British Druid groups began forming in the 1700's, and a simple glance at the writings will display that these groups were very serious about their work. Despite this, one can sense an element of play in their organizations and rituals: some of them survive today in moderately intact form, and one look will make a passer-by laugh.
The reason for this laughter? Many British Druid orders have a strange ritual garb that derives directly from the romantic imaginings of what a Druid should be. They process down the street, bearing standards and carrying horns or drums and wearing curious and strange long white robes. Each may carry a staff, or hang a sickle from their belt. Atop the head is a strange looking hat, a square of cloth that ties in the back. Finally, completing the ensemble, some orders wear long, white, fake beards that point to the middle of the torso.
Do we laugh at this because it is an anachronism? Is it funny because we don't understand? That is part of it. At one Druidic gathering recently, someone pulled me aside, pointing at the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and whispered, "What's with the KKK garb?" It was a serious question, but it made me laugh. I'd always taken the hats and beards and robes as a part of Druidism, and tried to respect it, but now I was interested in why these ritual accoutrements were chosen. Again, Huizinga has an answer.
In discussing humour and play throughout western civilization, Huizinga approaches the ideals of the 17th and 18th century through the lens of one item in particular: the periwig. It comes, he says, from the Baroque period's "general tendency to overdo things". The wig, he says, seems very out of place with the society of the time. This is an age of reason, a time when Descartes and Spinoza were writing, a time of adventure and colonization. How amusing, says he, that this "should also have been the age of that comical object, the wig!"
The wig begins as a fashionable substitute for a lack of hair, but passes quickly into the realm of art as more impressive (and, by extension, silly) styles present themselves. But it is a makeup, something that hides the truth: below the powdered wig, there was an unwashed head, a thing that wasn't quite as right as it made itself out to be. It conceals the grime and the generally disgusting habits of the age. Everyone who saw this would have known what lay under wig, but they all played along and pretended that they didn't.
Similarly, we can look at the fake beards, the hats, and the robes of the Druid orders. When the British Druid orders began, they sought a way to show that they were different, somehow nobler than the others because they had come back to this idealized, romanticized religion. In order to play the part of a Druid, they felt that they had to dress in the most stereotypical, romanticized method they could. The hat, robe, and beard are all pieces in a game in which the rules are designed to hide the fact that the Druid is really a normal, modern person, and transform them into an ancient, wise sage of oak trees and groves. It hides the imperfections of the individual, bringing out instead the qualities of the romanticized Druids of old. These pieces are more props in the play of religion. Of course, this play is serious, and it's not for us to judge whether it's effective for the Druid or not, but it is a useful way of looking at the rather silly accoutrements and realizing that they have a real place in ritual.