ie. The language, traditions, laws, customs, etc. How can you separate a faith from its culture, let alone transform it into something so far from its origins with foreign cultural influences? The Druid was/is a public servant to their people, and it was a title of earned respect much like Doctor, Professor or even Judge.
IMHO - No people/no community, no role of Draoi. Can you call yourself a solitary Druid? Sure you can also call yourself a Captain of a ship, but if you have no education/expeience, have never been on a boat, are you really a Captain? Just because you read a few books on "Druidry" doesn't magically transform you into something. This modern idea of reading New Age Druid books, being on 'the Druid Path' is rather conflicting with a traditional cultural opinion. It may be a very upsetting thing to accept, but ask yourself what was a Druid back then if they were not serving the people? Imagine someone who trained as a Draoi for many years and was a part of a community that didn't require their services. Hard to imagine because that would be like us saying we do not need that computer programer, teacher, judge, or psycholigist. So many seem to have a hang-up with things like ranks-titles. It's okay to call yourself a Gaelic/Celtic Pagan. Not everyone back then was a Draoi, they were the smallest in number to their communities; and for good reason.