Actual records concerning the Druids, their beliefs and religion are rare and precious. What we believe to be true today may be built on conjecture, imagination or the few actual facts we have. Viking hats never had horns on them! I leave the decision to believe or not to believe, accept or not to accept, in your hands, as my beliefs are in mine own hands.
My thoughts about myths are here. My thoughts about being a Christian and and following the Druids ways are here.
"Their religion was dark and superstitious, malignant spirits, goblins and elves." Ho ho.
The intellect class of the Celts were the Druids, the 'professionals,' being the judges, lawyers, doctors, historians, genealogists, astrologers, astronomers, philosophers, bards and priests. They were the most trusted of all men who studied sciences as well as philosophy, and a highly organized society. Druids were called the teachers of wisdom. They were privileged, exempt from serving in the military and taxes and had no territorial boundaries.
Druids are referred to only in texts of Celts in Gaul and Britain, never from any of the outlying tribes. Irish tradition states the Bards took over the positions usually held by Druids. Gwydion vab Don is said to have been the most famous, the best story teller, as well as a great magician and shapeshifter.
Druids were appointed by the Celts, and any action or plan by a king required guidance from a Druid.
Druids taught in triads and the basis of their teachings and philosophy was
'honor the gods, do no evil and practise bravery.'
Other belief quotes are:
"We teach that the gods must be honoured, no injustice done and manly behaviour always maintained."
"Truth in heart, strength in arm, honesty in speech."
The word Druid is still debated. It might have come from the Greek word drus meaning oak, and the Sanskrit word vid, meaning to know or see. Interpretations of the word Druid include 'those whose knowledge is great' to 'oak knowledge.'
Classical texts refer to Druids only in Gaul and Britain, so one could assume they existed only there. However, the same texts do not mention their existence in Ireland, and we do know that the Druids were there. As Druids were the intellectual members of the Celts, we could probably safely surmise where ever you found Celts, a Druid was sure to be, underground or otherwise.
One of the highest values of the Druids was that of truth. An old Irish world for truth denotes holiness, righeousness and faithfulness in both religion and justice. Another strong belief was that of morals, a distinct right and wrong, and that moral salvation was an individual responsibility opposed to anyone accepting their lives as preordained. To die meant that anindividual was now with the truth.
Dryades or Druidesses were included in Greek and Latin writings, and although most Druids were male, evidentally female Druids existed as well.
Vates were the interpreters of sacrifice and natural philosophers.
Any individual or tribe refusing to honour a Druid's judgment was banished from taking part in the sacrifices (the most severe of punishments) and regarded as criminals to be shunned as unclean.
Druids were trained for twenty years. There appear to have been actual schools in Druidry in both Britain and Ireland. All teachings were memorized, as writing the learnings was strictly forbidden, the reason we have so very little verifiable information today.
Chatres is believed to the center of Druidism during Caesar's reign.
Caesar stated all "wise men of the oak' met at the 'navel of Gaul' to discuss affairs and settle both private and national arguments.
A murderer was killed not out of revenge but for nature's balance in that 'if a human life is not given for a human life, the ruling gods cannot be appeased.'
Once the Druids began writing in their own language the influences of Christianity were prominent and may have flavored the writings. Despite the Celtic acceptance of Christianity, which would have been adopted first by the Druids, the intellects, the Druids were still seen as the upholders of the ancient religion, contrary to Christianity, and were viewed as witch doctors, shamans, magicians, depending on the mood of those who recorded their versions.
Druids were animists, believing that gods and goddesses inhabited every natural being, feature and phenomenon. Lugus (thusly named for the light months on the calendar) was the god of light, Maponis the god of darkness, Nemetoma was the goddess of the sacred grove, and Mantosuelta was the goddess of the winding brooks.
Druids did believe in an after life. Druids believed that men's souls as well as the universe were indestructible, although fire and water may (temporarily) prevail. Druids believed in an immortal soul and in death passes to another body, reinforcing bravery against the terrors of death. If you have already died and now returned to this body, there is nothing to be afraid of!
They believed that when you died you moved onto the Otherworld, and there was a continual exchange between worlds, the borders were fluid. Likewise, a birth meant the death of someone in the Otherworld and included mourning for the soul that left the Otherworld. Evidentally they made loans to others with the repayment to take place in the Otherworld or next life. Hmm...could we work that here?
There was a gathering place for the souls of the departed, always thought to be a small island to the south west of Ireland. From there you were transported by a god to the Otherworld. The Otherworld was thought of as merely a different place than our world.
Woods, forests and groves were sacred areas, places of power and danger, playing major roles in Celtic religion. The Druid's considered settings and sanctuaries critical in their rituals, vivdly attested to by findings all over Ireland, Scotland and Europe.
Sacrifices, observed by Greeks and Romans, were bloody and dramatic. Druids stabbed their sacrificial victims and predicted the future from the death throes. Hanging, stabbing to bleed out and burning were also common. Tacitus claimed the altars in the wood at Anglesey in Wales were drenched with blood and entrails. One grave discovered in Cumbria revealed a man who had been drugged, polaxed, garrotted and buried in a bog.
The continual seach for the magic cauldron of plenty (which feeds everyone without end) and the cauldron of rebirth (in which the dead are placed to come back out alive) from the Otherworld turned into the Christian Holy Grail, but the legend of the original magic sword of Arthur is strictly Celtic.
The oak and mistletoe were most sacred, no ritual was held without them. Geese were also sacred. Mistletoe had to be grown on oak, which was rare.
Deities were both male and female. There were major deities, found throughout all the tribes, and minor deities worshiped within individual tribes. They did not believe their gods and goddesses to have human form and laughed to see the Roman's representation of gods as such. Yet the Celts believed themselves to be the descendants of gods. Their gods were often found in the standard meditation position, so like the Hindu and Buddhist religions. Celts gave their gods human form at the end of the Hallstatt era under Etruscan influence.
The number three appears regularly. Deities had three names, three aspects, three faces, three heads. The concept of the sacred number three is common to many other Indo-European religions. The Celts saw the human as body, soul and spirit. The world was divided into earth, sea and air. The divisions of nature were animal, vegetable and mineral. The cardinal colours were red, yellow and blue.
The Romans were aghast at the Celtic's taking of heads, but did not realize this was often an honor for the Celts felt the soul was reposed within the head, and keeping the head was thought to control the spirit. If an enemies head was taken, it prevented his return in another life. Evidence shows decapitation was performed after the person in question was dead.
The Druids practised divination or foretelling the future by interpreting prophetic signs, some of which came from the flight of birds, the zodiac (seraul cicho) and the stars.
Sacrifice of bulls was used to honour the gods as well as in the crowning of their kings. While human sacrifice was practised and reported by Poseidonius, supposedly to read the prophetic meaning in the death throes of the victim, other factors must be kept in mind. Compared to the savagery of the Romans, the Druid's were quite mild. Human sacrifice was done not as to appease the gods but to make the victim divine, as the sacrifice was their life.
The Druids used their own calendrical system called the Coligny Calendar, a lunar calendar in Gaulish Celtic. It is believed that the surviving bronze plates made in the first century BC used a system that originated around 1100 BC, and is quite similar to the Vedic Sanskrit system.
The calendar has a black half and a bright half to each year with the word atenvix, meaning 'renewal' in between.. There are sixty two months divided into twenty-nine or thirty nights. The thirty day months were considered good months, twenty nine day months were not so good, but the days within were also given favorable ratings. There was an extra un-named month added every five years, with days numbered for the phases of the moon.
Early Christian Celtic saints were Druids or the children of Druids. When Christainity took over, the Druids, being the intellects, were the first Celts to adopt the new beliefs, and combined both thoughts to form what we now call the Celtic Church.
The true definition of the original word myth is 'a sacred story'. Today, a myth is generally considered to be completely fiction. I put myths into two categories.
Myth: This is fiction, or could be fiction. A tale handed down so long it became quite fantastic (or was originally thus so) and there will never be anyway to support any claims to reality. Logic tell us this one is way too wild to have any substantial truth to it, although it may have at one time been close to factual. Ever play "Telephone, Telephone?"
Historical myth: Actual history occurring before the written word. Factual truth handed down, carefully, precisely from generation to generation, told a million times by a hundred bards without one change, yet never written down is now labeled myth when it simply 'unwritten' history. The Druid historians in Gaul 69 AD had exact facts concerning the Celtic defeat of the Romans in 390 BC, four hundred years earlier, despite the lack of written documentation. Hmmm.....