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Who Were the Druids?

This article was written by Tadhg MacCrossan on May 10, 2002
posted under Druidism

To mention the word Druid is to evoke images of ancient wizards and wonder-workers from old Irish sagas, Welsh legends, Caesar’s Gallic Wars and Scottish folktales. If you have read about the Druids, you’ve probably retained one of their many images from literature and legend.

The popular characterization of the Druids is more often a fictitious than an accurate representation of factual history. They have been romanticized in such anachronistic roles as engineers of Stonehenge and other megaliths, the priesthood of the "Lost Tribes" of ancient Israel, shamans of pre-Celtic western Europe, and witches of pre-Indo-European Britain. Actually, the Druids were none of these things.

Druids have also been credited with many teachings, including Pythagorean philosophy, Cabala, mysteries of the Goddess, Buddhism, deism (through Barddas forgeries), pantheism, runes and Wicca. But all of these were foreign to the Druids, and formed none of their teachings. We now know that many of the things we were told about them through modern folklore were false. The questions still remain: Who were the Druids? What did they teach? What did they do?

Come with me. Let’s travel back to an ancient time in an ancient land. Let’s go to old Ireland, in the days before Patrick came to spread the religion of the Latin language.

We arrive at Tara on the eve of Samhain. The people speak Goidelic, and in their language call their festival Samonios.

Two bonfires are blazing on a hilltop. Between the fires is an open area covered by a huge wooden roof, like a pavilion of thatching, supported by wooden poles. Everyone from the village and surrounding farms are gathered. We see musicians playing rectangular lyres that they call crottas, and hear singers chanting songs which remind us of the airs and dirges of the Scottish bagpipes. The bards are dressed in colorful tunics, brightly speckled cloaks of tartan, and stripes, trimmed in fur or feathers. There are women sitting at a wooden table: flaxen blondes, redheads and brunettes among them. They are clad in beautiful gold and silver jewelry, according to their rank and wealth. We find a table of warriors, swords of shining polished iron hanging in their scabbards, and men standing holding tall spears.

In the middle of this area is a tall wooden pole on which many images are carved in swirling knotwork. We watch a man dressed in a white, knee-length tunic and a cloak of white and grey bullhide sitting at a prominent place and calling out to the men next to the pole. Beside him is a man dressed in the most colorful cloak of all, with a golden collar, wearing a magnificent, gilded, winged helmet with a crest and a drooping, auburn moustache.

The men at the pole are dressed in white, knee-length tunics and tartan cloaks. They are pouring liquid from a large, beautifully wrought bronze and silver bowl. We are privileged to see an ancient Druidic ritual in progress!

Luckily, we have an interpreter with us who explains that the man in the winged helmet is the king or chieftain of that region. The men pouring and burying are priests, and the one sitting next to the king is his high priest. When we ask the interpreter what these roles are called in his native language, he says that the king is called the rix (reekhs), the man sitting next to him (the master of ceremonies and the king’s high priest) is called the druis (droo-iss), the other men comprise uates (wah-tiss) or uelites (wel-ee-tess), and the bard singing the ancient Celtic hymn is the gutuatir (goo-too-ah-tur).

Our interpreter is gone; we are back from our time-travels now. We caught a glimpse of the ancient Celtic world. We saw an ancient Druid and his team of priests. Every man there was a member of the class known collectively as Druidic. There were other kinds of members of the Druidic class we did not see in this brief episode. But luckily, we do not have to travel back in time to learn about their religion and magic. We can peek through the veil of time by studying the traditions as they have come down to us in written form. One of the first books to cover Druidic traditions was The Sacred Cauldron.

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