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Druids - truth about #1

It may surprise you

                 From the book "Celt, Druid
                         and Culdee"


                      Isabel Hill Elder


THE popular belief that Druidism was the religion of ancient
Britain and nothing more is entirely erroneous. Duidism was, in
fact, the centre and source from which radiated the whole system
of organized civil and ecclesiastical knowledge and practice of
the country.(1) 

The Order constituted its church and parliament; its courts of
law, its colleges of physicians and surgeons, its magistracy and
clergy. The members of the Order were its statesmen, legislators,
priests, physicians, lawyers, teachers and poets.

The truth about the Druids, to be found amongst fragments of
literature and in folk-memory, is that they were men of culture,
well-educated, equitable and impartial in the administration of
justice. These ancient leaders of thought and instruction in our
islands had lofty beliefs as to the character of the one God,
Creator and Preserver, and of man's high origin and destiny.
There is reason to believe that this doctrine included the need
for atonement or sin and the resurrection of the body.  
To reverence the Deity, abstain from evil and behave valiantly
were, according to Laertius, the three grand articles enjoined by
the Druids,((2)

In Druidism the British nation had a high standard of religion,
justice and patriotism presented to it, and a code of moral
teaching that has never ceased to influence national character.

It has been frequently stated that the name 'Druid' is derived
from Drus, an oak; the oak was held by the Druids to symbolize
and eternal. The idea arose from the apparent similarity of the
two words, Drus and Druid, and was merely incidental. A much more
likely derivation is from Druthin, a 'servant of Truth.'(3)
The motto of the Druidic Order, "The Truth Against the World" was
the principle on which Druidism was based and by which it offered
itself to be judged.
"It, may be asked," says the Venerable Archdeacon Williams, "how
has it come to pass, if great events marked the epoch between the
departure of the Romans and the death of Bede, that the whole
history is so obscure, and that no literary documents remain to
prove the wisdom of the teachers and the docility of the people?
The answer is very plain. Such documents do exist; they have been
published, for more than half a century but have hitherto wanted
an equate interpreter."(4)

The published compositions of the Druids and remains of their
works. The Myvyrian MSS. a alone, now in the British Museum,
amount to 47 volumes of poetry, containing about 4,700 pieces of
poetry, in 1,600 pages, besides about 2,000 epigrammatic stanzas.
Also in the same collection a 52 volumes of rose, in about 15,300
pages, containing many curious documents on various subjects,
being 17th or 18th compilations embodying early writings.

Besides there are a vast number of collections of Welsh MSS in
London and in private libraries in the Principality.(5)
In A.D. 383 Druidism, while accepting Christianity, submitted to
the judgment and verdict of country and nation the ancient
privileges and usages; the ancient learning, science and
memorials were confirmed, lest they should fail, become lost and
forgotten - this was done without contradiction or opposition.(6)

The education system adopted by the druids is traced to about
1800 B.C., when Hu Gadarn Hysicion (Isaacson),(7) or Hu the
Mighty, led the first colony of Cymri into Britain from
Defrobane, where Constantinople now stands.(8)

In the justly celebrated Welsh Triads, Hu Gadarn is said to have
mnemonically systematized the wisdom of the ancients of these
people whom he led west from the Summerland. He was regarded as
the personification of intellectual culture and is commemorated
in Welsh archaeology for having made poetry the vehicle of
memory, and to have been the inventor of the Triads. To him is
attributed the founding of Stonehenge and the introduction of
several arts including glass-making and writing in Ogham
characters. On Hu Gadarn's standard was depicted the Ox; in this
possibly may be discovered the origin of the sobriquet, 'John
Bull.' Hu established, among other regulations, that a Gorsedd or
Assembly of Druids and Bards must be held on an open, uncovered
grass space, in a conspicuous place, in full view and hearing of
all the people.

Concerning the educational facilities available to the so-called
barbarous people of these islands, there were at the time of the
Roman invasion forty Druidic centres of learning which were also
the capitals of the forty tribes; of these forty known centres
nine have entirely disappeared. These forty college were each
presided over by a Chief Druid (9) There were also in Britain
three Archdruids, whose seats were at York, London and

The territories of the forty tribes (the original of our modern
counties) preserve for the most part the ancient tribal limits.
Yorkshire, for instance, retains the same disproportionate
magnitude to our other counties - the territory of the large and
powerful tribe, the Brigantes.
The students at these colleges numbered at times sixty thousand
of the youth and young nobility of Britain and Gaul. Caesar
comments on the fact that the Gauls sent their youth to Britain
to be educated. One notable instance has been mentioned by J. O.
Kinnaman,D.D., in his work on Archaeology: "Pilate was not a
Roman by nationality, but by citizenship. He was born a Spaniard
and educated in Spain as far as the schools of that country could
take him. Then he went to Britain to study in the universities of
that country under the administration of the Druids. How long he
studied in England is not now known; it was Pilate's ambition to
become a Roman lawyer and the future governor of Palestine
studied long enough in Britain to achieve not only this ambition
but to absorb the Druidic philosophy rather than the Greek and
Roman. 'Vide' Pilate's question to our Lord as they were walking
out of the Praetorium, 'What is Truth?'(10) This was a question
which the Druids were accustomed to debate."(11)

It required twenty years to master the complete  circle of
Druidic knowledge. Natural philosophy, astronomy, mathematics,
geometry, medicine, jurisprudence, poetry and oratory were all
proposed and taught - natural philosophy and astronomy with
severe exactitude. (12)

Caesar says of the Druids: 

"They hold aloof from war and do not pay war taxes; they are
excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities.
Tempted by these great advantages, many young men assemble of
their own motion to receive their training, many are sent by
parents and relatives. Report says that in the schools of the
Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and
therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. They
do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing,
although in almost all other matters, and in their public and
private accounts they make use of Greek characters. I believe
that they have adopted the practice for two reasons - that they
do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who
learn the rule to rely on writing, and so neglect the cultivation
of the memory; and, in fact, it does usually happen that the
assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student
and the action of memory.... They also lecture on the stars in
their motion, the magnitude of the earth and its divisions, on
natural history, on the power and government of God; and instruct
the youth on these subjects."(14)
While the Druids used writing for all other subjects taught in
their colleges, they never used this in connection with the
subject of religion To the spread of Christianity we owe most of
the information we possess of the Druidic religion; their secret
laws gradually relaxed as they became Christian, and some of heir
theology was then committed to writing.

Dr. Henry, in his 'Histor of England,' has observed that
collegiate or monastic institutions existed among the Druids.(15)
Caesar several times calls the Druidic institution a
'disciplina,'(16) a term that implies a corporate life
organization as well as the possession of learning. Mela speaks
of the Druids as 'teachers of wisdom,'(17) The affirmation of
Diodorus that 'some whom they call Druids, are very highly
honoured as philosophers and theologians' is repeated by
Hippolytus. (18)
Not only the supreme king, but every other king
had his Druid and Bard attached to his court. This Druidic
chaplain had charge of the education of the youthful members of
the house, but was also allowed to have other pupils. He taught
and lectured on all appropriate occasions, often out-of-doors,
and when travelling through the territory of his chief, or from
one territory to another, his pupils accompanied him, still
receiving instruction; when, however, the pupils exceeded in
number that which he was entitled by law on such occasions to
have accommodated as his own company at a house, those in excess
were almost always freely entertained by neighbours in the

The chief poet seems to have been always accompanied by a number
of assistants of various degrees, who had not yet arrived at the
highest attainment of their profession.(19)

The theological students were given a particularly long course of
training, and no Druidic priest could be ordained until he had
passed three examinations in three successive years before the
Druidic college of his tribe. The head of the clan possessed a
veto on every ordination.(20)
By very stringent laws the number of priests was regulated in
proportion to the population; and none could be a candidate for
the priesthood who could not in the previous May Congress of the
tribe prove his descent from nine successive generations of free
forefathers. Genealogies, therefore were guarded with the
greatest care. This barrier to promiscuous admission had the
effect of closing the Order almost entirely to all but the
Blaenorion or aristocracy, making it literally a 'Royal

Degrees were conferred after three, six and nine years training.
The highest degree, that of Pencerdd or Athro (Doctor of
Learning), was conferred after nine years. All degrees were given
by the king or in his presence, or by his license before a
deputy, at the end of every three years.(21)

Druidic physicians were skilled in the treatment of the sick;
their practice was far removed from the medicine-man cult, so
unfairly ascribed to them by their contemporary enemies, and
lightly followed ever since. They prayed to God to grant a
blessing on His gifts, conscious that it should always be
remembered that no medicine could be effective nor any physician
successful without Divine help. The chief care of the
physicians was to prevent rather than to cure disease. Their
recipe for health was cheerfulness, temperance and exercise.(22)
Certainly the power of physical endurance displayed by the early
Britons was a strong testimony to the salutary laws of hygiene
enforced and the general mode of life encouraged by the Druids.
Human bones which had been fractured and re-set by art have been
found in Druidic tumuli.(23)  

Astronomers were deeply versed in every detail of their
profession; such classic judges of eminence as Cicero and Caesar,
Pliny and Tacitus, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, speak in high
terms of the Druid astronomers.
Strabo has left us a vivid description of the dress of the
Britons of his day. On the visit to Athens of the British Druid
astronomer Abaris (Hebrew Rabbi) the Greek geographer writes: 

"He came not clad in skins like a Scythian, but with a bow in his
hand, a quiver hanging on his shoulders, a plaid wrapped about
his body, a gilded belt encircling his loins, and trousers
reaching down from the waist to the soles of his feet. He was
easy in his address; agreeable in his conversation; active in his
dispatch and secret in his management of great affairs; quick in
judging of present accuracies, and ready to take his part in any
sudden emergency; provident withal in guarding against futurity;
diligent in the quest of wisdom; fond of friendship; trusting
very little to fortune, yet having the entire confidence of
others, and trusted with everything for his prudence. He spoke
Greek with a fluency that you would have thought that he had been
bred up in the Lyceum; and conversed all his life with the
academy of Athens. This visit oft was long remembered at Athens."

This visit of the British Druid was long remembered at Athens.
Abaris travelled extensively in Greece; Greek fancy transformed
the magnetic needle by which he guided his travels into an arrow
of Apollo which would transport him at wish whithersoever he

Ammianus Marcellus, A.D. 350, says, "The Druids are men of
penetrating and subtle spirit, and acquired the highest renown by
their speculations, which were at once subtle and profound.(25)
Pomponius Mela(26) plainly intimates that the Druids were
conversant with the most sublime speculations in geometry and in
measuring the magnitude of the earth

Stonehenge, 'the Greenwich Observatory' and great solar clock of
ancient times, was pre-eminently an astronomical circle.

Heliograph and beacon were both used by the ancient British
astronomer in signalling the time and the seasons, the result of
observations, for the daily direction of the agriculturist and
the trader.

The unit of measure employed in the erection of Stonehenge, and
all other works of this nature in our islands was the cubit, the
same as used in the Great Pyramid.(27)

The supposed magic of the Druids consisted in a more thorough
knowledge of some of the sciences than was common. - astronomy,
for instance. Diodorus Siculus states that the Druids used
telescopes (28) - this evidently is the origin of the story that
the Druids could by magic bring the moon down to the earth.

Many of the wells on Druidic sites, known today as holy wells,
were the old telescope wells of the Druids, connected with their
astronomical observations.(29) The old saying, 'Truth lies at the
bottom of a well', comes down to us from those ancient times.

British architects trained in Druidic colleges were in great
demand on the Continent. In this country the profession of
architect was legally recognized. There were three offices of
chief Architect,(30) the holders of which were privileged to go
anywhere without restriction throughout the country, provided
they did not go unlawfully.
James Ferguson, the writer of one of our best histories of
architecture, says: "The true glory of the Celt in Europe is his
artistic eminence, and it is not too much to assert that without
his intervention we should not have possessed in modern times a
church worthy of admiration, or a picture, or a statue we could
look at without shame, and, had the Celts not had their arts
nipped in the bud by circumstances over which they had no
control, we might have seen something that would have shamed even
Greece and wholly eclipsed the arts of Rome. . . . The Celts
never lived sufficiently long apart from other races to develop a
distinct form of nationality, or to create either a literature or
a policy by which they could be certainly recognized; they mixed
freely with the people among whom they settled and adopted their
manners and customs ."(31)

C.J.Solinus, the Roman geographer, in his description of Britain,
mentions the hot springs of Bath, and the magnificence with which
the baths at that place had already been decorated by the use of

The primitive religion of Britain associated in so many minds
with the worship of the heavenly bodies, was the worship of the_
'Lord of Hosts,' the Creator of the Great Lights, the sun and
moon, not the worship of the heavenly bodies themselves. The
Universe was the Bible of the ancients, the only revelation of
the Deity vouchsafed them. The wonders of nature were to them as
the voice of the All-Father, and by the movement of the heavenly
bodies they ordered their lives, fixed religious festivals and
all agricultural proceedings.

The way to Christianity for the early inhabitants of Britain was
traced by Nature herself, and from Nature to Nature's God. St.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, writes, "Howbeit that was
not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and
afterward that which is spiritual."

Strabo observes that the care of worshipping the Supreme Being is
great among the British nation; and the history of Hume records
that no religion ever swayed the minds of men like the

It has been said that the Druidic Circles cannot, in strictness,
be termed temples, for the Druids taught that there were but two
habitations of the Deity - the soul, the invisible - the
universe, the visible. The word 'temple,' in its primitive
meaning, is simply a place cut off, enclosed, dedicated to sacred
use, whether a circle of stones, a field or a building. In the
old British language a temple or sanctuary was called a 'caer',
a sacred fenced enclosure. The stone circles or caers of Britain
were therefore, essentially temples and held so sacred by the
people that reverent behaviour in their vicinity was universal.
Joshua, it will be remembered, by God's command, erected a circle
at Gilgal (circle) immediately upon the arrival of the chosen
People in the Promised Land. 
The British 'caer' has no connection with 'castra.'

There seems, however, to be no doubt that generally the chambered
barrows and cairns of Britain were used as temples; several
points in their construction lead to this assumption. 

Mr.MacRitchie, in his "Testimony of Tradition," mentions several
of these points, among them fireplaces and flues for carrying
away smoke.

Sir Norman Lockyer (34) states: "Mr. Spence has pointed out the
extreme improbability of Maeshowe (Orkney) being anything but a
temple and, I may now add, on the Semitic model. There was a
large central hall and side-rooms for sleeping, a stone door
which could have been opened or shut from the inside, and a niche
for a guard, janitor or hall porter.(35)

The great circle and temple known as Avebury ('Ambresbiri, the
Holy Anointed Ones') is of special interest as the Westminster
abbey of ancient times,(36) the last resting place of princes, 
priests and statesmen, warriors, poets and musicians. One of the
old Druids alluding to Avebury calls it 'The Great Sanctuary
the Dominion'"(37)

The Circles or temples were composed of monoliths upon which the
employment of metal for any purpose was not permitted. Druidic
worship was without figure or sculpture of any kind.(38)
The monolithic avenues, symbolic of the sun's path through the
Zodiac, were in some instances seven miles long. The national
religious procession moved through these to the circle on the
three great festivals of the year. In several of our own
cathedrals we have the signs of the Zodiac, represented as sacred
emblems on the tiles of the sanctuary floor, for instance at
Canterbury and Rochester.

In his description of the temple at Jerusalem, Josephus states:
"The loaves on the table, twelve in number, symbolized the circle
of the Zodiac."(39)



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