A Druid was a part of the learned class amongst the ancient Celts. They were priests, teachers and judges. The earliest known records of the Druids are from the 3rd century BCE. Their name could have been derived from a Celtic word which means “knower of the oak tree.” Not a lot is known for sure about the Druids who did not keep records of their own.
According to Julius Caesar, who is the main source of information around the Druids, there were two groupings of men in Gaul who were held in esteem, the Druids and the noblemen (equites). Caesar said that the Druids took the lead in public and private sacrifices. A lot of young men went to them for instruction. They judged all public and private disputes and decreed penalties. If anyone did not obey their decree, he was barred from sacrifice, which was considered to be the most serious of punishments.
One Druid was made the chief and upon his death, another was appointed. If, however, a number were equal in merit, the Druids voted, even though they sometimes resorted to armed violence. Once a year the Druids collected at a holy place in the territory of the Carnutes, which was supposed to be the centre of all Gaul. All legal disagreements were submitted there to the judgment of the Druids.
All facets of Druidism were well organised and ordered from the chain of command of the Druid class, to their pattern of life which followed nature’s cycles. They studied lunar, solar and seasonal phases and worshipped according to these on eight main holy days.
Druids Celebrate New Year On Samhain
This is the day that we call Halloween (31st October), and like the Melbourne Cup it’s celebrated every year. Samhain was when the last harvest would take place. It was a day that is full of mysticism and spirituality as the living and the dead were the closest to being revealed to each other than on any other day.
Yule was the winter solstice, which was a time when Druids would sit on mounds of earth, for instance at New Grange in Ireland, during the night, patiently waiting for sunrise, when they would be reborn.
Imbolc (2nd February) involved utilising sheep’s milk by way of celebrating motherhood. Ostara was the spring equinox and then Beltane took place on 30th April as a festival of fertility. Litha was the summer solstice, which was a time when they believed that the ‘holly king’ took over from the ‘oak king’ of Yule.
Lughnasa was the first harvest on 2nd August and Mabon was the autumnal equinox. After this the cycle of holy days would repeat itself again, showing the cycles of nature, planets and indeed life itself, as the Druids believed in reincarnation. Also, they believed that sins committed in a previous life could be made up for in the next.
How Widespread Was Druidism?
Scholars are not certain about how widespread Druidism was in the ancient world. It certainly thrived in the British Isles and Gaul. Caesar claimed that Druidism first came from Britain and that those who wanted to study it in depth travelled there.