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History of Neo-Pagan Druidism, Requirement 10

Discuss the origins of the RDNA, and the influence of Isaac Bonewits, and the founding of ADF. (minimum 600 words)

In 1963, Carleton College in Minnesota declared that all students would be required to attend religious services on Sundays. The religious services could be "services of one's own religion", and the absolute absurdity of declaring oneself a Druid made Druidism ideal for attacking this particularly silly ordinance. They summed up their religious principles as:
  1. One of the many ways in which the object of Man's search for religious truth can be found is through Nature: the Earth-Mother.
  2. Nature, being one of the primary concerns in Man's life and struggle, and being one of the objects of creation, is important to Man's spiritual quests.

These are often shortened to:

  1. Nature is good!
  2. Nature is good!

RDNA won their fight, and the ordinance was abolished the following year.

It was quickly recognized that the organization had not only served as a protest, but (much to the surprise and occasional horror of everyone involved) a number of members found and experienced real value from the services, and so the organization continued to grow, and it branched out to other campuses, including Berkley, where one Isaac Bonewits became the Arch-Druid of the New Reformed Druids of North America (a splinter from the original RDNA). Even today, not all RDNA or NRDNA groves are necessarily Neo-Pagan, though many are. The organization continues to move along, having abolished its central/national governing body (but keeping it in place so that another one can't be formed and the same mistake made again), publishing and providing information to the splinter groups that continue to form from the RDNA.

Adler notes something specific in her treatment of RDNA: "they seem to illustrate an important point: When one combines a process of inquiry with content of beauty and antiquity, when, even as a lark, one opens the flow of archetypal images contained in the history and legends of people long negated by this culture, many who confront these images are going to take to them and begin a journey unimagined by those who started the process." (Adler, 325) I think that she has hit the central point of why RDNA is important: it demonstrates that there is real power here, and that we cannot ignore that our use of images, forms of ritual, and community will sometimes spark deeply in a person, beyond what we could ever imagine.

RDNA was somewhat of a trial run for ADF: Isaac Bonewits required his priests to be "avowedly Neo-Pagan," a tradition ADF has retained. Also retained from RDNA is the focus on the Earth Mother. While there is no (or very little) Indo-European evidence for an "Earth Mother" of any real substance and certainty, the RDNA and NRDNA focused on this deity as very important, and Bonewits felt that this was important enough to indicate in the Bylaws of ADF. All ADF rituals must include an acknowledgement of the Earth Mother in some way or another.

Bonewits was highly active in RDNA for a while, publishing an RDNA newsletter and even a history of RDNA, The Druid Chronicles (evolved). After working with RDNA for a while, though, Bonewits decided that as great as RDNA was, it would continue to be enjoyable and would not hold a strong attraction to scholars and would generally be lead by feeling through the dark for patterns that worked.

While this was fine for RDNA, Bonewits wanted more. In 1983, he founded Ar nDriaocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship. ADF could fulfill roles that RDNA never would, particularly developing a working liturgy, creating a strong training program, and encouraging scholarship. ADF grew from a mailing list and occasional idea batted around at the festivals into one of the largest Pagan organizations in North America precisely because it filled the roles that Isaac saw a need to fill.


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