The Druids were a class of priests, teachers, judges, seers, astronomers, doctors and philosophers who held very high standing in Iron Age Celtic society. The word “Druid” has generally come to mean a wise man or a priest, with knowledge of the oak. Very little is known about the Druids since there is no written record of their beliefs and practices. Scholars must piece together evidence from a variety of sources, mainly from their conquerors (Romans, Greeks) and their successors (Christian Monks).
Earliest references to the Druids date back to 50 BCE though descriptions by Julius Caesar during the Roman invasion. The Romans noted that the Druids believed in a form of reincarnation, performed human and animal sacrifice, met annually, and exercised great influence over political and social matters. Oak and mistletoe was used in ritual, and they had a great knowledge of a variety of nature gods. Druids appear to have performed the roles taken today by members of the clergy, scholars, judges, civic planners, teachers, and even entertainers. It was thought that the Druids formed groups that crossed tribal boundaries and linked Celtic society.
Following the Roman invasion of Gaul and other Celtic societies, Druidism was forcefully suppressed by the Roman government, and mostly disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century. By the seventh century, the practice of Druidry was completely replaced with Christianity. Because Roman authority did not extend as far as Ireland, Druidic practice survived there until the people there were finally converted. There is still debate as to what extend the Druids were assimilated into Christian monasteries.
During the Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries, Druidry was revisited, forming the Neo-Druid movement. The first Neo-Druid order was formed back in 1717, and since then, several other groups have formed including the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (1964) and Ár nDraíocht Féin (1983). These groups are inspired by the pre-Christian Druids, and its adherents are often well-read in the history, mythology and spirituality of the pagan Celts.
Neodruidry is usually divided into three areas of study; the Bard, Ovate and Druid. Bards are keepers of tradition, storytellers, singers, poets, musicians, creative artists. Ovates are seers, diviners, philosophers and healers. Druids are teachers, ritualists, counsellors and shamans.
Modern Druids follow the Celtic Wheel of the Year, including Solstice and Equinox festivals:
Alban Eilir (Spring Equinox) – ‘The Light of the Earth’
Alban Hefin (Summer Solstice) – ‘The Light of the Shore’
Alban Elfed (Autumn Equinox) – ‘The Light of the Water’
Alban Arthan/Arthuan (Winter Solstice) – ‘The Light of Arthur/Winter’
Common themes in Neodruidry include belief in the spiritual nature of life, respect for nature, existence in the otherworld, reincarnation, and the cultivation of wisdom, creativity and love. They have reverence for the three realms of Land, Sea and Sky. Modern Druidry offers ways to reconnect with the cycles of life, the spirits of nature, our ancestors and their gods.
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© The New Pagan (2014)