What is Druidism? Is it witchcraft? Is it a religion? Is it a way of life? Throughout history, accounts have suggested that Druids have existed in Celtic societies as philosophers, naturalists, astronomers, mathematicians and other great thinkers. However, their past is mysterious and hardly any of these accounts can be confirmed. Druidism also has a confusing history. It is considered a peaceful religion, but its members performed violent acts of human sacrifice. People are still trying to understand it, but this is a difficult task since there are barely any accounts from ancient times of the Celtic way of life. The people who belong to the Druidic beliefs hold love, wisdom and creativity as the three most important aspects of life. Druidism has been in our world since the dawn of the Celts, and is still thriving today.
Druidism is ancient. It began in 4000 BCE, when nomadic tribes traveled from the mainland of Europe and arrived in the British Isles. It is said that their society, though at first somewhat “barbaric,” was home to a group of thoughtful men and women who were making theories and discoveries about the world around them. These people would soon go on to become Druid priests and priestesses. These people became so well known for their wisdom that Roman emperors sent their children to the Druids to be educated.
Though the Druids were great academics, there was a side to their ways and beliefs that can only be described as mystic, they ventured from making observations about their world to imagining gods, goddesses and other realms . They began to worship the earth and animals, talk of an afterlife and even perform alleged “magic” tricks. Soon after the Druid culture became established, they began to prophesize the future, tell the fortunes of the wealthy and royal and develop strong beliefs about the world, and what we cannot see. Druidism became religion, and even a way of life.
Becoming a Druid priest is a complicated process that takes many years. In ancient times, the students who were going to become priests went through three levels of learning, each lasting many years. Ovate was the first level of priesthood, Bard was the second, and Druid was the third title given to the Druidic priests once they have completed their training. Today, however, one does not have to be a priest in order to have the title of “Druid.”
Ovates were the young students who were in the first stages of learning how to become a priest. Today, however, Ovates are often adults when they begin their training. Ovates were given the color green, which means they wore green in all their clothes. Green symbolized youth and nature in the ancient Celtic society. While they were Ovates, the students often became naturalists.
Bards were the second level of priesthood. They were given the color blue, which signified purity, truth and freedom. Bards were the creative, artistic people of the Celtic society. They were musicians, poets and artists, but they also were the story tellers of their time.
When a Bard became a Druid, they received the color of white. Druids were philosophers, teachers, and everything that the Ovates and the Bards were. They were the highest priests, and they had power over the entire society.
The Celts looked to the Druid priests for guidance and teaching. An old legend says that when two Celtic tribes were in battle, the Druids could walk between the raging armies and make the scene immediately calm; they were peacemakers among the “barbarians.” Druids became high-ranking members of the tribes that everyone looked up to. That was, except for a group of angry Romans.
Romans hated the Druids. They said that they were evil and terrible people, because they considered Druid Society “barbaric.”. They began to write records, the first written records of the Druidic past, that told about sacrifices the priests performed; both animal and human. A Roman writer depicted a scene in which there were huge wicker men that had been stuffed with living people and then burned as an offering for the gods. Later, Julius Ceasar wrote of the same exact situation. So why did these peaceful people become so violent as to sacrifice their own? Could it have been an honor to give your life to the gods? Could the priests have been sacrificing criminals as a sort of death-penalty?
There were more cases of human sacrifice in Druidic history, cases that have solid evidence that had nothing to do with a “wicker man.” Throughout the twentieth century, a number of incidents have occured where ancient people who were found in muddy bogs all across Europe. These people were showered with mistletoe (which was and still is sacred to Druids, as it healed infertility) and were all killed intentionally. They were all young, and seemed to have been in good health. One man was stuck on the head and then strangled, while a young adolescent girl is thought to have literally been pinned down and drowned in the mud.
These bodies seem to leave a horrific stain on the once seemingly innocent and peaceful cloth of the Druids history. When the Christianity arrived, the Christian priests tried their very hardest to convert these “barbarians” to a more civilized way of life. All of the accounts of Druids came from the “civilized” society, and all of the writers who observed the Druids seemed to only notice the violent side of the religion, the sacrifices especially.
What we do not understand now is whether or not it was an honor to be sacrificed. Perhaps the people who were chosen to be killed were willing and happy to be so. Perhaps what we today view as horrible and disgusting was back then one of the highest forms of flattery; the people who were chosen as the sacrifices were donating their lives to the gods. The priests who performed these sacrifices must have believed that they were doing something good and right, or they would never think to perform human sacrifices.
Druid priests weren’t just men. There are old legends of Celtic women practicing witchcraft and becoming priestesses of Druidism. Many people say that these women became well known fortune tellers who predicted the future for Roman Emperors and became the leaders of their tribes. If these legends are true, then these ancient Druids had a far more advanced view on the position of women in society — more advanced than America seemed to have up until the 20th century, and much more advanced than any other civilization in their time. Perhaps this gender equality view that the Druids had was based on their strong beliefs having to do with Mother Earth, or the fact that they believe everything is equal.
Peace and equality are ideas that can be found all over Druid beliefs. The three goals in life say it all: Wisdom, Creativity, and Love. Love is powerful and peaceful. As in Christianity, Druids love those around them and forgive them for their wrong-doings. Though the Druids have no holy text (like the Bible), they do have beliefs that are agreed upon by Druids all over the world. There are seven commandments, and nearly all of them have to do with peace. They say specifically to not commit vices, for vices affect everyone, and to love virtue, for it brings peace. Druidism is a peaceful religion, and the idea of love is one of the most important concepts to the Druids, in fact, the three goals seem to be more official and widespread than the idea of god.
There is no determined god in the Druid belief. If you asked a handful of individual Druids, you would get many different answers about the higher-power. Monotheistic Druids will often say that there is either a god much like the ones of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, or that Mother Earth is the only god. Some Druids believe that both Mother Earth and the Father (a male god) are ruling over our world with equal power, these are dualtheistic druids, while some believe in either many gods, meaning they would be polytheistic. Some Druids deny the existance of any sort of god, they say that there is no “god” at all, and that everything around us is sacred and should be worshipped equally.
No matter what they believe when it comes to the ultimate power, Druids treat the earth kindly, and they don’t hold humans above any other life form. For Druids, there is a web of life that connects us all, and therefore we are no better than any other animal, plant, mountain or rock. We all live on the Mother Earth, and therefore we are all equal.
Unlike most religions, Druids do not believe in a “heaven” and a “hell.” They instead say that there is another realm within our earth , not one for the dead, but one for the living.
Druids believe in another realm that is beyond our senses. We cannot even comprehend what is in this other realm, and yet it is all around us. The Otherworld, as it is often called, is the place one visits in their dreams, and where one is reborn when they die. Once one dies in the other realm, they are reborn on this earth. The reason for this is thought to be because of the Druids’ three goals. By being reborn as a different species, or even something non-living, like a rock, will help one achieve each of these goals on a deeper level than you had in his or her first life. This is because the more experiences one has with life, the more one knows, the more ways one finds to be creative and the more people and things you learn to love. Thus, there is an endless cycle that propels your soul from world to world, body to body and life to life. Funerals, though the Druids mourn for their lost friend, often are a sort of celebration; after all, their friend’s soul is experiencing birth in another realm.
It would seem as though the Otherworld is loved by the Druids, but that’s not entirely true.
Some of the most important days of the Druids’ year are the solstices and the equinoxes. On these days, it is thought that the “veil” to the Otherworld becomes thin, and the spirits from that world are walking among us. Samhain is probably one of the biggest celebrations of these kinds. It takes place on November 1st, and is the Druidic New Year. The Druids try to keep these spirits away from their children, and so they bring back the sun by lighting fires to “bring back the light.” In fact, Halloween is based off of Samhain, the holiday that has both feasts and parties, but is also filled with eerie, otherworldly spirits and bonfires.
Not all Druid holidays are based on fending off beings from the other realm. Imbolc, which takes place on February 1st, is considered to be the “Return of the Light” and the end of winter for the Druids. In America, a version of this holiday has been slightly altered, and is now called “Groundhog Day.” This day is often confused with, or considered the same as, Beltane, the coming of spring, and a celebration fertility. On this day there are bonfires, and more recently, the May pole. People of Wiccan belief also celebrate Beltane, and many people confuse Druidism with Wicca. The the two religions share similar qualities, since much of Wicca was inspired by the Druids. However, Druidism is much more ancient than its cousin Wicca, as the latter originated in the early twentieth century. However, Wiccans have received much more attention in the media than Druids. There always seems to be a Wiccan group, piece of gossip, or even a politician lurking nearby. Druids, however, would have disappeared long ago if archaeologists had not taken an interest in them.
During the middle-ages, Druidism was nearly forgotten. The groups of Druids became few and scattered, and nearly nonexistent. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, writers, archaeologists and historians began to take an interest in Druidism. Poets romanticized about the Druid priests, but the main fascination with Druidism was the legend that they created Stonehenge.
After much research, scientists and archaeologists determined that Druids created Stonehenge, the famous statue in the United Kingdom, as a place for rituals and even sacrifices. The researchers claimed that the formation of the rocks, which was indeed very similar to the smaller-scale rocks that were all over Europe and were places of Druid rituals, had some symbolic meaning. There is no solid proof, however, and a lot of speculation still exists around the legend of the Druid/Stonehenge connection.
Though there was much interest about Druids during the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, there were no recognized Druid groups in existence, and perhaps no Druids at all.
The twentieth century brought with it the return of the Druids. People of Celtic heritage began taking an interest in their past, and when they heard stories of the Druids, they became fascinated. Thus, Druid orders began to pop up all over Europe.
The only problem with reintroducing Druidism to the world is that there was no account written by Druids during their ancient reign. All the information we have about the religion’s past come from stories passed down through many generations. Our information has therefore changed over time, and what facts we do know seem vague.
So we can assume that modern Druids, since they have no text to base their beliefs or behavior on, are very different than the Druids of ancient times. Nevertheless, they are known to hold rituals in such places as Stonehenge, where all the members of the order dress in white robes an carry decorative banners. There are also more relaxed Druid orders where families come together for informal worship and contemplation of life, a thing that Druids have been contemplating since their beginning in 4000 BCE.
Life is complicated for the Druids. Not only are their things we have trouble understanding in this world, Druids have a whole other world that is unimaginable all around them. The same ideas that Druids had all those years ago have been passed down through generations of people and have traveled all across the world. Their ideas have resurfaced throughout time, and have been changed and altered by philosophers, astronomers, musicians, poets, teachers and naturalists. They have fascinated people for generations, and still do today.
Druids were some of our world’s first great thinkers. They are an ancient mystical religion that has managed to exist for thousands of years. It has changed and morphed throughout the ages, but no matter when they were alive, all Druids believe love, wisdom and creativity can solve any problem, and are the most important and pure aspects of life.
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