The Twilight Realm of Celtic Britain
The Celts themselves were a vast composite-nation; they were a tribal people who spread throughout Britain, Gaul, Ireland, & other parts of Europe, Asia Minor, & the Balkans. The Celts were united by a common culture & Druidism. Druidism is thought to have been the main part of Celtic & Gaulish culture in Europe, with the first classical reference to them in the 2nd century BC. The term Celtic refers to a culture, & not a specific country or nationality.
Celtic Culture found its way to the shores of Britain in ‘waves of invasion’, traditionally linked to the ‘myths of Atlantis’, & most notably about 400 BC – the very date that native Celtic legendary assigns to the ‘Battle of the Trees’. This date has long marked the beginning of Druidism. While the British Celtic Culture as a whole was Matriarchal by tradition, their national religion was not. The Druids were an organised order which called themselves ‘Primal Mystics’, whose magickal system was so profound, that mankind has never since ceased to ponder over them.
The Druids were famed throughout Europe & the Eastern countries for the excellence of their schools, libraries & colleges. These were considered the finest to be had, numbering in the hundreds at their peak. Supreme among these colleges, known as Cors, the institutes at: Tara (Ireland), Oxford, Anglesey & Iona.
‘The Druids were in complete possession of the engine of education. No persons were permitted to have any share in the public employment who had not been educated in their establishments. The higher class were desirous of sending their children to them for schooling, & greedy to have them admitted into the Order. Such colleges had the nature of monasteries. The youths whom the Druids educated are said to have been taken to the most secluded situations, to caves, or woods, or rocky carns, & their training not to have been completed in less than twenty years.
The young druids educated for particular or special purposes, were required to learn twenty thousand verses before their education was complete. Children of this description were not permitted to have intercourse with their parents until they turned fourteen years of age. This was evidently good policy to attach them to the Order, & to prevent the influence of natural affection from interfering with its interest. The Druids would not permit a divided empire over the minds of its members.’
They were very select, only the most promising youths were considered, usually from the upper classes or nobility. The approach of the colleges was unique, an unusual blending of natural philosophy & religion into one. Here they produced the: doctors, scientists, lawyers, & ministers, to the Celtic tribes. The Druids acted as mediators between man & the ‘gods & goddesses’ – held in awe by all. They were afforded power in keeping with that of any king.
‘The Druids are the wise & sovereign power in Celtia. All affairs of state are subject to their office & they rule with a rod of iron.
The priests draw their entire authority from supernatural sanctions.’
The Druidic Universities were grand & influential institutions in their day. This structure of education never left the British Isles, the same formula was preserved through the Christianisation of the Druidic Cors, turning them into monasteries, nunneries & eventually universities, & survive to this very day in their original places like Oxford & Cambridge.
There were three basic druidic grades, depending on what the student was destined to do in their life.
Bard – wore robes of blue, studied sacred music & poetry, the fine arts, histories & songspell - were required to learn twenty thousand verses by rote. They travelled the throughout the land, exchanging news (modern PR), preaching, diplomacy, gathering information for the administrative branches of Druidry, & preserving the best culture through prose & music.
Ovate – initial rank, sometimes honorary, these students wore green robes, studied a little bit of everything, medicine, law, astronomy, poetry & music. They also learnt administration, to write & read Greek & Latin. Akin to the ‘Liberal Arts’ curriculum of today.
Druid – Priesthood, robed in white, the colour of purity, knowledge & spiritual unity.
They were prophets, ministers, judges & lawyers. Considered the ‘most respected’ of the three ranks, they addressed the people ‘once every seven days, upon the day-of-the-SUN’. The newly evolving Christian church in the British Isles competing for the followers of Celtic tradition adopted this practice, as the original Christian practice followed the Jewish Shabbat, which is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The Druids stood facing the Sun, in ‘the eye of god…the eye of truth’ to deliver their message. The Druids were originally under strict vows not to marry. The highest ranking official was the Arch-Druid.
The Book of Pheryllt (controversial) mentions 3 Arch-Druids in Britain, all of whom resided on an island.
Dragon’s Isle – today’s ‘Isle of Wight’
Similarly the Celtic Druidry was divided into three branches.
The British Druids – the Insular Druids
The Druids of Gaul
The Irish Druids
All three had their own Arch-Druids & administration body.
They met together every three years in Britain, in what is now the New Forest, as Britain was considered the originator of all Druidry. The Arch-Druids were the only ones allowed to wear implements of gold as insignia's of rank.
The arrival of the Celts found the native people, the Brythons later the Britons, a fairly peaceful & religious minded folk, well developed in agriculture & the building of simple stone monuments to their gods & ancestors. The resultant fusion of these successive waves of invasion produced a unique tribal race, fiercely romantic yet law-loving & multi-skilled.
Each tribe kept to themselves, totally self-sufficient, with well-marked boundaries, usually defined by marriage & or blood. They came together in times of war, when the tribes allied themselves against a common enemy, or a foreign invader.
The Druidic brotherhood & the Goddess Motherhood (collectively called Druids in our modern age) traditionally kept the Celtic culture intact through their respective priesthoods, by travelling the lands between the tribes. The origin of the word ‘Druid’’ is unclear, but the most popular view is that it comes from ‘doire’, an Irish-Gaelic word for oak tree (often a symbol of knowledge), also meaning ‘wisdom’. Druids were concerned with the natural world & its powers, & considered trees sacred, particularly the oak.
The Druidic system of childhood education consisted of equal attention to both the ‘seen’ & the ‘un-seen’ worlds.
‘Children can accept both this world & the Otherworld with equal validity – adults have lost this art, & therefore the first techniques of our education must be aimed at a reconstruction of those child-like abilities.’
Book of Pheryllt
Exchanges of students & teachers between the Druidic Universities & the great libraries/colleges of Greece & Alexandria, were common.
Especially notable, is the similarity between the Greek/Orphic & Celtic/Druidic philosophy.
The Druidic Priesthood Libraries had large numbers of standard books maintained in Greek & Latin, in addition there were also many specifically Druidical works, recorded using the Ogham Tree Letters used exclusively by the Druids. In such ‘books’ each Ogham letter was represented by a single leaf from the tree bearing its name. They were strung together with others on a long cord, & kept in special ‘long-houses’, as trees were ‘of the gods’. Sacred Druidic Verse, forbidden by sacerdotal law to be represented by ‘the hand of man’.
An interesting aside, even today we still refer to pages in a book as ‘leaves’.
Druidism can be described as a shamanic religion, as it relied on a combination of contact with the spirit world & holistic medicines to treat illnesses. They were said to have been accurate fortune tellers. Some of their knowledge of the earth & space may have come from megalithic times. There is a lot of mystery shrouding the actual history of the Druids, as our knowledge is based on limited records.
Druidism lasted intact from 400 BC & through the early Roman arrivals.
Then came the Roman invasions.
In common with other regions on the edge of the Roman empire, Britain had enjoyed diplomatic & trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar's expeditions in 55 & 54 BC, & Roman economic & cultural influence was a significant part of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age, especially in the south.
In AD 54, the Emperor Claudius banned the Druids.
In AD 60, the governor of England, Suetonius, decided that the only way to proceed was to attack the known heartland of the Druids – the island of Anglesey in the hope that if the centre of the Druids was destroyed, those Druids in outlying areas would die out, which proved not to be the case.
The end of Roman rule in Britain is the period during which the Roman Empire ended its relationship with Roman Britain, the year 383 marks the end of Roman rule in northern & western Britain.
In the year 410 AD, the Roman Emperor Honorius replied to a request for assistance with the Rescript of Honorius, telling the Romano-Britons to see to their own defence.
Britain was effectively no longer part of the Roman empire.
The battered & declining remnants' of the Druids began to resurface more publicly at this time.
This coincides with the birth & death of Arthur, 462-516 AD.
So we roughly have just over an 800 year reign of the ancient Druids of Britain, they themselves a blend of ancient Atlantean & successive foreign invasions. The battered & declining Druids now had to face the ever growing Romanised Christian religion. And so at this volatile point in time, we enter the beginnings of the Arthurian Age; with the Roman Eagle flown & the Druids put down, the land bled for unity.