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Who were the Druids?
While religion was a major element in the social and political structure of the Celts it constituted only one aspect of the pan-Celtic association known as the priesthood of the Druids. This society succeeded in uniting many scattered Celtic tribes into a cohesive people through similarity of beliefs and laws. The Druids formed a large clergy which had many diverse and specialized functions. They are known to us by long passages in the works of the Greek and Latin historians and polygraphers: Caesar, Diodoros, Strabo, and Ammianaus Marcellinus, who enumerated their functions and powers. These writers, however, owe most of their information to Poseidonios and Timagenes. ( Being unfamiliar with Latin and Greek myself, I must rely on the translations of true scholars such as Joyce, Dobie, Rhys, and others.)
A great number of Irish epic texts speak of the Druids. There are also many legal texts regarding the functions and powers of the Fili (poets and men of letters), who formed a corporation parallel and to some extent rivaling that of the Druids. The two bodies, however, lived side by side, were complementary to each other and, in earlier times, were associated in their organizations and privileges. Even so, Christianity spared the Fili but wrought total havoc with the Druids.
Where are the Druids from?
There is historical evidence of Druids in Ireland, Britain, and Gaul. Although we have no direct confirmation of Druids in the Celtic settlements of Spain, Italy, Galatia, and the Danube valley, there seems no reason for denying that they existed among those branches of the race. The travels and meetings of the Druids cemented the union of the Celtic peoples and encouraged a sense of kinship which might have given birth to unity. Some students believe that Druidism had its origin west of the Celtic counties. These scholars have said that Druidism is not Celtic at all but originated with those peoples whom the Celts found established in the west of Europe, the builders of the megalithic monuments. Caesar tells us that Druidism first started in Britain, and that the Druids of Gaul used to go to Britain to visit famous schools and sanctuaries. British Druidism had an equally high reputation in Ireland, and the Irish Druids went to Britain to complete their education. The Gauls of Italy had among them persons described as "Vates" (a word borrowed from the Celtic), who were similar to the Druids and organized like them. A comparative study of the druidic institution shows that it was indeed pan-Celtic and an essential part of the organization of Celtic society.
History shows clearly enough that Druidism emerged as an element of resistance to the Romans in Gaul and Britain and to Christianity in Ireland. It was assailed as an enemy with attacks taking the form of persecution in Gaul ( as evidenced by the campaigns of the Roman generals against sanctuaries in Britain ) and by a kind of degradation in Ireland. It becomes apparent, then, that Druidism was an element of resistance because it was an element of cohesion. This fact lends further credence to the notion that druidism transcended both geographic boundaries and clan or tribal delineation.
The literature and law of Ireland was not written down until after the advent of Christianity. This work was performed by the Fili who, therefore, appear in a more favorable light than the Druids. However, if we boldly fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the Druids using what is known of the Fili, we get a picture of the Druids of Ireland which corresponds at every point to that of the Druids of Gaul. From this we obtain a check on the accuracy of both portraits and a strong presumption that we are dealing with a common institution dating from the
most distant past of the two peoples.
Note: The Welsh Druids are an archaeological revival; as are the affectations of the more recent neo-pagan Druids.
Ancient Druidism by Knight-Grandmaster de Paul
The Druids were an ancient people, originating from Celtic tribes at
a time when people had to live close to nature to survive. It is
the "revival of the ancient Celtic religions which holds the earth
and the environment sacred and promotes a morality based on true
honour, strength and justice." As Druidism was a form of Paganism,
it was also earth based, placing an emphasis on the worship of all
aspects of nature. The Druids were members of a learned class among
the Celts and were an important cohesive force skilled in areas
which most people were not. They were marked as a priestly upper
class in charge of ritualistic religion. "These priests worshiped
some Gods similar to those of the Greek's and Romans, but under
different names." (The world book dictionary) They were members of
a religious order of priests, prophets and poets. Druids were
members of a professional class in Celtic nations, or West Europe
and the British Isles.
Druids possessed both political and legal powers and
responsibilities to their communities and tribes. They were also
capable of magical powers such as divination, prophesizing,
controlling the weather, levitation, shape-shifting and they
possessed healing abilities. The Druids learned to forecast events
by interpreting the flight of birds, by reading the markings on
livers and other entrails of sacrificed animals. They also held the
position of judge, doctor, mage, mystique, clerical scholar and they
held the religious insignia of their culture. Druids provided much
needed skills and specialties to their tribe. Through holding these
positions, Druids were to be available to people whose "scope of
vision was not as wide as theirs." By nature, Druids were watchful
and mindful of different aspects of life. Druids possessed a
comprehensive knowledge on such things as poetry, architecture,
literature, mythology, languages and folklore. In this fashion, they
were incredibly learned, having gone through a rigorous education
and were able to provide cultural and intellectual impute to their
communities for the mutual benefit of all.
Traits of dark paganism can be seen through the ancient Druids
beliefs about death, worshiping and rites. Although there is little
known of the rites that they held, what we do know is that they were
held in clearings in the forests, as most Pagan worship was
practiced outdoors. Although the Druids believed in one main Solar
God, believing that it possessed the life force of everything, they
also worshipped a number of lesser divinities, making them
polytheistic in nature.
Druidism differed from Greek and Roman religion because they did not
have clearly defined images to represent the object of their worship
and they did not meet in temples or any other form of building to
hold their rites. Instead, Druids had a sacred place consisting of a
circle of stones, usually near a stream, under a grove or situated
near a widespread oak. They met in woods and glens because they held
a high respect for nature, believing that their spirits emerged from
the tides, the sea, light, wind, the sun and the oak tree. They
participated in two main festivals each year. The first one was
named Beltane (Fire God) and the second one was named Samhin (Fire
of peace), celebrated on Hallow's Eve. The Druids also worshiped
Gods and Goddesses such as the dieties of: sun, animals, war,
fertility, the river, smithcraft and sovereignty, as Pagans did.
The Druids expressed a belief in the Dark Mother Goddess from whom
all life was given birth from and to whom all life returned to. The
very Earth was her body.
The Druids had strong belief's about sacrifice and the idea of
death. As Pagans, they did not believe in Heaven or Hell as
christians did. Rather they believed in re-incarnation of the soul
into another form. They held a principal doctrine stating that the
soul was immortal and passed at death from one person to another,
thus they did not fear the idea of death.