On the Symbols of Druid Identity | ADF

On the Symbols of Druid Identity

Originally published in Druid's Progress #3
Revisions by Anthony Thompson

One of the many reasons why people join organizations and movements is to gain a sense of belonging, of having a family of others who share their worldview. To this end, most groups use certain images as signs of membership. These shared symbols of identity help to create the psychological, social and psychic connections so necessary for effective group action. Provided that these images are used as positive signs of inclusion, rather than as negative signs of exclusion, they can only be of benefit to us.

So what are the signs and symbols of being a Druid, at least in ADF?

The official ADF Logo is shown on the cover of every issue of DP. Some folks have asked about the history and symbolism of this design, and fortunately, it's fairly simple. The basic idea comes from the badge for the Scottish clan of Mac Eoghainn or MacEwen, which shows a new branch sprouting from a tree stump (and which I used ten years ago for a card in my unpublished neotarot deck). The symbolism is obviously that of survival and revival. The axe marks in Jim Odbert's magnificent rendition make it clear that the tree is recovering from deliberate efforts to destroy it. I'm not sure what species of tree the MacEwen badge is supposed to represent, but ours is definitely an oak. Jim added the touch of interlacing to show that, although ADF is Pan-Indo-European, "We have Celtic roots."

So far, this has appeared only in black and white, although Pat Taylor did a wonderful leather carved banner of it for PSG. A colored version of it is being done for an appliqued cloth banner (on white Irish linen) by some folks I met at PSG, from whom I hope to hear soon (please?), so Jim and I have had to begin thinking about appropriate colors. My first thoughts were these: The heavy lines of the roots, stump and branch should be black or dark brown, with the outside stump lines fading into dark green on the horizontal line, which in turn could fade into dark blue as it rises into the circle. The oak leaves would naturally be green, the inside above-ground perhaps sky blue, with the inside below-ground light brown. Jim wants to work out a way to use some of the old Indo-European color associations, especially in the interlaced knots of the roots. About 108 of you have a background in graphic arts, so if you come up with any additional coloring ideas, let us know. We'll decide on a standard set of colors to use this summer and with luck we may have some iron-on logos for t-shirts and instant banners by next fall.

In terms of jewelry such as rings, pendants, etc, this design is complex enough to require photoetching or some such process. I have met one craftsman who said he would be willing to make pendants out of brass or bronze sheet for $10-15 each, provided enough (ten or twenty?) people were interested. If you are, let me know, and I'll tell him to start making them as soon as we have enough potential orders (but don't send money yet!) I do expect buttons of the logo to be available far sooner.

A symbol that's far less complex, and thus open to even more creative variation, is the Druid Sigil, most often rendered as a circle with two vertical lines passing through it. Frequently this is drawn, painted, embroidered, etc., as a wreath of leaves with two staves (or spears for the warrior types). Several years back, a ceremonial tabbard was made with a tree in full foliage on the front and the Sigil on the back with its wreath and stavewood matching the species of the tree. Textile artists among us could experiment with making vestments that follow this pattern, using different types of trees for different ceremonial functions or occasions. Pat Taylor also did a gorgeous carved leather version of the Sigil for the cover of the notebook in which she keeps her copies of DP.

As far as jewelry is concerned, currently the Druid Sigil is available in the form of silver rings, thanks to well-known Pagan jewelers Fred and Jill Buck. These have either 7/8" or 1/2" diameter circles (for $12 or $10 each), in the full range of standard ring sizes. About a dozen of us are wearing these now, and they do look rather nice. If you're interested, they can be ordered directly from me.

Where did the Druid Sigil come from? Nobody knows for sure. It first became associated with Druidism in modern times by the founder of the Reformed Druids of North America, David Fisher, twenty years ago. He claimed that it was a symbol of Druidism in general and the Earth-Mother in particular. Some think he may have gotten the design from a picture in Piggott's book "The Druids," which showed the foundations of an old Romano-Celtic temple. Others think he may have gotten it from a Mesopagan Druid organization to which he may have belonged. (On the other paw, while writing this essay, I happened to be browsing through a dictionary of alchemical symbols and found one very similar to the Sigil listed as the sign for "oil"...) Regardless of its historical origins, I think that it is a quintessentially female symbol, in both the Freudian and the Jungian senses, and is thus psychologically powerful. For political and metaphysical reasons, I think it's important for members of a religion that many folks assume is male dominated to have a constant reminder of the eternal power of the female forces of Nature. As a magical sign, I've used the Druid Sigil for over fifteen years as both a blessing and as a banishing sign. It is fully as powerful as a pentagram, seal of solomon or cross, and meditation upon it will provide many insights.

What about signs of rank in ADF? Well, I'm not too sure it's a good idea to encourage them, but they seem to be a universal human need. Perhaps the best idea I've came up with so far (based on a suggestion from Sally Eaton) is that we could use narrow bands of interlace or similar designs (Celtic, Norse, Slavic, Greek, etc.) climbing up the sleeves and hems of our robes. We could use the colors associated with the old IE castes: black/brown/green for First Circle members, red/blue for Second, white (with green & blue outlining?) for Third. Perhaps silver and gold colored threads for Fourth & Fifth?

One idea I did come up with at the beginning of ADF seems not to be too popular, that was for only those intending to work their way into the Third or higher Circles to wear full length white robes, and for others to wear tunics or other premedieval garb. Apparently this makes the others feel like second-class citizens, so we'll drop it. However, I am going to stick with the rule that hoods on robes must not completely cover the face, especially in groves south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Further ideas for Druid costume and/or identity symbols are very welcome! So send them in!

Author Information

Rev. Isaac Bonewits

Author's Bio:

Isaac Bonewits (10/1/1949 - 08/12/2010) was the founder of ADF and was our Archdruid for ten years, and a contributor to ADF until his death. He was very active and well-known in the Neopagan community at large.

Articles by Rev. Isaac Bonewits