A druid (Welsh: derwydd; Old Irish: druí; Scottish Gaelic: draoidh)
was a member of the high-ranking professional class in ancient Celtic
cultures. While perhaps best remembered as religious leaders, they
were also legal authorities, adjudicators, lorekeepers, medical
professionals and political advisors. While the druids are reported to
have been literate, they are believed to have been prevented by
doctrine from recording their knowledge in written form, thus they
left no written accounts of themselves. They are however attested in
some detail by their contemporaries from other cultures, such as the
Romans and the Greeks.
The earliest known references to the druids date to the fourth century
BCE and the oldest detailed description comes from Julius Caesar's
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico (50s BCE). They were also described by
later Greco-Roman writers such as Cicero, Tacitus and Pliny the
Elder. Following the Roman invasion of Gaul, the druid orders were
suppressed by the Roman government under the 1st century CE emperors
Tiberius and Claudius, and had disappeared from the written record by
the 2nd century.
In about 750 CE the word druid appears in a poem by Blathmac, who
wrote about Jesus, saying that he was "... better than a prophet, more
knowledgeable than every druid, a king who was a bishop and a complete
sage." The druids then also appear in some of the medieval tales
from Christianized Ireland like the "Táin Bó Cúailnge", where they
are largely portrayed as sorcerers who opposed the coming of
Christianity. In the wake of the
Celtic revival during the 18th and
19th centuries, fraternal and neopagan groups were founded based on
ideas about the ancient druids, a movement known as Neo-Druidism. Many
popular notions about druids, based on misconceptions of 18th century
scholars, have been largely superseded by more recent study.
2 Practices and doctrines
2.1 Societal role and training
3 Druids in mythology
4 Female druids
4.1 The Gallizenae
5 Sources on druid beliefs and practices
5.1 Greek and Roman records
5.1.1 Julius Caesar
5.1.2 Cicero, Diodorus Siculus,
Strabo and Tacitus
5.2 Irish and Welsh records
5.2.1 Irish literature and law codes
5.2.2 Welsh literature
7 History of reception
7.1 Prohibition and decline under Roman rule
7.2 Possible late survival of Insular druid orders
7.3 Christian historiography and hagiography
Romanticism and modern revivals
7.5 Modern scholarship
The modern English word druid derives from the
Latin druides (plural),
which was considered by ancient Roman writers to come from the native
Celtic Gaulish word for these figures. Other Roman texts
also employ the form druidae, while the same term was used by Greek
ethnographers as δρυΐδης (druidēs). Although no extant
Romano-Celtic inscription is known to contain the form, the word is
cognate with the later insular Celtic words,
Old Irish druí ‘druid,
Old Cornish druw,
Middle Welsh dryw ‘seer; wren’.
Based on all available forms, the hypothetical proto-Celtic word may
then be reconstructed as *dru-wid-s (pl. *druwides) meaning
"oak-knower". The two elements go back to the Proto-Indo-European
roots *deru- and *weid- "to see". The sense of "oak-knower" or
"oak-seer" is supported by Pliny the Elder, who in his Natural
History considered the word to contain the Greek noun drýs
(δρύς), "oak-tree" and the Greek suffix -idēs
Old Irish druí and
Middle Welsh dryw could also
refer to the wren, possibly connected with an association of that
bird with augury in Irish and Welsh tradition (see also Wren
Practices and doctrines
Sources by ancient and medieval writers provide an idea of the
religious duties and social roles involved in being a druid.
Societal role and training
Imaginative illustration of 'An Arch
Druid in His Judicial Habit',
from The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands by
S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815), the gold gorget collar copying
Bronze Age examples.
One of the few things that both the Greco-Roman and the vernacular
Irish sources agree on about the druids is that they played an
important part in pagan Celtic society. In his description, Julius
Caesar claimed that they were one of the two most important social
groups in the region (alongside the equites, or nobles) and were
responsible for organizing worship and sacrifices, divination, and
judicial procedure in Gaulish, British and Irish society.[not in
citation given] He also claimed that they were exempt from military
service and from the payment of taxes, and had the power to
excommunicate people from religious festivals, making them social
outcasts. Two other classical writers,
Diodorus Siculus and
Strabo, also wrote about the role of druids in Gallic society,
claiming that the druids were held in such respect that if they
intervened between two armies they could stop the battle.
Pomponius Mela is the first author who says that the druids'
instruction was secret and took place in caves and forests.
Druidic lore consisted of a large number of verses learned by heart,
and Caesar remarked that it could take up to twenty years to complete
the course of study. What was taught to druid novices anywhere is
conjecture: of the druids' oral literature, not one certifiably
ancient verse is known to have survived, even in translation. All
instruction was communicated orally, but for ordinary purposes, Caesar
Gauls had a written language in which they used Greek
characters. In this he probably draws on earlier writers; by the time
of Caesar, Gaulish inscriptions had moved from the Greek script to the
An 18th century illustration of a wicker man, the form of execution
that Caesar claimed the druids used for human sacrifice. From the
"Duncan Caesar", Tonson, Draper, and Dodsley edition of the
Commentaries of Caesar translated by William Duncan published in 1753.
Celts and human sacrifice, Threefold death, and
Ritual of oak and mistletoe
Greek and Roman writers frequently made reference to the druids as
practitioners of human sacrifice. According to Caesar, those who
had been found guilty of theft or other criminal offences were
considered preferable for use as sacrificial victims, but when
criminals were in short supply, innocents would be acceptable. A form
of sacrifice recorded by Caesar was the burning alive of victims in a
large wooden effigy, now often known as a wicker man. A differing
account came from the 10th-century Commenta Bernensia, which claimed
that sacrifices to the deities Teutates,
Taranis were by
drowning, hanging and burning, respectively (see threefold death).
Diodorus Siculus asserts that a sacrifice acceptable to the Celtic
gods had to be attended by a druid, for they were the intermediaries
between the people and the divinities. He remarked upon the importance
of prophets in druidic ritual:
"These men predict the future by observing the flight and calls of
birds and by the sacrifice of holy animals: all orders of society are
in their power... and in very important matters they prepare a human
victim, plunging a dagger into his chest; by observing the way his
limbs convulse as he falls and the gushing of his blood, they are able
to read the future."
There is archaeological evidence from western Europe that has been
widely used to back up the idea that human sacrifice was performed by
the Iron Age Celts. Mass graves found in a ritual context dating from
this period have been unearthed in Gaul, at both Gournay-sur-Aronde
Ribemont-sur-Ancre in what was the region of the Belgae chiefdom.
The excavator of these sites, Jean-Louis Brunaux, interpreted them as
areas of human sacrifice in devotion to a war god, although
this view was criticized by another archaeologist, Martin Brown, who
believed that the corpses might be those of honoured warriors buried
in the sanctuary rather than sacrifices. Some historians have
questioned whether the Greco-Roman writers were accurate in their
claims. J. Rives remarked that it was "ambiguous" whether the druids
ever performed such sacrifices, for the Romans and Greeks were known
to project what they saw as barbarian traits onto foreign peoples
including not only druids but Jews and Christians as well, thereby
confirming their own "cultural superiority" in their own minds.
Nora Chadwick, an expert in medieval Welsh and Irish literature who
believed the druids to be great philosophers, has also supported the
idea that they had not been involved in human sacrifice, and that such
accusations were imperialist Roman propaganda.
Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor referred to the druids as philosophers
and called their doctrine of the immortality of the soul and
reincarnation or metempsychosis "Pythagorean":
"The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teaching that the
souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they
will enter into another body."
Caesar made similar observations:
With regard to their actual course of studies, the main object of all
education is, in their opinion, to imbue their scholars with a firm
belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to
their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another; for
by such doctrine alone, they say, which robs death of all its terrors,
can the highest form of human courage be developed. Subsidiary to the
teachings of this main principle, they hold various lectures and
discussions on astronomy, on the extent and geographical distribution
of the globe, on the different branches of natural philosophy, and on
many problems connected with religion.
— Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, VI, 13
Diodorus Siculus, writing in 36 BCE, described how the druids followed
"the Pythagorean doctrine", that human souls "are immortal and after a
prescribed number of years they commence a new life in a new
body." In 1928, folklorist Donald A. Mackenzie speculated that
Buddhist missionaries had been sent by the Indian king Ashoka.
Others have invoked common Indo-European parallels. Caesar noted
the druidic doctrine of the original ancestor of the tribe, whom he
referred to as Dispater, or Father Hades.
Druids in mythology
Druids also play a prominent role in Irish Folklore, generally serving
lords and kings as high ranking priest-counselors with the gift of
prophecy and other assorted mystical abilities - the best example of
these possibly being Cathbad. The chief druid in the court of King
Conchobar mac Nessa of Ulster,
Cathbad features in several tales, most
of which detail his ability to foretell the future. In the tale of
Deirdre of the Sorrows – the foremost tragic heroine of the Ulster
Cycle – the druid prophesied before the court of Conchobar that
Deirdre would grow up to be very beautiful, but that kings and lords
would go to war over her, much blood would be shed because of her, and
Ulster's three greatest warriors would be forced into exile for her
sake. This prophecy, ignored by the king, came true.
Arguably the greatest of these mythological druids was Amergin
Glúingel, a bard and judge for the Milesians featured in the
Mythological Cycle. The Milesians were seeking to overrun the Tuatha
De Danann and win the land of Ireland but, as they approached, the
druids of the
Tuatha Dé Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann raised a magical storm to bar their
ships from making landfall. Thus Amergin called upon the spirit of
Ireland itself, chanting a powerful incantation that has come to be
known as The Song of Amergin and, eventually (after successfully
making landfall), aiding and dividing the land between his royal
brothers in the conquest of Ireland, earning the title
Chief Ollam of Ireland.
Other such mythological druids were
Tadg mac Nuadat of the Fenian
Cycle, and Mug Ruith, a powerful blind druid of Munster.
The Druidess, oil on canvas, by French painter Alexandre Cabanel
Irish mythology has a number of female druids as well, often sharing
similar prominent cultural and religious roles with their male
counterparts. The Irish have several words for female druids, such as
bandruí ("woman-druid"), found in tales such as the Táin Bó
Cúailnge; Bodhmall, featured in the Fenian Cycle, and one of
Fionn mac Cumhaill's childhood caretakers; and Tlachtga, the
daughter of the druid
Mug Ruith who, according to Irish tradition, is
associated with the Hill of Ward, site of prominent festivals held in
Tlachtga's honour during the Middle Ages.
Biróg, another bandrúi of the Tuatha De Danann, plays a key role in
an Irish folktale where the Fomorian warrior
Balor attempts to thwart
a prophecy foretelling that he would be killed by his own grandson by
imprisoning his only daughter Eithne in the tower of Tory Island, away
from any contact with men.
Bé Chuille – daughter of the
Flidais and sometimes described as a sorceress rather
than a bandruí – features in a tale from the Metrical Dindshenchas
where she joins three other of the Tuatha Dé to defeat the evil Greek
witch Carman. Other bandrúi include Relbeo, a Nemedian druid
who appears in The Book of Invasions, where she is described as the
daughter of the King of
Greece and mother of Fergus Lethderg and
Alma One-Tooth. Dornoll was a bandrúi in Scotland, who normally
trained heroes in warfare, particularly
Laegaire and Conall; she was
the Daughter of Domnall Mildemail.
Île de Sein
Île de Sein in the Atlantic Ocean
According to classical authors, the Gallizenae (or Gallisenae) were
virgin priestesses of the
Île de Sein
Île de Sein off Pointe du Raz, Finistère,
western Brittany. Their existence was first mentioned by the Greek
Artemidorus Ephesius and later by the Greek historian
Strabo, who wrote that their island was forbidden to men, but the
women came to the mainland to meet their husbands. Which deities they
honored is unknown. According to Pomponius Mela, the Gallizenae
acted as both councilors and practitioners of the healing arts:
"Sena, in the Britannic Sea, opposite the coast of the Osismi, is
famous for its oracle of a Gaulish god, whose priestesses, living in
the holiness of perpetual virginity, are said to be nine in number.
They call them Gallizenae, and they believe them to be endowed with
extraordinary gifts to rouse the sea and the wind by their
incantations, to turn themselves into whatsoever animal form they may
choose, to cure diseases which among others are incurable, to know
what is to come and to foretell it. They are, however; devoted to the
service of voyagers only who have set out on no other errand than to
Sources on druid beliefs and practices
Greek and Roman records
Druids Inciting the Britons to Oppose the Landing of the Romans –
from Cassell's History of England, Vol. I – anonymous author and
The earliest surviving literary evidence of the druids emerges from
the classical world of
Greece and Rome. The archaeologist Stuart
Piggott compared the attitude of the Classical authors towards the
druids as being similar to the relationship that had existed in the
15th and 18th centuries between Europeans and the societies that they
were just encountering in other parts of the world, such as the
Americas and the South Sea Islands. In doing so, he highlighted that
both the attitude of the Early Modern Europeans and the Classical
authors was that of "primitivism", viewing these newly encountered
societies as primitive because of their lesser technological
development and perceived backwardness in socio-political
The historian Nora Chadwick, in a categorization subsequently adopted
by Piggott, divided the Classical accounts of the druids into two
groups, distinguished by their approach to the subject as well as
their chronological contexts. She refers to the first of these groups
as the "Posidonian" tradition after one of its primary exponents,
Posidonious, and notes that it takes a largely critical attitude
towards the Iron Age societies of Western Europe that emphasizes their
"barbaric" qualities. The second of these two groups is termed the
"Alexandrian" group, being centred on the scholastic traditions of
Alexandria in Egypt; she notes that it took a more sympathetic and
idealized attitude towards these foreign peoples. Piggott drew
parallels between this categorisation and the ideas of "hard
primitivism" and "soft primitivism" identified by historians of ideas
A.O. Lovejoy and Franz Boas.
One school of thought within historical scholarship has suggested that
all of these accounts are inherently unreliable, and might be entirely
fictional. They have suggested that the idea of the druid might have
been a fiction created by Classical writers to reinforce the idea of
the barbaric "other" who existed beyond the civilized Greco-Roman
world, thereby legitimising the expansion of the
Roman Empire into
The earliest record of the druids comes from two Greek texts of c. 300
BCE: one, a history of philosophy written by Sotion of Alexandria, and
the other a study of magic widely attributed to Aristotle. Both texts
are now lost, but were quoted in the 2nd century CE work Vitae by
Some say that the study of philosophy originated with the barbarians.
In that among the Persians there existed the Magi, and among the
Babylonians or Assyrians the Chaldaei, among the Indians the
Gymnosophistae, and among the
Gauls men who were called
druids and semnothei, as
Aristotle relates in his book on magic, and
Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers.
— Diogenes Laertius, Vitae, Introduction, Section 1
Subsequent Greek and Roman texts from the third century BCE refer to
"barbarian philosophers", possibly in reference to the Gaulish
Julius Caesar, the Roman general and later dictator, who wrote the
most important source for the Druids in Britain
The earliest extant text that describes the druids in detail is Julius
Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, book VI, written in the 50s or
40s BCE. A military general who was intent on conquering
Britain, Caesar described the druids as being concerned with "divine
worship, the due performance of sacrifices, private or public, and the
interpretation of ritual questions." He claimed that they played an
important part in Gaulish society, being one of the two respected
classes along with the equites (in Rome the name for members of a
privileged class above the common people, but also "horsemen") and
that they performed the function of judges. He claimed that they
recognized the authority of a single leader, who would rule until his
death, when a successor would be chosen by vote or through conflict.
He also remarked that they met annually at a sacred place in the
region occupied by the Carnute tribe in Gaul, while they viewed
Britain as the centre of druidic study; and that they were not found
amongst the German tribes to the east of the Rhine. According to
Caesar, many young men were trained to be druids, during which time
they had to learn all the associated lore by heart. He also claimed
their main teaching was "the souls do not perish, but after death pass
from one to another". They were also concerned with "the stars and
their movements, the size of the cosmos and the earth, the world of
nature, and the powers of deities", indicating they were involved with
not only such common aspects of religion as theology and cosmology,
but also astronomy. Caesar also held that they were "administrators"
during rituals of human sacrifice, for which criminals were usually
used, and that the method was through burning in a wicker man.
Although he had first-hand experience of Gaulish people, and therefore
likely with druids, Caesar's account has been widely criticized by
modern historians as inaccurate. One issue raised by such historians
as Fustel de Coulanges was that while Caesar described the druids
as a significant power within Gaulish society, he did not mention them
even once in his accounts of his Gaulish conquests. Nor did Aulus
Hirtius, who continued Caesar's account of the
Gallic Wars following
Caesar's death. Hutton believed that Caesar had manipulated the idea
of the druids so they would appear both civilized (being learned and
pious) and barbaric (performing human sacrifice) to Roman readers,
thereby representing both "a society worth including in the Roman
Empire" and one that required civilizing with Roman rule and values,
thus justifying his wars of conquest. Sean Dunham suggested that
Caesar had simply taken the Roman religious functions of senators and
applied them to the druids. Daphne Nash believed it "not unlikely"
that he "greatly exaggerates" both the centralized system of druidic
leadership and its connection to Britain.
Other historians have accepted that Caesar's account might be more
accurate. Norman J. DeWitt surmised that Caesar's description of the
role of druids in Gaulish society may report an idealized tradition,
based on the society of the 2nd century BCE, before the pan-Gallic
confederation led by the
Arverni was smashed in 121 BCE, followed by
the invasions of
Teutones and Cimbri, rather than on the demoralized
Gaul of his own time. John Creighton has speculated
that in Britain, the druidic social influence was already in decline
by the mid-1st century BCE, in conflict with emergent new power
structures embodied in paramount chieftains. Other scholars see
the Roman conquest itself as the main reason for the decline of the
druid orders. Archaeologist
Miranda Aldhouse-Green (2010) asserted
that Caesar offered both “our richest textual source” regarding
the druids, and “one of the most reliable.” She defended the
accuracy of his accounts by highlighting that while he may have
embellished some of his accounts to justify Roman imperial conquest,
it was “inherently unlikely” that he constructed a fictional class
Gaul and Britain, particularly considering that he was
accompanied by a number of other Roman senators who would have also
been sending reports on the conquest to Rome, and who would have
challenged his inclusion of serious falsifications.
Cicero, Diodorus Siculus,
Strabo and Tacitus
Roman soldiers murdering druids and burning their groves on Anglesey,
as described by Tacitus
Crown of the "Deal Warrior", possibly worn by druids, 200–150 BCE,
Other classical writers also commented on the druids and their
practices. Caesar's contemporary, Marcus Tullius Cicero, noted that he
had met a Gallic druid, Divitiacus, who was a member of the Aedui
tribe. Divitiacus supposedly knew much about the natural world and
performed divination through augury. Whether Diviaticus was
genuinely a druid can however be disputed, for Caesar also knew this
figure, and also wrote about him, calling him by the more
Gaulish-sounding (and thereby presumably the more authentic)
Diviciacus, but never referred to him as a druid and indeed presented
him as a political and military leader.
Another classical writer to take up describing the druids not too long
after was Diodorus Siculus, who published this description in his
Bibliotheca historicae in 36 BCE. Alongside the druids, or as he
called them, drouidas, whom he viewed as philosophers and theologians,
he also remarked how there were poets and singers in Celtic society
whom he called bardous, or bards. Such an idea was expanded on by
Strabo, writing in the 20s CE, who declared that amongst the Gauls,
there were three types of honoured figures: the poets and singers
known as bardoi, the diviners and specialists in the natural world
known as o'vateis, and those who studied "moral philosophy", the
druidai. The Roman writer Tacitus, himself a senator and a
historian, described how when the Roman army, led by Suetonius
Paulinus, attacked the island of Mona (Anglesey, Ynys Môn in Welsh),
the legionaries were awestruck on landing by the appearance of a band
of druids, who, with hands uplifted to the sky, poured forth terrible
imprecations on the heads of the invaders. He states that these
"terrified our soldiers who had never seen such a thing before..." The
courage of the Romans, however, soon overcame such fears, according to
the Roman historian; the Britons were put to flight, and the sacred
groves of Mona were cut down.
Tacitus is also the only primary
source that gives accounts of druids in Britain, but maintains a
hostile point of view, seeing them as ignorant savages.
Irish and Welsh records
During the Middle Ages, after Ireland and Wales were Christianized,
druids appeared in a number of written sources, mainly tales and
stories such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge, but also in the hagiographies
of various saints. These were all written by Christian monks.
Irish literature and law codes
In Irish-language literature, the druids — draoithe, plural of
draoi— are sorcerers with supernatural powers, who are respected in
society, particularly for their ability to perform divination. The
Dictionary of the Irish Language defines druí (which has numerous
variant forms, including draoi) as 'magician, wizard or diviner'.
In the literature the druids cast spells and turn people into animals
or stones, or curse peoples’ crops to be blighted.
When druids are portrayed in early Irish sagas and saints' lives set
in the pre-Christian past of the island, they are usually accorded
high social status. The evidence of the law-texts, which were first
written down in the 7th and 8th centuries, suggests that with the
coming of Christianity the role of the druid in Irish society was
rapidly reduced to that of a sorcerer who could be consulted to cast
spells or practise healing magic and that his standing declined
accordingly. According to the early legal tract Bretha Crólige,
the sick-maintenance due to a druid, satirist and brigand (díberg) is
no more than that due to a bóaire (an ordinary freeman). Another
Uraicecht Becc (‘Small primer’), gives the druid a place
among the dóer-nemed or professional classes which depend for their
status on a patron, along with wrights, blacksmiths and entertainers,
as opposed to the fili, who alone enjoyed free nemed-status.
While druids featured prominently in many medieval Irish sources, they
were far rarer in their Welsh counterparts. Unlike the Irish texts,
the Welsh term commonly seen as referring to the druids, dryw, was
used to refer purely to prophets and not to sorcerers or pagan
Ronald Hutton noted that there were two
explanations for the use of the term in Wales: the first was that it
was a survival from the pre-Christian era, when dryw had been ancient
priests, while the second was that the Welsh had borrowed the term
from the Irish, as had the English (who used the terms dry and
drycraeft to refer to magicians and magic respectively, most probably
influenced by the Irish terms.)
A pair of 1st-century BC (?) "spoons" from England. It is speculated
that they were used for divination. Eleven such pairs are known.
Miranda Green believes a liquid was put in the spoon with a hole, and
allowed to drip into the other below, and the drip pattern
As the historian Jane Webster stated, "individual druids... are
unlikely to be identified archaeologically". A.P. Fitzpatrick, in
examining what he believed to be astral symbolism on Late Iron Age
swords has expressed difficulties in relating any material culture,
even the Coligny calendar, with druidic culture. Nonetheless, some
archaeologists have attempted to link certain discoveries with written
accounts of the druids. The archaeologist Anne Ross linked what she
believed to be evidence of human sacrifice in Celtic pagan
society—such as the
Lindow Man bog body—to the Greco-Roman
accounts of human sacrifice being officiated over by the
druids. Miranda Aldhouse-Green, professor of archaeology at
Cardiff University has noted that Suetonius's army would have passed
very near the site whilst traveling to deal with
postulates that the sacrifice may have been connected.
An excavated burial in
Deal, Kent discovered the "Deal warrior" ~ a
man buried around 200–150 BCE with a sword and shield, and wearing a
unique crown, too thin to be a helmet. The crown is bronze with a
broad band around the head and a thin strip crossing the top of the
head. It was worn without any padding beneath, as traces of hair were
left on the metal. The form of the crown is similar to that seen in
images of Romano-British priests several centuries later, leading to
speculation among archaeologists that the man might have been a
History of reception
Prohibition and decline under Roman rule
Gallic Wars of 58 to 51 BCE, the Roman army, led by Julius
Caesar, conquered the many tribal chiefdoms of Gaul, and annexed it as
a part of the Roman Republic. According to accounts produced in the
following centuries, the new rulers of
Roman Gaul subsequently
introduced measures to wipe out the druids from that country.
According to Pliny the Elder, writing in the 70s CE, it was the
Tiberius (who ruled from 14 to 37 CE), who introduced laws
banning not only druid practices, but also other native soothsayers
and healers, a move which Pliny applauded, believing that it would end
human sacrifice in Gaul. A somewhat different account of Roman
legal attacks on the druids was made by Suetonius, writing in the 2nd
century CE, when he claimed that Rome's first emperor,
had ruled from 27 BCE till 14 CE), had decreed that no-one could be
both a druid and a Roman citizen, and that this was followed by a law
passed by the later Emperor
Claudius (who had ruled from 41 to 54 CE)
which "thoroughly suppressed" the druids by banning their religious
Possible late survival of Insular druid orders
Christianization of Ireland,
Wales, and Taliesin
The best evidence of a druidic tradition in the
British Isles is the
independent cognate of the Celtic *druwid- in Insular Celtic: The Old
Irish druídecht survives in the meaning of 'magic', and the Welsh
dryw in the meaning of 'seer'.
While the druids as a priestly caste were extinct with the
Christianization of Wales, complete by the 7th century at the latest,
the offices of bard and of "seer" (Welsh: dryw) persisted in medieval
Wales into the 13th century.
Phillip Freeman, a classics professor, discusses a later reference to
'dryades', which he translates as 'druidesses', writing that "The
fourth century A.D. collection of imperial biographies known as the
Historia Augusta contains three short passages involving Gaulish women
called 'dryades' ('druidesses'). He points out that "In all of these,
the women may not be direct heirs of the druids who were supposedly
extinguished by the Romans — but in any case they do show that
the druidic function of prophesy continued among the natives in Roman
Gaul." However, the
Historia Augusta is frequently interpreted by
scholars as a largely satirical work, and such details might have been
introduced in a humorous fashion. Additionally,
female druids are mentioned in later Irish mythology, including the
legend of Fionn mac Cumhaill, who, according to the 12th century The
Boyhood Deeds of Fionn, is raised by the woman druid
Bodhmall and her
companion, another wise-woman.
Christian historiography and hagiography
The story of Vortigern, as reported by Nennius, provides one of the
very few glimpses of possible druidic survival in Britain after the
Roman conquest: unfortunately,
Nennius is noted for mixing fact and
legend in such a way that it is now impossible to know the truth
behind his text. He wrote that after being excommunicated by Germanus,
the British leader
Vortigern invited twelve druids to assist him.
In the lives of saints and martyrs, the druids are represented as
magicians and diviners. In Adamnan's vita of Columba, two of them act
as tutors to the daughters of Lóegaire mac Néill, the High King of
Ireland, at the coming of Saint Patrick. They are represented as
endeavouring to prevent the progress of Patrick and
Saint Columba by
raising clouds and mist. Before the battle of Culdremne (561) a druid
made an airbe drtiad ("fence of protection"?) round one of the armies,
but what is precisely meant by the phrase is unclear. The Irish druids
seem to have had a peculiar tonsure. The word druí is always used to
Latin magus, and in one passage St Columba speaks of Christ
as his druid. Similarly, a life of St
Beuno states that when he died
he had a vision of 'all the saints and druids'.
Sulpicius Severus' Vita of
Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours relates how Martin
encountered a peasant funeral, carrying the body in a winding sheet,
which Martin mistook for some druidic rites of sacrifice, "because it
was the custom of the Gallic rustics in their wretched folly to carry
about through the fields the images of demons veiled with a white
covering." So Martin halted the procession by raising his pectoral
cross: "Upon this, the miserable creatures might have been seen at
first to become stiff like rocks. Next, as they endeavoured, with
every possible effort, to move forward, but were not able to take a
step farther, they began to whirl themselves about in the most
ridiculous fashion, until, not able any longer to sustain the weight,
they set down the dead body." Then discovering his error, Martin
raised his hand again to let them proceed: "Thus," the hagiographer
points out, "he both compelled them to stand when he pleased, and
permitted them to depart when he thought good."
Romanticism and modern revivals
Celtic revival and Neo-Druidism
From the 18th century, England and Wales experienced a revival of
interest in the druids.
John Aubrey (1626–1697) had been the first
modern writer to (incorrectly) connect
Stonehenge and other megalithic
monuments with the druids; since Aubrey's views were confined to his
notebooks, the first wide audience for this idea were readers of
William Stukeley (1687–1765). It is incorrectly believed that
John Toland (1670–1722) founded the
Ancient Druid Order
Ancient Druid Order however the
research of historian
Ronald Hutton has revealed that the ADO was
founded by George Watson MacGregor Reid in 1909. The
order never used (and still does not use) the title "ArchDruid" for
any member, but falsely credited
William Blake as having been its
"Chosen Chief" from 1799 to 1827, without corroboration in Blake's
numerous writings or among modern Blake scholars. Blake's bardic
mysticism derives instead from the pseudo-Ossianic epics of
Macpherson; his friend Frederick Tatham's depiction of Blake's
imagination, "clothing itself in the dark stole of moral sanctity"—
in the precincts of Westminster Abbey— "it dwelt amid the druid
terrors", is generic rather than specifically neo-druidic. John
Toland was fascinated by Aubrey's
Stonehenge theories, and wrote his
own book about the monument without crediting Aubrey. The roles of
bards in 10th century Wales had been established by
Hywel Dda and it
was during the 18th century that the idea arose that druids had been
The 19th-century idea, gained from uncritical reading of the Gallic
Wars, that under cultural-military pressure from Rome the druids
formed the core of 1st-century BCE resistance among the Gauls, was
examined and dismissed before World War II, though it remains
current in folk history.
Druids began to figure widely in popular culture with the first advent
of Romanticism. Chateaubriand's novel Les Martyrs (1809) narrated the
doomed love of a druid priestess and a Roman soldier; though
Chateaubriand's theme was the triumph of Christianity over pagan
druids, the setting was to continue to bear fruit.
Opera provides a
barometer of well-informed popular European culture in the early 19th
century: in 1817
Giovanni Pacini brought druids to the stage in
Trieste with an opera to a libretto by
Felice Romani about a druid
priestess, La Sacerdotessa d'
Irminsul ("The Priestess of Irminsul").
The most famous druidic opera, Vincenzo Bellini's Norma was a fiasco
at La Scala, when it premiered the day after Christmas, 1831; but in
1833 it was a hit in London. For its libretto,
Felice Romani reused
some of the pseudo-druidical background of La Sacerdotessa to provide
colour to a standard theatrical conflict of love and duty. The story
was similar to that of Medea, as it had recently been recast for a
popular Parisian play by Alexandre Soumet: the chaste goddess (casta
diva) addressed in Norma's hit aria is the moon goddess, worshipped in
the "grove of the Irmin statue".
Edward Williams, known for his bardic name; Iolo Morganwg
A central figure in 19th century Romanticist, Neo-druid revival, is
the Welshman Edward Williams, better known as Iolo Morganwg. His
writings, published posthumously as The Iolo Manuscripts (1849) and
Barddas (1862), are not considered credible by contemporary scholars.
Williams claimed to have collected ancient knowledge in a "
Bards of the Isles of Britain" he had organized. Many scholars deem
part or all of Williams's work to be fabrication, and purportedly many
of the documents are of his own fabrication, but a large portion of
the work has indeed been collected from meso-pagan sources dating from
as far back as 600 CE. Regardless, it has become
impossible to separate the original source material from the
fabricated work, and while bits and pieces of the Barddas still turn
up in some "Neo-Druidic" works, the documents are considered
irrelevant by most scholars.
Another Welshman, William Price (4 March 1800 – 23 January 1893), a
physician known for his support of Welsh nationalism, Chartism, and
his involvement with the Neo-Druidic religious movement, has been
recognised as a significant figures of 19th-century Wales. He was
arrested for cremating his deceased son, a practice he believed to be
a druid ritual, but won his case; this in turn led to the 1902
T. D. Kendrick sought to dispel the pseudo-historical aura
that had accrued to druids, asserting that "a prodigious amount of
rubbish has been written about Druidism"; Neo-druidism has
nevertheless continued to shape public perceptions of the historical
Some strands of contemporary
Neo-Druidism are a continuation of the
18th-century revival and thus are built largely around writings
produced in the 18th century and after by second-hand sources and
theorists. Some are monotheistic. Others, such as the largest druid
group in the world, The
Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids draw on a
wide range of sources for their teachings. Members of such Neo-Druid
groups may be Neopagan, occultist, Christian or non-specifically
In the 20th century, as new forms of textual criticism and
archaeological methods were developed, allowing for greater accuracy
in understanding the past, various historians and archaeologists
published books on the subject of the druids and came to their own
conclusions. The archaeologist Stuart Piggott, author of The Druids
(1968), accepted the Greco-Roman accounts and considered the druids to
be a barbaric and savage priesthood who performed human
sacrifices. This view was largely supported by another
archaeologist, Anne Ross, author of Pagan Celtic Britain (1967) and
The Life and Death of a
Druid Prince (1989), although she believed
that they were essentially tribal priests, having more in common with
the shamans of tribal societies than with the classical
philosophers. Ross' views were largely accepted by two other
prominent archaeologists to write on the subject, Miranda
Aldhouse-Green—author of The Gods of the
Celts (1986), Exploring
the World of the Druids (1997) and Caesar's Druids: Story of an
Ancient Priesthood (2010)—and Barry Cunliffe, author of Iron Age
Communities in Britain (1991) and The Ancient
^ Antiquitas explanatione et schematibus illustrata vol. ii, part ii,
book v. (p. 436). Montfaucon claims that he is reproducing a
bas-relief found at Autun, Burgundy.
^ a b
Cicero 44. I.XVI.90.
^ Tacitus. XIV.30.
^ Pliny c.78. XVI.249.
^ Mac Mathúna, Liam (1999) "Irish Perceptions of the Cosmos" Celtica,
vol. 23 (1999), 174–187 (p. 181).
^ Hutton 2009. pp. 32–37.
^ "The Druids". The British Museum. Archived from the original on
2015-02-25. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
^ a b Piggott 1968. p. 89.
^ Druides, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A
Latin Dictionary, on
^ a b c d e Caroline aan de Wiel, "Druids  the word", in Celtic
^ Δρουίδης, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A
Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus.
^ Pokorny's Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, see also
American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.), Δρυίδης.
^ Proto-IE *deru-, a cognate to English tree, is the word for "oak",
though the root has a wider array of meanings related to "to be firm,
solid, steadfast" (whence e.g. English true). The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition, 2000 Indo-European
^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth
Edition, 2000 Indo-European Roots: weid-.
^ δρῦς, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, on Perseus project.
^ List of ancient Greek words ending in -ιδης, on Perseus.
^ See further Brian Ó Cuív, "Some Gaelic traditions about the wren".
Éigse 18 (1980): pp. 43–66.
^ There are nine surviving gorget collars, seven in the National
Museum of Ireland, all dating from the late Bronze Age, 800–700 BCE.
Wallace, Patrick F., O'Floinn, Raghnall eds. Treasures of the National
Museum of Ireland: Irish Antiquities, 2002, Gill & Macmillan,
Dublin, ISBN 0-7171-2829-6, pp. 88–89, 100–101.
^ a b c Caesar, Julius. De bello gallico. VI.13–18.
^ Hutton 2007. pp. 44–45.
Pomponius Mela iii.2.18–19.
Gallic Wars vi.14.3.
^ Reports of druids performing human sacrifice are found in the works
of Lucan, Pharsalia i.450-58; Caesar,
Gallic Wars vi.16, 17.3-5;
Claudius 25; Cicero, Pro Font. 31; Cicero, De Rep. 9
(15);cited after Norman J. DeWitt, "The Druids and Romanization"
Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association
69 (1938:319-332) p. 321, note 4.
^ Brunaux, Jean-Louis (2001). "Gallic Blood Rites" in Archaeology
^ Brunaux, Jean-Louis (2002). "Le Santuaire gaulois de
Gournay-sur-Aronde" in Bulletin 56 of the Archaeological and
Historical Company of Boulounge-Conchy-Hainvillers.
^ Hutton, Ronald, The Druids (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007 pp.
^ Rives, J. (1995). "Human
Sacrifice among Pagans and Christians" in
Journal of Roman Studies, p. 85.
^ Chadwick 1966. pp. xviii, 28, 91.
^ a b Diodorus Siculus. Bibliotheca historicae. V.21–22.
^ Donald A.Mackenzie, Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain (1928:21).
^ Isaac Bonewits, Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism, Citadel,
^ Heroic Romances of Ireland. I. Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved December
^ Also spelled Amairgin, Amorgen, Aimhirghin
Lebor Gabála Érenn
Lebor Gabála Érenn §65-95
^ Maighréad C. Ní Dobs, "Tochomlad mac Miledh a hEspain i nErind: no
Cath Tailten?" Études Celtiques v.II, Paris: Librairie E. Droz, 1937
^ Geoffrey Keating, Foas Feasa ar Éirinn 1.21, 22, 23
Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL). Royal Irish Academy
(RIA). Retrieved 11 February 2016. 1c: "dialt feminine
declension, Auraic. 1830. bandruí druidess; female skilled in magic
arts: tri ferdruid ┐ tri bandrúid, TBC 2402 = dī (leg. tri) drúid
insin ┐ a teóra mná, TBC² 1767."
^ a b Parkes, "Fosterage, Kinship, & Legend", Cambridge University
Press, Comparative Studies in Society and History (2004), 46: pp.
^ a b Jones, Mary. "
The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn mac Cumhaill". From
maryjones.us. Retrieved July 22, 2008.
^ a b c d MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology.
London: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-860967-1. *page numbers needed*
^ O'Donovan, John (ed. & trans.), Annala Rioghachta Éireann:
Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters Vol. 1, 1856, pp.
18–21, footnote S
^ T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911, pp.
^ Gwynn, Edward (Ed) (1906). The
Metrical Dindshenchas volume 3
^ O'Boyle, p. 150.
^ MacCulloch, J. A. The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Auckland,
N.Z.]: Floating Press, 2009. p. 405
Pomponius Mela De Chorographia, edited by Parthey, iii, chap. 6 (p,
^ Courthope, William John. A History of English Poetry, by W.J.
Courthope. London: Macmillan, 1897. p. 116
^ Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx. Clarendon Press, 1901.
- Chapter V: The Fenodyree and his Friends
^ Piggott 1975. p. 91.
^ Piggott 1975. pp. 91–92.
^ Piggott 1975. p. 92.
^ a b Aldhouse-Green 2010. p. xv.
^ Diogenes Laertius. Vitae. Introduction, section 1.
Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers: Thales, translated by
C.D. Yonge". classicpersuasion.org.
^ Twenty references were presented in tabular form by Jane Webster,
"At the End of the World: Druidic and Other Revitalization Movements
Gaul and Britain" Britannia 30 (1999:1–20):2–4.
^ de Coulanges, Fustel (1891). La Gaule romaine. Paris. Page 03.
^ Hutton 2009. pp. 04–05.
^ Dunham, Sean B. (1995). "Caesar's Perception of Gallic Social
Structures" in Celtic Chiefdom, Celtic State (Eds: Bettina Arnold and
D. Blair Gibson). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; endorsed by
Maier, Bernhard (2003). The Celts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press. Pp. 65–66.
^ Nash, Daphne (1976). "Reconstructing Posidonius's Celtic
Ethnography" in Britannia 7. Page 126.
^ DeWitt 1938:324f.
^ Creighton, "Visions of power: imagery and symbols in Late Iron Age
Britain" Britannia 26 (1995: pp. 285–301; especially p. 296f).
^ e.g. Jane Webster, in "At the End of the World: Druidic and Other
Revitalization Movements in Post-Conquest
Gaul and Britain" Britannia
30 (1999: pp. 1–20 and full bibliography).
^ Skull and crown of the 'Deal Warrior'
^ Hutton 2009. p. 05.
^ Strabo. Geographica. IV.4.4–5.
^ Tacitus. 14.30.
^ Rutherford 1978. p. 45.
Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL). Royal Irish Academy
(RIA). Retrieved 11 February 2016.
^ Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 59–60.
^ Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, p. 60.
^ Hutton 2009. p. 47.
British Museum collection database, "spoon, 1856,0701.1369".
^ Ashmolean pair at Google Cultural Institute
^ Webster 1999:6.
^ Fitzpatrick, A.P. (1996). "Night and Day: the symbolism of astral
signs on Late Iron Age anthropomorphic short swords". Proceedings of
the Prehistoric Society. 62: 373–98.
^ Anne Ross (1986). "
Lindow Man and the Celtic tradition", in Lindow
Man; The Body in the Bog (eds: I.M. Stead, J.B. Bourke and D.
Brothwell), pp. 162–69.
^ Anne Ross and Don Robins (1989) The Life and Death of a Druid
^ "The Druids". 20 September 2012.
British Museum Highlights, Skull and crown of the 'Deal Warrior'
^ Pliny. XXX.13.
^ Suetonius. Claudius. XXV.5.
^ Freeman, Phillip, War, Women & Druids: Eyewitness Reports and
Early Accounts, University of Texas Press,
ISBN 978-0-292-72545-4, pp. 49–50.
^ The modern career of this imagined connection of druids and
Stonehenge was traced and dispelled in T. D. Kendrick, The Druids: A
Study in Keltic Prehistory (London: Methuen) 1927.
^ Tatham is quoted by C. H. Collins Baker, "William Blake, Painter",
The Huntington Library Bulletin, No. 10 [October 1936:135-148] p. 139.
^ "Ancient Druids of Wales", National Museum of Wales
^ Norman J. DeWitt, "The Druids and Romanization" Transactions and
Proceedings of the American Philological Association 69
(1938:319–332): "Few historians now believe that the Druids, as a
corporation, constituted an effective anti-Roman element during the
period of Caesar's conquests and in the period of early Roman Gaul;"
his inspection of the seemingly contradictory literary sources
reinforced the stated conclusion.
^ "Price, William, Dr, (Llantrisant), papers". Archives Network Wales.
May 2003. Retrieved 2006-09-27.
^ Powell 2005. p. 3.
^ Hutton 2009. p. 253.
^ T. D. Kendrick, The Druids: A Study in Keltic Prehistory (London:
^ Kendrick 1927:viii.
^ Piggott 1968. pp. 92–98.
^ Ross 1967. pp. 52–56.
^ Aldhouse-Green 1997. pp. 31–33.
^ Cunliffe 2005. pp. 518–520.
Cicero. De Divinatione. 44 CE.
Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia. c.78 CE.
Tacitus. Annales. Second century CE.
Aldhouse-Green, Miranda (1997). Exploring the World of the Druids.
London: Thames and Hudson.
Chadwick, Nora (1966). The Druids. Cardiff: University of Wales
Cunliffe, Barry (2005). Iron Age Communities in Britain: An account of
England, Scotland and Wales from the seventh century BC until the
Roman Conquest (Fourth Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
Hutton, Ronald (1991). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British
Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford: Blackwell.
Hutton, Ronald (2007). The Druids. London: Hambledon Continuum.
Hutton, Ronald (2009). Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids
in Britain. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.
Rutherford, Ward (1978). The Druids and their Heritage. London: Gordon
& Cremonesi. ISBN 978-0-86033-067-7.
Ross, Anne (1967). Pagan Celtic Britain. London: Routledge.
Piggott, Stuart (1968). The Druids. London: Thames and Hudson.
Celtic pagan practices
ritual of oak and mistletoe
Celtic sacred trees
Dálriata / Alba
Iron Age Britain /
Roman Britain / Sub-Roman Britain
Roman Gaul / Brittany
Brigantia (ancient region)
Warfare (Gaelic warfare)
Modern Celtic nations
Pan-Celticism (Celtic Congress
English words of Celtic origin
Spanish words of Celtic origin
Galician words of Celtic origin
French words of Gaulish origin