What is a Druid?
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According to the New Age Dictionary a Druid is defined as "a member of Celtic priests, poets, healers, and judges in pre-Christian Britain, Ireland, and France." Too the best of our knowledge that is what the Druids were, which implies that they were also something more. To further define the Druids we must take a look at the Celts and what there system or social order may have been like. To do this we must rely on the classical writers, as the Celts themselves did not write anything, at least not to our knowledge, and very little is known other then what the classical writers and the Anthropology have given us to go by.
The classical writers include Strabo, Caesar and Pliny, among others, have given us a general idea about the Celts. Suffice to say the Celts were a war like society which as a people control most of Europe during the 900 BC to about 100 AD. These writers also have been able to tell us that the Celts were a people with a class system. According to Caesar the Druids were ranked above the equities, Knights, and in some cases equal to the Kings. This would imply that the Druids were a class, not a religion. This statement is also supported by the type of skills the Druids were said to possess, from priest to judge, bard to healer, and philosopher to holder of the sacrifice.
Was Druidism a religion?
No it wasn’t, though neo-Druidism is. The archeological record have uncovered approximately 370 some Gods and Goddess of the Celts. Though only a handful (approximately 33) are repeated more than once. For Druidism to be a religion, it would have to have been a very eclectic one to encompass that many different Gods/esses and forms of worship necessary to appease them all.
Neo-Druidism is a religion and is recognized as such my several of the major governments in the world today, including Britain, Australia, Canada and America. Neo-Druidism as define by Isaac Bonewits founder of the ADF (Ar nDraicht Fe`in) is "... a philosophies and ways of life, rooted in ancient soil…polytheistic nature worshipers." This concept falls in line with many of the neo-pagan religions of today, taking the best of the past and making up the rest.
What does the word Druid mean?
The typical meaning is oak, drus with the second syllable wid, meaning knowledge, so Druid would mean oak knowledge. Though P.W. Joyce states in the Druid Source Book that the word druid is Irish in origin drui, and means wizard. Joyce bases the claim on the fact that the word drui was translated in the Latin texts as magus, Latin for wizard. The Welsh word Derwydd means prophet.
There is however evidence that the word Druid does mean the way of the oak, or oak knowledge. This may come form the fact that there is plenty of historical reference to the oak tree in association with Druids. Pliny and Lucan both mentioned this. Pliny made mention of this referring to a ritual he supposedly observed, in which a white robed priest climbed the oak and using a golden sickle would cut mistletoe from the tree. (The Druid Source Book, page 21) Lucan further stated that that the oak grove was sacred to the Celts…"Nobody dared enter this grove except the priest…" (Green, page
These conflicting translations can easily be explained as poor penmanship, as most written material was done my hand. The word Druid however in modern times as come to be associated or equal to that of a priest. Therefore a neo-pagan Druid would be a priest of neo-Druidism.
Hawkins, Gerald, Stonehenge Decoded (Dell, NY, 1965) Markale, Jean, Women of the Celts (Gordon & Cremonesi, 1975) Piggot, Stuart, The Druids (Thames & Hudson, NY 1986)
Ross, Ann and Don Robins, Life and Death of a Druid Prince . (Touchtone, NY, 1989) Rutherford, Ward, Celtic Lore: The history of the Druids and Their Timeless Tradtions (Aquarian/Thorsons, London, 1993) Sjoestedt, M. L. Gods and Heroes of the Celts. (1949; translated by Myles Dillon. repr. 1990 Turtle Press: Berkeley, CA.)
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