Modern Druidism is one of the Neo-Pagan family of religions, which includes
Wicca and recreations of Egyptian, Greek, Norse,
Roman and other ancient Pagan religions. Druidism is a reconstruction of the
beliefs and practices of the ancient Celtic priesthood-professional class.
The ancient Druids performed the functions of modern day priests, teachers,
ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists, musicians, theologians, poets and
judges; they also were specialists in healing and divination. They underwent
lengthy training: some sources say 20 years. Druids led all public rituals,
which were normally held within fenced groves of sacred trees. Most appear
to have been male; it is not known whether female Druids were considered
equal to their male counterparts, or whether they were restricted to special
Druidism and other Neo-Pagan religions are currently experiencing a rapid
growth. Many people are attempting to rediscover their roots, their ancestral
heritage. For many people in North America, their ancestors can be traced
back to Celtic countries.
Many academics believe that the ancestors of the Celts were the
Proto-Indo European culture who lived near the Black Sea circa 4000 BCE. 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
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.
After the invasions by Rome, the Druids were converted to Christianity,
through persuasion or genocide. The descendants of the Druids maintained
Christian and ancient Roman and Greek knowledge intact while the rest of
Europe descended into the Dark Ages. The Christian Church adsorbed much of
Celtic religion: Pagan Gods and Goddesses became Christian saints; sacred
springs and wells were preserved and associated with saints; many temple
sites became the location of cathedrals. By the 7th Century CE, Druidism
itself was destroyed or continued deeply underground throughout most of the
formerly Celtic lands. There is some evidence that Pagan religion did
survive in isolated areas of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the 20th
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 warfare, the enemy is routinely demonized). Some remains of
executions have been found in the archeological 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, 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. It can be safely concluded that the Druids did not construct
Stonehenge. However, they may well have performed rituals there, and
understood its astronomical meanings and uses. But Celtic sacred spaces
were normally associated with groves and streams; Stonehenge is in the
middle of a plain.
In Ireland and Great Britain, 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 they did not build them
Ireland has countless wells and springs dedicated to the Christian
Saint Bridget. She was obviously descendent from the Celtic Goddess
Brigid; and the sacred ownership of the site simply translated
from Goddess Brigid to St. Bridget. Recently, St. Bridget has been
de-canonized; it was determined that no such woman existed in Christendom.
She was simply a copy of the Pagan Goddess.
- 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.
Beliefs and Practices:
Beliefs and practices of the ancient Celts are being pieced together by
modern Druids. Because so much information has been lost, this is not an
easy task. Some findings are:
- Goddesses and Gods: The Celts did not form a single religious or
political unity. They were organized into tribes spread across what is now
several countries. As a result, of the 374 Celtic deities which have been
found, over 300 occur only once in the archeological record; they are
believed to be local deities. There is some evidence that their main pantheon
of Gods and Goddesses might have totaled about 3 dozen - perhaps precisely
33 (a frequently occurring magical number in Celtic literature). Some of the
more famous are: Arawn, Brigid, Cernunnos, Cerridwen, Danu, Herne, Lugh,
Rhiannon and Taranis. Many Celtic deities were worshipped in triune
(triple aspect) form. Triple Goddesses were often sisters.
- Afterlife: The dead were transported to the Otherworld by the God
Bile (AKA Bel, Belenus). Life continued in this location much as it had
before death. The Druids believed that the soul was immortal. After the
person died in the Otherworld, their soul lives again in another human
body. At every birth, the Celts mourned the death of a person in the
Otherworld which made the new birth possible.
- Creation Myth: No Druidic creation story appears to have survived,
although there are numerous accounts of the supernatural creation of islands,
- Baptism: There is some evidence that the Celts had a baptism
initiation ceremony similar to those found in Buddhist, Christian, Essene,
Hindu, Islamic, and Jainist sacred texts. Other researchers dismiss baptism
as a forgery by Christian scribes as they transferred Celtic material to
- Divination: Druids used many techniques to foretell the future:
meditation, study of the flight of birds, interpreting dreams, and
interpreting the pattern of sticks thrown to the ground.
- Awen symbol: This is a symbol drawn in the form of three pillars,
in which the outer two are sloped towards the center pillar, as in /|\.
The symbol has been in use since the 17th century; it recalls the Druidic
fascination with the number three.
- Triskele symbol: This is an ancient Druidic symbol
consisting of three curved branches, bent legs or arms radiating from
the center of the symbol. The flag of the Isle of Man contains a
Seasonal Days of Celebration
Druids, past and present, celebrate a series of fire-festivals, on the
first of each of four months. Each would start at sunset and last for
three days. Great bonfires would be built on the hilltops. Cattle would
be driven between two bonfires to assure their fertility; couples would
jump over a bonfire or run between two bonfires as well. The festivals
- Samhain (or Samhuinn) Literally the "end of warm season".
November 1 marked the combined Feast of the Dead and New Year's Day for
the Celtic calendar. It is a time when the veil between our reality and that
of the Otherworld is most easily penetrated. This fire festival was later
adopted by the Christians as All Soul's Eve, and later became the secular
- Imbolc (or Brighid) Literally "in the belly". February 1 marked
The Return of Light. This is the date when the first stirrings of life
were noticeable and when the land might first be plowable. This has been
secularized as Groundhog Day.
- Beltaine (or Bealteinne). May 1 was the celebration of The
Fires of Bel. This was the peak of blossom season, when domesticated
animals bear their young. This is still celebrated today as May Day. Youths
dance around the May pole in what is obviously a reconstruction of an earlier
- Lughnasad (or Lughnasadh, Lammas). August 1 was The Feast of
Lugh, named after the God of Light. A time for celebration and the
There were occasional references in ancient literature to:
However, these do not appear to be major seasonal days of celebration for
the ancient Druids.
- the winter solstice, typically December 21, when the night is longest
- the spring equinox, typically March 21, when the day and night are equal
- the summer solstice, typically June 21, when the night is shortest
- the fall equinox, typically September 21, when the day and night are
Modern Druidic Movements
- Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD): There are two beliefs
concerning the development of this group. One traces their origin to the
Ancient Order of Druids (AOD) by Henry Hurle in England in 1781.
This group repeatedly split due to internal dissension into many separate
organizations. By 1918, there were five groups attempting to perform
solstice ceremonies at Stonehenge; all were breakaway groups from the
original Ancient Order of Druids. By 1955, all had disappeared except
for the British Circle of Universal Bond which subsequently split
in 1963 to form the OBOD. The other lineage is claimed by the OBOD who trace
their ancestry back through the AOD to a group founded in England in 1717 by
John Toland. He is said to have combined local groups of Druids (called
groves) from a 10 locations into the Mother Grove. The OBOD's
current address is: PO Box 1333, Lewes, East Sussex, England, BN7 3ZG. Email
- Ar nDraiocht Fein: This can be loosely translated as "our own
Druidism". Their name is pronounced "arn ree-ocht fane". It was founded by
Archdruid Isaac Bonewitz, and emphasizes scholarly research, and " a
blend of ancient practices and modern realities". His motto is "paganize
mainstream religion by mainstreaming paganism". Their goal is to recreate
a Pan-European Druidism, involving elements from Baltic, Celtic, Germanic
Slavic and even pre-classical Greek and Roman beliefs. The ANF publishes a
quarterly ADF journal, a bimonthly News from the Mother Grove,
and a semi-yearly Druid's Progress. Their address is: PO box 516,
East Syracuse, NY 13057-0516. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to the OCRT home page, or
return to the RELIGIONS page.
- P.E. Ellis, The Druids, W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI (1994)
- C. Chippindale, Stonehenge Complete, Thames & Hudson, New York
- P. Carr-Gomm, The Druid Tradition, Element, Rockport MA (1991)
- J. Bonwick, Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, Dorsett Press
- R. Nichols, The Book of Druidry, Aquarium, London (1975)
- B. Raftery, Pagan Celtic Ireland, Thames & Hudson, New York (1994)
Return to the OCRT home page, or
return to the RELIGIONS page.