FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Version 3 August 1995 Compiled by both CATHBAD, 1995 and www.paganpaths.org
1) What is a druid? Today Druids are Neo-Druids. The original Druids were killed or forced to convert or leave their homes a long time ago. Druids were the learned class of the Celts. They were the teachers, bards, lawyers, judges , doctors, etc.... Today Druids are or at least for my group are Celtic Reconstructionalists. We try to recreate the ways of the ancient druids and believe in their way of life as we know it. Since there was no written documents of the history or lives of the Celts other than what their oppressors wrote. We study their mythology, culture as well as archaeology and paleontology pertaining to them, and strive to piece the puzzle together.
2) Why is Druidism in the 20th century? Why not? :) Actually, there are a number of good reasons for modern people to consider Druidism. Some see it as a way to reconnect, or "ground" themselves in history, or to improve their relationship with their ancestors (if they are of Celtic descent). Some are attracted by the relationship with the natural world that a Druid cultivates, or by the artistic, creative methods used to build that relationship. There are those who choose Druidism over other forms of neo-paganism. Perhaps a reason for that is because Druidism is not only a branch of neo-paganism, but also the subject of academic study. Druidism is often of interest to archaeologists, historians, and mythographers who don't necessarily consider themselves Druids, or even remotely pagan. Thus, there is a wealth of serious academic material available concerning the Druids, and many discover Druidism through it. Finally, there are those who choose Druidism over more conventional religions that are more accepted and widespread, such as Christianity. Christianity belongs to a middle-eastern language, culture, and mythology-set; Druidism belongs to the Indo-European set from which we in the West inherit virtually all our other cultural practices, including our languages. An exploration of Druidism is for many people a resurgence of Western Europe's indigenous spirituality. Many seek Asatru to revive Northern Europe's spirituality for much of the same reason. If mainstream religions cannot provide answers to those "deep", spiritual, and philosophical questions, Druidism or another form of neo-paganism often provides them.
3) Who were the Druids? I suppose the main thing that can be said about the Druids is that they were members of a professional class in their culture, the Celtic Nations of Western Europe and the British Isles. (The Druids were not an ethnic group; their culture, the Celtic culture, was.) They filled the roles of judge, doctor, diviner, mage, mystic, and clerical scholar. Many Druids were women; the Celtic woman enjoyed more freedom and rights than women in any other contemporary culture, including the rights to enter battle, and divorce her husband. Though through history we have lost much information about them, though this will be discussed later.
4) What are the Celtic nations? Alba (Scotland), Breizh (Brittany), Cymru (Wales), Eire (Ireland), Kernow (Cornwall), and Mannin (Man).
5) What are the sources by which we can know the druids? The main sources we have on what they did are Roman historians, who wrote on them as they were in the process of conquering Gaul (what is now France; a variant of Gaelic is still spoken in Brittany) so there is that political problem, and they equated Celtic deities with Roman ones as well. The main authors are Julius Caesar, Pliny, Tacitus, Strabo, and Diodorus Siculus. One Roman author, Diogenes, placed the Druids on a list of the ancient world's wisest philosophers -- a list that included the Magi of Persia and the Brahmin of India. But in my point of view, the best sources are the mythologies. There we can read of what the Druids did, how they behaved, what some of them said, and though the medieval manuscripts that preserved them were written by Christian monks, much wisdom yet remains there. In Ireland the chief myth cycles are the Ulster Cycle, the Fionn Cycle, and the Invasion Races. In Wales, the major myths are contained in a book called The Mabinogion. In this century, a number of folklore collections were made of remaining oral-tradition stories. If you were to expand your search to include historical and archeological records, you might have more luck, and may arouse less suspicion if your area is not very pagan friendly. In fact what you will be doing is precisely what the Druids did, for they had to study so many academic, legal, and spiritual subjects they became walking encyclopedias. The problem is that the Druids were the subject of a number of persecutions and conquests, not only by the Romans, but also by later Christians. Some Druidic wisdom was censored, evolved into something unrecognizable, or just plain lost. A modern person seeking the Druid's path must attempt to reconstruct the wisdom based on the sources discussed above. The Romans never invaded Ireland, so that country became a haven for Druidic learning for a while. After St. Patrick and St. Columcille, Ireland evolved a unique and beautiful blend of Christianity and Druidism, called Culdee Christianity, headquartered on the Isle of Iona, which was later to be eradicated by the invading English. Catholicism eventually became a point of national identity in Ireland (and without it they may never have become independent).
6) Did the Druids practice human sacrifice? The Romans recorded that they sacrificed humans, specifically condemned criminals. Judicial executions were no different elsewhere in Europe, including Saxony. The Romans wrote that such victims were tied into huge wicker man-shaped effigies and burned alive. The archeological record does reveal a number of sacrificial deaths, such as "triple-deaths" where the victim was drowned, stoned, and impaled on a spear simultaneously. Some mythologies describe one person's life being sacrificed so that a terminally ill VIP would survive, thus indicating a belief in a cosmic balance of forces. However, there is some debate over this; it may have been anti-Druid propaganda. Julius Caesar had good reason to make the Druids look bad, because, after all, he was trying to conquer them. It would fuel interest in his campaign back home if he could prove that the Celts engaged in such barbaric practices. Yet the Romans would kill people in gladiatorial games, for the entertainment of the people. The Druids, if they did sacrifice people, could claim religious sanction. The archeological record is ambiguous if such sacrifice was judicial or ceremonial, or even if it occurred at all. Rest assured that modern Druids do not sacrifice anything at all.
7) Why haven’t you called them "priests" yet? The best word for them would seem to be "priests", yet I am reluctant to use it for two reasons: The Romans never used it, and because Druids didn't preach to congregations as priests do. Rather, they had a clientele, like a mystic or a shaman would have. Caesar and his historians never referred to them as priests, but perhaps they could not recognize them as such; the Roman priesthood, officiating over an essentially political religion, was primarily teachers and judges, with less emphasis on being seers or diviners.
8) What are the Druidic Holy days? There was a series of fire-festivals, occurring at 12-week intervals, and spaced between the seasonal festivals of solstices and equinox (thus, a festival every six weeks.) These fire-festivals, Samhain (Nov. 1) Feast of the Dead, and beginning of the New Year, would last three days, beginning at sunset on the first day, and would be the best time for sacrifices and divinations. Death came before Life in the Druidic cycle, because before new growth can occur, there must be room for it. On this day the boundary between this world and the Otherworld is thinnest, and so it is a time to remember all those who died during the year. Imbolc (Feb 1) The Return of Light - The ewes begin lactating around this time of year, and it is a sign that winter is coming to an end. Perhaps divinations were cast to determine when spring would come (from this practice we might have got Groundhog Day.) Beltane (May 1) The Fires of Bel - spring has arrived, and the people give thanks. This was a day of fertility and life, often the choice day for marriages. Lughnasad (Aug 1) The Feast of Lugh - The essential harvest festival, to give thanks to the Earth for Her bounty. The name is a reference to the Irish god Lugh of the Long Hand, son of the Sun. I have heard that Australians who practice these festivals do it in reverse order, because these dates are for northern-hemisphere seasons. It would make sense for them to celebrate Beltane on Nov.1, for example. In Wales, there was an annual festival called the Eisteddfod, which was a bardic musical and poetry competition. It still exists, alternating between North and South Wales. Great bonfires were built on hilltops and kept burning throughout the whole of the fire festivals. By day, there would be carnival-like celebrations, and by night, serious rituals. Cattle were driven between bonfires to purify them, and couples would run and leap over the flames, often completely naked, also for purification (and it was fun!) Some sites were centers for the "perpetual chant", where Druids in rotation would chant incantations without stop; during festivals the entire community would join the chant. Astronomical celebrations (the solstices and equinox) have only passing reference in the source literature (i.e. the myths, Caesar, etc.), but astronomical lines are found everywhere in the archaeology. There are hundreds of stone circles, round barrows, menhirs, etc. with solar, lunar, and/or stellar alignments. Perhaps the most impressive is New Grange, Ireland, where direct sunlight penetrates the inner chamber only on Midsummer morning.
9) What did the ancient Druids believe? The poetic tradition in Druidism comes from the method the Celts used to trace their lineage and history. Written records were distrusted for the most part, and though a runic writing system called Ogham did exist, it wasn't used for much beyond burial markers and landmarks. To write things down is to weaken the power of eidetic memory, which the Druids cultivated carefully, and to dishonor the thing written down. Druids in training had to learn all the Bardic poetry; in a manner we would call sensory deprivation. Poetic inspiration was an important spiritual practice, which the Welsh have focused on in their eisteddfod. In Irish myth there was a deity of poetry (Brigit). The Druids taught reincarnation, and the omnipresence of a spiritual Otherworld, that is sometimes accessible to us, and particularly close at certain times of the year, like at Samhain. Oak was the most important symbol in druidic lore, as it is strong, tall, and very long-lived. Mistletoe was said to have healing qualities. Other important trees were the Yew, for its offspring grew from the dead stump of its parent, representing perpetually regenerating life. The Ogham alphabet was a list of tree-names. Trees are important because they are bridges between the realms of Land and Sky; they communicate Water between these realms. When the Realms of Land, Sea and Sky meet, as within a tree or at a seashore for example, great power could manifest, and such places were best for poetic composition or spell-casting. Stones could channel, store, and direct earth-energy, and thus were used for markers, set in circles, and libations were poured over them in sacrifice. Fire-worship is strong as well, but doesn't fit the Greek four-element picture. Fire is a thing unto itself, with the dual qualities of destructiveness and cleansing power. It is a spiritual principle, because it is always reaching up to the sky. This may be why they built those hilltop fires. Poetic inspiration is said to be a fire in the head, so Brigid is a fire-deity as well. Druidic philosophy points to knowledge as the key to self-awareness, else certain mythological holy-places of greatest import would not be associated with wisdom, ex. The Well of Wisdom (auspiciously located at the center of the world), the Spiral of Annwyn, the Cauldron of Cerridwen, and the 4 Wise Men of the 4 Cities in the North. Mythic places are inaccessible but also not inaccessible, for it requires a leap of faith to find them; the Well of Wisdom is at the bottom of the ocean, but to Sea Gods like Manannan, the ocean is as the sky.
The Druidic pursuit of knowledge would seem to suggest that ethical action is action that brings you closer to Wisdom. I would not seek to define wisdom at this point in the manner that the Celts may have known it, yet here the correlation between druidic wisdom and Eastern mysticism is striking; one considers the Buddhist Eightfold Path as a prescription of right actions designed to bring one closer to Nirvana. Wisdom becomes a kind of knowledge above ordinary knowledge (like facts), a form of total-awareness, or even a state of mind. Archeological evidence of "beehive" huts, secluded mountain shelters, etc. suggest the Druids used them to achieve higher states of consciousness in pursuit of this mythic wisdom. It is said that the pillars of the awen, /|\ stand for truth, knowledge, and justice; the triskele (which looks something like a spiral with three arms) also demonstrates the number three as spiritually significant, and may stand for any triad though usually understood to stand for the realms of Earth, Sea, and Sky. The warrior-hero Oisin gives us this in a mythic way, a statement I shall arbitrarily name Oisin's Answer because it is how he answered St. Patrick's question of what kept the Fianna (a band of outlaw-warriors) together: "It is what sustained us though our days, the truth that was in our hearts, and strength in our arms, and fulfillment in our tongues."
10) Earth, air, fire, water; Isn’t that Celtic? Yes and no. The Druidic elemental cosmology may have had eight or nine individual elements, of environmental rather than physical nature (such as clouds, stars, oceans, etc.) The Four Elements is the invention of Pythagoras, (father of western occult numerology, among other things) and exploring Greeks and Romans may have identified his thought with the Celtic metaphysics they encountered. It is known, however, that Pythagoras was aware of Druidic thought, and may have traveled to the Celtic nations. The number Three was usually more significant than others.
11) What gods did the Druids worship? This depends on the nation you look at. Ireland had different gods than Wales, who had further different gods than Gaul. Another point to consider is not only were gods known by different names, but also many of the names were deemed too holy to pronounce aloud. (Thus the common oath: "I swear by the god my tribe swears by".) Here is a brief, by no means authoritative, list of deities. The Tuatha de Danann (Tribe of the Goddess Danu) was the name of the Irish pantheon, for the Sidhe (faeries) were descended from Her. Ironically, Danu herself never makes a personal appearance in the myths, but perhaps she is already everywhere, like the land. Certainly, some European rivers are named after her like the Danube and Dneiper. Some names you may recognize: • Lugh Lamh-fada (Long Handed), Son of the Sun. • Dagda the Good (good not by his moral disposition but by the • Diversity of his skills) • Nuada Argat-lamh (Silver Hand) a two-time king of the Dannans. • Morrigu, Babd, and Macha (a triple goddess of War.) • Brigid (a triple goddess of Fire, Poetry, and the Forge) • Diancecht, god of healing • Manannan mac Lir, god of the sea and master of magic Welsh mythology tends to focus on the actions of heroes, and their interaction with gods. The primary source is the Mabinogion, a compendium of legends from Wales' mythic time. • Arawn, lord of the Annwyn (the underworld) • Math ap Mathonwy, the quintessential wizard • Pwyll, lord of Davyd • Rhiannon, (wife of Pwyll) Goddess associated with horses and the Underworld. • Cerridwen, (the hag) mother of the poet Taliesson • Lyr, god of the sea • Manawyddan Gaulish deities are the focus of Caesar's records. He drew analogies between his own Roman gods and those he discovered in Gaul. • Herne the Hunter • Taranus, Teutates • Esus, Hu'Hesu, the Dying God • Cernunnos, Master of the Wild Hunt, or the Animal Lord/Green Man • Epona, The Horse Goddess Not all modern Druids worship the gods by name. There is some evidence that the Druids of old believed in a kind of universal Life Force, flowing from a central place (such as the Irish Well of Wisdom or the Welsh Spiral of Annwyn), to and from all living things. Perhaps the best modern description is Obi-Wan's description of the "Force", from the famous Star Wars films. :)
12) What is the difference between Wicca and Druidism? The present form of Wicca is less than a century old, though it follows a tradition of wisdom that is as old as Druidism, if not more. Wicca emphasizes the Earth, and the Earth Mother; Druidism has equal emphasis on the Earth, Sea, and Sky. (Otherwise known as the Three Realms.) Wicca has two deities, The Goddess (in her triple maiden-mother-crone aspects) and The Horned God. Druidism has many gods, who are not aligned in polarity but exist independently. Druidic triple goddesses are not linked by matrilineal line (like maiden-mother-crones) but by generation, as sisters: Morrigu/Macha/Babd (war & battle goddesses), Banba/Fodla/Erin (land & earth goddesses) for example. The Wiccan Rede does not bind druids; perhaps the closes thing to an ethical statement is Ossian's. This is not to say that versions of Celtic Wicca are inherently non-valid. Wicca occasionally borrows Celtic deities and themes for its work, and no Celt I know has any problem with that. It is to say, however, that historically and academically, Celtic Wicca did not exist.
13) Were the druids SHAMEN? This is an extremely hot topic of debate, mostly because Celtic matters and Shamanistic matters are very popular right now, and many new-age authors and practitioners have sought a synthesis of the two. It is this author's opinion that a more meaningful question is whether or not Druids were *similar* to shaman (and the answer to that is probably yes) because the Druids did evolve from an Indo-European culture that had shamanism. But to answer the original question, I here defer to someone who knows more about it than I do. From: inisglas [email@example.com] [quoted with permission] The Celts had some very specific words for their religious functionaries and their visionaries. "Shaman" was not one of those words. Is there something wrong with the terms that our ancestors used, so that we must go off and find new words with which to label our seers and priests and poets? Druids are firmly a part of the noble social order and ruling class, rather than being at the fringes of society. Poets more often lived at the fringes, as shamans do. Druids could and did bar people from participation in community sacrifices and rites. I don't believe that this was a part of shamanism practice. Formal training for many years in schools of druids or poets does not seem to be a part of the shamanic framework, although I could be wrong about this. Shamanism usually is taught either under a single master with one or a very few students, or by the spirits themselves. Druids and poets are described as gathering in considerable numbers in "colleges" for the purpose of instruction in many subjects, particularly in the cities of Gaul. The Romans, who sometimes sent their young sons to be trained in oratory by Gaulish druids, considered druids and fili very well-trained formal speakers. The Greeks and Romans thought of the druids as being Pythagorean natural philosophers, with a firm and delicate grasp of mathematics. I do not believe that the Altaic shamans are known for their command of mathematics, nor do I believe that they have an understanding of the metonic cycle of the sun and moon. The Gaulish druids had a very complex calendar, which is preserved in the Coligny fragments. I have never seen any reference to shamans having calendars of this complexity. I could simply be missing something here. Many Celtic "otherworld journey" tales are about people who have gone there unwillingly and without any control over the experience. The shaman is a master of control, and always decides when and where sh/e will or will not go into the otherworlds. Shamans can't be stolen away against their own will. Shamanism as generally understood does not include possession by spirits. The description of the Welsh awenyddon by Geraldus Cambriensis says that these people acted "as if possessed," and had to be beaten or slapped severely to get them to come back to themselves after giving oracles. Once again, the shaman has complete control even in the deepest of trance states. Celtic societies were literate societies. Although the druids were said not to write down important things, they were able and willing to keep other records in writing, using Greek for many purposes. Patrick was said to have burned "hundreds of druidic books" during his conversion of Ireland. Druids and poets are described as writing down tales and poems on staves. None of the shamanic societies that I know of were literate. Many still do not have written languages. This is not to say that all pre-literate societies are therefore shamanic societies. In shamanism, there is a common theme of ascending to the upper worlds or sky realms, while I know of no extant Celtic tales about anyone ascending into the upper worlds to confront Gods or spirits. Yes, Gods arrive from there, but what humans go there? "Spirit flight" through the middle realms to spy on one's enemies or flit through the tops of trees in the forest isn't quite the same thing. I know of only one tale that could be taken as a tale of a shamanic crisis and illness (the Sickbed of Cu/ Chulainn), but Cu/ sends his charioteer into the Si/dhe realm to check it out for him before he goes there himself. The shaman in crisis cures himself. Cu/ was cured by the same fairy women who beat him in the first place. While we have a number of shamanic elements appearing in Celtic mythology, we don't usually have more than two or three themes appearing in the same tale. It's my understanding that a majority of the themes need to appear in the same person for them to be seen as a shaman. This may be my own prejudice in the matter. And again, it is entirely possible to have a spirit animal guardian, to have visions, and to make voyages into otherworlds without being a shaman. It happens in many tribal societies all the time. Sleeping in a cave, eating berries and salmon and wearing fur doesn't make a person a bear either. Erynn --- end quoted text ---
14) Was Stonehenge a Druidic temple? Perhaps. The question of who build Stonehenge is one of academic debate. The theory that most people find acceptable is that since carbon-14 dating places the construction of Stonehenge before the rise of Druidism, they did not build it, however that does not rule out the probability that they knew how to use it. The solar and stellar alignments Stonehenge embodies would not have been lost on an intelligensia so well versed in astronomy.
15) What about Glas Tonbury? Some folkloric traditions and mythographic examinations suggest that Glastonbury Tor is the mythic Isle of Avalon. If, for example, the nearby river were to flood, the Tor would be an island. A certain thorn tree is said to be the descendant of the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which was changed into a thorn tree when he set it there (the Thorn is sacred to faeries!), when he brought the Grail to Britain. Avalon means "Isle of Apples", and apple orchards do grow there. Some archaeologists believe that, if one accounts for centuries of erosion, the sides of the Tor are terraced into the shape of a Cretan Maze pattern. Whether or not the region is Druidic, anyone who has meditated by the nearby Chalice Well knows it is a holy place.
16) Are there any other Druidic sites? There are hundreds of stone circles dotting Britain and Ireland. The Hebrides of Scotland are famous for them. In Ireland, there are many sacred wells dedicated to St. Bridget, am obvious borrowing from the earlier goddess Brigid. There is Newgrange, a temple/tomb/center for initiation rites in Ireland, thousands of years older than the Pyramids, which is constructed to allow sunlight into the inner chamber on Midsummer sunrise only. There is the Hill of Temhair (Tara) which was the high seat of Irish kings, and the stone that stands on it is thought to be the same one called Lia Fail, Stone of Destiny, upon which the Ard Ri was inaugurated, and if worthy the stone would cry out.
17) What is Arthurian Druidism? The Arthurian legends are unique because they embody the delicate transition period between Druidism and Christianity. Christianity was well entrenched as the religion of the nobility, yet Druidism remained in the form of folk-practices. Misty islands and otherworldly hunting expeditions, which comprise much of Arthurian legend, clearly originate from the older Celtic mythologies where such encounters are signs of the presence of the Other-world. The Irish Druid Uath Mac Immoman challenged a warrior to a mutual beheading in much the same way The Green Knight (who can be seen as Cernunnos The Green Man) challenged Sir Gawain. The Perilous Bridge that Lancelot has to cross is similar to the bridge at Scatha's School for Heroes that Cu/ Chullain must cross. And perhaps all those "wise hermits", that the Knights are always running into, are Druids in hiding. Merlin himself is now thought to have been a Druid, by some modern historical fiction authors and other academic speculation, since he too was an advisor to a king, a prophet, and a wilderness recluse. To stretch it a bit, perhaps the Grail follows those magical cauldrons like those possessed by Dagda, which could feed armies and raise the dead, and by Cerridwen, which was a font of wisdom. It is worth noting that the sword called Excalibur may have come from legends surrounding a real sword. The Celts were Iron-workers, ahead of most other contemporary cultures. Iron-age technology helped the Celts defeat the Dannans (who were bronze-workers). Around Arthurian times, it was discovered that nickel-iron from meteorites could be used to create stainless steel, and swords layered with this metal would never bend, scratch, break, nor rust. Weapons like that would have been seen as magical, and develop names and reputations independent of their owners.
18) Is it true that only men were druids? Can women be druids? No, both women and men were druids. Women were treated as equals in the ancient Celtic society and were able to own and inherit land etc.. There is archeological evidence to support this.
Women are still able to be druids today and anybody that says otherwise should do more studying..
19) Is Druidry like Wicca? No, I can't speak for all types of Wicca however of the Wiccan people and types of Wicca I know of they are not even close to being the same. Even the basic cosmology and ethics systems are different. We do not believe in an ye harm none as that rarely if ever works even if your intentions are good you may unintentionally harm another without realizing it. For example say you do a spell or ritual to bring your family food, it works and it's a good thing, however it took food from another family. The Celts had a complex set of ethics, which I will have to do a different page on to explain it all.
The Celts only use 3 elements, land, sea and sky. Where Wiccan's use four or five depending on the person or tradition, the four being air, earth, water and fire along with spirit as the fifth for some people. Wicca is Duotheistic where as Druidry is Polytheistic. Wiccan's use the sun as a symbol for the male god and moon as female. Druidry has 3 planets, which correspond to the 3 triads. There are 3 realms, Other-world, sky as it's element, where the gods live and Sun as its planet the sun is female and the rays are male. Middle world where we are and the sidhe, land as its element and earth as its planet. Underworld, Sea as its element, where the ancestors reside, Moon as its planet the moon is female and it's rays male. There are many other differences but I think this section is already long enough. You can find a link to an essay about the differences between Druidry and Wicca on my links page.
20) What gods/goddess's do you believe in? There are well over 300 deities in the Celtic pantheon depending on the area and tribe. The main ones my group uses are The Dagdha, Morrighan, Brighit, and Lugh for the high days.
21) What are high days? High days are the days that we celebrate with ritual, the turning of the seasons and we celebrate different deities for different times. For example we honor Lugh and his stepmother at Lughnassadh, Brighit at Imbolc etc... Most groups have their own deities and rituals for their group that they celebrate. Our grove only uses the solstices where some groups use both solstices and equinoxes.
22) Do druids sacrifice people? In ancient times they did, often sacrificed prisoners or volunteers. A lot of cultures at that time performed human sacrifice. We don't believe that this type of sacrifice is necessary. We hold all life to be sacred, the only acceptable sacrifice in our group are plant material (herbs etc..) foods, grains, oils, incense , gems, precious metals etc....
23) Do you cast a circle? No we don't cast a circle we consider all of nature to be sacred and don't need to create sacred space. However we do often times consecrate a space before ritual to clear out any negativity.
24) Do you use magic(k)? Yes in ritual we only use magic to open a gateway with the assistance of Mannan Mac Lir to allow the ancestors, sidhe and gods to join us. We also do meditation during the ritual to raise energy and to raise awareness to a different level. Most people within our group use magic but in their personal lives rather than as part of the grove.
25) Do you worship Satan? No, We don't believe in Satan and therefore don't worship him nor do we have an equivalent to Satan. I believe that the concept of Satan was brought about through Zoastrianism then to Judaism and then to Christianity.