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To mention the word Druid is to evoke images of ancient wizards and wonder-workers from old Irish sagas or Welsh legends. The Druids have been credited as engineers of Stonehenge, as the priests of the Lost Tribes of ancient Israel, and as shamans of pre-Celtic Western Europe. They have been credited with Pythagorean philosophy, Cabala, mysteries of the Goddess, Buddhism, Runes and Wicca.
The Truth about the Druids and their place in Celtic Society
The ancient Druids were probably the the most learned of all men of their time. Druids were not simply masters of religion. They were also not, as Christianity has painted them, a barbaric bizarre priesthood practicing macabre sacrifices, cutting out the hearts of their victims.
The Druids were accounted philosophers, natural scientists, physicians, astronomers, mathematicians, musicians, poets, legislators, judges, and teachers of religion and education. They were trained in 'international law' as well as tribal law.
"Dru" refers to truth - making a "Dru-id" a truth-knower. It is said that the Druids could walk between two armies waged in war and dispel the hostilities causing them to discontinue the fight.
In the matters of learning, religion, and government their word was absolute. The Druids served as the spiritual link between the Celts and the Gods. The Druids taught their philosophy to the Celts who did not have any organized religion. Their education was so rigorous that at the end of it they were virtually walking encyclopedias. Druidry was not the sole province of men, as historical sources show that women were Druids also.
Historical Commentaries on Druids
The main sources on Druids are Roman historians, archeological remains, and mythological literature recorded by Christian monks during the Dark Ages. Here is what some of the Roman historians had to say about the Druids:
Diodorus Siculus: [The Druids are] philosophers and theologians... skilled in the divine nature.
Ammianus: [Druids investigate] problems of things secret and sublime.
Diogenes Laertius wrote that Druids had three main ideals: ...to revere Divine Being, to abstain from evil, and to live with courage." and again [attributes to Druids]: "...riddles and dark sayings; teachings that the gods must be worshipped, and no evil done, and manly behavior maintained."
Strabo: "Among all the tribes, generally speaking, there are three classes of men held in special honor: The Bards, the Vates, and the Druids" and again "The Bards are singers and poets; the Vates, interpreters of sacrifice and natural philosophers; while the Druids, in addition to the science of nature, study also moral philosophy."
Julius Caesar: [they have] much knowledge of the stars and their motion, of the size of the world and of the earth, of natural philosophy [physics].
"The Druids officiate at the worship of the Gods, regulate public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions" and "they act as judges in practically all disputes whether between tribes or between individuals,..."
The Druids also setup "colleges" to which the nobles and those wishing to become druids would go to study. Caesar informs us: "The Druidic doctrine is believed to have been found existing in Britain and thence imported to Gaul; even today those who want to make a profound study of it generally go to Britain for the purpose."
The Druids didn't record their lore in writing because as Caesar again informs us: "The druids believe that their religion forbids them to commit their teaching to writing, although for most other purposes, such as public and private accounts, the Gauls use the Greek alphabet. But I imagine that this rule was originally established for another reason- because they did not want their doctrine to become public property, and in order to prevent their
pupils from relying on the written word and neglecting to train their memories; for it is usually found that when people have the help of texts, they are less diligent in learning by heart, and let their memories rust."
Records From Irish Monks
Because of the Druids considerable knowledge and the high international reputation of Irish scholarship, the Christian Church of the times found necessary to send missionaries of the highest intellectual calibre. So much for ignorant pagan savages *S*
These Irish monks were intrigued and captivated by Celtic Oral traditions and recorded a vast amount of Celtic lore. There may have been some books and manuscripts before then, but these are lost to us, if they existed at all.
We have some written records from Ireland and Wales that can help us see into the druid mind. This great body of lore was recorded by Christian scribes who were not bound by the Druid prohibition against writing. They contain a Christian outlook and veneer thus the Druids role in Irish mythology appear mainly as wizards, masters of the supernatural arts, instead of merely learned men. Though these medieval manuscripts were written and edited by Christian monks, much wisdom yet remains there.
It is through poetry and Song that much Druidic wisdom is communicated, it is well to examine the poems that the Old Celts used to make. The magic poetry of the Druids was so inseparable from the narrative of their stories that many fragments have survived the translation simply because the wisdom and mysteries were "encoded" within.
Celtic Christianity and Druidism
Celtic Christianity is a unique and beautiful blend of Christianity and Druidism formed during the Dark Ages. Saint Columba is said to have first spoken the famous prayer "Mo Drui, Mac De", My Druid, Son of God, as if identifying rather than contrasting the old and the new religions.
One unique feature of the Celtic church was the cut of the tonsure, which was bald in the front and long in the back, unlike the Benedictine tonsure, which is short all around with a bald spot in the center.
The Celtic Christian art of illuminated manuscripts, such as the beautiful Book of Kells, is another uniquely Celtic contribution to Christianity. Its symbol is the Celtic Cross, a cross with a circle around its center.
The Druids who converted to Christianity believed that both they and their tradition were redeemed and fulfilled within Christianity. The whole person was addressed, the rational being and the intuitive being. The Christ was seen as the meaning and fulfillment of history and mythology.