THE SACRED MISTLETOE
The military law teaches us that the first duty of the soldier is to obey. It is, therefore, in briefly addressing you, like a true soldier, I perform the pleasing duty assigned me by the local committee of Druids.
In 1856, ten years after Iowa had cast aside her territorial dress for that of statehood, the Druidical pioneers planted the first Grove of Druids in the fertile bosom of this commonwealth, here in the city of Burlington. This city was then the gateway through which civilization passed to the wonderful country situated in this great Northwest. It is then a matter of wonderment that in Burlington, thirty-seven years ago, the first Grove of the United Ancient Order of Druids should have been established? As our fathers in those days welcomed the brotherhood of Druids and helped plant the first Grove in Iowa, we, the sons of those grand old pioneers, propose to extend to you, one and all, the same sincere, hearty and cordial greeting as those of our parents in the days of 1856.
I am not honored with a membership in your Order, and therefore cannot speak to you as a brother. Though I have never been led through the labyrinths of a Druidsí Grove, and have never sat beneath the sacred oak entwined with the mystic mistletoe and participated in a sacrifice, yet it is my pleasure, as a non-member, to join in these festivities. The pleasures and enjoyments of this day serve in part to commemorate those of your Druid fathers of long ago, who, at certain seasons of the year, with formal and pompous ceremony, as soon as the sacred mistletoe was discovered entwining the no less sacred oak, collected in large numbers about the tree; a banquet and sacrifice was prepared; a priest in white vestments cut the twig with a golden sickle; two other white-robed priests caught it in a white cloak; two milk-white heifers were instantly offered up, and the remainder of the day was spent in rejoicing.
Astonishment meets us when we undertake the task of tracing the history and origin of the Order of Druids. Especially is this so as they did not allow their tenants and history to be committed to writing. Yet history traces this sect of people to the year 42 B.C. They founded the city of Lyons in the days of the Roman Empire, a city which for a time was the most flourishing in Gaul. Through their influence civilization made rapid progress in the provinces, and their schools became famous and rivaled those of Greece and Italy. In the history of Julius Caesar we find that the whole political power of Gaul was divided between the Druids and the Knights and Nobles. The Druids were not only ministers and teachers of religion, but were judges of the law, and physicians of the people. They were esteemed for their culture and intelligence, and their influence over the people was almost supreme. It is said of them that they were the first to teach of the immortality of the soul and adoration of one Supreme Being. They also believed in the future state of rewards and punishments. They professed "to reform morals, to secure peace, and to encourage goodness," yet they were superstitious, and made use of their magical knowledge. A branch, or one of the triads of the Druids, was known as the Bards. They were supposed to be divinely inspired, and their influence everywhere was very great. They were exempted from military obligations, and passed their lives in the solitude of the forests engaged in theological and metaphysical studies and meditations.
The Druids finally lost their power and influence during the reign of Emperor Claudius, and were finally driven from their country and fled to the mountains of Scotland and Wales.
And thus it is the modern Druids meet in Groves, and their lodge rooms are supposed to represent a grove, the Chief Druid being seated under the sacred oak having the sacred mistletoe entwined in its branches.
The Druids of to day have embodied in their ritual the teachings and tenants of this once powerful and honored sect. It is a claim well founded in history, that their work is more ancient than that of any secret organization now in existence, their teachings more beautiful and their songs more inspiring than was ever wafted through the cedars of Lebanon.
In 1781 the Druids assumed their present character in England. The Order was introduced in the United States in 1830 by the organization of George Washington Grove, No. 1, in New York City. From this parent tree Groves have sprung up in about every state and territory in this Union, besides the principal countries in Europe and Australia.
The foundation stones of Druidism are reasoning and sound morality. Social distinctions are ignored and anyone can become a member who loves virtue and abhors vice. It seems to unite men together for mutual protection and improvement. It fosters a spirit of fraternity and good fellowship, makes provision of the care of its sick and the families of its dead members, striving to place them beyond the need for charity.
I trust that much good will come from this your Thirty-seventh Annual Assemblage, that from this day on your membership will largely increase, that your fraternal ties will be strengthened, that your considerate and brotherly care for the widow and children of a deceased brother will never wane, that each and every one of you and your brothers that are to be, will always find shelter and protection amidst your Groves of Sacred Oaks, entwined with the mistletoe whose every tendril will have inscribed your watch-words, "Unity, Peace and Concord."
[Response by Mr. W.W. Dodge, at a banquet given on the occasion of the Thirty-seventh Annual State Convention of the United Ancient Order of Druids of Iowa, at Burlington, Iowa, June 14, 1893, as quoted in The Fraternal and Modern Banquet Orator, Hon. W.W. Dodge (Monarch Book Co., Chicago, 1903)]