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What is Fraternal Druidism?
Fraternal Societies are organisations which promoted conviviality and mutual financial and social support among their members. Some of these societies, such as the Freemasons and Freegardeners, developed from trade organisations who during the 17th century began to admit "non-operative" members. The admission of these new members, often gentemen, who had no intention of learning the trade, changed the charactor of these societies forever. The reasons why these new "speculative" members joined these societies of craftsman who were often their "social inferior" is much debated. It is clear however that it led to unprecedented social mixing within often rigid social classes for "all within the Lodge are equal". The term "Lodge"was originally used as a meeting place for the operative craft guilds but would become the general term adopted for the meeting place and organisation of most fraternal societies.
Meetings were normally convivial with many toasts being drunk and songs being sung. The Druid fraternal societies seem to be very fond of both! The meetings had both sung choruses and hymns spread throughout.
All fraternal societies adopted means by which members could recognise each other. These were original used as a basis to get work or charity/relief from the society. These normally consist of one or more secret words; a number of special signs and some form of handshake, known as a grip or token.
Faternal societies reached their zenith in terms of number and variety in England at the end of the 18th century. Increasing concern by the British government of perceived links between Jacobite and revolutionary groups led to the banning of any society in which its members met in secret and swore further oaths of secrecy. Freemasonry was the only society exempt from this ban but even then had its operations severely restricted. To escape the ban some of the fraternal societies such as the Oddfellows became registered friendly societies, guaranteeing members certainly financial benefits. It is to the USA that the true nature of societies such as the Oddflellows remains. The Ancient Order of Druids, the largest of the fraternal druid orders seems to have largely ignored the ban but this may be due to its relative small size at that time.
By the middle of the 19th century, government hysteria over potential links to revolutionary groups had largely evaporated. Friendly and fraternal societies had largely been accepted as a part of society and the friendly societies in particular were seen as an important means by which working people could provide for their sickness and funeral costs. There was still pressure from the Middle and Upper classes on the friendly societies not to waste money on regalia and feasting and generally their rituals became more simple and less dramatic as a result. They still remain however an important part of these societies to this day.
Women started to be admitted to the friendly societies, first as members with their husbands (but not as members in their own right. They were later admitted in separate lodges from about the 1830's later still in mixed Lodges . The date that the first female druid was admitted is unknown but it is likley to have been in about the 1850's.
All of the druid orders, in common with most other friendly and fraternal societies contracted substantially throughout the later half of the 20th century. The last British UAOD Lodge (Caratacus Lodge) closed in 1999 but the Order appears to be flourishing in Europe. The Order of Druids has ceased to exist as a fraternal body but continues to offer financial services to members.
|Regalia and artefacts|