The Druids

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Druids were a high-ranking class of educated people among the ancient Celts who acted as priests, teachers, and judges. The word “Druid” comes from a Gaelic word that can mean “knower of the oak” or “wisdom”. From there the word entered Greek and Latin. Also found in Old Irish as druí – wizard.

The Druids, like the Norse skalds, did not record the things that happened around them, so most of what we know about them today comes from outside sources that may be biased or inaccurate.

Primary sources of information about Druids

  • Greek and Roman writers, such as Posidonius, Julius Caesar, and Tacitus, observed or met the Druids in Gaul and Britain. They describe Druids as philosophers, politicians, priests or magicians who know about astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and law. They also report some of the rituals and practices of the Druids, such as human sacrifice, divination, and worship of the gods and nature.
  • Medieval Irish literature, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge and hagiographies of saints, which were written by Christian monks after the conversion of Ireland. They portrayed the Druids as magicians, poets, or counselors who had supernatural powers and were opposed to Christianity. They also preserve some of the myths and legends of the Druids, such as their involvement in the Ulster Cycle and their association with certain places and characters.

As I already mentioned, these written sources, however, are not very reliable and consistent. They may have been influenced by the cultural, political, or religious realities of their authors or editors. They may also have misunderstood or misinterpreted some aspects of Druid culture or religion. Therefore, they should be read carefully and critically.

Other sources that may shed some light on the Druids are:

  • Archaeological evidence, such as monuments, artifacts, inscriptions, or coins, which may be associated with the Druids or their activities. For example, some scholars suggest that places like Stonehenge or Hayling Island were used by the Druids for astronomical observations or ceremonies. However, these interpretations are often speculative and contradictory.
  • Comparative evidence, such as parallels or similarities with other Indo-European cultures or religions, which may reveal some common Druid origins or influences. For example, some scholars suggest that the Druids were part of a broader Indo-European priestly culture that shared some features with the Brahmins of India or the Magi of Persia. However, these comparisons are most often based solely on assumptions and generalizations.

Druids and human sacrifice

One of the most controversial and sensational claims about the Druids is that they practiced human sacrifice as part of their rituals. The main source for this claim is Julius Caesar, who wrote in his account of the Gallic War that the Druids burned people alive in large wicker statues as sacrifices to the gods. Caesar also claimed that the victims were criminals, slaves, or prisoners of war, but sometimes innocent people were sacrificed if there were not enough of the mentioned.

However, Caesar’s account is not very reliable or objective. He may have exaggerated or fabricated some details to justify his conquest of Gaul and Britain, or to present the Druids as barbarous and uncivilized enemies of Rome. He may also have misunderstood or misinterpreted aspects of Druidic culture or religion or confused them with other Celtic tribes or practices.

Other ancient writers, such as Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Lucan, also mention human sacrifice among the Druids, but they may have been relying on Caesar’s travelogues and thus repeating his propaganda. Some modern scholars have also suggested that some Celtic myths and legends, such as the story of King Lear or the tale of Branwen, may contain traces of human sacrifice, but these are not historical sources and may reflect later Christian influences.

Lindow Man
By Photograph by Mike Peel (, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Archaeological evidence for human sacrifice among the Druids is sparse and ambiguous. Some human remains have been found in swamps, lakes, rivers, or pits that may have been ritually killed, but it is not clear whether they are related to the Druids or their ceremonies. For example, the Lindow Man, a well-preserved body found in a bog in England, has been interpreted as a possible Druidic victim, but he may also have been the victim of murder, execution, or accident. Similarly, some places like Stonehenge or Hayling Island are associated with the Druids or their rituals, but there is no convincing evidence of human sacrifice there.

Therefore, we do not know for sure whether the Druids practiced human sacrifice or not. It’s possible that they did in some cases, but it’s also possible that they didn’t do it at all. The question remains open and debated among historians and archaeologists.

The Druids and their Festivals

The Druids are believed to have celebrated various festivals throughout the year based on the cycles of nature and the sun. These festivals mark important moments of transition, transformation, and renewal in the seasons and life. They were also occasions to honor the gods, ancestors, and spirits, as well as to express gratitude, joy, and community.

The main Druid festivals are:


  • Samhain: The Festival of the Dead, held on October 31 or November 1. It marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It is a time to remember and honor the dead, as well as to face our mortality and fears. It is also a time when the veil between worlds is thin and communication with other realms is possible.
  • Yule: The winter solstice, which takes place on December 21 or 22. It marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun and the return of light. It is also a time to reflect on inner light and potential.
  • Imbolc: The Festival of Awakening, held on February 1st or 2nd. It marks the first signs of spring and the stirring of life. It’s time to welcome new beginnings and opportunities. It is also a time to honor Brigid, the goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and blacksmithing.
  • Ostara: The vernal equinox, which takes place on March 20 or 21. It marks the balance of day and night and the arrival of spring. It is a time to celebrate growth, fertility, and renewal. It is also a time to honor Eostre, the goddess of dawn, eggs, and rabbits.
  • Beltane: The festival of fire that takes place on April 30 or May 1. It marks the peak of spring and the beginning of summer. It is a time to celebrate love, passion, and abundance. It is also a time to honor Belenos, the god of the sun, fire, and healing.
  • Litha: The summer solstice, which takes place on June 20 or 21. It marks the longest day and shortest night of the year. It is a time to celebrate the power and energy of the sun. It is also a time to honor Lugh, the god of light, skills, and crafts.
  • Lughnasadh: The festival of first fruits, held on August 1 or 2. It marks the beginning of the harvest season and the end of summer. It is a time to celebrate gratitude, generosity, and sacrifice. It is also time to once again honor Lugh, as well as his foster mother Tailtiu.
  • Mabon: The autumnal equinox, which takes place on September 22 or 23. Again, it marks the balance of day and night and the coming of autumn. It is a time to celebrate harmony, balance, and reflection. It is also a time to honor Mabon, the god of youth, hunting and liberation.

These festivals are not fixed dates, but rather flexible and adaptable according to location, tradition, or preference. Some druids may celebrate only some of these or add others that are meaningful to them.

Are there druids nowadays?

The answer is yes, there are druids nowadays, although they are not directly related to their contemporaries. They are a diverse and eclectic group of people who share a common reverence for the natural world and a desire to connect with their ancestral roots. Druidry is not a religion, but rather a way of life that can be compatible with different faiths or none at all. Druids may identify as pagan, Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, or something else.

Druidry is also not a monolithic or dogmatic tradition, but rather a fluid and creative one that encourages individual expression and exploration. There are various orders and groups of Druids, each with their own history, teachings, and practices. Some of the most prominent is the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), British Order of Druids (BDO), Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF).

Druids today practice various forms of ritual, meditation, art, music, poetry, storytelling, and environmental activism. They celebrate the cycles of nature and the seasons, especially the solstices and equinoxes. They honor their ancestors, both biological and spiritual, and seek to learn from their wisdom. They also respect and work with the spirits of the earth, elements, animals, and plants.

Today, Druids are part of a global community that spans different cultures and continents. They are inspired by the past, but also committed to the present and the future. They are seekers of truth, beauty, and harmony who strive to live in balance with themselves, each other, and the Earth.


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