Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Monday, September 1, 2008

Celtic Lore: The Druids

When we think of the Celtic people of the British Isles, Ireland comes to mind, as does magnificent stone circles, bonfires, magical poems and mystery. I certainly know when I went to Ireland several years ago I felt overwhelmed by the sense of natural power coming from lands that flowed through my veins. It is a beautiful place, and just being there brought a compelling peace to my mind and body.

I also think of Druids. Just the name druid conjures up fantastical illusions and my curiosity soars. Who were these powerful people, the druids, the stuff of legends?

The Druids were the priests of the Celtic people. Women were called Druidesses. The word Druid is actually a Celtic one, and means ‘wise one’ or ‘knowing one.’ Druis as they were sometimes referred to means ‘sorcerer.’ It is often linked with the word ‘oak’, since ‘dru’ means oak. It is thought that they possibly derived from this word, because oak trees are strong and stable, and oak groves were considered very religious places.

Not only were the Druids priests, but teachers, judges, propehts, doctors and magicians. They were the philosophers, and were often sought after for their knowledge and expertise. They were said to know the future, and to speak to the Gods. Their secret hymns and knowledge were not written down, but passed down word of mouth from Druid to Druid. They were the ultimate secret society of that time.

Druids believed in human sacrifice and divination of the sacrificed body. They also sacrificed animals to the Gods. Religious ceremonies and celebrations were very important to the people and had to be presided over by a Druid.

Unlike royalty and nobility, you weren’t necessarily born into a Druid priesthood, the position was given to those who had the aptitude for it. A novice initiated into the priesthood could have training for up to twenty years.

Once a year the Druids met where they would settle disputes. They were given the job of judge since the people considered them to be the most just. Those who didn’t following the judgment of the Druid priests would be shunned by society, and even excluded from religious practices.

The Druids were such a powerful people that it is said they’re influence was held over the king. They accompanied him everywhere, and he referred to them for wisdom. Even more, it is said that if the Druids did not approve of the king, then he would have no power.

The stars, universe and nature played a huge part in Druid practice. They believed in immortality, which is why perhaps those who would go to sacrifice sought it as a gift, as so many have across cultures. Looking to nature and the stars is how the Druids often predicted the future, weather, etc…

Dressed in white robes, with scarlet and gold embroidery, gold bracelets and necklaces, the Druids were considered to have magical powers, being able to shape-shift or become invisible, create storms, cause a woman and cattle to be fertile, withholding sunshine or rain, casting spells and other various magical practices. Perhaps this is why some link Druids to wizards.

Sacred stone circles decorate the landscape of the British Isles. Who made them and what were they for? It has been determined they were religious sites, where the Celtic people celebrated solstices, equinoxes and other religious festivals. The most popular of stone circles is in England, Stonehenge, perhaps because it is so impressive. The circles are linked to cosmic activity, as solar activity, celestial objects and cycles were important to the people. (I’ve posted a picture of Stonehenge and a picture of Knocknakilla in Ireland.)

What would it have been like to be at a Druid ceremony? Picture the starts bright at night, blazing fires doting the lands. The white robes of the Druid priest flapping gently against their legs with the wind. Musicians play eery songs that carry through the air like whispers from the Gods. The people watch in amazement as the priests with their hands raised to the sky they chant out ancient words that they've known for generations...

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea
I am the wave of the ocean
I am the murmur of the billows
I am the ox of the seven combats
I am the vulture upon the rocks
I am the beam of the sun
I am the fairest of plants
I an a wild boar in valour
I am a salmon in the water
I am a lake in the plain
I am a word of science
I am the point of the lance in battle
I am the God who creates in the head of the fire
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces ages of the moon, if not I?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun, if not I?

Celtic Myths and Legends, Publications Interntaional, ltd.

The Druid priests fell out of popular existence over time with the invasion of the Romans, and the push for Christianity in the British Isles. I say popular because they still practiced in secrecy and under the covering of wooded sacred areas. They were called Pagans, and some people still celebrate and practice their ancient customs today.

Have you ever visited the British Isles? Have you felt the ancient power held within its lands? What do you think of all the legend and lore that comes from the ancient practices of the Celtic people and the Druids?


Jody said...

In your research of the Druids, with the advent of Christianity be first Celtic and then Roman, have you found any information that implies that the irish Monastic group-the Culdees were actually Druidic priests who keep their practices but within the realm of the Celtic Christian church?

I have been to Ireland and haven't fell the pull but being at a number of circles in Scotland. But last year at Stonehenge was just incredible, it is a must see and experience.

Interesting post.

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks for you comment Jody! I have yet to visit Stonehenge but it is on my list!

The pull I felt may be because my ancestors are from there.

I haven't seen that corellation yet, I will have to look into it, it sounds very interesting.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

When we visited Scotland last October we spent an afternoon finding some of the circles. One was on top of a hill a very well tended. You get a feeling like you're not alone walking around them. I loved your bog, Eliza

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Paisley! Isn't it fascinating?

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've been to Stonehenge but it was at Avebury that I really felt the pull of the land. Perhaps because when I went to Stonehenge you couldn't get near the stones because people had been leaving graffitti all over them. There is an Anya Seton novel called the Mistletoe and the Sword set in Roman Britain that has a druid priest and wasn't Merlin supposed to be druid priest?

Shannon Robinson said...

Hi Eliza! Love the post - haven't been to Ireland yet, but come h&*L or high water, I'm going to get my butt there in the near future! Scotland and Ireland are on my bucket list, that's for sure.
I can only imagine how it felt to be standing in those areas. It must be amazing and so powerful, so moving.
Thanks for sharing!

Eliza Knight said...

Hi Elizabeth, what a shame people were ruining the stones and you couldn't get close! I'm so glad that you were at least able to experience another circle. Aren't they fascinating?

I had heard that Merlin was supposedly a Druid, and I actually have him earmarked in a book I have to read up on, so sometime in January I think I will dissect his past :)

Hi Shannon, Scotland is on my bucket list too!!!

Thanks so much as always for your fabulous comments ladies! I'm glad I can still intrigue you :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Liza. Druids always fascinate me. All but for the human sacrifice. LOL!

Anonymous said...

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cyurkanin said...

Wow, what a fantastic site, I can't stop reading!

I suppose I'm 2 months late on this comment but I lived in England as a child and I remember being able to drive our car practically right up to Stonehenge. I've got some pictures somewhere of me sitting on top of one of the horizontal cap stones with our station wagon right behind it. I don't think that graffiti was too much of a worry back then.

Speaking of Druids, ever hear about William Price from Wales? Pretty "interesting" fellow who resurrected Druidism there in the 1800's, I wrote a short story on him at my site.

Keep up the fantastic writing!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Cyurkanin! Your not late! I set up this blog so people can use it for entertainment and research :) I'm so glad you enjoyed it! How awesome that you grew up near Stonehenge and that you sat on one of the stones! I'll have to check out your story.