Law, Policy, Tradition, and Custom within A.D.F.

Originally published in Druid's Progress #14

One of the things that has made ADF controversial from the start is our focus on order ,and structure, rather than the free-flowing chaos and anarchy so popular elsewhere in the community. The reasons for our preferences on the Order/Chaos polarity scale are as follows:

The primary duties of the Paleopagan Druids were threefold: (1) transmitting knowledge and wisdom from previous generations to following ones; (2) maintaining the cosmic order through the correct performance of the sacrifices-- i.e., ensuring that humans and other spirits stayed in proper relationship to each other; and (3) guiding their tribes towards physical and spiritual wholeness. While those of us who choose to follow a Druidic path today may have very different definitions than the ancients had for the key words in the preceding sentence, I believe that most of us who have been attracted to Druidry have been in large part attracted to exactly these concepts and roles.

We can't just imitate ancient Druidry's attitudes towards order and chaos, however, for several reasons. Firstly, the many varieties of Paleopagan Druidism existed within intact cultural matrices. Secondly, our ancient predecessors lived in a world of much simpler technology and limited communications. Thirdly, most Paleopagan cultures had little awareness of the needs or rights of individuals (as distinct or even opposed to those of the tribe, for example). Lastly, sheer survival required most Paleopagans to cling to order and avoid chaos as much as possible.

By contrast (1) Neopaganism exists as one of the many overlapping and sometimes warring subcultures that compose the modern Western world; (2) we live in a world of high technology and multi-media communication; (3) the average Westerner is very concerned with the needs and rights of him/herself, and those of whatever special interest groups include him/ her, but has little or no concern for those of other groups, let alone of the "society" as a whole. (4) All humans now live in a world of what often seems randomly distributed order and chaos. Since many Neopagans come from tyrannical religious backgrounds, and have learned to reason in dualistic ways, it's easy to see why some prefer the extreme of anarchy and chaos to the only other perceived choice, that of extreme tyranny and order.

Thus, while we in ADF may be inspired by the order-rooted beliefs and practices of our Indo-European predecessors, we must adapt them (as with everything else Paleopagan) to the needs of Neopagans, who require a great deal more personal freedom than any Paleopagan ever dreamed of.

From the start, ADF has avoided dualistic extremes by creating organizational, liturgical and behavioral structures chat were ordered just enough to provide us a strong skeleton on which to grow our new/old faith. At the same time, we have striven to make those structures organic and flexible, just as real skeletons are. Yet we have often had to defend ourselves against accusations of being "too rigid" and "too structured".

I'd like co present some suggested terminology ('There he goes again!') that may help all of us decide whether a given aspect of ADF (or any other group) contains appropriate or inappropriate amounts of order and structure. This will then provide us with reasonably dear boundaries that members or nonmembers may choose to honor or not, with logical consequences following.

Terminology

I propose a value spectrum labeled "law" on one end and "custom" on the other, with "policy" and "tradition" in between, thusly: Law -> Policy -> Tradition -> Custom. Various pronouncements by myself, the Board of Directors, different Officers and heads of ADF's many subgroupings, etc., that concern the behavior of our members and the expectations we have of each other can be placed at points along this spectrum, depending upon the degree of seriousness that we attach to any given issue.

The category of "law" is fairly dear. The By Laws of the Corporation and other official statements about certain actions- such as human sacrifice-- being forbidden to the membership (or with other issues, required of them) constitute the few items on this end of the spectrum.

"Policies" are official decisions that have been made and published in various ADF publications, primarily about how ADF groups and representatives interact with the rest of the organization and with the general public.

"Tradition" literally means something that is handed down from generation to generation. In the Neopagan community it also means "denomination", or those things which we think characterize our religion as being distinct from other religions, both Neopagan and mainstream. In terms of "rules", items in this category deal with such matters as the official liturgical design for public worship rituals, the general cosmology in use, training requirements for Druid clergy, etc.

"Customs," however, are merely the quirks, habits, and styles that various members (from the Archdruid on) have developed to enhance their enjoyment of ADF. Wearing white robes at rituals, or Sigil jewelry, etc., are examples of customs.

Consequences

Any given law, policy, tradition, or custom can be considered major or minor, and the results of breaking one may accordingly be major or minor. We don't want people violating major laws, nor do we want them fearing to change minor customs.

As I see it, in ADF if members break a major law, they'll be expelled from the organization. That's why we should have as few major laws as possible. If members violate a minor law or a policy, they might get put "on probation" for a while, at least as far as their participation in ADF is concerned, or be removed from office temporarily or permanently.

If members change a major tradition, they're expected to present some mighty convincing arguments to the Mother Grove. If we agree with their reasoning and like the results they are getting, we'll modify the major tradition. If we disagree, we'll ask them not to do it again, or at least not to call it "ADF"'. If they insist on doing it anyway, we'll ask them to schism off and start their own denomination.

If members change a minor tradition, we'll want to know their reasoning and results. If we like them, we'll change the previous minor tradition or add a new minor tradition. If we don't we'll grumble a lot and wait to see how their tradition evolves.

There can't be any penalties for violating mere customs. How can it make any real difference to the Earth Mother, or to the future of ADF, if a grove decides to wear triskals instead of Druid Sigils, or marks people's foreheads with emblems of the Three Worlds instead of passing cups at the Triad Invocations in the liturgy, As some customs become older, they may eventually work their symbolism deeply into ADF's polytheology and self-definitions, thus becoming traditions, but that's likely to take a decade or two.

Only the Mother Grove can declare Druidic laws and policies for the members of ADF as a whole. Local groves can evolve local policies, traditions and customs, in fact they almost always do- it's part of the process of creating a group consciousness. But violation of a local tradition (let alone custom) cannot entail the same problems as would the violation of an ADF-wide tradition.

I want to make it clear that all this talk of rules is not meant to restrict anyone's freedom. On the contrary, it's to explain that there is a lot more freedom in our system than many folks seem to believe. As the rest of this essay will show, we have only a few rules that could be considered laws and policies. Everything else is tradition or custom, which the members are free to experiment with to their hearts' content, within the overall organic structure of ADF.

If some members really dislike any specific law or tradition, they are always free to complain about it and try to get the Mother Grove to change it. Failing that, they can always vote with their feet by starting or switching to some other group with laws, policies, traditions, and customs they can agree with.

Let me note for the inevitable outraged outside observers: just as non-Wiccans cannot be bound by 'Craft Law', nonmembers of ADF are not bound by ADF's policies, traditions, or customs - nor do they have the right to pressure ADF to make changes-- but they are bound by ADF's laws when attending ADF events.

Here are some specific examples of the different categories, based on things we've already published and a few extra thoughts as I was typing this essay.

Laws of ADF

Human sacrifice is absolutely forbidden under all circumstances. Period. The specific polytheological term for this is "homicide". If anyone (Macha forbid!) were to commit such a crime, he/she would be turned immediately over to the police, before being expelled (if a member).

The commission of other felony crimes-with-victims (murder, rape, arson, spouse abuse, torturing animals, etc.) is also forbidden and would reap appropriately similar consequences.

Prisoners who are incarcerated because of having been convicted of committing such comes, and who want to be members of ADF, are required to renounce such behavior and are on lifetime probation as far as ADF is concerned.

Discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, language, gender, disability, affectional/sexual preferences or creed is forbidden in all ADF activities (save ordinations, where membership in an inimical creed may be taken to be grounds for refusal).

Swastikas or other symbols now associated with racist movements and organizations, regardless of their historical origins, may not be used in ADF activities, whether public or private. Members of ADF may not wear white robes with pointed hoods that completely hide their faces. Membership in any racial supremacist organization or movement will be grounds for expulsion.

Illegal drugs may not be used in official ADF ceremonies. Alcohol, tobacco, and other dangerous drugs may not be distributed to minors (except that a minor may sip from a consecrated chalice containing an alcoholic beverage). People under the influence of any mind altering substance, who disrupt a ritual and/or endanger members at any public or private ADF event, may be removed from the scene forcibly and suspended or banned from future attendance.

Policies of ADF

An "official ADF ceremony" is one that is either public or semi-public, i.e., open to participation by well-behaved visitors. Provisionally chartered groves are allowed three closed High Day liturgies before their first open one, and these will be considered "official" as far as fulfilling their grove activity requirements is concerned.

Ordinations to the clergy may have private sections but must include one or more public or semipublic parts, including the ending, in order to be official ordinations. Initiations into special interest groups (healing circles, bardic orders, lunar magical groups, etc.) may be limited to the members thereof but are not official ADF ceremonies.

Animal sacrifice is forbidden in all official ADF ceremonies. If the members of a grove want to have a pig-roast, for example, they should thank the spirit of the animal before eating, but they may not make its slaughter (which must be quick, done by a professional, and as humane as possible) a part of an official ADF ceremony. This is just as well, since it is very difficult to get bloodstains out of white robes!

Individuals and special interest groups may do self-bleeding rites for healing purposes, establishing blood-siblinghood, etc., provided that only symbolic drops are spilled, but may not do these as a part of an official ADF ceremony. AIDS testing is highly advised before doing any rituals where two or more people may come in contact with each other's blood.

Nepotism is severely frowned upon. Erotic or financial favors may not be offered nor requested in connection with any official ADF activities, including de granting of any rank or position of leadership. Individual members of the Mother Grove may discuss, but not vote upon, leadership candidates with whom they may have a significant personal relationship.

The requirements for attaining and keeping official status as a chartered grove listed in The Grove Organizers' Handbook, including the Good Neighbor Policy, the obtaining of a F.E.I.N., etc., are all significant policies, since every chartered grove is legally and socially a "branch church" of our religious corporation. Malfeasance or nonfeasance by grove officers reflects badly on ADF as a whole, especially in the eyes of a hostile mainstream culture.

Main Traditions of ADF

  • Our Logo and the Druid Sigil.
  • Our "Standard Liturgical Outline", as printed in various ADF publications, without the addition of Wiccan, Christian, or other non- Druidic steps. While this outline will continue to evolve as time goes by, sticking to it is critical to maintaining a common ceremonial "vocabulary", which in turn enables members to move from town to town and still understand what's happening in any ADF public ritual.
  • Our basic polytheology as outlined in "What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?" This will also grow as time goes by.
  • Our emphasis on ADF being polytheistic rather than duo- or monotheistic, as well as being inclusionary, open and public.
  • Our overall system of Circles and Tracks published in The ADF Study Manual and the handful of absolute requirements for admission to the clergy (must be Pagan, must get rid of addictions, etc.). These too will evolve.
  • Our calendar of Major and Minor High Days, along with our method for calculating their occurrence, as published in The ADF Members' Guide.
  • Our commitment to making Neopaganism a part of the western religious and cultural mainstream.
  • Our commitment to focusing our attention on the Paleopagan Indo-European peoples and their deities, while still honoring others.
  • Our commitment to excellence in scholarship, art, liturgy, and personal spiritual growth.
  • Our commitment to balancing the exoteric obligations of public Druidism, including ecological, charitable, liturgical, and educational service to out communities and our plant, with the esoteric work of mystical development and spiritual growth through Druidry.
  • Our support of friendly debate and artistic competition, diversity in Druidic beliefs and practices, and mutual assistance with other legitimate Druidic organizations.
  • Our opposition to fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation on the part of writers, teachers, and other authority figures in the Druidic, New Age, and Pagan communities.
  • Our willingness to use the best that science and technology have to offer us as tools to accomplish our goals and as metaphors to expand our philosophical horizons.

Minor Traditions of ADF

  • Specific details of the Druidic liturgy, such as passing cups, using whiskey as the waters-of-life, deities associated with specific High Days, the use of liturgical languages, etc.
  • Specific polytheological opinions about particular issues. These are slowly coalescing as the members think about and discuss them with each other.
  • Specific details of the ADF Study Program, such as what requirements to use for each Track and Circle, testing procedures, etc. These are also still in the process of being developed and will rake several years to solidify.
  • Specific use of local nature spirits and local non-Indo-European deities as minor additions to ADF Liturgies.
  • Specific decisions to be made by the members of different groves about their preferences in such areas as ethnic focus, public works projects, special interest groups within each grove, etc.
  • Groves and SIGs having their own publications, which they distribute to other groves and SIGs. Groves collecting dues from local members, using part of the monies collected to renew memberships automatically every year, and using the rest for grove expenses.

Customs of ADF

  • The wearing of white clothing, especially during ritual.
  • The all night vigil as part of self-dedications and initiations.
  • The use of the Druid Sigil or ADF Logo in or on jewelry, T-shirts, banners, etc.
  • Regional ADF gatherings open to members of other Druidic and Druid-friendly groups.
  • Local groves "adopting" new protogroves nearby and helping them to grow to full grove status.

Conclusions

These are my thoughts so far. I would enjoy seeing reactions to this essay from members, preferably in the pages of The Druids' Progress -- and don't forget the First Druidic Dogma!

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

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