What is Celtic culture and how does it relate to Druidry? It may surprise many people to know that celticists, archaeologists, anthropologists and historians alike have debated this topic and the Celtic term extensively. By definition, it is a culture which quite simply is “an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” What a culture is not, is racial and it’s not confined to one country, although many people from countries with a cultural heritage already in place may practice those patterns, languages and traditions more readily and naturally. While there are Druid type healers, artists, teachers and judges within every ancient culture, a Druid is synonymous with the Celts. When we take up the title of a Druid or a follower of Druidry, immediately, images are harkened to wise men and women in white robes, performing augury, helping an ailing women in the pangs of labor, healing a sick child, giving a judgement on tribal matters and yes, performing rituals around standing stones and in ancient forest groves. This allegorical mind’s image is important and the backbone of what I feel is the essence of Druidry. Using the term Celtic in close proximity to Druidry is still appropriate, even in the modern age. Yes, the Celts may have been loosely affiliated, but they undoubtedly shared parallel mythology, deities, language, artwork, social structure and most importantly, Celtic paganism and Druids themselves. Even if a more appropriate name for these ancient people are Indo or Indigenous Europeans, they still seemed to share more than enough to constitute a recognizable culture and one that at its largest expanse, covered the entirety of central Europe as well as all of the British Isles. We have archaeological proof of vast trade routes across this entire expanse. This would simply not have been feasible unless tribes were collaborating and allowing for peaceful passage across their land and ports. Of course, some tribes were enemies but that’s naturally going to happen, similarly as it did between the indigenous Native Americans. Many people use this caveat as reasoning they were not “one people” but I can argue they banned together multiple times in both Europe and the British Isles to defeat an impending enemy whether it was the Romans, other tribes or Norse vikings. I have many reasons to envision a past where most nations weren’t so different than the Celtic nations today where their similarities were celebrated. Celticism endured and evolved, surviving in the six remaining most culturally Celtic nations as well as the Iberian Peninsula.
Where does modern Druidry and paganism in general put us in terms of Celticism? I think there are two types of Celticism today. First and foremost, there are the living countries, nations and cultures that have survived into the present. Their autonomy is important and to claim that one is Irish, Scottish, Welsh etc. is reserved for those that were born there, regardless of creed, religion or color. They have history, traditions, language and a cultural fabric that is all uniquely and rightfully their own. With that said, there is a large diaspora of people that have ancestry from any number of the ancient Celtic nations. Many people feel a connection with their ancestry that draws them to find what their indigenous religion may have been by reaching back to the oldest time that we can logistically and somewhat accurately study and recover. That brings me to the second form of Celticism which is one of indigenous roots. This is a much wider idealism of Celticism and really, when we are working with Druidry, we are working with this ancient idealism. I like to call this an “indigenous cauldron”, that encompasses a much wider breadth when we’re looking at ancient source material. The Celtic puzzle is scattered from Spain, India, France, Germany and the farthest corners of the British Isles. Where this research has become muddy is that much of the source material stems from Ireland and Welsh texts. Some feel that to take from these ancient manuscripts is wrong because unlike the archaeological remnants of our Gaulish friends, Ireland and Wales are still autonomously alive today. However, if you’re trying to piece together the Druidry puzzle or want to know what Celtic life may have been like in ancient times, it’s important to look at all the pieces of the puzzle verses just those that came from any one specific place. Although this mostly goes without saying, the Druidry community is typically very mindful in not damaging living cultures, or the natural landscape and monuments when visiting old landscapes.
Many of us walk multiple paths, some based in culture, some in science and others in mainstream religion so where does that leave those people that don’t feel “Celtic”? Similarly to Buddhism, Druidry as a practice is many different things to many different people and that’s naturally going to happen. Even within the Celtic nations themselves, the culture is slightly different for all of them despite being united under the same Celtic umbrella. Their form of Druidry and spirituality was likely different as well, albeit slightly. As mentioned before, for some, it’s a religion or spirituality and for others it’s simply a philosophy of living. Regardless of any personal definitions, in the same way that Buddhism is rooted in Indian culture, Druidry is rooted in ancient Celtic culture and likely the indigenous Europeans before that, before there was even an identifiable culture to recognize and label. I don’t want to deny Druidry its roots by claiming that an entirely different practice is also Druidry and not just similar or practiced “in addition to” Druidry or vice versa. Similarly again, Buddhism has followers around the entire world but their stories and traditional figures are still rooted in Indian culture and I assume or rather, hope, any Buddhist, no matter where they originated from or what their personal cultural ancestry is, recognizes and respects that. I’m sensitive to appropriation in general and don’t wish to claim that any other practice is free for me to use simply because I practice something similar. I feel as though I’d need to enter into those specific communities and be trained by their elders themselves before I was to claim such a thing. A few examples of this are shamanism and sweat lodge use. Irish shamanism and sweat lodge use may have hypothetically been very similar to that of the Native Americans, but it’s still uniquely different. With the advent of technology and the incredible speed at which we are able to share ideas, we are likely to become more of a melting pot. I think this is a wonderful thing as long as we are not cherry picking every single thing and thereby de-valuing everything. Taking shamanism as an example again, there is a very real issue with “plastic shamans”. Someone may claim to be a shaman that was never trained by the indigenous people they are claiming to be involved with. This is appropriation at its very worst, especially in regards to marginalized Native American or First Nations people. Also, many individuals may take a week or so long course or retreat and then claim to be a shaman out of the gate. When someone does either of these things, can they rightfully and fairly stand with equal skill next to someone who has invested countless years of their life in training, or someone who was taught by their father or mother going back countless generations? When we fail to respect the past or the titles we claim, from each of the frameworks we hold dear, we inadvertently devalue them to our own detriment.
Taking the Druidry but leaving out the Celtic aspects, to me is similar to when people take Yoga but leave out the cultural and spiritual aspects of that as well. People tout the benefits of yoga simply by doing the physical aspect so we can imagine what else we miss out on knowing the exercise in and of itself is only one incomplete part of the system it was meant to be included in. Can we be a Druid and a Buddhist or any combination of anything for that matter? Absolutely, we can be anything or any combination of things we want to be, simply by taking the time to research and learn each system and the stories and traditions that shaped them. I think everyone and anyone is welcome into each of these niche spiritual communities as long as there is a willingness to learn, to be mindful and to be respectful. Many times, exploring the in-depth aspects of any framework is a spring board necessary to go deeper and further into the indigenous parallels between all cultures and spiritualities. Most Druids I’ve come across are incredibly passionate about culture in general and learning about the wonderful synchronicities between us all in our vast and beautifully diverse human family. If we haven’t taken the time to be knowledgable about the history of the spiritualities we wish to exemplify, we miss out on the moments of pure bliss discovering that an ancient Celtic practice, specifically triplism, is uncannily familiar to the same Dharmic reverence of triplism. We miss out on the growth that occurs from not just feeling like we are one human family, but knowing that we are and being able to cite the very real and genuine connections between belief systems. The farther we go back, the fewer ancestors we have and we can thereby put it all into perspective. No one culture or framework is better than another at reaching the same truths and we share so much more than what separates us, but I think each system should be respected for what it is. I didn’t choose Druidry because I am from or have ancestry in the British Isles and it’s not an exclusive club to those that do, just as Buddhism, Muslim or Christian spiritual frameworks are not exclusive clubs. It is quite the contrary but I chose this path because it happened to call to me regardless of my predecessors and I found the primal parallels to other indigenous philosophies and spiritualities around the world inspiring.
For more information check out Celts: The History and Legacy of One of the Oldest Cultures in Europe by Martin Dogherty or Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (Five Volume Set) by John Koch (expensive but worth it)!
Writer and Herbalist
A founding member of Discover Druidry, Isla is a writer, photographer and avid gardener. She wrote the Celtic Druidry Handbook: An Evidence Based Guide.