The Druids, by author unknown to me
Unfortunately for the druids the most we know about them comes from their enemies rather than from records or documents they may have left.
This may change with archaeological evidence that may be found in Europe.
In the discussion that will follow, it is my hope that I can provide a debrabation of the evolutionary phases that Druids went through to get to where they are today.
According to Miranda Green there are three distinct phases that the Druids went through to arrive here today.
The first phase is that of the ancient Druids of which we know through the classical writers, the archaeological finds, through myths and linguistic evidence.
The second phase was the resurrection of what is thought of as “Druids” between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The third phase comes with the Druids of today and what they see as Druidism.
So who were the Ancient Druids and what was their role in the Celtic society?
Like the Celts it is difficult to know directly about the Druids so we have to rely on two sources, the first is the classical writers and the second is archaeology. The first source can be divided into three groups.
The first group is the Greeks who were not under Roman employment who reported about the Druids in a somewhat unbiased way.
The second group is the writers who were anti-druid and the third group is the pro-druid writers.
I believe that from each of these groups you can get elements of who and what the Druids were. Archaeological finds also give us some ideas about a priesthood at least and some evidence about the college on Anglesey.
As it was with the Celts; the first to record anything about the Druids were the Greeks and that happened around the second century BC. The name they recorded was Druidae. “The classical texts referred to Druids only in Gaul and Britain.” This is a quote confirmed by Miranda Green in her book The World of the Druids.
So how did the classical writers view the Druids? The classical writers themselves disagree on how they view the Druids but they also agree on some points. The Druids are described by the different writers as priests, teachers, thinkers, doctors, arbitrators, judges, and magicians.
The classical writers also tell us that the Celtic religion and politics are closely linked together, and what linked them were the Druids. “For some, the Druids were savages, uncouth barbarians who had to be eradicated, but for others, the Druids were worthy of respect as intellectuals and high-minded philosophers.”
“The archaeology of ancient religious officials can take a number of forms: sacred sites may yield some clues; the evidence of ritual behaviour, such as offering of gifts to the gods; and the rare survival of liturgical regalia, such as headdresses, scepters and the insignia of religious office.” So obviously there is archaeological evidence of at least priesthood in the regions thought to be occupied by the Celts.
Some of these archaeological finds seem to corroborate the evidence presented by the classical writers.
For example, at the site of the River Loire at Neuvy-en-Sullias in France, a statue of what is thought to be a Druid holding what some scholars think is the “Druid’s Egg” mentioned by Pliny in his Natural History.
This statue dates back to the mid-first century BC.
A few cave drawings in Pfalzfeld, Hiedelberg and at Schwarzenbach in Germany depict men in headdresses of mistletoe, pairing that with Pliny’s statement that the mistletoe was sacred to the Druids; it could be possible that the men in the drawings were Druids.
Some of these drawings date back to the fifth and fourth centuries BC.
I have to say that it is difficult to present more of the evidence found in Miranda Greens book without writing it all in this discussion.
I think it is important to talk about the beliefs of the Celts as a whole and the Druids.
“People living in Celtic communities, wishing to propitiate or give thanks to the gods, presented them with gifts: food, drink or material possessions, such as jewellery, coins or weapons.” So the Celts believed in offerings to the gods.
The Celts were taught by the Druids that the soul did not die but rather lived on in the Otherworld and when it dies there it lives on in ours.
This belief is evident in the way they buried their dead with some of their possessions with them. The Druids and Celts also believed in sacrifice; be that human or animal, there are evidence to both kinds, in classical texts and some archaeological finds like some bog victims. However, the evidence is not completely conclusive.
One question that had always intrigued me was; were there female Druids.
There does not seem to be conclusive archaeological evidence to that effect even though some classical writers do mention them like Tacitus and others even go as far as calling them Druidesses. Another place they are mentioned is in the vernacular myths of Ireland.
As Christianity came it pretty much destroyed and at the same time preserved the Druids. Christianity took over Druidism and the Romans tried to eradicate it. Ironically though, it was the Christian monks who saved a lot of the Celtic myths and legends by committing them to writing, granted by putting some Christian spin on them.
The second phase that the Druids went through is the resurrection phase.
This took place between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries AD. This resurrection took place largely because of two factors. The first is the rediscovery of the classical texts and their distribution and the second is national pride. In France and Germany the Druids and the Celtic past symbolized the glorious past and in Ireland and Whales it was an escape from all the turmoil in politics and economy. Suddenly it was hip to be Celtic.
This resurrection was a bit misguided since they did not have the scientific means to back their ideas. It was also at this time that the great megalithic monuments like Stonehenge were linked to the Druids.
The Druids were either viewed idealistically or as barbarians and a lot of misconceptions about them were born during that time. We are still struggling with these misconceptions today. Some of the Druidic orders of today came into being during that time.
The third phase that Miranda Green talks about in her book is the Druids of today. “Modern Druids have a firm belief in there being genuine links between past and present. Many see themselves as successors to the original Druids of Caesar’s time, and they are drawn to archaeological monuments because they were sacred to their ancestors and are still regarded as holy places.”
In my opinion Modern Druids are struggling to find out who they are.
They are looking to the past for who they were and unlike their predecessors who tried to resurrect Druid and Celtic beliefs in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries they have the benefit of science and archaeological discoveries to guide them and give them an idea. However, they are also trying to fit what they know into what is acceptable to them today.
There are many Druid organizations around today each with their own teachings and ideas of what Druidism is. Some claim to be descendants of Caesar’s Druids while others claim to be descendants of the movements of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Others still hope to be able to do it the “RIGHT” way without claiming to be descendants of anybody.
Either way it is difficult without having a full picture of the past Druid to form a correct picture of present Druid, but that does not mean we can’t try!
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