The Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) is a modern Druid order drawing its inspiration and many of its teachings from the Druid Revival of the 18th and 19th centuries. They do not claim direct descent from the original Druids (believed to be the priests, advisors, judges, healers and historians of ancient Britain, Ireland, and Gaul), who became extinct around 800 ACE. Like other modern Druid groups, the AODA evolved out of the 300-year-old Revival movement that had uncovered the fragmentary legacy of the ancient Druids--a powerful source of inspiration and insight--and drew on a wide range of sources in shaping a nature spirituality to meet the challenges of today. Its roots in the Druid Revival gives the AODA certain features in common with esoteric societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It offers three degrees of initiation - Druid Apprentice, Druid Companion, and Druid Adept - which are conferred upon completion of a graded study program. Its members have the opportunity to meet in local groups, called Groves, and a Grand Grove oversees the Order, charters new localized Groves, and manages the study program.
In keeping with the traditions of Revival Druidry, the AODA encourages its members to pursue their own spiritual directions within a broad common framework, and its approach to spirituality is personal and experiential rather than dogmatic. Membership is open to men and women of all religious, cultural, national, and ethnic backgrounds. The initiation rituals and study program are prescribed, and AODA members are expected to observe the four traditional Druid holy days, the solstices and the equinoxes. Creativity and the quest for personal Awen - the inner light of inspiration - are among the AODA's central values. Evironmentalism, commitment to an earth-honoring lifestyle, celebration of the cycles of nature through seasonal ritual, and personal development through meditation and other spiritual exercises form the core work of the AODA, and involvement in the arts, healing practices, and traditional esoteric studies are among its applications and expressions.
The Grand Archdruids of the Order:
- James Manchester, M.D. 1912 - 1936
- Juliet Ashley, Ph.D. 1952 - 1974
- Rhodonn Starrus 1974 - 1989
- Robert Johnson 1989 - 1998
- John Michael Greer 2003 - present
The Ancient Order of Druids in America descended from the Ancient Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD), which was founded in 1874 by English Mason and Rosicrucian, Robert Wentworth Little, who is perhaps best known as the founder of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), the immediate predecessor of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The AAOD drew on nearly two centuries of earlier Druid orders in Britain. Many of the original members were Masons, however Masonicmembership was not required for admission at the time of its founding.
In 1886 the name of the Little's AAOD was changed to Ancient Masonic Order of Druids (AMOD) and about two-thirds of the non-Masonic members were expelled from the Order. It was these expelled members who took on the name Ancient Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD) and attempted to revive the old order, but it apparently died out around 1900. As of June 2003 the Ancient Masonic Order of Druids in England was still active.
On June 22, 1912, an American Freemason with Druidic interests, James Manchester, M.D. obtained a Charter for the Ancient Order of Masonic Druids from the Order in England and founded the Ancient Order of Masoni c Druidsin America (AOMDA) in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Manchester was a high-ranking Mason and belonged to Masonic Lodges both in America and in England. During the time he served as Grand Archdruid, only men who were also Masons were initiated. The Massachusetts Masonic Grand Lodge told Grand Archdruid Rhodonn Starrus that the Grand Lodge had never recognized AOMDA and was not interested in doing so in early 1972. By this time the AOMDA was no longer in contact with its parent organization in England. The Grand Lodge in Colorado declined to recognize the AOMDA later that summer unofficially citing the fact the Order initiated women.R obert Hayes, the next Grand Archdruid, was also a Mason and his wife was a high-ranking member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic organization for both men and women. Mrs. Hayes was the first female member of the AOMDA, and Dr. Juliet Ashley was either the second or third female to be initiated. Since we know Dr. Ashley celebrated her twentieth anniversary of her Druid initiation in about 1965, it is safe to assume the Order must have started accepting women in about 1944 or 1945. s.
Juliet Ashley was a psychologist, hypnotherapist, and theosophist who had studied with Arthur Edward Waite in England as well as the distinguished psychologist Dr. Karl Jung. She was appointed the Grand Archdruid of the AOMDA in 1952, following the untimely death of Mr. Hayes.
The bylaws of the AOMDA required all members to either be a Mason, be related by blood or marriage to a Mason or be recommended by a Mason. The masonic rituals carried symbolic penalties that were quite gruesome in nature. Dr. Ashley was very innovative and instituted a number of changes in the rituals to make them less Masonic, and she attempted several times during her tenure as to delete Masonic affiliation as a requirement for membership from the bylaws. It did not happen during her reign as Grand Archdruid, but it did happen on June 22, 1976, when the Order officially changed its name to the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), which it remains known as to this day.
Ashley resigned in 1974 and was replaced by Rhodonn Starrus who took the Druidic name Aerach Crann Crithaec ("Great Quaking Aspen"). Dr. Starrus was a Greek and Hebrew scholar who loved to translate ancient texts to compare the meaning of the original writers to modern interpreters. He loved to say the ancient Christians would rather die than practice what we call Christianity today. He fancied himself a "Christian Druid" but as he was very quick to say: "Not that kind of a Christian" in reference to the radical Christians of today.
Starrus resigned in 1989 and Robert Johnson, who also used the name Aerach Crann Crithaec, became the AODA's next Grand Archdruid. In 1998, after a series of internal troubles, Johnson sent a letter to all the Groves announcing that the order had been disbanded. Since this action had not been approved by any of the other Archdruids, it had no legal validity, but many people left the order at that time, nonetheless.
The remaining Archdruids then elected Betty Jean McCloud Reeves as Grand Archdruid. Reeves, the presiding Archbishop of the Universal Gnostic Church, took the Druidic name Aerach Crann Crithaec as well, in honor of Starrus. Her term as Grand Archdruid was a period of slow rebuilding as the order began to recover from the aftermath of the 1998 crisis.
As of this writing (September 2012), the Grand Archdruid of the AODA is John Michael Greer, acquiring this role in 2003, when Betty Reeves resigned due to ill health. Greer took the Druidic name Creyr Glas Cynwyddon ("Blue Heron Loremaster"). He has authored many books including The Druidry Handbook, which has become the training manual to candidates for initiation into the Order. It is available to non-candidates as well, and is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the modern Druid path.