Druids

As per Celtic polytheism, druids were described as members of the learned and priestly classes in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic societies. Majority of Ireland, Britain, and Western Europe were dominated by these societies. This continued till the capture of Roman government and the subsequent arrival of ‘Christianity’. Druids were referred to as the part and parcel of cultures of tribal people. These people were known as ‘Keltoi’ or ‘Keltai’ and ‘Galatai’ by ‘the Greeks’ and ‘galli’ and ‘Celtae’ by ‘the Romans’. The words then got transformed into terms of modern English such as ‘Galatian’, ‘Gaulish’, and ‘Celtic’. Druids combined duties of magistrate, scholar, healer, arbitrator, and priest in communities served by them. Both-women and men were permitted to carry out this service.

Overview

The origin of druids traces back to the Greek works like ‘Sotion of Alexandria’, who used to be cited in the 3rd century CE by Diogenes Laertius. Numerous Gods and goddesses were worshipped by the druids. Animism was practiced as a mark of respect for different aspects of natural world, like the sky, sea, and land and veneration of aspects like sacred grooves and trees, hilltops, lakes, streams, and plants like mistletoe. The druids had the habit of looking for omens in shapes of clouds, and seeking ‘seasons and signs’ in activities of the stars, sun, and moon. The herding, vegetative, solar, and lunar cycles were used to govern the calendar year of Celtic societies.

The four major Gaelic holidays that Gaelic druids used to observe included:

Imbolg

This holiday was observed on 1st of February. It marked the beginning of spring.

Beltain

This holiday was observed on 1st of May. It was believed to be the time to move herds to the summer pastures.

Lughnasadh

The purpose of this holiday was celebration of ripening of 1st fruits, along with many-skilled deity.

Samhain

This holiday was observed for recognizing the ending of harvest, the sacrificing time, and lowering of barrier between world of living and of dead.

History

From the information available, it seems that druids were deeply conservative and traditional. This is evident from the fact that they used to conserve repositories of lore and culture for the communities served by them. Social transformations of ‘the late La Tene culture’ are believed to be carried forward through these practices of druids. Roman and Greek writers had referred druids as being ‘barbarian philosophers’. The term ‘Druids’ came into being after Caesar’s report.

Roman Sources

The complete account of ‘Druids’ is given in Caesar’s ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico’ book VI. Caesar has noted that all the men of any dignity and rank in Gaul used to be included among ‘the nobles’ or ‘the druids’. Druids also found references in the works of ‘Strabo’ and ‘Diodorus’. They felt that Celtic priestly class or order was inclusive of ‘druids, vates (soothsayer), and bards’.

Archaeological Evidence

Associations of the Druids with deaths of certain ‘bog bodies’ recovered in ‘Netherlands’ to ‘Denmark’ in the ‘Northern Europe’ and ‘British Isles’ has been resisted by certain historians like Jane Webster. They have said that there is no archaeological evidence of the druids.

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