Druids are in many mystical stories of Prehistoric Britain. The source of the word ‘Druid’’ is not clear, however, the most popular view is that it comes from ‘doire’, which is an Irish-Gaelic word for oak tree (frequently a symbol of knowledge), also meaning ‘wisdom’. Druids were focused on the natural world and its powers, and considered trees to be sacred, specifically the oak.
Druidism can be seen as a shamanic religion because it depended on a combination of contact with the spirit world – as well as holistic medicines – in order to treat (and oftentimes cause) illnesses. They were said to have generated insanity in people and been accurate fortune tellers. A lot of their knowledge of the earth and space may have come from megalithic times.
The Pre-Druidic Period
The evidence of the religious goings-on of the prehistoric people of western Europe is notable. On the Gower Peninsula, which is near Swansea in Wales, the Paviland caves have exposed one of the very earliest magico-religious sites in the world. Here, about 26 000 years ago a group of humans cautiously buried a skeleton, covering the body in red cloth or rubbing it down with red ochre and then laying with it mammoth-ivory rods, which could be the earliest magic wands ever found.
Around 17 000 years ago the Lascaux caves in France were adorned with paintings of animals which survive to this day. The caves were nearly certainly utilised in ritualistic ways. Thousands of years after this, a classical writer claimed that Druids congregated in caves. Today, the symbolism of caves and of animals act as an encouragement for the modern Druid movement, which reveres Mother Nature, and also understands caves as symbolic of the womb, as well as of the potential for rebirth.
During this period of history, before the development of Druidry, tribes were migrating all over western Europe taking their knowledge of everything from throwing the bones to horse racing bets and other activities and endeavours with them. Some may have come from the areas which are now known as the Caucasus in southern Russia, Turkey, or even India. Wherever they came from, they brought their own religious customs and knowledge, and this would undoubtedly have been animistic and shamanistic.
The Massacre Of The Druids
After Emperor Claudius declared Druidic practices to be unlawful in AD 54, the Druids’ future in Roman Britain turned out to be more and more uncertain. In AD 61, the Romans arranged a massacre of the rebellious Druids at Anglesey, the centre of their culture, and their very last stronghold in established Britain.
As the Roman soldiers waited patiently for the tide to recede so that they could cross the Menai strait, which separate Anglesey from the mainland. The Druids maintained their position by lining up on the opposite shore and, as Tacitus says in his Annals, ‘raising up their hands to heaven and then screaming dreadful curses.’ However, curses were not sufficient. The Roman soldiers crossed the strait and won the island, demolishing both the Druids and the sacred groves of their religion.