CELTIC DRUIDISM HISTORY AND MYTH
Celtic Druidism History And Myth
Since ancient Druidism was an oral tradition (as so many early , they did not have a set of scriptures as do Christianity and other "religions of the book. Some Druidic teachings survived in the Bardic colleges in Wales, Ireland and Scotland which remained active until the 17th century, in medieval manuscripts, and in oral tradition, folk lore and ritual.
Druidism and other Neopagan religions are currently experiencing a rapid growth and regeneration of followers. Many people are attempting to rediscover not only their origins, roots, and their ancestral heritage but for many people in North America, their ancestors can be traced back to Celtic/Druidic countries.
Most modern Druids connect the origin of their religion to the ancient Celtic people. However, historical data is scarce. The Druids may well have been active in Britain and perhaps in northern Europe before the advent of the Celts.
Many academics believe that the ancestors of the Celts were the Proto-Indo European culture who lived near the Black Sea circa 4000 BCE ... frequently referred to as "The Sea People." Some migrated in a South-Westerly direction to create the cultures of Thrace and Greece; others moved North-West to form the Baltic, Celtic, Germanic and Slavic cultures. Evidence of a Proto-Celtic Unetice or Urnfield culture has been found in what is now Slovakia circa 1000 BCE.
This evolved into a group of loosely linked tribes which formed the Celtic culture circa 800 BCE. By 450 BCE they had expanded into Spain; by 400 BCE they were in Northern Italy, and by 270 BCE, they had migrated into Galatia (central Turkey). By 200 BCE, they had occupied the British Isles, Brittany, much of modern France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, North West Spain, and their isolated Galatia settlement in Turkey.
Although the Celts had a written language, it was rarely used. Their religious and philosophical beliefs were preserved in an oral tradition. Little of their early history remains. Most of our information comes from Greek and Roman writers, who may well have been heavily biased (the Celts invaded Rome in 390 BCE and Greece in 279 BCE). Other data comes from the codification (and modification) of Celtic myth cycles by Christian monks. The latter included the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, the Cycle of Kings, the Invasion Races Cycle from Ireland, and The Mabinogion from Wales. Unfortunately, much Celtic history and religion has been lost or distorted by an overlay of Christianity.
The Christian Church adsorbed much of Celtic religion. Many Pagan Gods and Goddesses have became Christian saints; sacred springs and wells were preserved and associated with saints; many Pagan temple sites became the location of cathedrals. By the 7th Century CE, Druidism itself was destroyed by the Christian Roman Church or continued deeply underground throughout most of the formerly Celtic lands. There is some evidence that Pagan religions did survive in isolated areas of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the 20th Century.
Myths about Druids
Ritual Killing: Many historians believed that the ancient Druids performed human sacrifices. All of these references can be traced back to the writings of one individual, Julius Caesar. He may well have been prejudiced against the Celts because of their continual warfare with the Romans. In war, the enemy is routinely demonized. Some remains of executions have been found in the archaeological record, but it is not obvious whether the victims were killed during religious rituals or to carry out the sentence of a court. There is one reference to human sacrifice in Celtic literature, but it appears to be a Christian forgery. The ancient Celts might have engaged in ritual killing; certainly other contemporary societies did. Modern Druids, of course, do not.
Stonehenge, Avebury, etc.: Many people believe that the Druids constructed Stonehenge, the complex of standing stones in South Central England. Stonehenge I ("Old Stonehenge"), which was composed of the 56 "Aubrey" holes, was constructed circa 3500 BCE. The current formation was completed circa 1500 BCE. This was almost a millennium before the start of Celtic civilization. The Druids may have preceded the Celts in England. Thus, either the Druids or their fore-runners might have been responsible for the finishing of Stonehenge and other monuments. There is no historical proof that they were or were not involved. Even if they did not actually construct these monuments, they may well have performed rituals there, and understood its astronomical meanings and uses.
In Ireland and the UK, there are many ancient "Druid" altars, beds, rings, stones, stone circles and temples. However, radio-carbon analyses assign dates such as 1380 BCE (Wilsford Shaft) to 3330 BCE (Hembury). Again, ancient Druids may have used these megalithic monuments, but did not necessarily build them.
Ireland now has countless wells and springs dedicated to the Christian Saint Bridget. She was obviously descended from the Celtic Goddess Brigid/Brigit. "Finding the cult of Brigit impossible to eradicate, the Catholic church rather unwisely canonized her as a saint, calling her Bridget or Bride." 3 The sacred ownership of the various Pagan holy sites were simply translated from Goddess Brigid to St. Bridget after the area was Christianized.
Celtic God Samhain: This non-existent God is often mentioned at Halloween time. He is supposed to be the Celtic God of the Dead. No such God existed. Samhain is, in reality, the name of a Druidic fire festival. It can be loosely translated as "end of the warm season".
Monotheistic Druids: Some writers have promoted the concept that Druids were basically monotheistic, following a sort of pre-Christian belief system. There is essentially no evidence of this. Druids worshipped a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. However, some modern-day cultural Druids have merged Druid customs with a modern-day religion -- typically Christianity -- and are monotheists.
Just a thought ...
~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.
Greywolf, "A little history of Druidry," www.druidorder.demon.co.uk/
"Religious Tolerance History and Myth" www.religioustolerance.org
"Ancient Druidry," www.druidorder.demon.co.uk/
Douglas Monroe, "The 21 Lessons of Merlyn," Llewellyn Publications, (1992).