What did the Ancient Druids Believe?


Dr. Brendan Myers investigates 'What Did The Ancient Druids Believe', and shares this with the Druidic community.

If the web resource below is not being displayed as intended by the site's authors, please click on this link to connect to the web resource in a separate window.

Druidic Dawn is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Origin: http://www.wildideas.net/cathbad/pagan/dr-guide4.html#18


A complete and full answer to this question is beyond the scope of this book, for it is not a thing easily summarised in a few lines. Your humble author has been attempting to decipher this problem for over twelve years. Perhaps an outline of some of the important points will suffice.

An Irish triad reads: "Three candles that illuminate every darkness: Knowledge, Nature, Truth". This is one of hundreds of Triads that impart wisdom for many aspects of life, both spiritual and mundane, but this one is the author's first best choice for a simple description of the highest good in Druidism.

The most prominent teaching attributed to the Druids by Roman writers was the belief that the human soul is immortal. Some writers attribute to Druids the Pythagorean belief in reincarnation. Others claim that the Druids taught that the soul is reborn in an otherworldly afterlife that is much the same as this one. The belief in immortality was so strong that people could put off repayment of debts to the afterlife. However there is no indication that the Druids believed in Karma, as the Hindu people did.

The Druids taught that there exists a spiritual Otherworld, that is sometimes accessible to us, and particularly close at certain times of the year, like at Samhain. There is a great sense of connection and continuity between life and death, such that the ancient Celts did not fear death, but instead viewed it as a transition phase in the course of a long, even eternal, life. There is also no division between an Underworld and an Upperworld (although, in Welsh Druidism, perhaps a case can be made for Annwn as an Underworld and Caer Arianrhod as an upperworld). Thus, the entities which live in the Otherworld have no moral bias; they are neither good nor evil, like ourselves, but what is spiritual about them is that they exist.

The Druidic beliefs regarding deities is also a complicated problem. The feature that all Gods share, which makes them distinct from mortals, is that they are descended from a particular divine ancestor. In the case of the Irish, that ancestor deity is the Goddess Danu, and so the pantheon of Irish Gods are called Tuatha de Dannann, meaning "Tribe of Danu". The Celtic Gods are inseparable from the environment in which they live, so much that it is difficult to categorise them neatly into areas of particular concern (that is to say, it is difficult to say what each deity is "god of"). As the Druids looked upon nature and saw it populated with spirits, goddesses, and gods, it is safe to speculate that they regarded nature as sacred and divine.

Fire-worship is central to Celtic religion as well, as it certainly played a role in the four annual Fire Festivals. The centrality of fire is another point at which Celtic and Hindu religions correlate. Fire is a spiritual force unto itself, and it is not bound into a cosmology of four equally necessary elements, as the Greeks are known to have done. Fire possesses the magical properties of both destructiveness and cleansing, bringing heat and energy and with it civilisation. Poetic inspiration is said to be a fire in the head, which is why Brighid is a deity of poets and of fire. The ritual "need fire" ignited on holy days demonstrates the high spiritual regard the Celts had for fire, which was their main source of energy in a time without electricity, and without matches!

Druidic mythology points to knowledge as the key to self awareness, symbolised by certain mythological holy-places of great importance that are associated with wisdom, such as the Well of Wisdom (auspiciously located at the centre of the world), the Spiral of Annwyn, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen. Mythic places are inaccessible but also not inaccessible, for it requires a leap of faith to find them; the Well of Wisdom is at the bottom of the ocean, but to Sea Gods like Manannan, who are capable of that magical leap, the ocean is as the sky. That leap of faith is often found in the moment of poetic inspiration.

As Druids were also required to be the professionals of their society, the skills they had were meant for the benefit of the tribe each Druid worked for. A Druid was expected to use her divination skills and her sight of otherworldly things for many essential and pragmatic purposes, such as: advising the tribe chiefs as they make policy, settling disputes and legal claims, and announcing the beginning of agricultural seasons such as planting, harvesting, and hunting. Druids were involved in stage-of-life rituals such as childbirth, maturity, marriage, and death. In times of war a Druids skills were needed to learn about the enemy's movements and plans, and also to call elemental powers to the aid of the tribe; alternately, the Druids could put an end to an unjust war (a power for which there is a great deal of evidence). A Druid's skills belonged to her tribe and not to herself alone. In this way the Druid was an inseparable part of a Celtic tribe's life and necessary for the tribe's continued survival and welfare. In these days of mechanised farming, atomic-clock timekeeping, and satellite weather forecasting, it is difficult to grasp how the mysterious religion of the Druids, and of other ancient priesthoods, was not merely abstract, intellectual, and theoretical.

The moral and ethical position of Druidism is also difficult to describe. There is some textual reference to old Celtic morality in the myths, such as the instructions of great heroes and kings to their students; Cu Chullain, Fionn Mac Cumhall, Cormac Mac Art, and others gave "advice speeches" to their juniors that survive to this day. They are characterised by a great interest in justice, honour, and fair play, and emphasise that each person is responsible for her own conduct, not determinist forces like fate or the will of gods. The Fianna hero Oisin gives us this famous statement of Celtic ethics which I shall name Oisin's Answer, because it is how he answered St. Patrick's question of what kept the Fianna together: "It is what sustained us though our days, the truth that was in our hearts, and strength in our arms, and fulfilment in our tongues."

Copyright 1998 by Brendan Cathbad Myers. All rights reserved.

Dr Brendan Myers, druid beliefs, ancient druids,