Druids and Religion of Ancient Celts


Druids were essentially the central religious figures, leaders, teachers, healers, judges and seers in Celtic society. The name druid may have meant “knowing the oak” and “philosophos” (philosopher) or “seer” depending on the language dialect and interpretation. As mentioned before, while a tribe’s chieftain was considered their official leader, druid opinion was of the highest value and therefore they were the true pillars of power within Celtic nations. Like many priestly figures within a society, past or present they oversaw political matters, quarrels amongst individuals big and small, served as teachers and healers among many other things. If you disobeyed druid rulings, you may have received what was a worse punishment than death, to be excommunicated and ignored by your community or at minimum withheld from participating in religious ritual. This would have been today considered something similar to church and extremely important to them. Druids did not have to perform manual labor, serve in the military or pay taxes. Their rule was supreme and they were one of the only members of society that could pass easily from clan to clan, even warring ones and stop a battle if need be. Druids were both men and women. The Druidess was also called a “bandrui”, woman druid or “banfilid”, woman poet. In the famous mythological story of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, Accuis, Col and Eraise are names given of female druids. Also, in the Siege of Knocklong, there was Eirge, Eang and Eangain. There may have been a head druid and druidess. This person was said to have more power than the kings. It’s thought they met and taught in sacred oak groves called nemeta and met at certain times of the year to discuss tribal matters. There is archaeological proof of this by way of inscriptions in what would have been ancient tree groves dotted across the western European landscape. Sacred space may have been dilineated by druids through ritual whether it was for private use or the use of a clan’s sacred and central, tree of life. Caesar is quoted as saying that among the Druid class in Gaul, one man was elected supreme and ruled for life. They held an annual meeting near the territory of Carnutes, considered to be the center of Gaul where all major issues were settled. A peculiar word, the coibhe or coivi survived through the ages up until the 18th century in Scotland and was used to describe the arch druid.

There were three groups of druids, the bards, the ovates and the druids themselves who were most likely older and may have practiced in multiple areas of intellect or skill. Some say, this, like many things in Celtic culture came in threes; a triad representing art, nature and philosophy. It’s unclear whether a druid stayed in their particular field of intellect for life, or if there was a tiered system in place starting at bard and graduating to an ovate and then finally, reaching druid status. Most certainly there was a system of hierarchy in regards to the druids that taught and passed their knowledge onto the younger generations and druids in training. The bards were singers, poets, history keepers and story tellers. Poetry and music were considered powerful magic as it could sway people’s emotions easily which may have also been a triad of relaxing someone and putting them to sleep, making them happy and to dance or making them sad and to cry. Bards in particular were said to ruin a man by reciting a single poem casting them in a negative, comical or shameful light. Chieftains who wanted to stir up trouble would often send a bard with questionable words to share about his enemy in his enemy’s territory. At Celtic assemblies they would have sung poetry or played music in honor of their tribe, their leader, their history and their accomplishments. Genealogy most likely had an important role in Celtic society by way of keeping alive the noble deeds of their ancestors and rousing the citizens or soldiers in a prideful manner. It’s thought there may have been three types of Bards, chronologers of their history, heralds that roused troops or citizens for an important cause and satyrical poets. In this way a particular Bard could hone his or her skills to one particular area of expertise. The ovate or vates were prophets, healers, herbalists, seers and diviners and likely had a particular area they specialized in as well. They may have practiced augury, which was to prophesies events based on the movement or songs of birds. There is some evidence and first hand accounts to suggest they may have done this with other animals besides birds as well. They certainly would have been knowledgeable of herbalism and the curative or negative properties of ingesting and using their native plants. Finally, druids were the highest ranking and probably oldest teachers, counsellors, philosophers, and judges. They handled all philosophical matters in regards to morality, war, law, science of the natural world and movement of the stars and celestial bodies.

1st to 3rd century british sandstone
2nd century British sandstone statue

According to Caesar, druids trained for years on end, sometimes twenty years to retain and memorize their studies. It’s thought that they believed this information, be it song, poem or science was experienced best through passionate story telling or singing rather than by reading; that books were not able to captivate the emotion or true meaning of their story. If it wasn’t to be expressed in the best of ways, it wasn’t to be expressed at all. We can assume to some degree they wanted to keep a monopoly on their valuable knowledge, only teaching it to those deemed worthy. Likely there was some political purpose involved as well, to keep order, control and power over their fellow Celtic citizens. Caesar is also quoted as saying they felt that writing their knowledge down would decrease their learning capabilities when they were not forced to commit it to memory. Regardless, they had a seemingly deep love for learning, and becoming a learned person was valuable and revered. In the Stanway burial in Britain dated to 60 CE, a man was cremated and buried with an extraordinary amount of artifacts alluding to him being an herbalist, surgeon, diviner, healer and quite possibly, a druid.

Druids and Celts practiced polytheism and likely a degree of animism. They believed in an Otherworld or multiple worlds and in the immortality of the soul, transmigration, shapeshifting and an overall oneness that everything was connected. There was a parallel universe or multiverse to ours where we went after death but could also possibly visit in dreams, in meditation or when journeying through trance. There was an unseen spiritual and likewise visible physical side to most everything; a landscape within a landscape. In relation to this, druids are associated with shamanism. There are countless folktales passed down through the generations abound with heroes visiting the Otherworld and disappearing forever or returning with gifts, new skills, knowledge or wisdom. The Otherworld was both the world of the dead and of the gods and goddesses although it’s unclear if these. the same realm or plane of existence. The soul of humans and animals upon death was thought to be reborn into the Otherworld and you lived there until you died there, again, to be reborn in this world. Thus, dying was always seen as being born and like Egyptians, the Celts buried many of their dead with items to take with them in their next life. If they didn’t bury the items, they later burned them in a huge fire. It was also claimed that many family members would commonly, in their great passion and grief, throw themselves on the funeral pyre committing suicide truly believing they would be joining their deceased loved one shortly thereafter in the Otherworld. Related to this, a tradition passed down into more recent ages was to write a letter to a deceased relative, sometimes reciting it and then burning it, thinking it would reach them in the Otherworld. Celts were also known to sleep next to their relatives or renowned individual’s graves in hopes they would visit them in their dreams from the Otherworld. Folklore surrounding this belief was passed down from generation to generation. It is still said today that to sleep on the Mound of the Hostages in Tara, Ireland could induce madness or even death. Many of these sites are said to have nwyfre, a strong life-force or entry point into the Otherworld. In early Irish literature, it’s alluded to the belief that a great ocean separated our world from the Otherworld and many characters were taken away by fairies on boats this way, never to be seen again. This is also echoed in stories of “ferrymen” that you needed to pay so they will take you across water to your final destination. Caesar seemed to believe this immortality of the soul teaching was intended to make warriors less afraid of dying and thus have more courage when in battle. They did not believe in punishment after death but they did believe in some sort of balance or as many would call it today, karma. Also like Egyptians, it was believed that even debts could be paid in the afterlife. Just as recently as the 18th century, Alexander Carmichael tells of people in Scotland still having a customary practice regarding the belief in an afterlife and taking objects with them. “It was customary to place a wax candle, a gold coin, a hammer, and a pair of scales with the body in the grave. The candle was to light the pilgrim across the black river of death; the coin to pay the services of the ferryman; the hammer to knock at the door of heaven; and the scales to weigh the soul.” Caesar also confirms another belief, “The Gauls claim all to be descended from Father Dis pater (a god of death, darkness and the underworld), declaring that this is the tradition preserved by the Druids. For this reason they measure periods of time not by days but by nights; and in celebrating birthdays, the first of the month, and new year’s day, they go on the principle that the day begins at night.” Dis pater was the Roman version of the god of the Underworld or Earth, thought to be the Irish god Donn. If this is true, it echoes a belief that at least our physical form came from the Earth and out of the fertile “mother goddess” that the land was seen as. The westernmost island off of Ireland nearest to the vast Atlantic Ocean is called Tech Dhuinn, “The House of Donn”.

Pictures taken in 1864 entitled, “The Druid Oaks”

It is very clear based on first hand accounts as well as mythology and traditions passed down through generations the druids practiced ritual and the Celts in general were superstitious. One of the only first hand ritual accounts we have was written by Pliny the Elder (Roman, 23 – 79 CE) who described a druid in a white robe climbing an oak tree and using a golden sickle, sliced off a mistletoe branch. The mistletoe fell on a white cloak that had been placed below. They sacrificed two white bulls and a feast followed. Another first hand account described a druid wearing three different colors for a particular ritual as well as gold earrings and a lunulae, a unique necklace shaped like a moon crescent. However, they didn’t describe the ritual itself. There are many archaeological examples of this type of necklace and earrings, but unfortunately there is no genuine way of connecting the two and knowing they were in fact uniquely worn by the druids. The idea of druids engaging in true sacrifice is a controversial and complicated claim. For one thing, what was called sacrifice was simply putting their criminals or war prisoners to death or killing animals to be eaten. They may have been “sacrificed” in honor of a god or goddess or to receive an answer by way of divination, but they weren’t doing anything different than any other culture, they simply called it by a religious term. If true sacrifice was performed on a random innocent person, one of their own, it was most likely very rare. At worst, someone who wished to die may have purposefully asked to be sacrificed truly believing it may have benefited their tribe to some divine end. This idea was also not unique to Celtic culture. In fact, it was so prevalent at that time in our history, it may have been inspiration for the story of Christ’s own sacrifice itself. Many of our sources are also Roman and Greek who are known to stretch the truth of their enemy’s “barbarism”. Most cultures of the world practiced sacrifice of their prisoners or criminals at one point or another so this is not surprising but it has for some reason permeated the Celtic legacy. It’s important to note that religion, folklore and superstition were a part of every facet of Celtic life. Religion wasn’t “in addition to” their life as it is today, religion was their life. When we turn our attention to animal sacrifice, it’s important to remember that millions of animals are still essentially “sacrificed” to be eaten today. They respected animals and did not waste any part of them, much like the Native Americans and other indigenous cultures. This belief system makes sense and was appropriate for that time in our history when commodities were not readily available. It makes sense they wouldn’t waste their death either, and instead view it not only as giving them sustenance but as a chance to make an offering to their deities, especially if they thought the animal or person was passing away into the same Otherworld that their deities were located in. Most offerings took place near or in water as the Celts generally believed water to be a gateway to the Otherworld. The most common offerings were not people or animals at all but instead, inanimate objects such as jewelry, coins, weapons, pots and other household goods. “Bog butter” is thought to have been specifically given in exchange for increased milk production of their livestock. Thousands of wine amphoras have been found with the tops cut off (they did not have to be cut to pour the wine) alluding to a ritual offering to the gods and then of course a sharing of the drink and offering.

repro crozier of saint mura 7th century
Reproduction of a 7th century crozier staff head of a saint

The association of Druids with the use of standing stones, dolmens and burial cairns is a debated topic. While these sites were built by stone age men and women, the original indigenous inhabitants of the British Isles, they became equally a part of Celtic culture. Up until recently, anthropologists were not sure if they survived to meet or were killed off by their Celtic neighbors and new inhabitants of their land likely starting around 1000 BCE. With recent genetic evidence, we know they not only survived but intermingled with Celts as almost all Great Britain inhabitants and their descendants share the same ancient gene marker. I generally feel given the pattern of conquered civilizations that if the druids or Celts did not absorb some of the native neolithic and mesolithic people and traditions into their culture, they may have desecrated these ancient sites. I personally believe that given the evidence, they most likely adopted their use into their spiritual framework as probably anyone would, given their impressiveness and accuracy in mapping astrological bodies which they were known to already be familiar with. I feel they undoubtedly performed rituals or had gatherings at these ancient places. At minimum, I believe in one of two possibilities and both are worthy of association. The indigenous people shared their use of these ancient sites and those practices were adopted or the druid culture itself was a distant descendent of the practices of the original builders. I believe this for a few reasons. There are some sites that were finished as recent as 600 BCE such as the Blackforest Stonehenge in Germany associated with the Hallstatt culture and a definitive Celtic group. Also, later accounts on the British Isles claim that standing stones and burial cairns and more specifically, the mounds were places of social gatherings, likely during the four fire festivals. Alexander Carmichael as late as the 18th century writes about a druid standing on a sacred mound at Beltane in Scotland and how they placed a huge fire on top so that everyone below could see it easily. This practice also falls in line with the belief and story passed down through the generations that a main fire was lit on the Hill of Tara (Hill of Hostages) and subsequent fires were lit once that became visible. The hill fires may have been like signals for the rituals or festivities to begin and to be a united landscape. It’s a theory anyway. This all likely had a symbolic reasoning. Symbolism was a huge part of Druidry just as it still is today and not just in Druidry, but in most religions across the world.

While Druids usually used their powers for good reasons, there are a few instances in mythology they used them to cause or enable pain. We take this as a nod to a fact that holds true for all people, that no one is perfect, no belief system is perfect and no specific group is perfect. The Celts and druids certainly had their good and bad like any other. At certain pivotal points of Celtic history, Romans were doing their best to stamp out their culture and hunted down as many druids as they could find. When you destroy a culture’s religion and power structure, you also cripple their ability to revolt. The slow extinction of druidry started with the Romans and their ancient back and forth battles. Christianity would extinguish what was left of any unbroken lineage when it entered Ireland and Scotland’s realms between 300 – 800 CE. At this time, many believe that Druidry went underground and this is when the term wicca or wicce and eventually witch, meaning “wise one” was coined. Although, many arguments can be made that most of the culture survived in subversive and hidden corners and sometimes in plain sight, simply with a Christian undertone. Druids continued to be referenced throughout medieval times, typically in folklore, and were usually depicted as magicians like wizards and the famous Merlin. They were able to invoke and control the elements like lightning and wind and continued to be closely associated with birds and trees. They were frequently described as wearing feather cloaks and some sort of head-dress, likely wielding wands and staffs. There is no doubt in Ireland and Scotland, that Druid type figures remained as leaders in their communities, sometimes taking up another name and sometimes still with the title Druid up through the 18th century and arguably through to present times.

Some say that the study of philosophy was of foreign origin. For the Persians had their Magi, the Babylonians or the Assyrians the Chaldeans, the Indians their Gymnosphists, while the Celts and the Gauls had their seers called Druids and Semnotheoi, or so Aristotle says in the Magic, and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers.” -Diogenes (Greek, 412 – 323 BCE)

“It is often said because of visions in dreams that the dead truly live. The Nasamones receive special oracles by staying at the tombs of their parents, as Heraclides, or Nymphodorus or Herodotus writes. The Celts also for the same reasons spend the night near the tombs of their famous men, as Nicander affirms.” -Nicander (Greek, 2nd century BCE)

“The Celts worship in the woods, without temples.” -Posidonius (Greek, 135 – 51 BCE)

Spiral design at Newgrange, Ireland

Nor is the practice of divination disregarded even among foreign nations, if indeed there are Druids in Gaul – and there are, for I knew one of them myself, Divitiacus the Aeduan, your guest and eulogist. He claimed to have a knowledge of nature which the Greeks call “physiologia,” and he used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometime by means of conjecture.” -Cicero (Roman, 106 BCE – 43 BCE)

“They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.” –Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)

“A great number of men gather about them for the sake of instruction and hold them in great honor. Report says that in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses and they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters.” –Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)

“Throughout Gaul there are two classes of persons of definite account and dignity. As for the common folk, they are treated almost as slaves, venturing naught of themselves, never taken into counsel. The more part of them, oppressed as they are either by debt, or by the heavy weight of tribute, or by the wrongdoing of the more powerful men, commit themselves in slavery to the nobles, who have, in fact, the same rights over them as masters over slaves. Of the two classes mentioned above, one consists of Druids, the other of knights. The former are concerned with divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices, public and private, and the interpretation of ritual questions: a great number of young men gather about them for the sake of instruction and hold them in great honor. In fact, it is they who decide in almost all disputes, public and private; and if any crime has been committed, or murder done, or there is any dispute about succession or boundaries, they also decide it, determining rewards and penalties: if any person or people does not abide by their decision, they ban such from sacrifice, which is their heaviest penalty. Those that are so banned are reckoned as impious and criminal; all men move out of their path and shun their approach and conversation, for fear that they may get some harm from their contact, and no justice is done if they seek it, no distinction falls to their share. Of all those Druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them. At his death, either any other that is pre-eminent in position succeeds, or, if there are several of equal standing, they strive for the primacy by the vote of the Druids, or sometimes even with armed force. These Druids, at a certain time of the year, meet within the borders of the Carnutes, whose territory is reckoned as the centre of Gaul, and sit in conclave in a consecrated spot. Thither assemble from every side all that have disputes, and they obey the decisions and judgments of the Druids. It is believed that their discipline was discovered in Britain and transferred thence to Gaul; and today those who would study the subject more accurately journey, as a rule, to Britain to learn it.” –Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)

“The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay war-taxes with the rest; they are excused from military services and exempt from all liabilities. Tempted by these great rewards, many young men assemble of their own motion to receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report says that in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they adopted the practice for two reasons – that they do not wish the discipline to become common property, for those who learn the discipline to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in fact, it does not usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and action of the memory. The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valor. Besides this, they have many discussions as touching the stars and their movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of the immortal gods, and hand down their lore to the young men.” –Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE) (Roman)

“They hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their movements, about the size of the universe and the earth, about the nature of the physical world.” –Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)

“They do not think it right to commit their teachings to writing. I suppose this practice began originally for two reasons: they did not want their doctrines to be accessible to the ordinary people, and they did not want their pupils to rely on the written word and so neglect to train their memories.” –Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)

rock-192989_640“The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them [the Gauls], teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in other body.” –Diodorus Siculus (Greek, 90 – 20 BCE)

Among all the Gallic peoples, generally speaking, there are three sets of men who are held in exceptional honor; the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids. The Bards are singers and poets; the Vates, diviners and natural philosophers; while the Druids, in addition to natural philosophy, study also moral philosophy. The Druids are considered the most just of men, and on this account they are entrusted with the decision, not only of the private disputes, but of the public disputes as well; so that, in former times, they even arbitrated cases of war and made the opponents stop when they were about to line up for battle, and the murder cases in particular, had been turned over to them for decision. Further, when there is a big yield from these cases, there is forthcoming a big yield from the land too, as they think. However, not only the Druids, but others as well, say that men’s souls, and also the universe, are indestructible, although both fire and water will at some time or other prevail over them.” –Strabo (Greek, 64 BCE – 24 CE)

“The Gallic provinces, too, were pervaded by the magic art, even within living memory; for it was the Emperor Tiberius who outlawed their druids, and all that nation of wizards and physicians. But why make further mention of these prohibitions, with reference to an art which has now crossed the very ocean even, and has penetrated to the void recesses of nature? At the present day, struck with fascination, Britain still cultivates this art, and that, with such awe-inspiring rituals that she might almost seem to have been the first to communicate them to the people of Persia. To such a degree are nations throughout the whole world, totally different as they are and quite unknown to one another, in agreement upon this one point!” -Pliny the Elder (Roman, 23 – 79 CE)

Furthermore, since they cannot always be ruled by kings who are philosophers, the most powerful nations have publicly appointed philosophers as superintendents and officers for their kings. Thus the Persians, I believe, appointed those whom they call Magi, because they were acquainted with Nature and understood how the gods should be worshipped; the Egyptians appointed the priests who had the same knowledge as the Magi, devoting themselves to the service of the gods and knowing the how and the wherefore of everything; the Indians appointed Brahmans, because they excel in self-control and righteousness and in their devotion to the divine, as a result of which they know the future better than all other men know their immediate present; the Celts appointed those whom they call druids, these also being devoted to the prophetic art and to wisdom in general. In all these cases the kings were not permitted to do or plan anything without the assistance of these wise men, so that in truth it was they who ruled, while the kings became are servants and the ministers of their will, though they sat on golden thrones, dwelt in great houses, and feasted sumptuously.-Dio Chrysostom (Greek, 40 – 120 CE)

They have, however, their own kind of eloquence, and teachers of wisdom called Druids. These profess to know the size and shape of the world, the movements of the heavens and of the stars, and the will of the gods. They teach many things to the noblest of the nation in a course of instruction lasting as long as twenty years, meeting in secret either in a cave or in secluded dales. One of their dogmas has to come to common knowledge, namely, that souls are eternal and that there is another life in the infernal regions, and this has been permitted manifestly because it makes the multitude readier for war. And it is for this reason too that they burn or bury with their dead, things appropriate to them in life, and that in times past they even used to defer the completion of business and the payment of debts until their arrival in another world. Indeed, there were some of them who flung themselves willingly on the funeral piles of their relatives to share the new life with them.” -Pomponius Mela (Roman, 1st century)

“Thus philosophy, a science of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among foreigners, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Samanaeans among the Bactrians; and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persian.” -Titus Clemens (Roman, 1st century)

“Among his [Pythagoras’] followers, however, who escaped the conflagration were Lysis and Archippus, and the servant of Pythagoras, Zamolxis, who also is said to have taught the Celtic Druids to cultivate the philosophy of Pythagoras.” -Hippolytus (Roman, 1st century)

“The Celtic Druids applied themselves thoroughly to the Pythagorean philosophy, being urged to this pursuit by Zamolxis, the slave of Pythagoras, a Thracian by birth, who came to those parts after the death of Pythagoras, and gave them the opportunity of studying the system. And the Celts believe in their Druids as seers and prophets because they can foretell certain events by the Pythagorean reckoning and calculations. We will not pass over the origins of their learning in silence, since some have presumed to make distinct schools of the philosophies of these peoples. Indeed, the Druids also practice the magic arts.” -Hippolytus (Roman, 1st century)

“In later times those who claimed to belong to the ancient order seem to have been for the most part females in a humble class of life, who professed to tell fortunes. Women were no doubt treated with more indulgence than men, as being less likely to use their power for political purposes. When the Emperor Alexander Severus was on the march through Gaul in 235 CE, shortly before he was assassinated by some of his own troops, a Druidess met him and called out in the Gallic language, “Go thy way, but hope not for victory and trust not thy soldiers.” -Lampridius (Roman, 2nd century)


“On certain occasions Aurelian would consult Gaulish Druidesses to discover whether or not his descendants would continue to rule. They told him that no name would be more famous than those of the line of Claudius. And indeed, the current emperor Constantius is a descendant of his.” -Aurelianus (Roman, 2nd century)

“I do not consider it too painstaking or yet too much in the ordinary manner to insert a story about Diocletian Augustus that seems not out of place here — an incident which he regarded as an omen of his future rule. This story my grandfather related to me, having heard it from Diocletian himself. “When Diocletian,” he said, “while still serving in a minor post, was stopping at a certain tavern in the land of the Tungri in Gaul, and was making up his daily reckoning with a woman, who was a Druidess, she said to him, ‘Diocletian, you are far too greedy and far too stingy,’ to which Diocletian replied, it is said, not in earnest, but only in jest, ‘I shall be generous enough when I become emperor.’ At this the Druidess said, so he related, ‘Do not jest, Diocletian, for you will become emperor when you have slain The Boar [Aper].’ ” Now Diocletian always had in his mind a desire to rule, as Maximian knew and my grandfather also, to whom he himself told these words of the Druidess. Then, however, reticent, as was his wont, he laughed and said nothing. Nevertheless, in hunting, whenever there was opportunity, he always killed the boars with his very own hand. In fact, when Aurelian received the imperial power, then Probus, then Tacitus, and then Carus himself, Diocletian remarked, “I am always killing boars, but the other man enjoys the meat.” It is now well known and a common story that when he had killed Aper, the prefect of the guard, he declared, it is said, “At last I have killed my fated Boar.” My grandfather also used to say that Diocletian himself declared that he had no other reason for killing him with his own hand than to fulfill the Druidess’ prophecy and to ensure his own rule. For he would not have wished to become known for such cruelty, especially in the first few days of his power, if Fate had not impelled him to this brutal act of murder.” –Historia Augusta (Roman, 2nd century)

“In these regions, as the people gradually became civilized, attention to the gentler arts became commoner, a study introduced by the Bards, and the Euhages, and the Druids. It was the custom of the Bards to celebrate the brave deeds of their famous men in epic verse accompanied by the sweet strains of the lyre, while the Euhages strove to explain the high mysteries of nature. Between them came the Druids, men of greater talent, members of the intimate fellowship of the Pythagorean faith; they were uplifted by searchings into secret and sublime things, and with grand contempt for mortal lot they professed the immortality of the soul.” –Ammianus Marcellinus (Roman, 3rd century)

“Attius Patera, The Elder, The Rhetorician- Patera, renowned speaker, although in years you outpaced the men named earlier, seeing that your prime was in the age next before my own, and that in my youth I saw you in your old age, you shall not lack the tribute of my sad dirge, teacher of might rhetoricians. If report does not lie, you were sprung from the stock of the Druids of Bayeux, and traced your hallowed line from the temple of Belenus; and hence the name borne by your family: you are called Patera; so the mystic votaries call the servants of Apollo. Your father and your brother were named after Phoebus, and your own son after Delphi. In that age there was none who had such knowledge as you, such swift and rolling eloquence. Sound in memory as in learning, you had the gift of clear expression cast in sonorous and well-chosen phrase; your wit was chastened and without a spice of bitterness: sparing of food and wine, cheerful, modest, comely in person, even in age you were as an eagle or a steed grown old.” -Decimus Ausonius (Roman, 3rd century)

“The formalities observed at the entrance of the chieftains upon the government of their clans, were as follows: A heap of stones was erected in form of a pyramid, on the top of which the young chieftain was placed, his friends and followers standing in a circle round about him, his elevation signifying his authority over them and their standing below, their subjection to him. One of his principal friends delivered into his hands the sword wore by his father, and there was a white rod delivered to him by his wife at the same time. Immediately after, the chief druid stood close to the pyramid, and pronounced a rhetorical panegyric setting forth the ancient pedigree, velour and liberality of the family, as incentives to the young chieftain and fit for his imitation. -Martin Martin, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (1719)

“For the Celts, as for all primitive people, astronomy and religion were intimately associated. They considered that the soul was eternal, and the stars were worlds successively inhabited by spiritual emigrants. They believed that the stars were as much the abodes human life as our own earth, and this image of a future life, constituted its power and grandeur. They repelled entirely the idea of the destruction of life, and preferred to see in the phenomenon of death, a voyage to a region already people by friends. The fundamental alliance between the doctrine of the plurality of worlds and the eternity of the soul is perhaps the most memorable character in the religion of this ancient race. Death upon earth was for them not more alarming than the eclipse of the moon or the falling of the leaves from the trees. The Druids were so convinced of the future life in the stars, that they used to lend money to be repaid in the other world. Such a custom must have made a profound impression on the minds of those who daily practiced it. Valerius Maximus tells us that, after having left Marseilles I found that ancient custom of the Gauls still in force, namely, of lending one another money to be paid back in the infernal regions, for they are persuaded that the souls of men are immortal.” -Camille Flammarion (French, 1842 – 1925)

For more information check out Druids: Preachers of Immortality by Anne Ross or Celtic Myth and Religion by S. MacLeod!

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Isla MacKinnon

Writer and Herbalist

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A founding member of Discover Druidry, Isla is a writer, photographer and avid gardener. She wrote the Celtic Druidry Handbook: An Evidence Based Guide.


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