We will be talking about the Ancient Gaulish Druids (Druis) which are not the Ancient Irish Druids (Drui), Modern Druids or any of the revival periods.
The knowledge we have is from the Classical Commentaries who are Roman and Greek writers mostly from around the 1st century.
What the Ancient Druids are not
- They were not Wizards
- They were not Shamans
- They are not connected to Witchcraft
- They are not connected to the Occult
- It is not a secret school passed down thru the ages
- They are not connected to Freemasons
- There is no secret language or archaic alphabet
- They are not connected to other Groups from around the world (They might share similar themes but they are not the same)
- The idea that the Druids taught a secret doctrine monotheism, pantheism, or the like is unsupported.
- They are not from Atlantis
The word Druid
The Word Druidae was first recorded by Diogenes Laertius A Greek writer from the 3 rd century AD. In his writings, he is referencing older sources like those from Epicurus, Solon of Athens and Periander of Corinth along with Quoting Aristotle and Sotion of Alexandria. Keep in mind: Aristotle’s works Magicus was not written by him but by an Anonymous Greek writer in 200bc.
Linguists still do not agree on the meaning of Druidae but they do agree that it is of Celtic origins.
There are many theories of where the word Druidae comes from, here are a few:
Pliny the Elder and Strabo both think that it was a cognate of a Greek word meaning an ‘Oak’ (Drus).
Mrs. Chadwick suggests it could have originated in a nickname derived from the oak forests – which Pliny associated with them, so the word could mean something like ‘Backwoodsmen’.
Other leading etymologists seem to think the word derives from the root words
Dru – Meaning Oak Knowledge
Wid – Meaning ‘to Know – to see’ (like vid in the Vedas)
A close meaning of the word Druid:
‘Those whose Knowledge is Great’
Let’s take a side trip into the forest for a moment
There is more than a little speculation that The Druids have their origins in the food gathering age
(i.e. The Hunter-Gatherer Era)
Before farming, agriculture, and domestication of animals – people relied only on the foraging of berries, insects, nuts, hunting, and fishing of wild game – traveling far and wide constantly.
Early Indo-Europeans learned of many things in the forest. Learning what tress did served the needs of the peoples. Knowing what lives in/on or near certain trees, plants,insects, mushrooms grow with which trees.
They learned the most useful and hardiest of the trees were Oak.
We can envision early people coming across the forest seeking shelter in its thick canopies. Learning from the Oak as if it was there teacher and provider. Learning to gather the acorns and making bread (along with countless other things) from the acorn – as Pliny mentions. It was easy to gather for nourishment in hard times.
Publius Ovidius Naso wrote it was the first food given to humans when they dropped from the great tree of the sky god Jove/Jupiter.
Strabo also speaks of the Celts of Iberia as acorn bread was a staple to their diet.
The oak was more than just food! They learned to harvest the wood for fires, make dwellings and for tools.
The Indo-Europeans’ veneration of this mighty tree came with a group of people (the wise ones of the oak).
To have knowledge of the trees was to have wisdom and survival skills. That was a lot in those times – to understand something like this meant the survival of your clan or tribe and I can see it as something people looked up to.
Using these references – we could say the druids were the intellectual people that the tribe relied upon for survival, teaching them Oak knowledge.
None of these are fantastical thoughts – it is basic.
The Functions In Gaulish Society
We can not be certain of how the Druids fit within the Gaulish structure. Yet, we do know of their importance in it. Some older texts only refer to Druids but not Bards and Vates. This could imply that they were all one. It also could be said that the writers did not fully understand the differences.
As we know, the tribes had seers and priests within their structure. The Gaulish seeress was called a Uelitâ they were a certain kind of priestess. We also have a kind of priest – Gutuater (Master of Voice) and they were elected religious officials. Based upon inscriptions and references from Caesar, could these have been a sub-division of the Druids? One can only speculate. Some writers might have thought that some of these class/social structures were a part of the Druids. Maybe they were, or maybe they all were just Druids. This is the focus of what is written down.
The source for Timagenes, Strabo, and Diodorus. Poseidonios wandered around Gaulish society absorbing the roles and functions of the Druids as a Caste within the society. They served as Intellectuals a learned class within Gaulish society.
Among all the Gallic peoples, there are three sets of men who are held in exceptional honor: the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids. The Bards are singers and poets; the Vates, diviners and natural philosophers; while the Druids, in addition to natural philosophy, as well as study moral philosophy.
No, Caesar does not mention the Bards and Vates he refers to all as the Druids. Is he including them all as Druids – I think so?
Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Ammianus Marcellinus all mention the Bard.
Diodorus Siculus says among them [the Gauls] composers of verses whom they call Bards; they sing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others.
Strabo states they are the singers and poets.
Ammianus Marcellinus states that attention to the gentler arts became commoner, a study introduced by the Bards. It was the custom of the Bards to celebrate the brave deeds of their famous men in epic verse accompanied by the sweet strain of the lyre.
Strabo mentions the Vates by name.
Diodorus Siculus mentions sooth-sayers, not Vates but we can assume he is referring to the functions of the Vates.
Ammianus Marcellinus does not mention them by name using the Word Euhsges instead.
Strabo claims the Vates, diviners and natural philosophers.
Diodorus Siculus says they have sooth-sayers of great renown that tell the future by the flights of birds and by observing the entrails of people. In times of peace and war, these seers have authority.
Ammianus Marcellinus Euhages strove to explain the high mysteries of nature.
We have quite a few that mention the Druids. Caesar, Cicero, Diodorus Siculus, Diogenes Laertius, Strabo, Ammianus Marcellinus, Suetonius, Pomponius Mela, Lucan, Pliny, and Tacitus.
Caesar says Druids have the highest authority. They
are concerned with divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices, public and private, and the interpretation of ritual.
The people obey the decisions and judgments of the Druids. As it is they that decide all disputes public and private.
Cicero says that he knew of a Druid called Divitiacus. He claimed to have knowledge of nature. He made predictions by augury and conjecture.
Diodorus Siculus says the Druids are philosophers and theologians that are held with much honor.
Diogenes Laertius says the Druids make their pronouncements by means of riddles and dark sayings, teaching that the gods must be worshipped, and no evil is done, and manly behavior maintained.
Strabo says they are the most just of men and that they studied natural and moral philosophy. He mentions none would sacrifice without a Druid present.
Ammianus Marcellinus says they are men of the greatest talent saying they were uplifted by searching into secret and sublime things.
Pomponius Mela says they have teachers of wisdom called Druids. They profess to know the size and shape of the world, the movements of the heavens and of the stars, and the will of the gods.
Pliny says the Druids are called Magicians.
While we don’t have elaborate documentation on the secular beliefs of the Druids. We do have a few details to go by based on the early writings – hinting at a few things.
Diogenes Laertius giving us a basic Druid code/law. It states the gods must be worshipped, and no evil is done, and manly behavior maintained.
Ammianus Marcellinus, Pomonius Mela, Diodorus Siculus, and Caesar all mention that they believe in reincarnation and that the soul was immortal.
One could assume that basic Gaulish religion was Druid religion as well.
To be Continued