The following requirements have been established by the Grand Grove for AODA Candidates wishing to advance to the First Degree of AODA, the Degree of Apprentice.
The Earth Path
1. At least once each week during your Candidate year, spend fifteen minutes or more in direct contact with the natural world. This may be in a wild place (such as a forest or a seashore), in a place recovered by nature (such as an overgrown vacant lot), or in a place created by humanity and nature together (such as a garden or a park). Part of your time in nature should be spent in the practice of stillness, which simply involves sitting, keeping your mind empty of thoughts and distractions, and being wordlessly aware of everything around you. Part should be spent in the practice of focus, which involves detailed attention to some specific thing – a tide pool, a wild plant, the living things in a six-inch-square patch of grass, or the like.
2. Read at least nine books on the natural history of the local ecological region in which you live, learning about the living things, the natural ecosystems and biotic communities, the patterns of weather and water, and the natural transformations of the land over time. Relate as much of this information as possible to your own experiences of nature. (Please note: the point of this requirement is to learn about your local ecological region itself, the land, its biomes, and the nonhuman living things that inhabit it. Books on general ecology or environmental science, without a specific focus on either the local ecological region in which you live or a slightly larger area which includes your local region, don’t satisfy the requirement; neither do books about human peoples and cultures, or books about human impact on the environment.) For most people, your local ecological region will extend no more than 100 miles from your home, and may extend a shorter distance; any major ecological shift (woodland to prairie, mountains to plain, desert to grassland, hardwood forest to softwood forest, etc.) marks the end of your local region.
3. Make three changes in your lifestyle in order to take less from the Earth and give more back, and maintain those changes through your Candidate year. Different people lead different lives, and a change that would be easy for one might be difficult or impossible for another; Druidry also affirms the need of individuals to make their own choices, so the choice of changes to make is left up to each candidate. Whatever you choose should be something you’re willing to keep doing for an entire year; a small change you can sustain is better than a larger one that proves unworkable.
Some things that would meet the requirements of the Earth Path include buying locally grown organic food, even when it costs more; using public transit, bicycling, or walking to work, every day or at regular intervals, instead of driving; decreasing your household energy use by, for instance, replacing an electric appliance with a hand-powered one; replacing toxic cleaning or yard products with ecologically safe ones; composting your kitchen scraps and yard waste; and so on. Donations and the like supporting political or environmental advocacy organizations do not qualify. The Earth Path requires you to change your own life, rather than trying to make other people change theirs.
4. Plant at least one tree during your Candidate year, and water and tend it until it is well established. Should you be unable to plant a tree outside, please contact the Grand Grove for permission to plant and tend an indoor tree of some kind, such as a bonsai.
The Sun Path
During your Candidate year, celebrate a cycle of Druid holy days. In the AODA the two solstices (approximately December 21 and June 21 each year) and the two equinoxes (approximately March 20 and September 23 each year) are traditionally celebrated and should be a part of your Druid calendar. Many members of the AODA also celebrate the “cross quarter days” of Imbolc (February 2), Belteinne (May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1), and Samhuinn (November 1), while others choose different days based on their own spiritual and cultural interests. You are free to do either of these, or to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes alone. The holy days may be celebrated alone or with others, using a ritual you create yourself or one drawn from other sources. Participation in community celebrations qualifies, so long as your role in the celebration is not simply that of a spectator. Write a detailed account of each celebration in your Druid journal, and write at least nine pages on the place of seasonal celebrations in your own Druid path and in the Druid tradition in general.
The Moon Path
Practice some form of meditation regularly during your Candidate year. While any form of meditation that involves focusing and directing the attention will qualify, the particular method taught in The Druidry Handbook, which is called “discursive meditation,” is particularly recommended. While many people who are new to meditation need to work up to daily practice, daily meditation should be part of your life by the end of your Candidate year.
In addition, the Sphere of Protection ritual should be learned and practiced daily during your Candidate year.
Ovate, Bardic, or Druid Exploration
The work of our Order has three branches, reflecting the threefold division of the ancient Celtic Druids. Ovate work in the AODA engages with the natural and earth sciences, so that we better understand the world that we revere and the systems of the earth that we seek to strengthen. Bardic work in the AODA is about creative and skilled expression, rather than mass production or mindless making and consumption. Druid study in the AODA includes the knowledge and practices that engage with the more inward, esoteric, and transcendent aspects of our consciousness such as religious practice, spirituality, and mysticism.
In the First Degree, we require simply that you choose and carry out an activity that introduces you to some aspect of one of these three branches that you do not already know or practice. Examples of activities that qualify as Explorations for the First Degree include the following:
- Taking a series of classes on a relevant subject, such as painting or bird identification
- Doing volunteer work in a relevant field, such as habitat restoration or arts therapy
- Designing and carrying out a personal course of study in a relevant area
- Enrolling in a correspondence course that fits into one of the three branches and completing it satisfactorily
Your Exploration should involve at least 20 hours of work on your part in a single subject, and it must be in a subject that is new to you. If you are already a guitar player, for example, taking further classes in playing the guitar will not count as an Exploration, nor will taking up another stringed instrument. On the other hand, taking a class in a radically different musical instrument, such as the clarinet or the bagpipe, would qualify; equally, taking a class in painting or poetry would qualify. The point of this requirement is to encourage you to expand your horizons.
Your choice of an Exploration in the First Degree does not limit your choice of a direction in the Second—thus you can do a Bardic Exploration in the First Degree, for example, and go on to become an Ovate or Druid Companion in the Second. Your choice of an Exploration will, however, determine your title as an Apprentice, for you will be initiated as either an Ovate Apprentice, a Bard Apprentice, or a Druid Apprentice. You may, if you wish, do an Exploration in more than one branch of our Order, and receive more than one title at your Apprentice initiation.
During your Candidate year, you should keep a running account of the work you do in each of the three Paths and your Ovate, Bard, or Druid Exploration. The notebook may be kept in any form or medium from a three ring binder, through a handmade and handbound book, to a computer file. The notebook is entirely for your own use, and you will not be expected to show it in its entirety to anyone else, but you will need to copy down material from it in order to pass the examination at the end of your Candidate year, and you will find that the more complete you make your notebook, the more valuable of a resource it will be to you later in your Druid path.