What’s the idea?
Celtic Druids are a key part of the Summer Solstice celebrations. Learn about this ancient religion and present-day practices.
What’s the story?
My friend is a Celtic Druid. I met him at a Summer Solstice festival in Northern Scotland when I was a student.
He was conducting a hand-fasting ceremony which has been traditionally carried out by Druids for centuries.
Hand-fasting is a betrothal ceremony that lasts for a year and a day.
After that time the lady gets to choose whether she wants the partnership to become more permanent.
During this symbolic ritual, the couple stand face to face and their hands are tied together – hence the phrase “tying the knot”.
It was such an interesting day. I spoke to him afterwards to learn more about Druids and we became firm friends.
People should do this because…?
Celtic Druids are part of our Celtic history and are extremely cool.
We can all learn from their practices in these industrial times to help us reconnect with nature.
What are Celtic Druids?
Ancient Roman texts show the Druids as Celtic religious leaders and philosophers.
In Ireland, they were known as sorcerers and mystics.
However, the real truth is the druids are shrouded in misunderstanding, myth and mystery.
We actually know very little about them.
So most people have relied on biased writings from ancient Greek and Roman authors.
Firstly, the issue with druid history is the lack of trustworthy evidence.
During the Roman Empire, there were several reports related to the druids written by generals and emperors…the most famous being Julius Caesar.
However, these texts are notoriously biased towards the winners (the Romans)
They often painted the druids as power-crazed savages who regularly practised human sacrifice to evil gods.
Secondly, is the lack of Archaeological evidence.
Druids only wore clothes and used tools made of natural materials.
So virtually no archaeological evidence survives.
Luckily for us, the Celtic tradition of passing on knowledge through the spoken word.
This means that we have tales from folklore that relate to the life of the druids.
The Druid’s role
The word Druid comes from a Gaulish word “Druwits” meaning oak-knower – an elite Celtic religious order.
Their main role was to interpret the meaning of the many nature gods their tribe worshipped.
They also carried out the public & private sacrifices necessary to keep the gods happy.
Their preferred method of sacrifice was building a large wicker man, filling it with offerings and then burning it…and yes, some of them may have been human sacrifices!
Additionally, they acted as astronomers, astrologers, fortune-tellers, judges, healers, scholars, story-tellers and mediators in local disputes.
Druids would begin their studies as children and would learn all their knowledge through word of mouth.
This was because the druidic knowledge was thought too sacred to be written down.
They saw the time of the tide, the changing of the seasons, water of fast-flowing streams, the Oak and Mistletoe to have magical powers.
The moon, the sun and the stars were an especially important part of their ceremonies, which took place in ancient woodlands and groves.
They represented a very powerful, highly honoured and well-educated group in Celtic society.
Even tribal kings were often not allowed to take a path of action until they had consulted the druids first and gained their approval.
Julius Caesar encountered the Druids during his conquest of Gaul from 58 BC to 49 BC – they were the only group powerful enough to organise an opposition to Roman rule throughout the Celtic tribes.
Despite the fact that by 43 AD the druids were outlawed, they still remained a strong presence in what was left of the Briton resistance movement against the Roman empire for the next 17 years.
Then in AD 60, after been driven back to their stronghold in Anglesey, North Wales they made their last stand.
Led by General Paulinus, a sizeable Roman force defeated the Celts and killed most of the druids.
Those who remained alive fled to Ireland, and the magical arts of the druids went underground.
Druid interesting facts
- Druids believed in reincarnation
- During the Roman occupation of the UK, some Druids learnt to speak and read Latin
- Druids used to predict the future using animal entrails
Modern-day Celtic Druids
While ancient Druids were the hub of their community, modern-day Druids tend to be more private.
Many now practice alone or they will join an Order.
Groups of druids who have joined together do so to learn, share and support each other.
Being a Druid does not mean rejecting more modern religions.
In fact, there are Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids and so on, all connected by a love for nature.
The main way of practising is by observing their 8 Holy Days. Here are 4 of the most well-known ones:
The main Druidic celebration is ‘Samhain’ which is Gaelic for summers end. This marks the start of the Celtic year, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.
Its the most important feast in the Celtic calendar and is celebrated from sunset of October 31st to Sunrise November 1st.
Imbolc, also called St. Brighid’s Day
Celebrated on the 1st February – and stands between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox
Its celebrates the beginning of Spring
Celebrated on 1st May is the Gaelic May Day. This is also celebrated by non- Druids today in many rural areas still.
Litha or Summer Solstice
This is probably the most well-known of their holy days due to the Stonehenge gathering.
Litha celebrates the longest day of the year.
Litha is a day when farmers would ask the goddesses and gods for blessings on their cattle and crops.
The Earth becomes fertile so this is a time for joy & celebration of achievements.
Celebrations are usually held on hilltops and conducted with a fire ritual and bonfire as the central feature.
The bonfire really represents a reflection of the Sun at the peak of its strength.
Some modern Druids may scatter pieces of Oak and aromatic herbs into the fire as offerings.
Others may jump through the flames for good luck.
Litha is also considered a good time to practice love magic or get married.
Being a Druid
Druids who regularly practice follow a code of conduct:
- Maintain a level of integrity and always tell the truth.
- Be open and welcome to all people who want to attend ceremonies or train as a Druid
- Honour nature and do your best to stay ecologically aware through your living practices
- Service -Try and do good in the community
- Magic – Druids are traditionally related to casting nature spells. Although this isn’t common practice anymore some Druids still cast spells to benefit people and nature.
- Worshipping the traditional Celtic gods. Although some druids now see Druisim as philosophy, others still observe the ritual and offerings to the traditional gods.
If a Druid is a member of an order they will sometimes undertake Druidic study with the Order.
The lessons are called Gwersi and they are graded as follows:
- Bards (Poets, musicians, storytellers and artists)
- Ovates (Magical arts, healers, mystics and shaman)
- Druids (Leaders, judges, priests and teachers)