The name Druid strikes a magical note within Irish and Celtic Culture. Inspiring images of magic and ancient monuments, a part of Celtic culture that has endured well beyond the decline of pagan beliefs in Ireland. The Druids were very high ranking and high status members of Celtic society.
They were the religious leaders of the Celtic peoples but they were also legal professionals, adjudicators, keepers of legends and folklore as well as medical experts of the times.
In a society that was predominately illiterate many Druids were said to have been literate but traditionally the druids did not write down their craft or traditions.
As they were traditionally users of the oral traditions and we have no written records by themselves. They were immortalized by other cultures such as the Romans giving us an insight into the mystical Druidic Culture.
The History of the Druids
Their prominence during many eras in Irish and Celtic history spreads from the Neolithic to the Iron Age and beyond. It is even thought that the Druids were active during the earliest periods of human history, suggestions being made that the cave art found in caves in Lascaux, France could have been part of druid rituals or a right of passage.
Famous tombs such as New Grange inspiring the theory that these amazing tombs were a major part of druid traditions. The suggestions that the tradition demanded the rebirth of the person from this tombs giving them a transcendence into a new world and new insights into nature.
The practice of rebirth was a common theme that seems to have always been a part of the druidic tradition. The tradition states that the Druid was to be is engulfed by the goddess and he is reborn as part of the earth.
Much of the Megalithic Monumentality that we see on our landscape today was possible constructed on the advice of druids, with their superior knowledge of astrology they aligned these monuments to mark major events in the Celtic calendar.
What Does Druid mean?
The name Druid is thought to derive from the Celtic words for “tree” and “to know”. Trees were of massive importance in Celtic Religious traditions. Some of the earliest accounts of the Druids were made by the Roman worlds most important writers, including Cicero, Tacitus and Piny the Elder. Many of these accounts were written after the Roman conquest of Gaul, under emperors Tiberus and Claudius.
Druidic and Pagan beliefs were strong among the Celtic peoples and survived right through the Middle ages even with the coming of Christianity. The Druids became less popular but still practiced their ancient Culture for Centuries after Christianity became a major part of European Cultures,
On the edge of Europe, Ireland and Britain seemed to hold onto these belief systems stronger then other cultures and even today many Celtic customs survive. There is one thing that history agrees upon is that The Druids played an extremely important and central role in Celtic society.
According to Julius Caesar the Druids were one of the most important groups in Celtic society and ranked equally with the highest ranking Nobles. According to Julius Caesar, the Druids organized and presided over the most important religious events in the Pagan world. They also did not have to pay tax and were not expected to take part in military campaigns.
Sacrifice and Human Sacrifice.
In much of the contemporary writing during the time of the Roman Conquest of Britain, there are references to the use of Human Sacrifice within Celtic society, a practice that The Druids would have presided over. Again Caesar states that those who would become the victims of sacrifice were often found guilty of serious criminal offences. These individuals were considered prime candidates for Human Sacrifice, but anyone within society could be chosen to be sacrificed. The use of the Wicker Man was considered commonplace and victims were burned alive inside this wooden effigy.
Others suffered the three-fold death that included drowning hanging and burning. The Druids attended to the Gods of The Celts, as they were the intermediaries between the human and the divine. Archaeological and documentary evidence does back up the theory of Human Sacrifice among the Celtic people and that this practice only stopped with the coming of Christianity.
There was evidence of Child Sacrifice found at the Hill of Ward in County Math and even the famous Irish bog bodies show signs of torment and are thought to have been victims of this practice. Some Archaeologists do not agree with the theory that there was human sacrifice and that the writings were only Roman Propaganda.
The Druids were a sect of influential people that are revered in Irish Mythology and appear in all the four cycles of Irish Mythology and appear beside the most famous of our legendry characters and wondrous tales of heroes and villains, such as the legend of Deidre of the Sorrows and Finn MacComhall and the Fainna.
They served the most famous Lords and Kings. They were famous for their mystical abilities and gifts, including telling the future. They were the spokes people of the gods in Ireland The Tuath Na Danana, these were the Clan of Irish Gods each with their own unique and distinctive characteristics.
Female Druids were also common in Celtic Society and Irish Mythology mentions a number of female druids. They held the same prominent roles both culturally and religiously as the male druids. They were also referred to as bandrui. One of the most famous Female Druids were Tiachtga the daughter of the druid Mug Ruith, she is widely associated with the Hill of Ward in County Meath.
Much of what we known about Druids comes from the Christian Monks that inhabited these lands with the coming of Christianity. They wrote down the stories and acts of the druids as well as the ancient laws, known as the Brehaon Law. The Druids were said to have supernatural powers and could create a mist at will or bring down blood rain. They were also invoked in the practice of Divination, and this gift has been passed down to generations of Irish families.
Divination means to be a foreseer of the future, to be a finder within nature and to be granted a gift by the Celtic Gods. It is the interpretation of omens and signs in nature to see the future. Many Irish families had to gift of divining which was essential in Ancient times, as they were gifted with fining water under ground.
Using a hazel sticks in their hands to guide them to springs that would be used for human and animal consumption. Our grandfather was one of the people that was granted this ancient gift and as children we often went with him on a quest for water on our family farm.
There were different classes of Druid. The Bards knew the songs and stories of our ancients. The Ovates were experienced healers, with a vast medical knowledge and an exceptional knowledge of the healing properties of plants. Other druids were seers (such as the practice of reading ruins to tell the future), philosophers, judges and teachers.
To this day the mystery surrounding the Druids still fascinated and intrigues. Inspiring thoughts of our ancient past and culture, with magic and an understanding of nature that wills us to learn more. The Druids feature in some of the world’s most famous tales, such as King Arthur. A class of people that existed within every corner of the Celtic world.
Their spirits are still said to haunt some of our most famous locations, such as at Huntington Castle in County Carlow, where the spirits of the Druids that once practiced rituals at this wondrous site still walk among their sacred trees. The Spirits of the Druids and the Ancient Belief system of the Celts will forever intrigue and inspire the human mind and spirit. It is very safe to say that Celtic Culture is alive and well and appears occasionally in our everyday lives.