The oldest firmly documented Druid organization in the world, the Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1781, probably by a London carpenter, Henry Hurle, and a group of friends. Looking for a name and appropriate imagery for his new group, Hurle hit on the ancient Druids, who had become a fashionable property in the romantic fiction of the time. An initiation ritual was soon devised, extolling the exploits of the ancient Druid leader Togodubeline – a name concocted from the first half of Togodumnus, an ancient Briton mentioned by Julius Caesar, and the second half of Cymbeline, the title character in one of Shakespeare’s plays.
The AOD in its early days used the King’s Arms tavern in central London as their meeting place, but the order soon found itself chartering new groves (local lodges) and established a Grand Grove to administer the order. Growth led to controversies; many of the new order’s members, like its founder, came from the working classes, and by 1800 many groves were agitating for the establishment of a system of sickness and funeral benefits modeled on those of the Odd Fellows, the premier working-class secret society in Britain at that time. The leaders of the AOD, mostly drawn from the gentry, rejected this plan and tried to limit recruitment from the working classes. Finally, in 1833, most of the order’s members broke away from the AOD to found a new society, the United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD). The UAOD quickly eclipsed its parent in size and influence and went on to become the largest Druid order in the world for more than a century. See Odd Fellowship; United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD).
The AOD survived the defection of its working-class members, and continued to work along its original lines. Through much of the nineteenth century it drew most of its membership from the London theatrical world. The dubious social standing of the theatre at that time inspired the Freemason and Rosicrucian Robert Wentworth Little (1840–78) to found a competing Druid organization, the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD), in 1874. Despite this competition, the AOD has remained quietly active up to the present. See Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD).
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006