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Celtic Druids were a group of priests, esteemed and classed as the scholars of the Celtic clans of Iron Age Europe. They were responsible for the divination of various dieties and the observation of the Celtic religious calendar. Often thought to have been blood-letting zealots they were, in truth, anything but.
Celtic Druids wore many hats. They were not only priests but givers of advice and counsel, messengers between clan leaders and the common people, doctors and teachers. Over and above such day to day events as offering an ear to aggrieved individuals, they were expected to understand the heavenly bodies and interpret and deliver the secrets of the stars - in short, both astrology and astronomy were also part and parcel of the life of a Druid.
In all, Druids were almost a 'jack-of-all-trades', yet required to be master of all they had a hand in. The religious set up was fairly complex, each level holding a certain ‘office’, in relation to tribal life.
The Druids were of the highest order and were expected to be consummate scientists and diviners. The Bards were second in line and were ultimately responsible for the passing on of tribal folklore, history and traditions. Third were the Ovates, who were considered the doctors, the healers of the Celtic tribes.
They certainly held great power and the Romans noted on more than one occasion the fact that Druids had been known to both halt and prevent wars between different nations and clans.
This was a rare power indeed and may have been based more upon the Celtic ideal of a Druids perceived powers, than because they were considered to be powerful per se.
Druid lore was, by nature, a pagan form of worship. Much of the Iron Age was pre-Christian; therefore ancient deities often reflected societal ideals, as opposed to religious Idols that were created from a pious perspective. If there’s one thing most scholars agree with in regard to the Celts – they were anything but a holier-than-thou people.
Other ancient cultures (of the same period) viewed the Celtic Druids as only slightly less barbaric than the Celts warrior class, though this is less to do with head-hunting and more to do with their various Gods. Celtic Gods numbered into double figures and ranged from wood nymphs to Gods of the Skies, Earth, Upper, Middle and Lower realms. Further, their Gods differed slightly again, depending on whether the Celtic clans were Gaulish, Welsh or Irish.
That said, the above number may well be a lot higher, if all the sub-Gods and Goddesses, Spirits and various other God-like folk are added into the Druidic pantheon. It’s likely that if ancient Druids observed each and every one as meticulously as some scholars believe, then they would have had little time for solving life’s trivialities, administering various forms of justice and (of course) their nightly habit of gazing at the heavens.
Druids - Fact Or Fantasy
There is much written about Celtic Druids and it is hard to discern fact from fantasy. Sacrificial worship and blood-letting (particularly captured enemies) stories are pretty easy to stumble across. In fact, if you sit quietly enough you're sure to find a nightmarish Druidic ritual will appear about your person sooner or later.
It's likely that most modern day individuals have heard of the horrible stories of wicker-men burnings - huge woven figures, made out of wicker and filled with various hapless victims ... that would discover a stay inside a wicker-effigy would only end in their hot and crispy deaths.
Are the tales true? Who knows. The Celts as a whole left almost no evidence as to how they lived, other than what's been gleaned from various archaeological sites and burial mounds. Certainly, they held their dead in high esteem and this in itself would suggest that they were a lot less barbaric than they're ancient cultural counterparts would have us believe.
Caesar himself seemed to have a fixed opinion of the Celtic culture. He wrote (in his book The Gallic Wars) that Druids spent around 20 years training before they were acknowledged as priests and that they held great sway in individual clans.
He further observed that they were involved in both political and spiritual persuits and were exempt from life's daily strifes, such as combat and the paying of taxes. Caesar's accounts indicate (or evidence?) that the Druids were a powerful group of individuals and the Roman belief in general held out after they wiped out the Druids of ancient Britain, on the Isle of Mona, sometime in or around AD60.
Seemingly, the Romans believed that by desecrating the spiritual arm of the Celts, then the rest of the Celtic clans would fall in swift defeat. A belief borne out when the Roman army finally subjugated the Britannic Celts some short time after the massacre on Mona.
From that point on, the Celts, along with their mystical Druids, fell into decline.