Druidism – Old Religion


A Celtic religion, centered in Britain, which was led by priests known as Druids. Relatively little is known about the Druidic religion because the basic doctrines were kept secret. Much of what is known comes from ancient authors such as Julius Caesar. Druidism was confined to Britain and Gaul, where the Celtic society was controlled by an elite class which had three sections: Druids, Vates and Bards.

According to Caesar, Druidic power originated in Britain, which remained the center of Druidism. The only detailed account of a Druidic ritual comes from Pliny the Elder (Natural History 16:95). He describes the cutting of mistletoe with a golden sickle by a Druid in a white robe who climbed the tree on which the mistletoe grew.

The mistletoe was allowed to fall and was caught in a white cloak held by others. Pliny also refers to the sacrifice of two white bulls and gives details of the ritual for harvesting other herbs. The Druidic cult appears to have been centered around a belief that after death the soul passed to another body, either human or animal.

This not only led to the Celts being fearless in battle, but also sanctioned the human sacrifices that seem to have been part of some Druidic rituals. Criminals, captives in battle and innocent people were at times sacrificed for various purposes, such as propitiation of the gods after disasters, thanksgiving for victories and mainly for purposes of divination; the victim was enclosed in a huge wicker construction which was set on fire.

Druids were more than priests, since they controlled the warriors, and through them the rest of the people. However, they did not have a monopoly of religious power: the Vates and the Bards also had religious functions. The Druids appear to have dominated the ruling class, and to have been a unifying element between tribes, presiding over religious assemblies involving more than one tribe.

The Druids were educated and were knowledgeable in astronomy and astrology. Divination was undoubtedly part of their duties, and they were also thought to have powers over the elements and to be able to cast spells. Both Augustus and Tiberius published edicts against them, and Claudius proscribed Druidism in Gaul in 54.

In 60 there was a concerted effort to break the power of the priesthood in Britain. The reason for the persecution of the Druids was allegedly the objection of the Romans to human sacrifice. However, as a unifying force among independent tribes for Celtic resistance, the Druids were also a political threat. It is difficult to assess how much effect the suppression of the Druids and of human sacrifice had on Celtic religion.

The ample evidence for worship of Celtic gods after the suppression implies that it was the priesthood rather than the religion itself that the Romans wished to eradicate. However, in the fourth century Ausonius alludes to Druids in Aquitaine, so it is doubtful whether their suppression was ever complete.

Occult World

Taken from : Dictionary of Roman Religion by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins

Edited for the Web by Occult World

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