The Truth About the Druids



During the seventeenth century it became fashionable to regard the Druids, the priests of the Celtic religion, as possessors of great wisdom and Occult abilities. The psychological motivation for this myth is merely another manifestation of the “Golden Age” syndrome. This Golden Age world view runs so:

At some time in the past, so far back that it precedes recorded history, life was perfect. There were no wars, no crimes, no hatreds: in other words, stagnation, but, in the present uneasy state of the world, stultification may be thought preferable to the possibility of annihilation. Therefore we can understand the ’nostalgia’ of Atlantis or Ancient Egypt as a human approach to human problems. None of these earlier civilisations were perfect, but they were in many ways better than what we have today.

Other, less likely candidates have been suggested as utopias of Perfect Wisdom and Truth. All have vague and mysterious origins and unwritten tenets therefore it is very difficult to dispute their validity.

The one exception is the Celts, with their priests, the Druids. Quite a lot is known of their methods and it says much for their capacity for self-delusion of many enthusiasts that they can put forward these crude barbarians as men of learning and enlightenment. We have contemporary accounts of Druids, in the writings of the Roman scholars and historians whilst Imperial Rome was expanding its influence across the known world.

Posidonius, a Syrian Greek from Apamaea, described the Druidic rites of human sacrifice. Strabo added further details, the victim being stabbed in the back and omens deduced from his death-throes. Alternative methods of sacrifice included shooting by arrows, impaling, or the construction of huge wicker-work figures in which numbers of humans and animals were imprisoned, the figures being set on fire and their occupants burned alive. Other writers who deal with the savagery of the Druids include the Julius Caeser and more impartial observers such as Cicero, Diodorus, Pomponius Mela and Pliny.

Tacitus in his “Annals” gives the comical account of a group of Druids howling curses at the army of Suetonius Paulinus by the Menai Straits in Anglesey. Needless to say, the curses were ineffective. But we all know the phrase: “the history of the vanquished is written by the victor”. Why should Latin authors not be judged in this way? The reason is that, with obvious exceptions, they were concerned to record the truth for prosperity, not to make political capital. Some of these writers would not have hesitated to expose Roman oppression and persecution if it had existed here (and it says much for Roman democracy that they would have been allowed to do so). But no-one objected to the Romans’ summary method of dealing with the Druids.

The Roman Senate had, in 97BC, passed a decree prohibiting human sacrifice. Romans were civilised. Even their gladiatorial contests were becoming more like play-acting. The Emperor Augustus prohibited the Druidic religion to Roman citizens, but he did not prohibit Celts from becoming Roman citizens. When a nation had accepted the overlordship of Rome, it was Rome’s usual policy to absorb that nation into the Empire and the title Roman citizen was an award of honour, bearing no relevance to play or tribe.

With no power to reinforce its thraldom of fear, Druidism vanished rapidly. For centuries it remained nothing more than an ugly stain on the history of Britain, overshadowed by the religious persecutions which took place in later centuries. In the 17thC Druidism was disinterred from the archives, given an entirely spurious history (only possible under the romanticism of nostalgia), and revitalised by theatrical dreamers to whom reality was an unwanted intrusion.

The history of modern “Druidic Orders” is riddles with inconsistencies. Their modern performance at Stonehenge, (a structure completed a thousand years before the Celtic invasion of Britain) would be of greater interest to psychologists and sociologists than to Occultists.

The political aspects of this meresticious form of Celtic nationalism have, in recent years, given a new impetus to a moribund movement. However, the majority of present-day “Druids” are quite harmless, indeed well-meaning people, misled by their lack of historical knowledge. They are not manipulated for any sinister purpose, as has frequently been claimed, because their leaders also are unable to accept that the real Druid was a bloodthirsty savage. The reality is too far removed from the romantic image of a dignified bearded old man in flowing white robes preoccupied with solemnly cutting sprigs of mistletoe from an oak tree with a golden sickle. Such self-delusion does no harm except to its own practitioners.

(Taken from Lamp of Thoth magazine, No21, p5-6)