Druids - A Thing of the Past or a Tradition?
The name ‘Druid’ is of Celtic origin, and it means “Knowing [or Finding] the Oak Tree”, the oak tree being the symbol of great knowledge and wisdom. These people had various roles, they were philosophers, teachers, judges, and the mediators between humans and the gods. They abstained from warfare and paid no tribute. They were joined by many who were attracted to their lifestyle. The Druids’ principal doctrine was that the soul was immortal and passed at death from one person into another.
Although the exact date of their origin is unknown, there is evidence tracing back to the 3rd century BC. Julius Caesar, who is the main source of information about the Druids, claimed that druidism originally came from Britain, and those who wished to study it in depth traveled there. Caesar conquered Gaul and claimed that prestigious men were divided into Druids and nobles. They were polytheistic and had female deities. Druid women were also considered equal to men in many respects. This was probably because of the time they were living in, a time of the matriarch in which women were above or equal to men.
Druids were concerned with the natural world and its powers, and considered trees, particularly the oak, sacred. In their attempt to relate man to nature, they performed rituals by rivers, on hills, or in sacred groves. When they found a mistletoe (a wild parasitic plant with small berries) on an oak tree they used to cut it off with a golden sickle, accompanied by the appropriate sacrificial ritual. Today, there is a tradition that one may kiss anyone of the opposite sex who is under the mistletoe. It is unsure whether they practiced human or animal sacrifice during their rituals; however, both were always present during them, as well as other classes that may have carried out the sacrifices.
The Druids believed in reincarnation. They also believed that the sins committed in a previous life could be made up for in the next. They were contemporaries of the people who believed in the Great Goddess, a period during which man found his own place in the world by believing in the cycles of life: birth, initiation, marriage, death, and rebirth.
Within the Druid class, it is believed that there were subsections, all with color-coded robes. The eldest Druid, or the one deemed to be the wisest, was the Arch-druid, would wear gold robes, while the ordinary Druids would wear white robes. Upon the death of the Arch-druid, another was appointed by either voting or violence.
The best-known of all the druids was most probably a fictional character, Merlin, remembered from Arthurian legends, whose supposed lover was the Arthurian “Lady of the Lake”, a remnant of the White Goddess.
Their places of worship were quiet, secluded areas, like forests, and stone circles. The most famous stone circle in Britain is the Stonehenge, dating back to about 2400 B.C. This was probably a place of worship for them, as it still is today for pagans and other modern-day druids. It is still a mystery whether the Druids built the Stonehenge or not, as it is not exactly clear when they came to Britain. However, it is likely that they actually arrived after it was built.
They were famous for their ability to memorize extremely long verses. Sometimes it took them more than 20 years to qualify for the role of a priest. They relied on special techniques for memorizing important information which are used even today by the modern-day druids who regularly perform religious ceremonies at Stonehenge on the day of the summer solstice.
The Romans exterminated one of their centers and thus effectively destroyed druidism. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, druidism gradually faded away. They survived as poets, historians and judges.
British Studies Course Book, 2003, Vesna Lopičić,
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