Previously, in Friendly Societies in an unfriendly society, I've described how many friendly societies were caught up in a wave of Hanoverian suspicion of anything that seemed sympathetic to revolutionary ideas from France.
"Suspicion" might be putting it mildly. Some might call it full-blown paranoia about anything remotely similar to the "clandestine world of international Jacobite-Masonic intrigue". Mostly, that meant the Auld Alliance (Scotland and France) plotting against their Old Enemy (England). Good examples of this are (a) the Scots Guard (Garde Écossaise), an elite Scottish military unit, being the French royal bodyguards, and (b) Scottish Rite Freemasonry being the main kind of freemasonry in France, right through to the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and after.
Any of the English friendly societies and lodges that wanted to avoid being tarred with a Jacobite Revolutionary brush had to reinvent themselves as "social groups". Especially as groups that appeared to have nothing to do with anything masonic. Rewriting your "creation myths" so that they came from an older, more romantic and more idylic time was a good tactic. Flucht nach vorne or "escaping forward" was the way to survive and succeed.
An example of this is the Ancient Order of Druids, formed in 1781 by one Henry Hurle.
Ancient Order of Druids
It has been said that in Britain in the 19th century there was a greater number and a wider variety of clubs and societies than anywhere else in the world. These clubs and particularly those which adopted some degree of secrecy attracted growing suspicion form the Government keen to prevent the revolutionary unrest which had swept through France and America. It was into this environment that the Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1781 at the Kings Arms Inn in Poland Street - off Oxford Street in London. It was said to have been formed as a refuge from the unrest of the streets of London at the time.
Ref : Druidic Dawn
Membership was restricted to men and vows of secrecy were required from each member. The meetings were generally social affairs and the Druids were renowned for their love of music and song. Many of the songs that were made up early in the Orders history are still sung today. The order’s motto is ‘Justice, Philanthropy and Brotherly Love’ which also gives an indication of two of the other founding principles of the Order that of looking after fellow members when they fall on hard times and also ‘doing good’ for your community.
Does it matter that these neo-druids might have reinvented druidism in their own image? With scant knowledge of what druidism had actually meant two thousand years earlier? By way of an analogy, consider "democracy": what we now call democracy bears little resemblance to the original Greek form. And so with modern druids - the name hardly matters - a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
The founder of the Ancient Order of Druids, Henry Hurle, is usually described rather baldly as "a wealthy carpenter, surveyor and builder who worked at Garlick Hill in London" (Wikipedia) with no explanation of his inspiration or motives.
Others are more forthcoming:
Some “mesopagan” Druids, like Henry Hurle, saw neo-druidism as an extension, if not a purely Celtic equivalent, to Eurasian Freemasonry, which was revived in England in the same year and place [“The Apple Tree Tavern”] as John Toland’s ADO in 1717. Hurle led the formation of the “Ancient Order of Druids” (AOD) in 1781 emphasizing his background in Masonry, Rosicrucianism and the Kabbalah.
You might notice in the previous quote that first there was the ADO (Ancient Druid Order) and then there was the AOD (Ancient Order of Druids). That's not a typo, these neo-druid groups seemed to have formed and then splintered, and then some reformed/merged under new names. Like:
The Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD) was founded in 1874 by Wentworth Little, a Rosicrucian and Freemason, with the intent of studying the links between freemasonry and ancient Druidic tradition.
There was also the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids (OBOD) that claim "William Blake was their Chosen Chief from 1799 to 1827".
At this point, I have to declare a personal interest.
I live not far from Avebury, and sometimes we have played host to visiting Druids. I'm not a member of a druidic order, but I thought I should be a good host, and show an interest in their history. It came as a great surprise to find that Henry Hurle was a key player in their re-creation. As I had also found him in my family tree. His granddaughter Maria Francis Hurle married my great-grandfather Henry Macdonald. So all this Lodge and Druid stuff is in my genes whether I like it or not! :-)
Nowadays, we are all accustomed to most political differences being described as "Left -v- Right". This might just be the latest example of "dumbing down" the political universe to a one dimensional flatland. But in the era of these druidic revivals, and revolutionary comings and goings, the main political dimensions were Libertarian -v- Authoritarian and Royalist -v- Republican.
There are, of course, Libertarians still lurking in the landscape, but in disguise. On the "left" end of the current dimension, they tend to get called Anarchists. On the "right" end, they tend to get called "Alt-Right", with no explanation. The official Libertarian UK Party is so deeply low on the political radar that more people have heard of (and voted for) the Monster Raving Looney Party.
One of the greatest Republican Libertarians, William Blake, is now regarded as a national hero, and music with his words is sung with great passion and emotion every year at the end of the Proms. Usually by many traditional Proms-going people who tend to the "right" end of our current "Left -v- Right" dimension. Or even Authoritarian Royalists, apparently with no self-awareness or sense of irony.
William Blake - a Druid?
William Blake: What paintings of visions come
A poet and painter, William Blake is considered to be a man who gave back Britain a sense of identity, at a time when the French and American Revolutions were doing the same in those countries. But above all, Blake was a mystic, a visionary, with at least one foot in the Otherworld – if not more.
Blake is remembered as a poet and painter, but in his time, he was not considered to be an artist. When he became apprenticed in 1772, his master engraver was James Basire, who lived on No. 31 Great Queen Street, opposite the Masonic Grand Lodge. Quite a few of Blake’s friends would enter Freemasonry, though there is no record that Blake ever joined. ...
Ref and copyright © Eye Of The Psychic Blake
I concur that Blake was probably not a Freemason, even if he was openly sympathetic to many Masonic ideas. He was much too much of a Gnostic and independent visionary to need anyone else's formulation. Yet he perfectly and squarely displayed a shining example of the masonic quest : to discover the hidden secrets of nature and science.
... Still, when he lived at No. 28 Poland Street, between 1785 and 1790, the “The Ancient Order of the Druids” convened merely a few yards down from Blake’s house, in an ale-house apparently established by the Order itself. Too close for comfort?
But perhaps even if Blake wasn’t (a druid), he should have been, for he was greatly interested in the Druids and must be seen as one of the great contributors to reintroducing the Celtic-megalithic dimension into British culture. Blake spoke of Albion, England’s great, mythological past, ruled by Druids. To quote Peter Ackroyd: “All his life, Blake was entranced and persuaded by the idea of a deeply spiritual past, and he continually alluded to the possibility of ancient lore and arcane myths that could be employed to reveal previously hidden truths.”
Blake had read Stukeley’s Abury on the supposed Druid temples of Avebury and Stonehenge. Blake, together with many like-minded people, would transform the history of Britain and direct it into the Celtic direction, away from its Roman foundations and focus. Blake believed that “The Egyptian Hieroglyphs, the Greek and the Roman Mythology, and the Modern Freemasonry being the last remnants of it. The honourable Emanuel Swedenborg is the wonderful Restorer of this long lost Secret.”
Ref and copyright © Eye Of The Psychic Blake
Blake's mention of the honourable Emanuel Swedenborg gives us another clue into what inspired him and sparked his creative imagination.
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour