Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Druids, Yesterday & Today: A guest post by Lyn Horner

Endless Knot Tree Design

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 India) 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 Danube River, suggesting the Celtic tribes may have evolved along that river. The Celts eventually spread westward across Europe, reaching 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 Celtic culture.

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 Ireland. 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 Ireland’s greatest national treasure.

Druid Religion

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.”

Saint Patrick
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 Britain, a period 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.
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 Britain, subject to severe punishment.
Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain
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 Britain and France. During that period, most Irish people were conservative Christians. Those few who were attracted by Druid lore disdained Druid groups outside traditional Celtic nations.
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 U.S. and Canada, and reached as far away as Australia and New Zealand. And, yes, there really are Druids in 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 Druids by Peter Berrisford Ellis
In Search of Ancient Ireland by Carmel Mccaffrey and Leo Eaton
The Lore of the Bard, A Guide to the Celtic & Druid Mysteries by Arthur Rowan



Lyn Horner said...

Thank you for having me here today, Al. I hope your readers will enjoy learning a little bit about ancient and modern Druids.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Fantastic post, Lyn. I have long been fascinated by the Druids and the Celts. Thank you for passing along some of your research.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks for guesting Lyn, and thanks for the comment, Karen.

What I found interesting is how much research came be required to write something that is, by definition, made up. Different genres and different subjects may take more or less, but I suspect most novels require some.

Lyn Horner said...

Hi Karen,
I think there are quite a few of us who find the Druids a fascinating subject. I'm happy to share.

Al, for every hour I spend writing, I spend at least two or three researching. To make my characters "real" in their time period, I must know geographical settings, modes of transportation, clothing styles, what foods were common, various dialects and what's going on in the world around them. These days I do a lot of research online, but I still love collecting books. Used book stores are my favorite haunts.

BooksAndPals said...

And your research shines through too, Lyn. As I'm sure both you and Karen know from following my reviews, if a book takes place in an area I'm familiar with and mistakes are made, I notice them.

Much of Darlin' Druid takes place in Salt Lake and the surrounding areas. I lived in Utah around 25 years, much of it in Salt Lake, so I have first hand knowledge of what it is like today and also (for several reasons) a decent sense of what was different in the time period of your book. All of it fit the reality, which is hard to do. Even little things like where the cafe and boarding house were located made logical sense.

Lyn Horner said...

LOL! Al, you don't know how glad I am to hear that about the cafe and boarding house. I really took a wild guess when locating the cafe near the railroad depot, where it would draw customers. I sure wish I could have picked your brain when I was writing Darlin' D!

Devon Matthews said...

Great info, Lyn! I've always been fascinated with the idea that magic used to exist in the world, but that the knowledge was lost when the Catholic church confiscated all the old written documents and they ended up being burned or buried deep beneath the Vatican so they'd never again see the light of day. Hubby and I watched the History Channel production about the ancient Druids. So interesting!

?wazithinkin said...

Lyn, I really enjoyed reading your post today. Druids have a facinating history. Thank you for all your research. I am looking forward to reading your books next.

Lyn Horner said...

Devon, you raise an intriguing possibility. Could some of the ancient Druid writings be locked away in the Vatican vaults? I hadn't thought of that. I don't suppose we'll ever know.

Lyn Horner said...

Linda, thanks for reading and liking my post. It's a "tad" long. I hope it didn't scare off readers.

I'm always glad to share research. As I've said before, it's one of my favorite pasttimes. After you read my books, I'd love to get your feedback, not only on the stories, but also on historical details. Happy reading!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Lyn, thanks for that informativer post. I had no idea that Celts were from so far east. I always thought of them as originating in Gaul.

Walter Knight said...

Hi Lyn:

I was a bit startled when I saw all those people in white robes, until I realized it was just nice friendly druids.

Great interview.

Small Blonde Hippy said...

That's a really interesting post. Learned a lot. I'd love to see the Book of Kells. I'm sure I'll get round to it one day.

Lyn Horner said...

Caroline, same here. It was quite a surprise learning they originated in Asia.

Walter, today's Druids may be nice and friendly, but judging by the NatGeo report, the ancient ones could be quite scary at times.

Hello, Hippy. Glad to meet you. I'd love to see the Book of Kells in person, too. Ireland is a marvelous country in many ways. I hope you get there someday.

Mel Comley said...

great information, Lyn. :-)

Lyn Horner said...

Thanks, Mel. Good to see you here on Big Al's.