Sunday, 15 July 2012


I've been asked to explain what it's like to be a Druid. What are Druids? What do they do? What do they look like? What do they believe?

Well, just as if you asked the same question to a Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist etc the answer is going to vary from person to person. There are as many different paths, beliefs and approaches in Druidry as in any other religion, philosophy or organisation.

The first thing that needs to be said is that most Druids don't feel that Druidry is a religion or a belief system, it's more of a philosophy, a way of looking at life, of framing experience and belief.


In ancient times, Druidry was the religion of the Celts. More than that, it was the seat of political power among them. No one was more powerful than the Druids, not even the Kings and Princes. They were inviolate, even during battle. This is why, when the Romans arrived, the Druids had to go. The Romans realised two things that doomed the Druids from the start. Firstly, the Druids were the true political power. Take them down and the establishment falls. Second they had the hearts of the people. Discredit and replace them and you're in control.

Later on, Christianity had the same idea and many ancient Celtic/pagan festivals and sites have been taken over and re-framed.

For example. St Michael's chapel on Glastonbury tor. This was an ancient site believed to be a gateway into 'the otherworld'

After the advent of Christianity a church dedicated to St Michael was built on the summit and an abbey on the plain below. It was said, by the early Celtic Christians, that a cutting from the sacred thorn was brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea (sorry about the spelling), and planted in the gardens of the Abbey. It's also said in local legend that Jesus visited the area in his youth. I have no idea if there is any truth in either of those claims but it shows that a site that was holy and powerful to one culture and belief system can be adopted and considered to be just as holy and powerful by another, in re-framed terms.

The Three Stages

In ancient times Druids had a long path of learning. They went through three stages in their education which are mirrored in most training establishments, courses and practices today.

The Bard

In ancient times there were no instant means of communication. The only way news was passed was by word of mouth.This is why Druids were inviolate at battles. They were the battle correspondents. The Bards witnessed the events, wrote poems about them-- and these poems were truly epic and could sometimes take hours to recite-- then travel the land reciting them and passing it on.

The Bard was taught of the sacred connection between music and the voice of 'God', or the Source of life. The energy stream that creates, enlivens and sustains... etc. It sounds esoteric and 'new age' but in essence it all comes down to the fact that everything is made of energy. It vibrates faster in liquids than solids and in gasses than liquids and maybe even faster still or on different frequencies for other things.

Light, sound, colour, radio waves, microwaves etc etc all pass through solids liquids and gases, so does music. In the spaces between the atoms everything is connected.

So the Bard was the musician, poet, journalist, storyteller and physicist.

A very strict kind of poetry form was developed to ensure the integrity of the information passed and variations of this are still used in the poetry competitions at the National Eisteddfod and Urdd Eisteddfod (see later)

These strict forms, which were likened to Haiku in the strictness of its form but much longer and grander in scale, ensured that they were passed on word for word with less likelihood of corruption on a 'chinese whispers' basis.

The Ovate

The ovate is the initiate, the magician, the witch, the magic user, the diviner.

This is the most difficult part to talk about because people mock and fear what they don't understand. No, I don't put spells on people, no I don't see the future and no I don't have dinner with the devil.

But I do read tarot cards and runes and the Druid's own divination system, the ogham. I do use candle magic to send out positive energy and concentrate my attention on issues and problems that are affecting myself or those I care for. I'm not denying that I use darker magic if I absolutely have to but I do it with full knowledge and accepting the consequences and cost.

Magic is the manipulation of energy and all actions have a reaction. No magic is done lightly or without cost. For me it's an area of my life bound around with far more morality and ethics than any other.

The ovate was also the herbalist and in this I am following. I am a trained herbalist and, although I don't practice outside the home I do treat basic ailments myself with my herbs and potions. I haven't killed anyone yet and my son's asthma responded so well he 'grew out of it'.

Of course, I don't use it on myself which means I haven't got my own problems under control. I keep meaning to do something... tomorrow :)

The Druid

The Druid is the master of ceremonies. S/he takes everything s/he learned as a Bard and Ovate and spins them into rituals and ceremonies.

Why does s/he wear silly clothes? For two reasons. The first one is obvious... to make them stand out. So that people who are taking part in the ceremony or ritual knows who is in charge and who to follow and listen to. Trust me this is important when there are hundreds of people at a public ceremony.

Secondly they/we wear robes to make us feel different, to help get rid of the thoughts and concerns of the everyday, mundane world, to raise consciousness and help us focus on what we're doing/thinking/feeling within the ritual. They make things 'special' and 'magical'

It's all about psychology really.

So we add psychologist to the list of what Druids are.

Okay, so I thought I was going to be able to give an overview of Druidry in one post. WRONG. There's just too much to cover. So I'll split it into a series of articles.

Next time we'll look at the cultural aspect of Druidry in Wales and look at the Eisteddfods, national competitions that draw spectators and participants from all over the world and use many of the original tenets of Druidry in a purely cultural and ceremonial form

After that we'll look at the eight festivals of the yearly wheel, some ritual and ceremonial stuff like... what's the point in drawing a circle around you with a sword? Trust me, there's a sound psychological reason.

Then maybe a peep at ogham, where it came from what it means where it can be seen and how it was used.

Then anything else that might come to mind. If you like the articles and want more let me know or I might not bother to go any further.

Also, if you are a Druid and want to add, challenge or comment on anything just email me or comment.


  1. I think of Druidry as being at one with nature. I do a lot of self-healing, learning what different plants can do for different ailments. My best night sleep was one warm moonlit night, I lay naked in a bed of bluebells. The heady scent was as calming as lavender. I slept more soundly than I ever have in my life. Using a dock leaf for a nettle sting.
    I have foxes and badgers in my wood, I feed them. And they let me watch. I would never interfere. I kill animals for food, but only food, there is no waste, they die quickly and painlessly. I cut down trees for fuel, its all I have, but I replace one tree with several more. All native to where I live all meant to be there. And I only take from Mother Earth what I can replace. I have little rituals about my bluebell wood. I am it's guardian and I really believe that :)

    1. You are the essence of the Ovate, darling. Right from the heart. The core of Druidry is connection... with the earth, with each other, with the universe. You're so special. I hope you realise that.

  2. Please keep posting the articles! I had never heard much about Druidry before and this is all so interesting. I'm excited to learn more through your future posts!

  3. I have all due respect for modern pagans, but as someone with a prehistory degree, this kind of misinformation does bother me.

    The Druids were not the basis of political power in Iron Age Britain. The people in charge were most likely a system of monarchies – led by men or women equally - but it’s hard to say. Attacking anything to do with Druids wasn’t the first thing the Romans did. The gradual conquest started in 43AD. It wasn’t until 60AD that they attacked Anglesey, and actually made any mention of fighting/giving the merest toss about Druids.

    The reason the Romans attacked the Druids was because the Druids practiced human sacrifice. This is not inaccurate or ‘roman propaganda’, we’ve found proof (I’ve helped dig some of it up myself). The Romans didn’t like it because they thought it was fine to kill and murder for sport, but doing it for religion was considered ‘barbaric’. (This also explains why anything to do with ‘druids’ pretty much disappeared, but a load of ancient British gods and religions lived on for a long time, with roman-style temples built by the locals and everything.)

    Glastonbury Tor is just a hill. It is called a ‘tor’ because a tor is a hill. The word just means hill. The only historic reference to anything special at the site is connected with Arthurian legend, and the whole ‘King of the fairies’ / underworld stuff didn’t exist until the Victorians invented it. The Arthurian stuff is probably why it is the gateway to ‘Avalon’ (only this time its Fairy-Avalon. Presumably suds last longer there.)

    As for why they built a chapel on it because people are always building chapels on hills. You can hardly move for hill-bound chapels in some areas of the country.

    All the stuff about ‘Jesus was here’ and the like had more to do with advertising. The amount of places with St Paul buried in them should give you an idea of how much churches have been willing to bullshit this stuff – the fact that they made claims about Jesus doesn’t mean they were in an important location, it just means they were a bit more ballsy than most.

    All of the stuff about Bards is from Early Welsh and Irish history, around 500AD. Missing the druids by about half a millennium.

    Ogham was not a divination system, it was a form of writing and was also closer to 500AD.

    Ogham was used for poetry and stories and writing on monuments, and also for keeping tallies and track of property. It was no more divine than English. It was also Irish, so it had nothing to do with the druids. Turned up a bit in some areas of western Britain and in places like the Isle of Mann but...yeah...pretty Irish.

    I understand that this is of religious significance to you, but it is utterly historically inaccurate, and can be dated more to the Victorians than the Ancient Brits.


  4. Noooooooo I wrote a really really long reply. It was so long it was too long and when I tried to split it the blog crashed. Okay. I'll re write it tomorrow because it's midnight and I'm tired.

    I know the first words were. Thank yo so much for taking the time to post such a comprehensive response. However, I totally disagree with you on much of what you've said. I'm not a historian and I don't have a degree but I am extremely interested in Welsh history and mythology, especially the Iron Age and the Saxon period. I also have friends who are historians and who do have degrees so I have some weight to my arguments. I promise I'll re write the rest of the response tomorrow. Actually, I might even write it as a post rather than a response.

    1. I don’t buy that the Romans destroyed the Druids because of their sacrificial practices. They were used to sacrifice as they sacrificed animals routinely, for example augury from the entrails of chickens, sacrificing of the bull in the rites of Mithras. In unconnected news I went through the whole of my studies of Greek and Roman history thinking Mithras was a man.
      There is quite a bit of, admittedly sketchy evidence that Romans also carried out human sacrifice. But that’s a whole different topic.
      Another point worth mentioning I think is the fact that the gladiatorial games arose out of Roman funerary practices where ‘the games’ were part of the funeral rites and therefore quasi religious in its nature.
      The fact that the Romans did a fair bit of conquering before they went out for the whole-scale slaughter of Druids doesn’t prove they didn’t have political power, only that the Romans took a while to realise it. As pure speculation I have always thought that might have been because there were women Druids and the Romans had a hard time acknowledging that women had any political power at all…hence their huge mistake with Boudicca.
      I think the key words you’ve used here is ‘it’s hard to tell’. The truth is we simply don’t know where the power lay so it’s impossible to say it wasn’t with the Druids
      It is absolutely true that ‘tor’ means hill and that Glastonbury tor is just a hill. However, pagans have a long history of viewing hills, especially ones that ‘rise out of the mist’ when weather conditions are right, as sacred places. Many are marked with stone circles and standing stones.
      Glastonbury tor is just one example of many pagan sites (often on the top of hills) that have been adopted by Christianity. They were wise enough to realise that the best way of converting the pagans was to let them go about the outward rituals and practices of their own religions while gradually replacing them with Christian ones. Like building chapels on hills and at the sites of holy wells which became holy to Mary, rather than Brede (Bride, Brigid)
      I happen to agree about the thorn but I put it in out of respect for the early Christians ( Culdees) who were doing precisely what I mentioned above but were much more tolerant of paganism than their stricter successors.

      The otherworld/underworld is a very old pagan belief and was certainly around in the bronze and iron age. The belief in fairies or the fae still exists in many parts of Wales and Ireland even now and localities have their own kinds of fae folk (Tylwyth Teg, Sidhe and Tuatha de Danan)

      There is a location very close to me that is documented in local lore that (everyone knows) that was the last true sighting of a fairy. Of course our fairies don't have pretty dresses and incandescent wings. They hunt white boars and stags with dogs with glowing red eyes. But that's just us. The Otherworld though, and the Summerland are around in very early Welsh writings and myths.

      True the Welsh mythology about 'the bards' was documented in early Welsh and Irish myth, that go back as far as records stretch. Who are any of us to say that they weren't around before that. Just because someone writes a poem about something today doesn't mean they weren't around yesterday... or 500 years ago.

    2. As for Ogahm being Irish and therefore having nothing to do with the Druids... Ireland was a Celtic country, it had its own Druidic colleges. Also, East Coast was extensively settled by the Irish way back before the Saxons. In fact one of the reasons the Saxons were invited in was to help with the Irish Menace.

      There are may stones dating from Roman times that use Ogham, sometimes to denote whose grave it was marking. Some of these can be seen in the National Museum in Cardiff. I've touched them and translated them.

      No, we can't prove that Ogham was used for divination or had any religious significance... except of course that each letter is linked to a sacred tree. That might be coincidence of course. We can't prove that Runes were used as a divinatory system either, or that they have any religious significance. There are a lot of things we can't prove. There are a lot of things that Christianity, for example accept as truth which are wildly historically inaccurate... or so we think...we can't know.

      That's the point isn't it? We can't know, not for sure. We can point to evidence, which we all interprete in different ways. We can surmise, we can work out, we can deduce but we can't know because we weren't there and it wasn't written down.

      The Welsh have a belief system that goes back at least as far as Christianity. Part of that system is our belief in the Druids... who they were, what they did, what they represented. This belief is so strong it's enshrined in our culture. Please be more respectful of it. It is not 'utterly historically inaccurate' it just can't be proved... any more that a lot of things from pre history that are 'accepted'

    3. I know the Romans sacrificed things. They sacrificed animals. You couldn’t move for sacrificed animals. But they didn’t do human sacrifice. Killing humans for fun was fine; killing them for gods was obscene.

      Gladiatorial games were not religious and people very rarely died in them – slaves and prisoners died in droves, but not anybody who was considered a person. Very few gladiators were ever killed. The fact that games would sometimes take place at funerals can be better compared to the way some cultures have a party at the wake. It doesn’t mean getting pissed is ‘quasi-religious’.

      As the Romans had been paying close attention to the political situation in Britain for about 80 years, they would have been very aware of who had the political power. The major reason for the invasion was in order to help their allies, and the Romans weren’t venturing into an unknown land – they had been trading and communicating with Britons for generations.

      “I think the key words you’ve used here is ‘it’s hard to tell’. The truth is we simply don’t know where the power lay so it’s impossible to say it wasn’t with the Druids”

      What with the long-term alliances with numerous leaders in Britain, regular trading and the complex diplomatic manoeuvring during the invasion period, you’d think the Romans might’ve mentioned it. They were pretty keen on writing that sort of stuff down. (And the Romans did have a lot of contact with Briton leaders: Caratacus was betrayed and sold to the Romans by the Queen of the Brigantes, who thought his rebellion was doing more harm than good.)

      What the hell has the bronze age got to do with this? For that matter, what do stone circles have to do with it? They were Neolithic.
      Please, at least TRY to maintain some consistency with dates. If you really want to talk about druids, then that is the Late Iron Age. The Early Medieval period is approximately 500 years later, the Late Bronze Age is around 500-1000 years previous and the Neolithic is a spectabulous fuckton of years before. Pick and mixing little bits of culture from those periods, throwing them together and saying ‘wow, look at the past!’ produces something as legitimate as Blackbeard The Viking Astronaut.

      Ogham, an Irish alphabet based off either the Latin alphabet or a Germanic runic alphabet, has no found link with Welsh Druids who existed several hundred years before it did, and it was certainly not a language of divination. If you want to use it as such, go ahead, but historically it was used for everything from poetry to bookkeeping. It was just a language.

      The problem here is you stating pure speculation as absolute cold, hard fact. Bardic traditions may have stretched back to the Iron Age. However, it is also perfectly likely that it did not. You state that Ireland had ‘Druidic colleges’, but I have never seen any mention of anything along those lines and would appreciate a citation.

      While I respect the fact that your religious beliefs mean a lot to you, I don’t like seeing misinformation spread, and hiding behind ‘but you must respect Welsh culture’ is something I like even less. I am sure the Iron Age Druids had a very rich and very interesting culture, but unfortunately it is lost to us and what you are espousing is a modern religion dating back to the Victorians. They wanted to re-build the past but, like us, they did not have the information, so they created it. Enjoy your beliefs for what they are.


    4. No I don't think you are being respectful. I don't think you're being respectful at all.

      Last first. The 'Modern' resurgence of neo paganism began with Iolo Morgannwg decades before Victoria took the throne.(folklore suggests it was even earlier in 1717 although doubt has been thrown on that. It is historically documented, though that a mass gathering of druids from
      Britain, France and Ireland took place at Primrose Hill in London in 1792) I personally attended the bicentennial international celebratory gathering in 1992

      My referral to megalithic structures was merely evidence of the fact that since the beginning of history people have considered high places to be holy. I never suggested the stone circles were druidic.

      As far as the bardic tradition is concerned my point was that it's unfair to suggest that because the literature began 500 years after the druids it is not safe to assume that it didn't stretch back further. The role of the Bard was already well established when the ancient Welsh and Irish tradition mentioned them as is clear from what has been written.

      The fact that a Roman Governor Suetonius Paulinus himself led the campaign on Anglesey speaks quite a bit about the political significance. It might very well be that the Romans were pissed about human sacrifice but the truth is that there WERE political motives.

      Firstly the Druids were considered to be 'terrorist' and rallied the people to rebel. In addition they controlled the trade to North Wales, an area that was never truly conquered by them.

      I live in the lands of the Silures who are attributed with wiping out a roman contingent sent to scour our lands for druids.

      There are numerous bronze and iron age settlements in my locality with a rich lore in place names, names of streams, hills, etc that relate back to druids. Of course you're going to say they're Victorian.

      With regard to Ogham I have already told you about the examples in the National Museum of Wales that bear samples of Ogham that relate back to the time of the Romans and are, indeed Roman grave markers.

      YOUR problem is that you insist that the information you are providing is incontrovertible fact without acknowledging any possibility of alternative interpretations or giving any credit to interpretive archaeology or speculation.

      The real truth is that no one KNOWS what the role of the Druid was. No one KNOWS whether Ogham is a sacred language or not and I'm sorry the fact that it became commonly used by our conquerors does not convince me that this wasn't political too.

      Please do me the courtesy of respecting my culture and belief. You are making assumptions in the same way you accuse me of and to make comments such as hiding behind ‘but you must respect Welsh culture’ is something I like even less is inflammatory and uneccesary, as, I believe is this conversation.

      this is my blog and I am not prepared to accept any further discourse of this inflammatory and insulting nature.

      Please be aware that I am more than happy for you to hold true to your beliefs just as I am holding true to mine but if you post again on my blog it will be deleted.

  5. I do respect your culture and beliefs, what I don't think is that things you assert as fact cannot be questioned - especially when I can provide evidence that it is not the case, or there is no evidence for what you are saying.

    You are welcome to delete this comment, but I know you'll read it first, so I'll take a great deal of pleasure in saying this:

    You are the reason so many intelligent pagans have to deal with people thinking they are going to be a pain in the arse. You are a 40 year old woman who is so incapable of dealing with any form of argument you immediately jump behind "the pain of oppression!" before there has been a sign of any such thing. You insist that you are being wrongfully accused of hiding behind "respect my culture" and then, in the very next paragraph, scream that I am disrespecting your culture. The moment it appears you may lose an argument you huff and flounce and threaten to delete comments rather than face any disagreement which doesn't immediately disapear. You are an immature woman-child and an embarrasment to your religion, your country and your age group. Congratulations on your skill at multi-tasking.

  6. I am not going to delete this comment because I think it proves a point. I had every hope of this being a lively debate and I have never been afraid of having my POV challenged. I truly believe that only in challenge can there be growth.

    However I won't accept disrespect and definitely not personal attacks.

    This is not a public debate or an open forum. This is my blog and on it I demand respect.

    I do not demand that my views are agreed with, I am perfectly prepared to accept that others have different views, interpretations and perspectives. Neither do I demand that you keep your views to yourself. But I do demand respect and I don't feel you have given that.

    Anyone who knows me knows I don't shy away from having my opinions challenged, neither do I hold on to an argument when I am truly convinced I'm wrong. For those who don't know me, I'm content to let them make up their own minds.

    1. Oh, and thank you so much for calling me a 40 year old woman. I'm nearing 50 and it's nice to know I come across as younger.

  7. I still need to read much of the conversation but I can correct Martin on a couple of things.

    The Romans did indeed carry out human sacrifice up to about 100BC. They had outlawed the practice prior to any attack on Britain though. Gladiatorial games started out as a sacrificial rite but became more about entertainment subsequently. Despite the outlawing of Human Sacrifice Roman capital punishment often took on a highly religious form (e.g. the ritualised drowning in a bag with various animals for a man who murdered his father). For further details and verification I suggest you read Miranda Aldhouse Green's 'Dying for the Gods'

    It is certainly possible that the Roman authorities, with the zeal of the recently converted (not to Christianity, that was centuries later), may have persecuted the Druids purely on that basis but I'm inclined to see it as a much more political act. Although they were not always political leaders (Cicero and Caesar's friend Diviciacus was both king and druid), they were highly influential and were able to provide political links across rtribal boundaries. As such they were politically dangerous to Roman authority and I believe that was why they were suppressed.