Beliefs, practices & celebrations
Beliefs and Practices:
Beliefs and practices of the ancient Celts are being pieced together by modern Druids.
Because so much information has been lost, this is not an easy task. Some findings are:
||Specialties: Within ancient Druidism, there were three specialties. "A general
categorisation of the three different grades accords the arts to the bards, the
skills of prophecy and divination to the Ovates and philosophical, teaching,
counseling and judicial tasks to the Druid." 1|
The Bards were "the keepers of tradition, of the
memory of the tribe - they were the custodians of the sacredness of
the Word." In Ireland, they trained for 12 years learning
grammar, hundreds of stories, poems, philosophy, etc.
The Ovates worked with the processes of death and
regeneration. They were the native healers of the Celts. They
specialized in divination, conversing with the ancestors, and prophesizing
The Druids and Druidesses formed the professional class in
Celtic society. They performed the functions
of modern day priests, teachers, ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists,
theologians, scientists, poets and judges. They
underwent lengthy training: some sources say 20 years. Druids led all public rituals,
which were normally held within fenced groves of sacred trees. In their role as
priests, "they acted not as mediators between God and man, but
as directors of ritual, as shamans guiding and containing the rites."
Most leaders mentioned in
the surviving records were male. It is not known whether female Druids were considered
equal to their male counterparts, or whether they were restricted to special
responsibilities. References to women exercising religious power might have been deleted
from the record by Christian monks during the Celtic Christian era.
Goddesses and Gods: The Celts did not form a single religious or political unity.
They were organized into tribes spread across what is now several countries. As a result,
of the 374 Celtic deities which have been found, over 300 occur only once in the
archaeological record; they are believed to be local deities. There is some evidence that
their main pantheon of Gods and Goddesses might have totaled about 3 dozen - perhaps
precisely 33 (a frequently occurring magical number in Celtic literature). Some of the
more famous are: Arawn, Brigid, Cernunnos, Cerridwen, Danu, Herne, Lugh,
and Taranis. Many Celtic deities were worshipped in triune (triple aspect) form.
Triple Goddesses were often sisters.
Afterlife: They believed that the dead were transported to the Otherworld by the God Bile (AKA Bel, Belenus). Life continued in this location much as it had before death. The
ancient Druids believed
that the soul was immortal. After the person died in the Otherworld, their soul
reincarnates and lives again in another living entity -- either in a
plant or the body of a human or other animal. After a person has learned
enough at this level, they move on after death to a higher realm, which
has its own Otherworld. This continues until the individual reaches the
highest realm, the "Source." A Druidic visitor to this web site
wrote: "All things are created from the Source, including the Gods.
We are just sparks from its flame." At every birth, the Celts mourned the death of a person in
the Otherworld which made the new birth possible.
Creation Myth: No Druidic creation story appears to have survived, although there
are numerous accounts of the supernatural creation of islands, mountains, etc.
Baptism: There is some evidence that the Celts had a baptism initiation ceremony
similar to those found in Buddhist, Christian, Essene, Hindu, Islamic, and Jainist sacred
texts. Other researchers dismiss baptism as a forgery by Christian scribes as they
transferred Celtic material to written form.
Moral code: Druids do not follow the
Wiccan Rede which states (in modern English) one is free to do anything,
as long as it harms nobody. The closest analogy are the Celtic
Virtues of honor, loyalty, hospitality, honesty, justice and
courage. "Daven" briefly describes the Virtues as follows:
"Briefly stated the virtue of Honor
requires one to adhere to their oaths and do the right thing, even
if it will ultimately hurt others or oneself in the process. A Druid
is obligated to remain true to friends, family and leaders thus
exhibiting the virtue of Loyalty. Hospitality demands that a Druid
be a good host when guests are under one's roof. Honesty insists
that one tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth to
yourself, your gods and your people. Justice desires the Druid
understands everyone has an inherent worth and that an assault to
that worth demands recompense in one form or another. Courage for
the Druid does not always wear a public face; it is
standing-strong-in-the-face-of-adversity, alone or with companions.
Sometimes Courage is getting up and going about a daily routine when
pain has worn one down without complaint or demur."
Divination: Druids used many techniques to foretell the future: meditation, study
of the flight of birds, interpreting dreams, and interpreting the pattern of sticks thrown
to the ground.
Celtic Tree of Life, as interpreted here by Welsh artist Jen Delyth, shows
a concept if the cosmos in which the universe is in the form of a tree whose
roots and branches join.
flag of the Isle of Man, as interpreted here by Stuart Notholt, contains a triskele.
It is an ancient Druidic symbol consisting of three curved branches,
bent legs or arms radiating from the center of the symbol. 3
The Sun wheel or Wheel of Taranis honors the Celtic sun
god. It is in the form of a wheel with six spokes.
||Modern symbols: These include:|
Wreath and staves consisting of a wreath with two vertical
Awen symbol: This is a symbol drawn in the form of three pillars, in which the
outer two are sloped towards the center pillar, as in the center of the above
symbol. Sometimes, one or
three dots are added above the pillars. The symbol has been in use
since the 17th century; it recalls the Druidic fascination with the number three.
"Awen" means inspiration in Middle Welsh. The left ray
represents female energy; the right: male energy; the middle: the harmonious
balance of male and female
Seasonal Days of Celebration:
Druids, past and present, celebrate a series of fire-festivals, on the first of each of
four months. Each would start at sunset and last for three days. Great bonfires would be
built on the hilltops. Cattle would be driven between two bonfires to assure their
fertility; couples would jump over a bonfire or run between two bonfires as well. The
Samhain (or Samhuinn) Literally the "end of warm season". November 1
marked the combined Feast of the Dead and New Year's Day for the Celtic calendar.
It is a time when the veil between our reality and that of the Otherworld is most easily
penetrated. This fire festival was later adopted by the Christians as All Soul's Eve, and
later became the secular holiday Halloween.
Imbolc (or Brighid) Literally "in the belly". February 1 marked
Return of Light. This is the date when the first stirrings of life were noticeable and
when the land might first be plowable. This has been secularized as Groundhog Day.
Beltaine (or Bealteinne). May 1 was the celebration of The Fires of Bel.
This was the peak of blossom season, when domesticated animals bear their young. This is
still celebrated today as May Day. Youths dance around the May pole in what is obviously a
reconstruction of an earlier fertility ritual.
Lughnasad (or Lughnasadh, Lammas). August 1 was The Feast of Lugh, named
after the God of Light. A time for celebration and the harvest.
There were occasional references in ancient literature to:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Bards, Ovates and Druids," at:
Daven, "Druidism and Wicca; a comparison,"
From the "FOTW Flags Of The World" website at
Copyright © 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson
Hyperlinks last checked: 2007-MAR-30