Upon doing research for my novel, looking for different types of characters I could use aside from the usual, the word Druid popped in my head and I thought maybe it could be interesting to mix the truth and their own folklore.
Druids are not as known as other Celtic legends such as Leprechauns, Faeries, Elves and Trolls, to only name a few. The influence of the Celtic culture in the Fantasy literature is very important and provided very strong roots to the genre.
However, I wanted to use something that would bring a little more knowledge to myself and potential readers. The Celtic culture has always been an obsession of mine and so, I thought it was now time for me to research the druids.
Knowledge of a Time
The druids represented higher knowledge to the Celtic people. They were the representation of high society in their own time and inspired many people. They were given many powers over their people, maybe a little too many for their own good.
Druids are mostly known for their involvement in their own religion of the time, being at the head of their beliefs. They also were the legal authorities of their civilization and adjudicators and it wasn’t rare to see them being politically involved as well. But, their knowledge didn’t stop there as they were also part of the medical council as they were themselves practiced as well.
What surprised me while doing my research was that there are no records written by their own hands. One would think the druids to be very highly educated to have had such influence and power of an entire civilization, and apparently, they were.
However, their own doctrine was supposedly against the idea of keeping written records of not only their knowledge, but own existence as well.
Without a few conquerors, no one today would’ve known of the existence of the druids despite their influence within the Celtic civilization.
In the year fifty BCE (before current era) and was written by Julius Caesar. The detail references to the druids were the result of the Roman invasion of Gaul. During the first century, the druid’s orders became irrelevant and even entirely disappeared after the coming of the second century.
The druids were even mentioned in Middle Ages in Christian texts, which depicted them as sorcerers and against the teaching of Christianism. That might explain their association with supernatural abilities.
Despite attempts at staying secretive in the history of mankind, the druids might not have failed in that mission as their descendants tried to revive their existence between the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
The groups of followers were known as neo-druidism, but their teaching was not as accurate as once thought when historians found many manuscripts relating to the druids. Those teaching might have been based on wrong information.
Druid Means Sorcerer
Despite the word itself meaning sorcerer in old Irish, “druí”, in older European language, it means “oak-knower” which is also supported by the ancient Greek language as well.
Of course due to the lack of writing their own history, knowledge about their true meaning and existence is very hard and complex to understand as we have to base our knowledge on the view of other people that encountered them and most likely, conquered them.
It is from the Middle Ages that have come to know that the druids were considered nobles in their pagan Celtic society and were exempt of paying taxes and performing military duties. In charge of maintaining Paganism, they were the ones making sure the belief was maintained according to their calendar of the time.
Some other history record shows that their status was so highly respected that if their presence were shown between two armies, they had the necessary knowledge and ability to stop the war from happening.
The gathering of the druids is said to have often taking place in hidden and secluded places such as caves and in the middle of a forest. Their knowledge not to be shared with “outsiders” they left no stone unturned when it came to their meetings or secret council.
Through transcripts throughout history, Julius Caesar mentioned that all was taught to the druids orally, and he noticed that their studies would take up to twenty years. Everything had to be learned by heart and novices had to retain it all.
All the druids’ oral literature and ancient verses were lost through time. However, Julius Caesar remarked that the Gaul actually had a written language for the druid and it consisted of Greek characters. However, by the time Julius Caesar had the manuscripts translated, those had already been changed to Latin and so, the druids secrets passed on with them.
What is surprising to me is that the Iron Age Celt (mostly from Gaul) did practice human sacrifice. Most of those were performed with criminals, but when in ration, innocents would be utilized as sacrifices for the druids in order to see the future.
The most common way was by drowning, burning or hanging. However, it has been said that the infamous Wicker Man was one of their ways to sacrifice humans as well.
It did come as a surprise to me as I thought Celts not to practice human sacrifice as at all, relating it mostly to southern aboriginal cultures. But I was wrong, and it makes me wonder how often they did practice his horrifying punishment in order to “see the future”.
“With regard to their actual course of studies, the main object of all education is, in their opinion, to imbue their scholars with a firm belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another; for by such doctrine alone, they say, which robs death of all its terrors, can the highest form of human courage be developed. Subsidiary to the teachings of this main principle, they hold various lectures and discussions on astronomy, on the extent and geographical distribution of the globe, on the different branches of natural philosophy, and on many problems connected with religion.” – Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, VI, 13
The presence of women in the druid profession was not rare in Irish culture. They had names such as bandruí translated to woman-druid and are mentioned in many tales of the time. They shared the exact same education and served the same duties as their men counterpart.
Tlachtga is probably one of the most known among women druids, as she had a festival in her name in the Middle Ages. She was known as the Daughter of the Druid who was associated with the Hill of Ward.
Many are mentioned in Irish folktales and are had very prominent roles from defeating evil to training war heroes. They were seen as strong, intelligent women with many great aptitudes.
Sadly, because the druids prone their education to an oral one learned by heart, many druidesses might have been lost in time due to the lack of written history of their time and therefore, not much is known about them.
One tale suggest that there was an island not far off of Britain where only females were allowed and men were rejected. They were taught the ways of the druids, including natural witchcraft which they would perform to rule the seas. They would come to the mainland when prepared to meet a husband and would perform their duties as druidesses.
But it might all be folktale.
Druids & Sorcery
Druids has been counselors to kings for a very long time before Christianity took over Europe. They would often be used as ones to see the future and give advice on how to either make it happen or not.
Many Irish folktales tells the stories of kings that listened to their druid advisor and those that haven’t and have lost it all because of it.
Then, when reading about Irish mythology, it is often described that druids were capable of wizardry and on example is linked to the Milesians that desired nothing more than to overrun Tuatha Dé Danann and take possession of Ireland.
But little did they know that the druids would not let it happen. They instead called upon a storm to sink their ships provoking landfall. It is said that the druids called upon the spirit of Ireland itself to defend its dwellers by a sung incantation that later own was known as The Song of Amergin.
Druids were also seen as sorcerers as depicted in Irish folktales, while in Welsh they were seen more as prophets and professors. However, the common ground seems to be that their knowledge had to remain secretive and only be performed and known by those chosen to become druids which adds to their mysterious way of living.
Druids of Today
Druidry or Druidism is a modern spiritual group of people that loosely follows the ancient ways of the druids and are close to the Iron Age Celts. Their beliefs are in nature, the environment and animal world. They often participate in environmental movement and try their best to protect nature.
They could be seen as part of the new Pagan movement as well. They believe in nature and its power. It actually began in Britain in the seventeenth century and is still going strong today.
They are known to be respectful of their ancestors and love their memories and their beliefs that they have shared. They are known to be naturalists and their closeness to nature might have a few believe they might be vegetarians or vegans as well.
Because of their main passion being their love of nature, Druidry follows the same festivities as most Pagans.
Their most important days being the equinoxes, solstices and main ancient dates. Each has a symbol and a reason to be, like any other holiday and most of them are all related to nature and peaceful practices.
Samhain, Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox and Wheel of the Year are the ones that have the most meaning to them and as I’ve said before, each has a reason to be although a few speaks for themselves.
Nature, trees, animals and stars are the main focuses of the druids and it reflects in their practices and involvement in nature, meditation being at the heart of their practice.
Some of those holidays are celebrated among hundreds of people that shares their beliefs and celebrate together, while others are only for druid gatherings in smaller groups. All depends on the meaning of the celebration.
After all that research on the mysterious druids, I have come to the conclusion that despite wanting to learn more about them, it wouldn’t have been easier back then than it is today. They were focused on keeping their knowledge to themselves and so they remained a mystery to this day.
Only folktales and legends, records kept from those who have conquered them, and archeology are the remains of druidism. Much left to the imagination, druids are still to this day, despite their introversion, loved by those who respect what they stood for.
One thing is for certain, I am happy to have made this research as I am now more confident in the involvement of the druids in my novels and it will be more historically and according to Celtic folklore that they will enter my story.
Druids might have gone with their knowledge, but they won’t leave our imagination.
A. Wayne – for Fantasy Realm