Since publishing Darlin’ Druid, book one in my Texas Druids trilogy, I’ve often been asked how I dreamed up the idea of pairing Druids with western romance. No doubt some folks think it’s kind of weird (not my readers, bless their hearts) but to me it makes perfect sense.
Tales of the Old West have always held a special place in my heart, but I’ve also long been interested in Celtic myth and culture, especially Druids. When considering a paranormal element for my stories, I decided upon three siblings, each with a unique psychic gift, who travel west in search of adventure and romance. The three are descendents of Irish Druids, whose roots I enjoyed researching. Today, at Al’s suggestion, I’ll pass along some of that research.
In an article titled The Druids – A Brief Cultural History, Christopher M. Nixon states, “The group of people known as the Druids, their practices, beliefs, and lives are shrouded in a great deal of mystery and misconception. Many people are fascinated by Druidism, and the tales of clandestine powerful wizards -- quietly working their magick under the velvet cloak of night. Thus the truth is often overlooked, and not well understood. But who were they? Where did they come from?”
|Danu, mother goddess|
According to Nixon, linguistic studies show that, except for Finnish, virtually all languages, including Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, sprang from Proto Indo-European (PIE) dialects. These dialects were spoken by prehistoric people known as Indo-Europeans. Celts, Indians (as in
and Persians all descended from Indo-Europeans, whose culture dates from 4300
to 7000 B.C. – or even earlier. Nixon goes on to say these ancient tribes
originated in Asia, in what is now southern Russia.
Irish mythology speaks of the mother goddess Danu, and her children, the Tuatha Dé Danaan. Danu’s name relates to the
, suggesting the
Celtic tribes may have evolved along that river. The Celts eventually spread
westward across Europe, reaching Danube
River Britain around 2000 B.C.
The Celtic people gave rise to Druids, a class of healers, teachers and spiritual leaders. Observing seasonal patterns and natural phenomena, the Druids created rituals and beliefs centered around nature, herbalism and holistic medicine.
Nixon lists the Druid hierarchy as follows:
· Arch-Druid – wisest or eldest Druid within a Grove (group); equivalent to a king; wore gold robes.
· The Druids -- equivalent to a clergy class; wore white robes.
· Sacrificers – a warrior-type class; wore red robes.
· The Bards – an artist or trade class; wore blue robes.
· New initiates or followers – like serfs, they did menial or mundane tasks; wore brown or black robes.
Druids and Celtic Culture
|Bust of Julius Caesar|
“The Celtic settlement of
Britain and Ireland
is deduced mainly from archaeological and linguistic considerations. The only
direct historical source for the identification of an insular people with the
Celts is [Julius] Caesar's report of the migration of Belgic tribes to Britain, but
the inhabitants of both islands were regarded by the Romans as closely related
to the Gauls (Celts of France).” ̴ ̴ from
the International World History Project
Except for tribes in
Scotland and Wales,
the Celts of Britain were brought under Roman rule during the time of Julius
Caesar. According to a 1996 article in British
Archaeology, written by Richard Warner, there is also archaeological
evidence of a Roman presence in Ireland.
However, Hibernia -- the Latin name for Ireland – wasn’t conquered by Rome. Rather, the invaders apparently
assimilated into Ireland’s
|Táin Bó Cúailnge hero|
Information about early Irish society comes from legendary sagas, annals, genealogies and ancient law-tracts. These law-tracts are unique in the existing history of western Europe. The laws they preserve open a window into the distant Celtic past.
There were two politically powerful groups in old
One group, the tuathas (tribes) were warriors. Ancient tales such as the epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of
Cooley) – “the Iliad of Ireland” – indicate that both men and women served as
warriors. Druids were sometimes
recruited from the warrior class but ranked higher. It’s likely that some women
also served as Druids. Both classical and Irish writers mention the role of “prophetess”
– a diviner of the future – a term of Greek/Roman origin. Other Irish writers
call such women Druidesses or Vates.
Each tuath had its chief, a warrior aristocracy and freemen farmers. Most Irish Celts engaged in mixed farming on single family farms. In areas of rough terrain or poor climate, cattle raising dominated. During times of strife, families might seek refuge in hill forts, but warfare often consisted of single challenge and combat, rather than massed battles.
The second powerful group, the Aes Dana (men of art) wielded power through magic and art. Magic, real or pretense, exerts control over believers, while art influences many. The Aes Dana belonged to no tribes. They included bards (wandering poets/musicians), filí (household poets and historians), druids (druí in old Irish) and artisans. Druids and filí were often supported by aristocrats and chieftains who required their services. Thus, they lived in one place, unlike the bards. The Celts valued music, poetry and oral recitation of heroic tales, a tradition carried on by Irish storytellers down through the centuries.
|The Book of Kells|
|Decorated text in Book of Kells|
The Celts are possibly best known for their La Tène art. Dating from around 500 B.C., the La Tène period produced beautiful, intricate designs and knot patterns. One of the finest examples is the Book of Kells. Created by Irish monks, ca. 800, this illuminated manuscript, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, is lavishly decorated with human figures, animals, mythic beasts and Christian symbols, intertwined by Celtic knot designs. It is considered to be
greatest national treasure.
Druidism is classed as a shamanistic religion, similar to that of American Indians. It involves magical practice in which the shaman, or priest, attempts to use natural forces, animals and spirits. Druids have inspired many occult systems. Some of their sacred symbolism has been adopted by religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Wicca. For example, they believed in the power of the number three, and in tripods or trinities, as seen in a well known Druidic symbol, the triskele, a swirling pattern of three lines meeting to form a balanced circle. The three legs of the triskele symbolize mind, body and spirit among other things.
Prefacing his 1894 book, Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, James Bonwick stated, “They [the Druids] were, doubtless, neither so grandly wise, nor so low in reputation, as represented by tradition. Their ethical lessons must have assuredly prepared the way for Christian missions.”
According to Bonwick, early Christian writers believed the Druids possessed a literature and that St. Patrick burned Druid books, setting off a book burning spree by his converted followers that eradicated Druid manuscripts. Archaeological evidence proves Celts used a written language for everyday matters. Yet, Julius Caesar states the Druids studied up to 20 years, memorizing huge quantities of poetry (sacred knowledge) rather than writing it down. Quoting Caesar: “I believe they practice this oral tradition for two reasons: first, so that the common crowd does not gain access to their secrets and second, to improve the faculty of memory.”
However, Peter Berresford Ellis, in A Brief History of The Druids, suggests the answer lies in the Druidic concept of Truth as a supreme authority. They believed the Word held magic power, that all Words, and even the earth itself were founded upon the Truth. Ellis says, “Truth was the Word and the Word was sacred and divine and not to be profaned.” Thus, it violated Druid beliefs to write down sacred knowledge. But if the Irish had broken away from that ancient taboo, they may well have possessed the books St. Patrick reportedly burned.
One Roman claim has been disputed for centuries, Namely, that the Druids practiced human sacrifice. Their was never any proof to back up their claim. As a result, historians have long suspected it might be Roman propaganda intended to vilify the Druids, who wielded great power among the Celts. However, recent archaeological discoveries suggest the Druids did engage in ritualistic human sacrifice and even cannibalism. Read more at (nationalgeographic.com)
Modern Day Druids
Modern Druidry sprouted in 17th century
known as the Druid Revival. From scraps of historical records, scholars pieced together
a new spiritual philosophy. Rooted in nature and the living earth, it attracted
interest all over Britain
from those who wished for an alternative to rigidly organized religion and the materialistic
philosophies of men like René Descartes. Britain
Some Druid Revivalists hoped to modify Christianity into a more nature-based religion. They supported those who urged tolerance toward religious dissenters, favoring meditation and individual study as a spiritual path. Other Revivalists sought to create a totally separate faith. Many believed in pantheism, a belief that the universe is a living, divine being. The term pantheism was coined by John Toland, an Irish writer who greatly influenced the Revival. Pantheist Druids believe everything in nature is divine. Polytheistic Druids believe in many gods of nature. Such beliefs were crimes in 18th century
, subject to severe
Wishing to emulate their ancient predecessors, Revivalists pounced on any information they could find. In his writings, Julius Caesar said the early Druids taught their students about the planets. This sent Revivalists scurrying to sites such as
Stonehenge in search of clues to the Celtic
Druids’ knowledge of astronomy. Even more influential, references to the
ancient ones worshipping in forest groves led new believers to do likewise.
In the 19th century, Welsh Druidry grew prominent. It’s founder, Edward Williams, who took the name Iolo Morganwg (Iolo of Glamorgan), was a gifted poet and scholar. Now and then he added his own poetry to authentic medieval texts, inventing lore that still influences modern Druid rituals. He and the Welsh Druids were often at odds with those of
During that period, most Irish people were conservative Christians. Those few
who were attracted by Druid lore disdained Druid groups outside traditional Celtic
Despite such setbacks, Druidry has evolved and spread to many corners of the world. The first American Druid societies sprang up during the Revolutionary War. By the early 20th century, Druid orders included large branches in the
and Canada, and reached as
far away as Australia and .
And, yes, there really are Druids in New Zealand ! Texas
Cairistiona Worthington, in The Beginner’s Guide to Druidry, states, “A Spiritual Path, a way of life, a philosophy, Druidry is all of these . . . Druidry today is alive and well, and has migrated around the world forming a wonderful web of people who honour and respect the Earth and the sacred right to life of all that is part of the Earth. Like a great tree drawing nourishment through its roots, Druidry draws wisdom from its ancestral heritage. There is a saying in Druidry that ‘The great tree thrives on the leaves that it casts to the ground.’ Druidry today does not pretend to present a replica of the past, rather it is producing a new season’s growth.”
This concludes my brief review of the history, culture and religious beliefs of Celtic and modern day Druids. I’ve only skimmed the surface of the subject. If you’d like to learn more about the Druids, here are a few excellent resources. There are many more.
The Celtic Realms, The History and The Culture of The Celtic Peoples From Pre-History to the Norman Invasion by Myles Dillon & Nora Chadwick
Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions by James Bonwick
The Druids by Peter Berrisford Ellis
In Search of Ancient Ireland by
Mccaffrey and Leo Eaton Carmel
The Lore of the Bard, A Guide to the Celtic & Druid Mysteries by Arthur Rowan
In Search of Ancient Ireland by
The Lore of the Bard, A Guide to the Celtic & Druid Mysteries by Arthur Rowan