Druids, the Philosophers of the North

Lydia Kendall

When one hears the word “Druids“, surely his mind goes to a character like Panoramix or to an old man with a long beard, holding a pole, with various bugs and vials in the belt tied. Perhaps the truth is not far from this picture.

The Druids were a glorified caste of Celtic Priests, recognized and acclaimed by the Romans for their powerful magic. In Gaelic, the word “Druids” means “to know Oak”.

The Celts were barbarian tribal people that had spread to Galatia, Britain, Ireland, Europe, Asia Minor, and the Balkans since the 5th century BC. In the 1st century AD, the Romans unleashed a series of repression on the Celts and their religion, eventually replacing them with Christianity.

The teachings and rituals of the Druids were very secretive and passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, very little is known about the Druids nowadays, though many of them can only be speculated in ancient times…

If you want to learn more, keep reading! 


Their Position in Celtic Society

The exact role that Druids played in Celtic society has different descriptions, depending on the sources. Diogenes the Cynic notes that the Druids were already an ancient institution in the 4th century BC, in the time of Aristotle. Julius Caesar said that the Druids Galatians were one of the two highest castes together with the Knights, and like them, they were organized under one honorable head. In Ireland, the Druids were the second of the three high castes, lower than the Noble and superior to the landless.

In most of the archives, however, the Druids were the guardians of traditional wisdom dealing with moral philosophy, natural phenomena, and theology! Pretty cool, right?

They were skilled in the art of divination, in the interpretation of omens, in the form of sacrifices, the making of diaries, in the magical and pharmaceutical powers of herbs, the science of astronomy, and in poetry. Not bad!

They played an important role in the religious and political life of the Celts. They performed religious ceremonies, acted as mediators between humans and the gods, influenced the moral and spiritual structure of Celtic Society, as well as made political and judicial decisions on various issues. Wow…did they even have time for themselves?


The Galatian Druids

The Galatian Druids were said to have delivered justice and law, though it remains unknown how they did so with the tribal leaders. Irish Druids are described as people of learning and art that included Mantis, Wise, Bard, and Law. 

The Druids of Galatia and Britain are said to have been distinguished from the rest in the Priesthood, including Mantis, Vardus, and the Prophets. They seem to overlap, as the Druids are said to have been able to read the omens and prophecy the future. 

Within the Druids, there were both men and women, as women had an important place in Celtic society.


Some of their Religious Ceremonies

Some trees, plants, and animals are believed to be endowed with sacred and healing powers, and the Druids used them in various religious ceremonies and for therapeutic purposes. Mistletoe was believed to be a sign from heaven and they used it to make antidotes to medicine against poisons and treatments for infertility even in animals! The oak was believed to have come from the Sacred Forest, and its foliage was used for ceremonies.

Their religious ceremonies were performed in the Sacred Forests or in oak groves where they served as temples. These were also places of gathering where the Druids made decisions and brought justice to the citizens and criminals. Other meetings took place at river and lake fountains because the Celts worshiped the Water Gods and believed that the water was sacred.

The Druids practiced both animal sacrifice and human sacrifice. Human victims were burned alive in wicker cages, stabbed, punched, or hit with arrows. It was the human sacrifice that angered the Romans, which forbade it as barbaric by a decision of the Senate in 97 BC. The only detailed record preserved and mentioned in a Druidic ceremony is that of Pliny the Elder (Roman articulator, scientist, and historian, author of the work “Naturalis Historia”). This ceremony is about the harvest of Mistletoe:

“[…] On the sixth day of the moon, Druid, dressed in a white cloak, climbs onto Mistletoe and with his right hand, with gold scythe cuts Mistletoe. The herb should not fall to the ground, it was harvested in white cloth. Two white bulls were sacrificed and a rich meal was made. […]”


The Art of Divination

For the interpretation of the omen, the Druids observed wild hares or birds such as crows and eagles as they believed that those could predict events. They practiced the art of divination by observing the death spasms and the offspring of their sacrificed victims. 

During their religious celebrations, the Druids interpreted dreams. A man fell asleep with the Druids chanting over his body. When he woke up, the man described the dream and the Druids came up with the interpretation. Written sources refer to their magic, which included herbal amulets, and their belief in a magical egg made from the saliva of angry snakes, which provided success in the trials. 

The Druids believed in the immortality of the soul and in life after death, where some writers assimilated it with the faith of Pythagoras’ Metempsychosis. The dead were burned with all their possessions. At times, relatives committed religious suicides by jumping into the fire and holding the corpses to be together in the Other World. The Celts wrote letters to the dead and promoted loans so that they could be repaid after death. Caesar said that the notion of immortality kept the legendary Celtic courage in battle.

According to Tacitus—one of the most important Latin historians—a black-clad Druid stood in front of the Celtic warriors, screaming at the gods and cursing the Romans. But the Romans were victorious. They killed the Celtic warriors and the Druids and destroyed their sacred groves. This was what put Druidism in permanent decline. Over the course of several generations, the respectable and powerful priesthood of the Druids dropped them so low that they were considered common sorcerers.

Druidism is the second-largest tradition in the world, within Paganism. Its followers reinterpret what we know about Druids, trying to build a spiritual path of dedication, ceremony, and magic…

Legends, healers, mysticism and nature worship compose the image of the Druids, the mystical Order of Celts of the Iron Age, in a mix of imagination and history.

If you enjoyed this article, please let me know!

Have a blessed day!


Written by Lydia Kendall

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