DRUID: Name and Sources of Knowledge. A member of an order in Celtic Gaul and Britain, or of a class in Ireland, which in pre-Roman and pre-Christian times had charge of religious rites. The subject is most obscure. The early disappearance of the druids in Gaul and Britain before the advance of Roman civilization, and in Ireland before Christianity, so obliterated traces of them that all information is ultimately derived from the classical writers and from early Irish hagiological works. The name has been falsely connected with the Greek drys, "an oak," to which the worship in the oak groves gave factitious verisimilitude; it is really derived from a Celtic root which bears the idea of magical dealing. The sources of information are on the classical side: Cæsar, De bello Gallico, vi. 13-20; Tacitus, Annales, xiv. 30, and Historia, iv. 54; Pliny, Hist. nat., xxx. 4, 13, xxxi. 1; Cicero, De divinatione; Ammianus Marcellinus, Hist., XV. ix. 8, and scattered notices in Suetonius (Claudius, xxv.), Diogenes Laertius, and Diodorus Siculus; from the Irish side the Tripartite Life of Patrick, Adamnan's life of Columba, and a large number of scattered notices mainly, legendary.
Cæsar’s Account. Cæsar's account, which is much the fullest of all which can claim historical value, states that above the mass of the people in Gaul (who were slaves) were two classes, the nobles and the druids. The latter officiated at public and private sacrifices, expounded religious duties and observances, trained the youth, decided public questions concerning succession, inheritance, crimes, boundaries, and the like. To their decisions submission was required under penalty of interdiction from participation in sacred rites, the severest punishment conceivable to the people. A yearly meeting of chief druids was held, at which an archdruid was selected by vote. The members of the order were exempt from taxation and from military duty. Because of this they had many students, some of whom remained with them for twenty years, during which they learned a "great number of verses," which were transmitted orally, since sacred things were not committed to writing. They taught the transmigration of souls, the end of the world by fire and water, discussed natural science, astronomy, and the nature of the gods. They officiated at human and other sacrifices and at all religious rites. The human sacrifices were offered sometimes in holocausts, the victims being prisoners of war, criminals, or even voluntary sufferers, and they were burned after being enclosed in huge wicker images. Cæsar equates the chief deity with Mercury as the god of culture, and other deities with Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. He guesses at a British origin for the institution.
Other Classical and Irish Accounts. Pliny, assigning a Gallic origin, tells of the ceremony of the cutting of the mistletoe (associated by the druids with immortality) and narrates a curious story of the "serpents' egg," an accretion formed by a mass of writhing serpents and cast out of their midst, and then caught by a druid before it touched the ground and used for magical purposes. Tacitus asserts that they deduced auguries from human entrails, and that the groves, particularly of the Isle of Anglesey, were the sites of bloody sacrifices. Ammianus Marcellinus makes three classes of literati among the Gauls, bards, eubages (students of nature), and druids--an order like the Pythagoreans. Suetonius asserts that Claudius extinguished the religion in Gaul, and Pliny that Tiberius suppressed the order. Diogenes Laertius (preface to the Philosophoi bioi) makes the druids the originators of philosophy among the Celts, and ascribes to them as the sum of their teaching the triple maxim, "Honor the gods, do no evil, be brave." The Irish hagiology ascribes to the druids great influence, makes their decision precede even that of kings, and, in its later forms, makes them appear as powerful magicians whom Patrick could vanquish only with difficulty, as soothsayers, diviners, protectors of sacred springs, as imposers of sacred duties and taboos, and as cherishing the oak, yew, blackthorn, and mountain ash, with the ivy as a magical herb. The druids appear to have had a tonsure in Ireland which Christians adopted, the form of which was different from the Roman by which it was superseded. The Irish druids were not organized, but were a learned class.
Present Knowledge. The impression left by these early accounts is that the Gallic and British druids were an order wielding political power, since they influenced the choice of magistrates; social power, since they decided civil and criminal causes; and religious power, since they controlled sacred rites. They were rich, masterful, and despotic. The reports of human sacrifices are circumstantial and supported by the detail of the means of obtaining auguries. A connection with Greek learning is suggested by Cæsar's mention of the use of Greek characters for record of matters not religious, though no archeological evidence in support of this is known. That a part of their knowledge was esoteric is supported by the fact that they were not a numerous class as compared with the number of their pupils. The difference between the druidism of Britain and that of Ireland argues no close, or at least no continuous connection between the two. The popular association of the druids with dolmens, menhirs, and cromlechs has at its basis only that the druids used these places, with no probability that they erected the monuments.
GEO. W. GILMORE.
Bibliography: J. R. Green, History of the English People, vol. i., London, 1892; D. W. Nash, Taliesin, or the Bards and Druids of Britain, chap. iii., London, 1858; J. Rhys, Celtic Heathendom, ib. 1888; idem, Celtic Britain, pp. 70-73, ib. 1904; T. Olden, Church of Ireland, chap. i., ib. 1892; J. von Pflug-Harttung, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1893, pp. 55-75; Adamnan, Vita S. Columbæ, pp. xviii.-xxiii. et passim, Oxford, 1894; J. V. Montbarlet, Les Pierres et l'histoire. Le Druidisme, Paris, 1896; A. Bertrand, La Religion des Gaulois; les Druides et le Druidisme, pp. 268 sqq., ib. 1897; G. Dottin, La Bretagne et les pays celtiques, iv. 268-295, ib. 1906; P. D. Chantepie de Ia Saussaye, Religions-Geschichte, ii. 572-574, Tübingen, 1905; C. Reuel, Les Religions de la Gauls avant le Christianisme, Paris, 1907.