Druidism is a highly important part of the Welsh Wiccan Tradition and Witchcraft Tradition as a whole. Now Druidism helps to encompass quite a fair bit of the worlds religions from Pictish, Welsh, Greek, Norse, Roman, and Egyptian. There are even Druid roots within other pagan families such as Witchcraft, Wicca, Shamanism, and Norse Asatru. Our modern interpretation of Druidism is one that has been reconstructed from what practices and beliefs have come from the ancient priesthoods of the Celts. The first known Druids that we have record of existed around 4,000 BCE and on into modern times.
Their origins were believed to be before the written history of Europe itself. For much of the history of the Druids that we have many would think that the British Isles were the only place that Druidism existed but perhaps it could be said that the British Isles were simply a last Druidic stronghold. Some areas that are often referenced within writings are the isles of Iona and Mona though Mona is now called Anglesey. These Druids were the doctors, priests, minstrels, and poets of the ancient Celts. It has also been found that these Druids were the teachers and keepers of the ancient ways.
When you hear the word Druid and you hear the word Bard they will conjure up two very different images in your mind. Bards are used to describe people such as Shakespeare and Robert Burns. The title bard has also been bestowed upon the head of the National Welsh Poetry Festival called the Eisteddfod. In Caesar’s book the Gallic Wars he wrote the Druids up as these blood thirsty savages that were also the leaders and priests that would incinerate sacrifices within wicker containers.
In the early days religion was a very pre-eminent and heavy hitting force within the Celtic culture. Though Druidism and religion were both very unifying forces the Celts were not an actual nation. Instead the Celtic society was more of a loosely bound conglomerate of tribes that only shared a few similarities such as language, cultural aspects, and religion.
The religion of the Celts and Druids was made law through oral recitation and was administered to the people from the Druids mouths only. Druids held a rather high power class within the Celtic culture. Instead of having a police force or courts, the Celts diverted their matters of law and their affairs to the Druids. Both matters of public and private importance were subject to the authority of the Druids to pass judgement and perhaps even punishment.
In a society that revolved around religion as much as the Celts did the top most abhorrent punishment that could be administered was done by the Druids, and that was the complete excommunication of a person. This was the worst punishment that a person could bring down upon themselves.
Ancient Wales was an interesting case, their Druids could actually be considered to have three different classes. There were the Bards which were the historians who shared their knowledge through storytelling, the Ovates which were physicians and herbalists, and then the Druids which was also synonymous in this case with Priest and Priestess as well as Shaman.
This dependence on religion and the Druids to lead the Celtic people is what eventually led to their swift downfall. A society can not flourish and thrive while being ruled by priests who draw all of their social authority strictly from spiritual sanctions. It was the complete adherence to religion and religious practices that brought the inevitable fall of the Celts.
We have evidence that the Pre-Celtic people from Megalithic times were ruled by a priesthood that was centralized in Western Europe. When the Celts began their expansion across the Isles these priesthoods were adopted by the Celts who had become highly religious by this point. From this adaptation the Celtic pantheon and belief system was further adopted by the priests who became known as Druids.
In the advent of Christianity and the Roman invasion into the Celtic lands the Druids were pushed to rather great lengths. The Romans implemented laws that squelched the practice of Druidism and stopped the initiation of new students into the order. In order to combat their religion and ways being lost to assimilation the Druids and the Bards began to share lore and knowledge together. This was each had a record of the other and vise versa.
Like Druids the Bards were able to be found in all Celtic cultures such as Ireland, Wales, Manx, Gaul, and Scotland. They were also found in Norse culture under the moniker of being the Skald. Bards were actually a very wide reaching position that could be found in Anglo-Saxon England as well as many more though smaller cultures.
When the Roman invasion had finished these Bards were relegated to the position of Court Poet which came with its own highly restrictive and structured rules about their limitations. In Welsh they were called the “Prydydd” and the “Gogynfeirdd”. The Bards who held the true spiritual and Magickal knowledge were members of a secret order of Bards that dwelt under the name of “derwydds” which translates to Oak Seer.
The true traditions of the Druids were carried by these Oak Seers and passed on through the generations. These brave Bards are the reason that we have the “Cad Goddeu” as well as the “Hanes Taliesin”. They also passed on the “Matter of Britain” to the French with their trouveres and troubadours. This gave us the legend of Arthur and his kingdom of Camelot.
What is a real Bard in regards to the Welsh traditions? For the Celts the Bard was inviolate. A bard could say what he wanted, go where he pleased, and perform when and wherever he felt like performing. This even now is a pretty massive amount of autonomy. Why did Bards have this much freedom? They were the messengers, the bearers of news, if a Bard was harmed or killed then the settlement that was next on his travels would be left in the dark without hearing important news.
Bards were also the people who carried the customs of the country in their heads. They memorized verses and could recall them in order to give advice on common laws. This made the position of the Bard a very valued vault of news, entertainment, and cultural information.
The highest order of the Bards was the Ollamh who was a part of the Druid class at that level. Due to the nature of the position the Ollamh’s poetry was pretty much entirely religious. These religious poems were used as mainstay’s within ritual work or in very specific spiritual contexts. The main occupation of an Ollamh is the search for the “Poetic Truth” as well as its translation and refinement into something readable. It is said that the “Poetic Truth” is an elusive, divine gift given to an Ollamh by the Other World Goddess who is the inspiration of the feminine archetype.
For one to be able to take the raw power and chaotic force and turn it into beautiful, functional poetry is a gift given from the quintessential male archetype of the God. This is the principal equation of creation at work on a very mental and spiritual level. This is where the inspiration of the Muse and the strength of discipline are twined together to create the music and poetry of the creator. How the process of the Muse works changes based on the gender of the Bard.
If the Bard is a man then it is said that he much woo the Muse to work for him. If the Bard is female however she can invoke the Muse from within herself or from an outside source. The terms are different but in the end the process is still the same and is a true thing of beauty. Getting to watch a Bard have that fire lit inside and translate it into works of poetry and music is astounding.
Bards also had another main function which was to maintain and promote the Celt favored Twilight State which was similar to Dream Time. This outlook on life is one that is incredibly Celtic. This belief in a dualistic OtherWorld is very Celt. They believe that even if the Otherworld can not be seen it can at the very least be felt in these times. It can be felt on the inside in your heart and you can also feel it on the outside through a tingling of your spine or the hair on your neck standing on end.
A Bard’s duty to the people was to convey through poetry and music the ideals which your mind may perceive on one side and your spirit may perceive on a complete other. Between these two perceptions a person may begin to fully understand the depth and meaning behind the Bards words.
For when the mind finds an understanding in the Bards words this is a gift from the God. When the spirit gains an understanding of the Bards works this is a gift from the OtherWorld and the Goddess. This means that the Bard must be more than just a musician as well as a storyteller, they must also be an OtherWorld messenger.
This process can best be seen working very well within the old legends. The layers of Celtic lore and legend unwrap much like an onion with many different sub layers. There were many levels of these legends but we can put them loosely into three different categories. These are Body, Spirit, and Mind.
The Body of the Legend is the part of the legend that tells the basics of the story. Many of the main theories heroism, death, or love. The Body of the Legend always includes the Universal Theme. The great tale of seasons, and the cyclical relationship between the Goddess and God.
The Mind of the Legend is the code within the legend. These codes are usually only understood by the people who possess the key. For those who can read into it the code shows the whole of the Faerie Faith system and how to go about understanding it. To quote Robert Graves in his book about the White Goddess, she is …well hidden, guarded and disguised.
The Spirit of the Legend is what affects us on a much more subtle and subconscious level that the musical accompaniment or the words we hear. This is when the Bard communes with the Gods and links their listeners to the divine. It is undeniable that the Bard is the unifying force between the Celts and the Goddesses and Gods.
This level is furthered by Bards which attested that have a correlation between certain musical notes and magical qualities. This is where musical accompaniment came from. The Bards believed that the music would affect their listeners in just a certain way. The legends of the Bards say that each bard must be able to play the three magical strains on their instrument of choice: The Laughter Strain, The Weeping Strain, and the Sleeping Strain.
All of these concepts of course are the intellectual aspects of the Faerie Faith. No matter what the Bards never forget that they answer to a higher power, the Goddess, she whose reach is far beyond the knowable. The path of the Bard is wrought with challenges, an often painful and never ending quest for inspiration, the need to show the world the ideal truth, and the spirit of beauty. Their quest is to lead and enchant their listener all the way into the OtherWorld.
“Through dark trees, speared by thin bright light. Through eyes against which hair blows. Through gold in a puddle, silver covered by clouds, I have guessed at you in wakefulness. I have dreamed you in sleep. Words whispered down the wind. Shapes against the daylight glare. Or shadows, merging with shadows, spreading into night. Where touch is more real than sight. And the trees are emptiness between the glades…”
The early tribes looked to certain religious leaders such as the Shaman, Herbalists, Priests, Astrologers, Bards, and Poets for spiritual guidance. The early spiritual and religious leaders were described as thus: the priestess and priests were the healers of the group, your shaman were the wisest of the tribe.
The Shaman or wise-men/women were by far the most valuable members of society due to their knowledge of crops, weather, and the seasons. As the years went by Priestesses took on the role of Wise woman. They kept with them the secrets of the God and Goddesses true names as well as the secret of conception.
The religion of the Druids started out simple enough. It was simply nature worship, the Earth Mother and Sky Father. The complexity that ruled the religion however quickly grew and changed as old power sources were rediscovered through different methods of meditation and experimentation.
Through these new experiments new knowledge was cultivated and added to the religion. A new concept that came about was the joining of the feminine and masculine deities together to create the Great Spirit. The Earth Mother slowly evolved to become the Goddess we now know who is represented by the moon and the earth. She is the ruling deity over matters of birth, death, love, rebirth, and life itself.
The Sky Father evolved along these lines as well to become the God we now know who it represented by the Sun and who is the ruler of the seasons of the Earth. These two evolution’s and ideals are very important to the fundamentals of today’s faith and belief. It was from these early religious beliefs that the Druid tradition and Druidism were evolved and developed.
Secret Doctrine of the Druids
Now this next section is for the most part theory and speculation. This information can not be proven. Therefore I offer it up to you to look through with a critical mind. Read, evaluate, meditate, and hopefully expand your knowledge.
We have very few written records of the histories and philosophies from the Druids and Celtic Picts that are actually readable and decipherable. For the Druids they preferred to keep their knowledge in their heads to be passed through oral tradition. The Picts however had their written records destroyed by those who conquered them. Through the means of archaeological finds, legends, informed theories and hypothesis’ we can somewhat understand what may have happened during the pre-historical periods of the Pict and Druid existence.
From archaeological studies we have been able to ascertain that early Druids were a highly organized pre-Brythonic in their origins. They had their philosophies and religion organized and set in place at the time of the Celt arrival. It is said that this philosophy was a remainder of the earlier migration of the Hyperboreans to Great Britain.
The ancients where these philosophies come from are credited with building monuments and sacred sites through the world out of stone. We have found evidence of the abundance of the Early Druids within Brittany and France from the sheer number of geometric stone formations found. These geometric masterpieces are said to stretch over several acres of land.
Across Europe other Celtic Druids practiced the religion, believing full well that the basis of Druidism had evolved out of doctrines developed in Britain. It became a common practice to send students from France and Germany, which in these times was known as Gaul, across the English Channel over into Britain to learn the ways of Druidism from their “Purest source” as it was believed.
The Druids and their doctrine shared many similarities to other religions across the world such as the Magi of Persia, Brahmins of India, and even the Priests of Egypt. Like these other large and mystical religions the Druids shared the premise of two religious doctrine sets which were esoteric and exoteric. Through the Druids did practice their religion in Great Britain as well as within Gaul they were able to further perfect their religion through practice within their former country on the Isle of Anglesey which was the heartland of the Druid tradition.
These ancient Druids were the well learned men and women of their time of relevance. Their duties then could be found today in modern day teachers, priests, chemists, poets, musicians, legislators, theologians, astronomers, judges, and philosophers! That is a while lot of different hats to wear. Even beyond these skills Druids were expected to be the specialists in healing, divination, and herbalism. They were truly the magick and wise men and women of the time. Druids were highly revered even by the kings of the land who would often send their royal children to the Druids for extensive tutelage under the ways of the mystics.
When it came to any matters that fell under the headings of law, scholastic’s, or religion the Druids and their authority reigned supreme. Druids as a whole were mainly focused on “The Belief in Supreme Power of the Universe, and the Belief of Immortality of the Soul.” There were three rather long phases of scholastic growth that Druids had to participate in. These were sectioned into scholastic, spiritual, and artisan trained phases. These phases have been mentioned in Roman texts and were said to last up to 20 years. Still beats grad school.
The word Druid itself is actually considered to be derived from the root DRU which is the word for Oak Tree. The Oak Trees are a sacred symbol whose etymology can also be found in the Gaelic word for Druidh which means “a wise man” and or “magician”.
The temples of the Druids were set up in a very specific and special way as was needed for the rituals that they performed. Within these temples was the sacred fire, it lay inside preserved from the elements. These enclaves were usually stationed at the tops of the hills or mountains where the dense Oak Groves thrived. The Druids also held special ceremonies in the cave of mysteries or Cromlech as it is also called. These caves held the altar of regeneration. The altar of regeneration was a broad and flat stone that was held up by three upright stones below it. This made a cell like structure in the cave with the stone on top being the roof of it. This cell is used during the Druid initiation rites.
Where the most of the Druidic mysteries took place was a complex called the Caer Sidi. This was a complex of a range of buildings that all adjoined the temple such as apartments, vaults, cells, baths, and long, beautifully designed hallways. Most of these Caer Sidi complexes were found underground carved into the Earth.
Druidism is one of those religions that heavily embraces religious and philosophical ideas that revolve around a reverence for astronomical calculations. The two main deities were represented by the sun and the moon. They were called the great father Hu and the great mother Donn. This power couple deity system is very similar to others such as Osiris and Isis, Bacchus and Ceres as well. These systems of two deities both male and female represent the two being what makes up the matter of all beings and things. These were the deities behind the principle of the Great Spirit who is the one source of life for all.
The periods of the grand initiations came four times each year, once every season. They were determined by the Sun and the course it took around and through the sky. Its arrival at solstice points and equinox points were quite important. However the two largest celebrations for the Druids were May-eve as well as November-eve names Beltaine and Samhain. The celebrations and festivals were very important times of joy, peace, and community. They extended from sun down on the festival eve all the way to the next evening. At this point the Priests and Priestesses would retreat for their own brand of celebration in the forests.
During the initiation periods the initiates were brought into the fold right at Midnight. There were three different degrees that could be initiated in: first is the Ovate, second were the Bards, and third was the Druids. The student was taken out to the Cromlech and each one was placed within the ritual tomb there. This was symbolic of the death of the candidate which also was representational of the death of the Sun God Hu. When the student was restored to life (IE released from the tomb) this symbolized the rebirth of the Sun. The candidates were also required to pass certain tests and trials of courage. These were similar in practice to the Mysteries of Orpheus rites.
Another doctrine of the Druids was the existence of once supreme and creative force that was split and hosted by the Father God and Mother Goddess. It was believed that the soul was immortal in that each soul was a reincarnation from its previous life.
For the Druids their power and authority often superseded and exceeded the authority of the Monarch. How could they not? The Druids were the sole religious interpreters of the times. Their word really was law. This allowed them to supervise all religious rituals and the private person could not perform a ritual without the permission of the Druids.
The Druids were also the only people who could dole out the worst punishment known to the Celts: Excommunication. Death itself was preferable over excommunication to a good Celt. Druids also were the mediators and judges of all disputes. Their judgments were unalterable, final, and the Druids could even inflict the punishment of death.
It was the Priestesses in white who wore metal girdles that were the Oracles of the Druids. They specialized in foretelling the future by observing all different sorts of natural phenomena.
The men and women of Druidism were those who were held in the highest esteem within the Celtic societies before the Roman Invasion period. Based upon the words of Tacitus in the first century AD, the Celts actively worshiped the Great Goddess. Her shrine was located in a thick grove of Oaks that survived upon an island in the Sea.
The members of Druidism were aware of sciences that the rest of the world during their time could not even consider or dream about. The knowledge that the Druids carried was far and away advanced ideas and theories of astronomy and physics. Even their ideas on the immortality of the soul were intricate and hard to believe were invented by so called “barbarians” as the Romans named the Celts.
There were many manuscripts made from parchments and vellums that give us the evidence of these theories. The manuscripts were hidden away and saved from destruction within many mansions, forts, and monasteries all around Wales, Scotland, and England. We can also look to the historical records and familial records from the Llewelyn family as well as the Tribe of Dynion Mwyn.
There are many very important manuscripts that we need to discuss. Of the Irish manuscripts one of the most important and also the earliest written was “The Book of Dun Cow”. This one is in the hands of the Royal Irish Academy. “The Book of Dun Cow” is a preservation of the romantic nuances of the Old Gods and the hero’s of the Irish Isle. This book is one of the most protected resources on ancient Irish prehistorical records.
The next book in the Irish manuscripts is far thicker than that of “Dun Cow”. The “Book of Leinster” is a supplemental to the “Book of Dun Cow” and was written at or near the same time as “Dun Cow”.
Other manuscript sources of Ireland include such volumes as the “Book of Invasions”, “The Book of Ballymote”, “The Books of Lecan and Lismore”, and “The Yellow Book of Lecan”. Many of these books however are nothing more than piecemeal manuscripts and fragmented parchment papers.
Within Scotland we have the Advocate Library located within the city of Edinburgh. This collection contains the Scottish manuscripts which work off of the Irish manuscripts in tandem. The Scottish collection adds quite a bit of substance to the Cuchulainn saga. These books describe the antics and good deeds of Ossian, Finn, and the Fenians. The Cuchulainn Saga manuscripts contain the stories of Finn and the Cuchulainn they also tell the stories of the Tuatha De Danaan, the Tribe of ancient Gaels who worshiped the Goddess.
As with the Scottish and Irish manuscripts the Welsh have manuscripts that stretch through the same time frame. There are four of these manuscripts that are the most important resources we have found. “The Book of Aneurin”, “The Black Book of Caermarthen”, “The Red Book of Hergest”, and “The Book of Taliesin”. There are also more books that help to complete the Welsh resources at least on a basic level. The collected works on the Bardo-Druidic system called the “Barddas”. The “Barddas” is contained within two volumes and was compiled by John ab Ithel Williams. Then we have “The Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales” which was printed into the Welsh language after being edited by Owain Jones, William Owen, and Edward Williams. We have “The Mabinogion” which was translated by the Lady Charlotte Guest. Lastly we have the collection of “The Iolo Manuscripts” which were written by E. Taliesin Williams.
There are also manuscripts that are privately owned and have yet to be published for the general public. These works include some very important historical manuscripts such as “The Thirteen Treasures, and The Twelve Keys” and the “Llewelyn Family Manuscripts”. “The Thirteen Treasures” is the written and spoken traditions and teachings of the Y Dynion Mwyn. The “Llewelyn Family Manuscripts” are used to this day to teach the ancient philosophy of the Bards. These are the sources that are the keepers of the Mythology of the Welsh, the Triads, and the keepings of the Bards. They also hold the keys to Welsh Witchcraft and the legends of the Cymry peoples.
Bardic philosophy is best uncovered through the classical texts available to us. These classical texts add to and clarify the aforementioned works and manuscripts. We have sources and texts from Posidonius who was a first century BC philosopher who often provided the deepest of insights on Celtic Druidism. Posidonius is the author of the long saga called “History” and within these books he has written of many of the Druid traditions. Book twenty three of this “History” series presents Posidonius’ well detailed description of Druidism. Posidonius himself was said to have lived in the South of Gaul for some time. It is not a stretch to suppose that Posidonius collected his account of Druidism from a first hand basis.
From Posidonius on we see many other authors on the front lines of Druidism who have written of their own experiences, they just need to be found and studied! There are still many resources that are published on Druidism to help further learning and research into the craft.