History & myths
Since ancient Druidism was an oral tradition, they did not have a set of
scriptures as do Christianity and other "religions of the book. 1 " Some Druidic "teachings survived in the Bardic colleges in
Wales, Ireland and Scotland which remained active until
the 17th century, in medieval manuscripts, and in oral tradition, folk lore and
Druidism and other Neopagan religions are currently experiencing a rapid growth. Many
people are attempting to rediscover their roots, their ancestral heritage. For many people
in North America, their ancestors can be traced back to Celtic/Druidic countries.
Most modern Druids connect the origin of their religion to the ancient Celtic
people. However, historical data is scarce. The Druids may well have been active
in Britain and perhaps in northern Europe before the advent of the Celts.
Many academics believe that the ancestors of the Celts were the Proto-Indo European
culture who lived near the Black Sea circa 4000 BCE. Some migrated in a South-Westerly
direction to create the cultures of Thrace and Greece; others moved North-West to form the
Baltic, Celtic, Germanic and Slavic cultures. Evidence of a Proto-Celtic Unetice or
Urnfield culture has been found in what is now Slovakia circa 1000 BCE. This
evolved into a group of loosely linked tribes which formed the Celtic culture circa 800
BCE. By 450 BCE they had expanded into Spain; by 400 BCE they were in Northern Italy, and
by 270 BCE, they had migrated into Galatia (central Turkey). By 200 BCE, they had occupied
the British Isles, Brittany, much of modern France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and
Switzerland, North West Spain, and their isolated Galatia settlement in Turkey.
Although the Celts had a written language, it was rarely used. Their religious and
philosophical beliefs were preserved in an oral tradition. Little of their early history
remains. Most of our information comes from Greek and Roman writers, who may well have
been heavily biased (the Celts invaded Rome in 390 BCE and Greece in 279 BCE). Other data
comes from the codification (and modification) of Celtic myth cycles by Christian monks.
The latter included the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, the Cycle of Kings, the Invasion
Races Cycle from Ireland, and The Mabinogion from Wales. Unfortunately, much Celtic
history and religion has been lost or distorted by an overlay of Christianity.
The Christian Church adsorbed much of Celtic religion. Many Pagan Gods and Goddesses
Christian saints; sacred springs and wells were preserved and associated with saints; many
temple sites became the location of cathedrals. By the 7th Century CE, Druidism itself was
destroyed or continued deeply underground throughout most of the formerly Celtic lands.
There is some evidence that Pagan religions did survive in isolated areas of Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania into the 20th Century.
Ritual Killing: Many historians believed that the ancient Druids
performed human sacrifices. All of these references can be traced back to the writings of one
individual, Julius Caesar. He may well have
been prejudiced against the Celts because of their continual warfare with the Romans. In
war, the enemy is routinely demonized. Some remains of executions have been found in the
archaeological record, but it is not obvious whether the victims were killed during
religious rituals or to carry out the sentence of a court. There is one reference to human
sacrifice in Celtic literature, but it appears to be a Christian forgery. The ancient
Celts might have engaged in ritual killing; certainly other contemporary societies did.
Modern Druids, of course, do not.
Stonehenge, Avebury, etc.: Many people believe that the Druids constructed Stonehenge, the
complex of standing stones in South Central England. Stonehenge I ("Old
which was composed of the 56 "Aubrey" holes, was constructed circa 3500 BCE. The
current formation was completed circa 1500 BCE. This was almost a millennium before the
start of Celtic civilization. The Druids may have preceded the Celts in
England. Thus, either the Druids or their fore-runners might have been
responsible for the finishing of Stonehenge and other monuments. There is no
historical proof that they were or were not involved. Even if they did not
actually construct these monuments, they may well have performed rituals there, and understood its
astronomical meanings and uses.
In Ireland and the UK, there are many ancient "Druid" altars, beds, rings, stones, stone
circles and temples. However, radio-carbon analyses assign dates such as 1380 BCE
(Wilsford Shaft) to 3330 BCE (Hembury). Again, ancient Druids may have used these
megalithic monuments, but did not necessarily build them
Ireland now has countless wells and springs dedicated to the Christian Saint Bridget.
She was obviously descended from the Celtic Goddess Brigid/Brigit.
"Finding the cult of Brigit impossible to eradicate, the Catholic church rather
unwisely canonized her as a saint, calling her Bridget or Bride."
3 The sacred ownership of the various Pagan holy sites were
simply translated from Goddess Brigid to St. Bridget after the area was Christianized.
Celtic God Samhain: This non-existent God is often mentioned at Halloween time. He is supposed to be the Celtic God of the Dead.
No such God existed. Samhain is, in reality, the name of a Druidic fire festival. It can
be loosely translated as "end of the warm season".
Monotheistic Druids: Some writers have promoted the concept that Druids were
basically monotheistic, following a sort of pre-Christian belief system. There is
essentially no evidence of this. Druids worshipped a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. However, some modern-day cultural Druids have merged Druid customs with a modern-day religion -- typically Christianity -- and are monotheists.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Greywolf, "A little history of Druidry," at:
"Ancient Druidry," at:
Douglas Monroe, "The 21 Lessons of Merlyn," Llewellyn Publications, (1992).
Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson
Hyperlinks last checked: 2007-MAR-30