The Cover





Fictions, Facts, and Mysteries: Druids



A group of men and women in white robes, armed with elaborately carved bronze swords and golden sickles, enter the forest at night and head for an oak tree entangled by mistletoe. Chanting incomprehensible verses, they cut the mistletoe from the oak tree and lay it on a white cloth.2

Or, bearing torches, they enter a circle of roughly carved standing stones, leading a man bound and gagged. At the moment the first ray of the midsummer sun strikes the stones, they cut off the head of the bound man, catch the blood in a silver basin, and pour it over the stones.

Such images of druids have become fixed in the popular consciousness, but in reality, these images contain both fact and misconception. It's true that, in some respects, we have more questions than answers about what the druids did and believed. Perhaps that is why over the generations, proponents of diverse views have found it so easy to depict the druids as exemplars of their own beliefs: Stoic philosophers, the original Freemasons or Unitarians, descendants of Egyptian priests, and models for the New Age. Stuart Piggott called such images "druids-as-wished-for."3 Scholars groan over such images because they bear so little resemblance to what is known about the druids. On the other hand, scholars will readily admit that there are large gaps in the record of evidence, gaps that leave room for discussion about what role the druids played in early Gaulish, British, and Irish societies. However, such discussion should begin by looking at the evidence for what Piggott called, "druids-as-known," in their function as the ritual leaders of the pre-Christian Celtic-speaking peoples.

In this essay, you'll find the following sections to which you can jump by following the links:

· Sources of Information. lists the types of evidence

· Fictions: Modern Misconceptions about Druids. lists popular though mistaken ideas about the druids along with the correct information

· Facts: What We Know about the Druids. lists information about which scholars are reasonably certain

· Mysteries: What We Do Not Know about the Druids. lists areas about which we know little

· For Further Reading. lists books and articles that contain solid, reliable information about the druids and their worlds


The ideas presented here are consensus interpretations of the evidence, but few of these views are uncontested by someone. You will better understand why this is so after you look at the section on Sources of Information.. After reading all this material, you may find that your mental image of druids still remains a bit fuzzy, but you can be reasonably certain that your image is accurate.

Sources of Information

In many ways, understanding what information we have and the limitations of the sources is key to forming an accurate image of the druids. The process of evaluating the evidence is akin to piecing a very old jigsaw puzzle. Assume that you don't know how the puzzle is supposed to turn out. Also, assume that some parts are missing. In fact, the missing parts may be the most important ones: we do not have any living druids from ancient times to tell us what they thought, believed, or did. The druids died out long ago, and they never wrote down what they taught their students. 4 Essentially, the information we have to work with falls into the following categories: Greek and Roman commentary, archaeological finds, comparative evidence, and medieval Irish texts.

Source Type 1. Statements made by Greek and Roman writers about the druids

There are a few dozen brief references to druids in Gaul and Britain (not Ireland) in the works of Greek- and Latin-speaking writers from the classical era (Piggott gives the total number of classical references as thirty). These sources are important because we have so little evidence. Nevertheless, their value is limited because the quality and accuracy of the information found in these sources varies. First of all, remember that these writers are writing after the Romans had conquered Celtic-speaking peoples. For most of these writers, the druids were a group that had already been suppressed and outlawed. Therefore, by and large, the writers are repeating the impressions of others, not offering their own observations. Even within a single work, an author may draw from both personal experience and other writers without distinguishing.

Also, the authors' reasons for writing varied. Some were antiquarians and encyclopedists, writing about all sorts of topics. Others were travellers who, in a sense, made a living from writing about their experiences and the stories they heard. Some were military leaders who had political purposes to promote or actions to justify. Cultural bias and personal perspective often affected how an author depicted the druids. Strabo, for example, emphasized how the Celtic religious leaders were similar to certain Greek philosophers. Julius Caesar, whose principal concern was to incorporate the Gaulish people into the Empire he was creating, emphasized the druids influential role in governing Gaulish society and presented their beliefs in terms of Roman religion. Some classical authors considered the Celtic-speaking peoples to be barbaric threats to order. Others regarded the Celts with ambivalence, depicting them as interesting curiosities but not first-class human beings. In other words, the classical writers demonstrated some of the same biases and prejudices that colonizing peoples have shown towards the conquered throughout human history. It also helps to look at everything an author wrote, not just the passages on the druids or Celts, and consider the author`s general reliability as a source. When you consider what the classical authors wrote about the druids, evaluate statements for bias and contradiction, and verify their accuracy. For example, Julius Caesar may be generally reliable. He certainly wanted to make the Gauls subject to the Romans, and, to him, that meant Romanizing them to a degree. He certainly interpreted their beliefs through his own perspective, but he could not afford to outright lie because his political enemies would have made hay of him. Also, many of his statements can be verified. Pliny, on the other hand, though his description of druids picking mistletoe is often quoted as reliable, is probably less trustworthy. For example, consider that (1) Pliny often wrote obviously legendary anecdotes (such as dog-headed people who communicated by barking), (2) golden blades would not cut vines very effectively, and (3) Pliny made other statements about the druids that are doubtful. For example, he wrote: "We cannot too highly appreciate our debt to the Romans for having put an end to this monstrous cult, whereby to murder a man was an act of the greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh most beneficial." If the druids had been cannibals, this would have been mentioned by Julius Caesar, Suetonius, and Tacitus. Since it was not, Pliny's claim about druidic cannibalism may be as legendary as his tales of dog-headed people. And since no one other than Pliny connects the druids with mistletoe, that story may be equally legendary. These are the sorts of questions that need to be asked. The results of scholarly studies can help you. For example, some scholars have examined how accurately the authors quoted their sources. Other scholars have noted how archaeological finds and other evidence contradict what the ancient authors wrote. See the sources listed under For Further Reading..

Source Type 2. Discoveries of objects and sites made by archaeologists

This is the only material that actually might have been used by druids or the people they led in ritual. From study of the human remains found in graves, archaeologists can tell us something about the people themselves, for example, how large they were in general, how long they generally lived, the rates of infant mortality, sometimes even the illnesses that plagued them. Archaeologists can also draw some conclusions about how the pre-Christian Celts worshipped: where they conducted ceremonies, the objects they offered, sometimes even the time of year when they were active on a ritual site. However, no druids have survived to tell us which objects were used by druids (as opposed to other ritual leaders or participants), how they used the objects, and what they believed was the purpose. So many questions remain unanswered: what did they wear, when did they worship, why did they worship, who did they worship, what did they say and do during their ceremonies?

Source Type 3. Comparison of culture and language with other Indo-European cultures

Some evidence comes from looking at how words evolved in the Celtic languages, especially the Indo-European roots from which they evolved. In some ways, linguistic material is the most speculative evidence we have to work with since it often relies on hypothetical reconstructions of past behavior for which there is little if any independent evidence. We can also look at other Indo-European cultures to see what similar structures and institutions they have. However, this, too, can lead to inaccurate assumptions: even when cultures started from the same people, they often evolve in distinctly different ways, developing different social organization, religious beliefs and practices, and cultural norms. In other words, the fact that an action or belief can be proven to be true of Hindu brahmins does not mean it was equally true of Celtic druids.

Source Type 4. Irish tales, law, and stories of the saints recorded by medieval Christian monks

Writing did not come to Ireland until the Christian era.5 It's unknown when Christianity first came to Ireland, though the story of St. Patrick converting all of Ireland in the early fifth century is generally discounted. Rather, the conversion seems to have been gradual, probably beginning by the reputed time of Patrick. As the conversion took place, existing customs were evaluated for compatibility with Christianity, then either discarded or adapted in a process that lasted many years. By the beginning of the seventh century, Irish society had become predominantly Christian. Our earliest written evidence for Ireland dates from that period, when Irish monastic scribes began to keep records: lives of patron saints, notes of events inside and outside their monasteries, laws, some other traditional lore.

As time passed, the scribes recorded additional material, including remnants of pre-Christian myths and what might be called "secular" tales about heroes of the past. Some of these materials mention druids but the descriptions view them from an often negative Christian perspective. Even the earliest legal material depicts druids as a group whose prestige in the society has become questionable: for example, while druids are still classified as nobles, they are not entitled to the same rights and privileges as others of their rank. In some stories, druids are depicted as agents of demonic forces, or they are shown as greedy and untrustworthy.6 Frequently they are depicted as allies of Simon Magus, who appears as a greedy and sometimes evil sorcerer in the New Testament and early Christian apocrypha. Even when the images of druids are fairly even-handed, we can assume that the scribes and storytellers knew little about what the druids did or believed so that their descriptions are unlikely to be completely accurate. It is also apparent that some social roles were modified to fit the Christian society. Christian clerics took over the ritual roles of druids, while the breithem 7 (judicial expert), fili (praise-poet, prophet, and keeper of royal and kin-group lore), and bard (storyteller) took over the lore-keeper functions. Since saints were sometimes pictured in encounters with druids or other pagans, stories about Irish saints are a potential source of information about the druids, although the biases of the writers must be considered in evaluating the evidence. For example, many Lives include stories of saints such as Padraig competing with druids to achieve some magical feat. In these stories, the figures of saints like Padraig speak and act in ways very similar to the druids with whom they are competing. What makes Padraig the victor is not different methods but the superior response he invokes from his god using the same methods employed by the druids to invoke theirs.8

Before I leave the subject of sources, here's a word about books that are not reliable sources of information about the pre-Christian druids. If you go to the New Age or even the history section of popular booksellers, you will find numerous books with titles such as The Druids Source Book or The Book of Druidry. Though you may think these books contain material written by druids long ago, they actually present the ideas of modern writers (seventeenth century and later) about what they think it was like to be a druid or what it should mean to be a druid today. In fact, these books contain many of the misconceptions listed later in this article. For example, some of these writers do not connect the druids with ancient Celtic-speaking peoples, but instead place their origins in pre-Celtic times or even in ancient Egypt, Atlantis, or Lemuria. Such ideas are not supported by the evidence. The For Further Reading. section recommends reliable sources for exploring the subject beyond this article.

Fictions: Modern Misconceptions about Druids 9

Fiction 1. "Druid" is another word for a Celtic10 pagan.

"Druid" is the anglicized version of a title used for some religious leaders of the pre-Christian Celts. In Old Irish, the correct term is druí (singular) and druíd (plural).

Fiction 2. All Celtic priests, ritual leaders, and practitioners were called "druids."

There were several titles for ritual leaders, although the evidence is somewhat contradictory as to what the titles were and what roles they represented. Also, each Celtic tradition--Gaulish, British, or Gaelic--had its own terms and titles.

Fiction 3. "Druidry" is the same as pre-Christian Celtic religion.

A number of modern neo-pagan groups refer to their way as "druidry." Generally the neo-pagan "druidry" movements draw inspiration from the speculative writings of 18th- and 19th-century antiquarians, 20th-century occultists, and the late 20th-century New Age movement. Though they often position themselves as the heirs of ancient traditions, these neo-pagan "druidry" groups may de-emphasize Celtic culture and language and operate within Anglo-centric linguistic and cultural milieus. Their ideas often, though not always, resemble Wiccan approaches and ideologies that themselves come from twentieth-century occultists, not ancient traditions.

Fiction 4. The druids came from Egypt or Atlantis. Their teachings are based on the cult of Isis.

The druids had nothing to do with Atlantis, Egypt, Isis, or other Egyptian gods.

Fiction 5. Druids existed in Britain before Celtic-speaking peoples lived there.

This idea is contradicted by archaeological and linguistic evidence. In fact, the druids were the religious leaders of the pre-Christian Celts, Celtic-speaking peoples appear to have originated in central Europe, and the cognate words for Irish druí apparently originated on the Continent.

Fiction 6. The druids built Stonehenge.

The druids were leaders of ritual among pre-Christian Celtic-speaking peoples. Stonehenge and other megalithic structures were set up thousands of years before Celtic-speaking peoples lived in Atlantic Europe. Celtic-speaking people probably did not even use Stonehenge, let alone build it.

Fiction 7. The druids did not practice human sacrifice.

Classical writings and archaeological evidence indicate that the druids supervised sacrifices made by Celtic-speaking peoples. They sacrificed animals on a regular basis and occasionally they offered humans. However, one should keep in mind that execution for crimes was a religious ceremony of reparation to the deity offended by the crime, and many of those "sacrificed" may well have been criminals. Others were prisoners of war, such as those said to have been offered by Gauls in Anatolia after victorious battle (all captured enemies were killed, but the "best" were singled out and killed ritually). These practices were typical of the times, and many, perhaps even most, ancient cultures practiced animal and/or human sacrifice in some measure. Even the Romans, who regularly decried the Gauls for their "barbarous" practices were known to order human sacrifice in some situations 11 and the gods were regularly invoked as part of the killing that went on in Coliseum "games." 12

Fiction 8. The druids were shamans.

Shamans are the ritual practitioners of certain aboriginal peoples ranging from Siberia to North and South America. These practitioners use certain ceremonial techniques to obtain knowledge, achieve healing, find game, and empower warriors for battle. Though each people's ritual leaders use distinctive ceremonies, modern anthropologists have detected similarities in form and underlying belief that they call "shamanism" after the term shaman by which ritual practitioners are known among certain Siberian peoples.

Some techniques and experiences described by shamanic practitioners seem similar to those of visionaries in other cultures or belief systems. Most details of pre-Christian Celtic methods have been lost, but Celtic seers and ritual leaders may once have employed techniques that, like those of aboriginal shamans, involved belief in spirits, interaction with an Otherworld, and an alliance with Otherworldly powers or spirits. However, the Celtic evidence suggests an emphasis on obtaining knowledge (versus action in ceremony) that is better associated with the term seer, one who acquires knowledge not obtainable through ordinary means. Even in shamanic cultures, shamans are not the only ones to journey to the Otherworld or have visions. Similarly, in Celtic myths, as Leslie Ellen Jones points out in Druid, Shaman, Priest, characters who travel to the Otherworld are more often warriors, such as Cú Chulainn and Fionn, rather than druíd or fátha ,13 though Fionn is identified as both a fili (poet with some magical skills and powers) as well as a warrior. Perhaps in the descriptions of Fionn as both warrior and poet and the hagiographic references to díbergaigh performing rituals before setting out on assassination, there are traces of lost Irish hunter or warrior practices and beliefs similar to those still found in shamanic cultures.14

The anthropological definition of shamanism notes the commonalities in the experiences of a wide range of cultures. This scientific emphasis on the common characteristics may be useful for anthropologists. However, it tends to overlook that an activity or culture is shamanic because of the total complex of belief and ceremony, not one or two separate characteristics.15 While the evidence is sketchy, apparently the pre-Christian Celts did not conduct ceremonies using all the aspects of found in shamanic aboriginal cultures. If we knew more about what the pre-Christian Celtic seers did, we might find striking similarities between them and the practitioners of shamanic cultures. However, the available evidence indicates that pre-Christian Celtic practices and concepts differed from those of the Siberian shaman , Mi'kmaq puoin , and others who can truly be called shamans . To call the Celtic seers shamanic does not sufficiently respect the unique qualities of aboriginal cultures, nor does it accurately describe the Celtic traditions we have. However. I think it likely that if a modern Lakota healer and a pre-Christian Irish fáth met in some timeless Otherworld borderland, they would find a good deal to talk about.

Fiction 9. The Céli Dé (anglicized Culdees) were a group of refugee druids.

Some modern occultists claim that in the sixth century St. Colum cille founded the Culdees to save druids from persecution. Although nominally Christian, the Céli Dé supposedly preserved pre-Christian ways and traditions. In fact, the Céli Dé were a reform movement promoting ascetic values and practices in Irish monasteries in the ninth century, several hundred years after Colum cille died.

Fiction 10. Bards were the most elite level of traditional Celtic poets and lorekeepers.

Originally, a bard (as written in Irish or Scottish Gaelic) was a low (probably lowest) level of traditional lore-keeper in early Celtic societies. Other grades of lore-keepers ranked higher and required more extensive training and accomplishments. The word bard as currently understood and used in English owes much to its resurrected use by 18th-century antiquarians writing in English and to the writings of 20th century poet Robert Graves.

Fiction 11. Ogham is the Celtic system of occult runes used by druids to do divination.

Ogham is the writing system used by the medieval Irish and some other groups to inscribe stones for use as markers on the landscape. Poets probably used ogham to mark wood or other objects for use as charms. If they used ogham for divination, the methods have not survived. Any ogham divination system you read about today was invented during the twentieth century.

Fiction 12. The druids had a system of astrology and a calendar with months named for trees.

Any astrological systems billed as "Celtic" were invented in the twentieth century or later. The notion of a "Celtic tree calendar" was the invention of Robert Graves, a twentieth-century poet, classical scholar, and novelist. The notion has been expanded upon by a number of popular writers. It has no basis in Celtic tradition. However, the druids were said to have tracked the movements of the stars, and some knowledgeable persons among the Celtic-speaking Gauls calculated and drew up a calendar that appears to have periods marked as favorable and unfavorable. Medieval Irish hagiography depicts druids as astrologers (Bethu Brigte 1 §3). So they probably did have astrological systems, but they have been lost.

Facts: What We Know about the Druids

Fact 1. Among Greeks and Romans, druids were known as druidae or druides. Among the medieval Irish, they were called druí (singular) or druíd (plural).

Remember that druid is an English word based on earlier Celtic terms. Druides is Latin (possibly derived from Greek druidae), but ultimately derived from Celtic words.

Fact 2. The meaning of druí is probably "very wise."

Popular books often say that the original Celtic words for druid came from Indo-European *dru meaning "oak" and *weid- meaning "to see," and claim that druid meant oak seers or something like that. However, the general consensus among scholars is closer to what Calvert Watkins wrote: the proto-Celtic form *dru-wid, meaning "strong seeing," comes from the IE *deru "strong" and *weid- "to see," 16 a word connected with knowing. So, a druid would be someone who was very wise.

Fact 3. Druids and other lore-keepers were a separate class within Celtic society.

In both classical descriptions and medieval Irish texts, druids appear as a distinct social class. Julius Caesar spoke of three classes--equites (horse warriors), druides, and the laboring classes--but we know little about the exact grades and ranks of the Gauls in their own language. It's reasonably certain, for example, that there were at least three groups within the druides. However, Julius Caesar treats them as a single class who were not required to perform military service, although he probably overlooked the role of the druids in performing battle magic. In Irish terms, the druids were a separate group among the lowest of the noble classes. Ritual leaders and lore-keepers lived on offerings from the people they served. Often their ritual sites existed on borderlands or land that did not belong to the kin or kin-groups. While these locations were probably chosen at least in part for their magical potency as liminal areas, their apartness also emphasized the separation of the religious leaders from the rest of society. They knew the ways and language of the deities; they could travel to the Otherworld, consult the powers, invoke inspiration, foresee the future, avert disaster, invoke destruction on their enemies. For all these reasons, the lore-keepers were subject only to the king and to each other.

Fact 4. Druids passed on their lore as oral learning, not written.

Among many tribal peoples, traditional lore is passed on orally from teacher to student, elder to child, master to neophyte. In the pre-Christian period, the Celtic-speaking peoples were no different in this respect; indeed, all Indo-European peoples were originally non-literate. By the time of the Roman conquest, the Romans were fast becoming people of written words and their writers often derided those who were not literate. At that time, the Celtic-speaking peoples began using letters to keep business records, but the druids continued to pass on their lore orally. Julius Caesar saw political motivation in this and wrote, "they have established this practice for two reasons: because they do not wish their way of life to be broadcast to the general public, and because they do not wish those who they teach to learn by trusting more in letters than in their memory." Caesar appears to have missed an important point: that traditional peoples often feel that an essential part of learning is the relationship between teacher and student. This is especially important in the training of religious practitioners, for the students were not simply acquiring facts to be fed back in an exam. They were learning a way of life, a role in which they would mediate between their people and the gods. In such situations, teachers often feel that they are not simply communicating information. Rather, they are acting as mentors, spiritual guides, and something more for they pass on their own power and infused knowledge. Think yourself of the teachers who have had the biggest effect on you: did they simply communicate facts from a book, or did they give you something of themselves? At the same time, we should not discard Caesar's points entirely. By restricting who acquired their knowledge, the druids did maintain a level of control. Also, as Irish evidence verifies, learning a enormous amounts of material by heart was a very important part of being a Celtic lore-keeper.

Fact 5. Celtic lore-keepers, including druids, spent many years in training.

Julius Caesar wrote that Gaulish druids of his time "are said to learn by heart a great number of verses; and so many remain in training for twenty years." Pomponius Mela wrote that the druids "teach many things to the noblest of the race in sequestered and remote places during twenty years, whether in a cave or in secluded groves."17 Similarly, in medieval Ireland, the grades (ranks) of poets were marked, at least in part, by how much lore had been learned. For example, the highest grade of fili was required to know 350 tales whereas the lowest needed to know only 30.18 Filid also acquired varying levels of expertise in subjects such as history, placelore, genealogy, law, and other traditional material. All of this was over and above knowledge of and skill at using the complicated metrics that were an inherent part of early Irish poetry. Doubtless, druids were earlier expected to have expertise in these areas. Such knowledge and skill would have required long years of training.

Fact 6. Druids led community rituals among the Celts and functioned as the principal teachers of religion.

Druids (Irish druíd) led sacrificial and other public rituals on behalf of the community. About the Gaulish druids it was reported, "They have philosophers and theologians who are held in much honour and are called Druids.... It is a custom of the Gauls that no one performs a sacrifice without the assistance of a philosopher, for they say that offerings to the gods ought only to made through the mediation of these men, who are learned in the divine nature and, so to speak, familiar with it, and it is through their agency that the blessings of the gods should properly be sought." 19 Julius Caesar wrote, "They preside over sacred things, have the charge of public and private sacrifices, and explain their religion." 20

Julius Caesar wrote 21 that the druids "debate concerning the heavens and their movement, concerning the size of the universe and the earth, [and] the workings of nature...." 22 Ritual leaders must know how and when to perform ceremonies appropriate for each occasion. Therefore, the druids probably studied the movements of planets and stars to help them calculate when feasts should be celebrated and which days were lucky or unlucky for certain actions. This, too, is in line with what Amairgin the poet recites in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, and what medieval Irish hagiographers wrote about druids and their interest in and relation to the non-human elements of the world.

Druids also conducted "searchings into secret and sublime things, and with grand contempt for mortal lot they professed the immortality of the soul." 23 They were the principal teachers and keepers of religious lore: they studied "the strength and power of the immortal gods, and these things they hand down [to their students]." 24.

Fact 7. Druids maintained law lore, acted as arbiters, and advised leaders.

According to classical authors, druids were the principal keepers of lore about law and precedent. The following statement may concern druids (the antecedent of the pronouns is not clear in the Latin): "Often when the combatants are ranged face to face, and swords are drawn and spears bristling, these men come between the armies and stay the battle...." 25 Caesar also wrote that the druids "generally settle all their disputes, both public and private; and if there is any transgression perpetrated, any murder committed, or any dispute about inheritance or boundaries, they decide in respect of them; they appoint rewards and penalties." As leaders of ritual and judges, druids had the authority to bar people from participating in community events and they could with-hold other privileges. According to Caesar, the druids used this authority to enforce their judgments: "If any private or public person abides not by their decree, they restrain him from the sacrifices. This with them is the most severe punishment. Whoever are so interdicted, are ranked in the number of the impious and wicked; all forsake them, and shun their company and conversation, lest they should suffer disadvantage from contagion with them." If Caesar described the situation accurately, community rituals must have functioned to bond the community and establish the ranks and roles of its members. Of course, Caesar was probably intent on pointing out how much power the druids exercised in the community. He adds, "Nor is legal right rendered to [the excommunicated] when they sue it, nor any honour conferred upon them." Dio Chrysostom, writing about a century later, clearly exaggerated the druids' role: "The Celts appointed druids, who likewise were versed in the art of seers and other forms of wisdom without whom the kings were not permitted adopt or plan any course, so that in fact it was these who ruled and the kings became their subordinates and instruments of their judgement, while themselves seated on golden thrones, and dwelling in great houses and being sumptuously feasted." 26

Fact 8. Not all Celtic religious personnel were called druids.

Not all classical writers use the same terms, but they generally refer to three functional categories of religious personnel: those who led ritual and settled legal matters, those who acted as seers, and those who told stories and kept historical lore. The names used by some of the classical writers--druidae or druides, vates, and bardi or bardoi--seem to be cognate with the Irish terms druíd (priests and judges), fátha (seers), and baird (story-tellers and historical lore-keepers). In medieval Irish society of the Christian period, however, the three categories of druí, fáth, and bard were replaced by other categories, some secular and others related to the churches. The Christian priest--the Latin specialist or sacerdos (sacart or cruimther in Old Irish)--took over the role of leader of ritual and sacrifice. The breithem became the judicial specialist. The fili took over the roles of praise-poet, king's companion, and seer. Scribes took over the roles of annalists and genealogists, developing the role of historian according to the newer medieval notions of the role. However, it should be kept in mind that in every culture, within every priesthood, whether a highly structured group like the Roman Catholic clergy or more flexible groups such as North American Indian healers, there is a great deal of variation. Inevitably, some individuals become more "expert" at a topic, and their expertise is recognized and called upon by their fellow practitioners and the general populace.

Fact 9. Vates (Irish fátha or fáith) were seers. 27

Strictly speaking divination refers to attempts and procedures performed in an effort to obtain knowledge not obtainable through usual means. Thus, divination may concern the future, or it may concern other issues: the location of a lost person or item, for example. Like seers in other traditional cultures, vates apparently took omens about what was the likely outcome of action being considered, learned the fate of missing persons or ships, and attempted to diagnose illness and what steps should be taken to achieve healing. It was written of the Gauls that "they have sooth-sayers too of great renown who tell the future by watching the flights of birds and by the observation of the entrails of victims; and everyone waits upon their word." Cicero said that he had met a Gaulish druid and that this man "used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometimes by means of conjecture." 28 Other methods employed by the seers may horrify us now, though they are not unique to the Gauls, even if the report is accurate and not hyperbole: "they kill a man by a knife-stab in the region above the midriff, and after his fall they foretell the future by the convulsions of his limbs and the pouring of his blood, a form of divination in which they have full confidence, as it is of old tradition." 29

Medieval Irish texts tell us a bit about methods used by filid, methods that may owe something to the practices of the pre-Christian seers. Even the most detailed description, though, is short on the sorts of details required to duplicate a ceremony. For example, a medieval compilation known as Sanas Cormaic (Cormac's Glossary) 30 contains some of the most concrete descriptions to be found, though it's sprinkled through with the scribes' comments. Also, it's sometimes difficult to figure out what the scribes meant.31 Nevertheless, it's worth considering what "Cormac" has to say about a method called imbas forosnai:

The fili chews a morsel of raw pig, dog, or cat meat and then puts it on the flagstone behind the door. He chants over the morsel and offers it to the idol gods. He calls them to him and does not leave the next day. He chants over his two palms and calls the idol gods to him lest his sleep be disturbed. He puts his two palms over his two cheeks and sleeps; he is watched lest he turn over and be disturbed by someone. Then is revealed to him whatever is going to happen to him in the next nine, eighteen, or twenty-seven days or until the end of the period during which he can be at sacrifice. And so it is called imbas: after the palm (bas) on each side of his face or head. Patrick banned this as well as the teinm laída and decreed that anyone who had practiced these would be neither of heaven nor of earth, since to do so was a denial of baptism. But the díchetal di chennaib was left in the system of art, for it is knowledge (soas) which underlies it. The díchetal di chennaib does not require sacrifice to demons; instead it is information instantaneously from the tips of bones.32

This passage makes it clear that the fili had specific ways of obtaining knowledge not available by ordinary methods. The methods involved making offerings, invoking spirits or gods, and entering trance of some sort. However, most of the information needed to duplicate such ceremonies is missing. Such information would have been partially communicated one-on-one by the seer's teacher. Students would have acquired additional learning by assisting at such ceremonies (perhaps by helping to prepare the offerings or by being a "watcher") and eventually through first-hand experience. This chain of learning and tradition was broken long ago. Rather than elder fátha discussing their experiences with their students and guiding them through their development, today we have scholars of the language debating how to translate díchetal di chennaib.

Fact 10. Bardi or bardoi (Irish baird) were storytellers, praise-poets, and genealogists. 33

Of Gaulish bards it was said, "these, singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others." 34 Another writer noted, "It was the custom of the bards to celebrate the brave deeds of their famous men in epic verse accompanied by the sweet strain of the lyre." 35

Fact 11. In medieval Irish tales, the term druí sometimes means any type of
pre-Christian religious leader.

Medieval Irish tales seem to treat druí as a general term that covers all pre-Christian religious leaders. There are far fewer references to fátha. The fili apparently took over the seer function of the fáth.

Fact 12. In medieval Irish materials, the terms druí and magus are used interchangeably.

The earliest writings from Ireland are in Latin or a mix of Old Irish and Latin. In telling their stories in Latin, the early Irish monks developed a vocabulary of words used to translate native Irish terms. They used the Latin word magus when they wrote about druíd. This is known to a certainty because texts where magus appears were glossed with the comment druí and in Old Irish texts druí was glossed with magus. This is important because the image of druíd in medieval Irish hagiography owes much to the Christian apocryphal image of Simon Magus as a magician who refused to accept the Christian god and who took money for rendering magical services. 36

Fact 13. In medieval Irish materials, druids are depicted as having the knowledge and power to control the elements and forces of nature.

In early Irish materials druids are depicted as chanting incantations or curses to ritually invoke the power of parts of the cosmos: sun, moon, lightning, wind.

Fact 14. In the medieval Irish materials, druids are closely associated with birds.

Diodorus Siculus said druids took omens by watching the flight of birds. 37 In Irish texts, druids were said to wear feathered cloaks and headdresses to perform ritual.

Fact 15. Druids were associated with trees.

Classical writers associated the druids with sacred groves. Tacitus, in describing the destruction of a druid sanctuary, referred to cutting down "the groves which were dedicated to their savage rituals."38 According to Piggott, the earliest Celtic sanctuaries consisted of arrangements of statues and pillars in forests or other sites, not enclosed buildings.39 Later, the Celts had buildings with roofs but open at the sides, good for sheltering crowds but still remaining open to the natural surroundings. Pliny associated druids with the oak in particular, but in Ireland, the yew, rowan, and hawthorn were considered at least as powerful and valuable. In Ireland, laws imposed stiff fines if trees were cut down; the severity of the fine depended on the type of tree. In one version of ogham, each character was associated with a type of tree.

Fact 16. The druids taught that there was an after-life.

The evidence from both classical writers and Irish texts testifies to druidic belief that the present life was followed by another existence in an Otherworld. Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that, "The druids...declared souls to be immortal." 40 Pomponius Mela claimed that, "One of their dogmas has become widely known so they may the more readily go to wars: namely that souls are everlasting, and that among the shades is another life." 41

What is less certain is whether the druids believed in reincarnation or transmigration of the soul. Diodorus Siculus wrote, "The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them [the Gauls], teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in another body."42 Writing in the first century CE, Lucan the poet wrote in lines addressing the druids rhetorically, "It is you who say that the shades of the dead seek not the silent land of Erebus and the pale halls of Pluto; rather, you tell us that the same spirit has a body again elsewhere, and that death, if what you sing is true, is but the midpoint of long life." 43 Medieval Irish texts contain traces of belief in persons being reborn in different forms. Sometimes, it seems that a single being simply takes on one form after another, as in the case of Tuan mac Cairell. In other situations, a character is said to be an earlier figure reborn, such as when Mongan is said to be Fionn reborn. Interestingly, these figures always seem to recall their previous forms and lives.

Fact 17. The druids venerated deities that were highly local in focus.

Archaeologists have discovered several hundred different names or titles that appear to refer to deities. Only a handful appear more than once. Each tribe or kin-group apparently had its own set of deities, though each set probably performed similar functions of providing protection or bringing prosperity at specific seasons. There wasn't a pan-Celtic pantheon.

Fact 18. The pre-Christian Irish believed in a tripartite cosmology consisting of talam (land), muir (sea), and nem (sky) in this world plus an Otherworld that was an idealized version of this one.

Medieval Irish sources repeatedly refer to this notion, which gradually gave way to a Christian worldview of this world, the classical four elements, and heaven (the abode of the Trinity and the angels).

Fact 19. The druids did sacrifice animals and sometimes humans.

There seems to be little question that Celtic-speaking people "sacrificed" animals and humans. Classical writers all mention it, and so do Irish texts. Archaeological evidence also supports the presence of human and animal bones in places and arrangements consistent with sacrificial rituals. Most other ancient cultures performed such offerings; it would be more surprising if the Celtic-speaking peoples did not. The animals may have been partly a sort of offering of first fruits. In other cases, they may have been intended as a means of renewing the supply of raw material needed to renew the cosmos and provide new sources of food and life.

Tacitus wrote, "they considered it lawful to offer the blood of captives on their altars, and to consult the gods by means of the nerves of men." 44 Julius Caesar went into some detail, though it's unclear whether he actually witnessed sacrifices: "those are afflicted with serious illnesses and those who are engaged in battles or dangerous activities, either sacrifice men as victims or vow that they will sacrifice themselves; and they employ the Druids as assistants in these sacrifices, because, if the life of a man is not given in exchange for the life of a man, they consider that the divine power of the immortal gods can not be appeased; and they hold sacrifices of this kind in public as an established practice." This description may refer to the practice of sacrificing prisoners of war after a victory. Caesar also confirmed the notion that those sacrificed often were criminals, as in other cultures: "The execution of those who have been caught in theft or burglary or some other crime is considered to be more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of victims of this type runs short, execution falls even upon the innocent." Such offerings were meant to repair offense against a deity.

Fact 20. The druids made ritual use of fire.

Julius Caesar said that the druids used fire to offer sacrifice. Certainly, Irish texts also associated fire with druidic ceremonies. Midhe lit a fire at Uisneach to inaugurate the arrival of the Nemedians in Ireland. 45 Fire plays a central role in the druids' encounters with Patrick in lives of that saint: the druids light ceremonial fires on heights to mark feasts and they summon fire out of the sky in tests of magical power.

Fact 21. In Ireland, the druids practiced battle magic.

Unlike Julius Caesar's depiction of the druids as arbiters in times of war, the Irish law texts focus on their ability to win battles. Bretha Nemed toísech, a law text, states that a druí could win a battle for the weaker side. 46 Part of Cath Maige Tuiread is devoted to deciding what sorts of magic would be used in battle against the Fomoire. The super-warrior Lugh is shown using the methods of corrguinecht (crane- or heron-killing) in battle, circling the battlefield while chanting in a specific stance in imitation of a heron or crane (standing on one foot, one eye closed and with one arm stretched above the head).47 In the same battle, a druid promised to send showers of fire down on the Fomoire, to deprive them of two-thirds of their strength and valor, and to bind the urine in their bodies and the bodies of their horses .48 In a much later text, Forbais Dromma Damgaire, the druid Mog Ruith is recruited to use his skills on behalf of a king against the druids recruited by the opposing king. A druidic wind temporarily kept the Milesians from landing in Ireland. Even in specifically Christian texts like saints' stories, druids were credited with being able to perform magic in battle. 49 The Annals of Ulster for 560 (recte 561 in margin) refer to the use of the erbe ndruad (druid's fence) during the battle of Cúil Dremne. Any warrior attempting to jump over this erbe was killed. The annals don't say whether the fence was simply a magical barrier--a force field, if you will--or a physical obstacle covered with poisoned spikes. For example, adding a contact poison to the surface of a wattling barrier plus chanting charms over it could be seen as making it magical.50 However, druids were not the only members of early Irish society credited with the ability to wield magical techniques. Smiths and physicians were credited with specific skills and powers. Fili could chant spells powerful enough to raise facial deformity or even death. Ordinary people could chant blessings of protection or verses that cursed.

Fact 22. Women could be druids.

Significant evidence suggests that women in Gaul functioned as religious leaders of some sort. The questions is whether they were called druids. Tacitus described women being among the druids in Britain who resisted the destruction of their sanctuary, but he does not call them druids. Occasionally, women in early Irish texts are called bandruíd, literally "women-druids," just as there were banfilid (women-poets). In the early Christian period, Gaulish fortune-tellers were sometimes called druidesses, though it's uncertain whether this appellation should be taken literally. It may have become a common, somewhat meaningless phrase used for any woman in Gaul who claimed the ability to foretell the future.

Fact 23. Druids were closely connected with kings as advisers and magical protectors.

Dio Chrysostom wrote that the Celts on the Continent "appointed druids, who likewise were versed in the art of seers and other forms of wisdom without whom the kings were not permitted adopt or plan any course, so that in fact it was these who ruled and the kings became their subordinates and instruments of their judgement, while themselves seated on golden thrones, and dwelling in great houses and being sumptuously feasted." 51 By the time Dio Chrysostom was writing, the Romans had outlawed the druids, so he may be simply repeating salacious propaganda. On the other hand, it's likely that druids were close advisers. As keepers of lore, they knew law and precedent. Medieval Irish texts indicate that druíd--and later, filid--were responsible for magical protection of the king. Irish text especially stress the role of druíd in using battle magic to disable a king's enemies.

Fact 24. In the Roman Empire, the druids were suppressed, their sanctuaries were destroyed, and practice of their religion was outlawed.

Popular writers occasionally say that the conquest of the Celtic-speaking peoples by the Romans had little effect on the practice of Celtic religion. In fact, the evidence shows that the Romans used legislative and military means to suppress the druids and their religion first in Gaul and later in Britain. Suetonius wrote that Augustus forbade Romans to practice the religio druidarum. This was a first step, followed by suppressing the druids themselves. Pliny wrote, "it was in the time of the Emperor Tiberius that a decree was issued against their Druids and the whole tribe of diviners and physicians." 52 Suetonius also wrote that Claudius (54 CE) abolished the religion of the druids in Gaul. Describing events in 61 CE, Tacitus described the destruction of the druid sanctuary on Anglesey in Britain, noting that the Roman forces "cut down whoever came into their way and engulfed them in their own fire. After this a garrison was put in place over the conquered people and the groves which were dedicated to their savage rituals were cut down." 53 Julius Caesar, too, described how he destroyed Gaulish sanctuaries. Celtic sanctuaries not destroyed were transformed from open-air sites to Roman-style temples; for example, springs were channeled into baths in large buildings. Whereas each Gaulish and Briton kin-group had previously had its own patron deities, under the Romans Celtic deities were forced into Roman categories and given Roman names. In sum, the usual places of worship were destroyed or transformed, the ritual leaders were killed or banned, and their ways of worship were outlawed and new ways were substituted.

Mysteries: What We Do Not Know about the Druids

The following list includes only some of the parts missing from our image of the ancient druids.

Mystery 1. We don't know what druids wore.

We know very little about what druids wore. Pliny's Natural History says they wore white (probably meaning undyed) robes for cutting mistletoe. In describing the Roman destruction of the druids at Mona, Tacitus says that the women among the druids wore dark robes "like the Furies," but he also implies that they were not druids (though one wonders how he knew). Irish tales refer to druids wearing head-dresses and cloaks made of feathers.

Mystery 2. We don't know whether men and women worshipped together.

Tacitus' accounts of the Roman destruction of Mona mention women shouting curses among the druids. We don't know for sure who the women were, though Irish sources indicate that both men and women were druids.

Mystery 3. We don't know what druids believed or taught.

Aside from the specifics discussed in this article, we know little about what the druids actually taught.

Mystery 4. We don't know what druids said or did during their worship.

The druids didn't leave behind any prayers or spells. The poems attributed to figures in early Irish tales may give us some idea of how they phrased their chants. Inscriptions left at Gaulish and British healing shrines tell us what petitioners sought and expected to receive. Descriptions of techniques like corrguinecht give us some ideas. We don't know what their prayers or chants were or when they used them. The classical writer Pliny tells us that the druids in Gaul ritually cut mistletoe for use in ritual and medicine, but this wouldn't have been done in Ireland because mistletoe isn't native to Ireland. Circles of standing stones predated the druids, and scholars aren't sure that the Celts used them for ritual events; Celts everywhere seem to have had their own sites for rituals.

Mystery 5. We don't know what terms druids used for what they did.

Traces, such as the term corrguinecht, suggest that druids had terms for what they did, but most have been lost.

Mystery 6. We don't know what their cosmology was like.

It's reasonably certain that the druids observed the night sky and plotted the course of what they saw, and we can assume that they had ideas about how the universe functioned. But, as described earlier, only hints of what they believed about the world have survived.

Mystery 7. We don't know how they performed divination.

Aside from the general references to watching the flight of birds, stabbing people, and sleeping on bull hides, there are some contradictory medieval Irish descriptions of techniques used by poets. These may have come from techniques used by earlier seers or druids. However, we do not have sufficient details to reconstruct the methods.

Mystery 8. We don't know what their astrological systems were like.

We have objects like the Coligny calendar, brass plates found at a Celtic site, indicating that someone among the Gauls knew how to calculate calendars. But we don't know how they created the calendar, nor do we understand the significance of many of the words and markings.

For Further Reading

Stuart Piggott, The Druids, reprint, 1999, Thames and Hudson; ISBN 0500273634
Perhaps the most reliable, informative source, especially if you are going to look at just one book.

Miranda Green, World of the Druids, 1997, Thames & Hudson; ISBN 050005083X A somewhat updated, glossier version of Piggott. Green's section on neodruid groups covers UK organizations.

David Rankin, Celts and the Classical World, 1996, Routledge; ISBN 0415150906 A useful supplement to Piggott, Rankin explores what is known about interaction between the Celts on the European Continent and the other peoples they encountered.

John Koch, editor, in collaboration with John Carey, Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales, 2000, Celtic Studies Pubns Inc; ISBN 1891271040 A collection of source texts, including many of those that mention druids.

Philip Freeman, Ireland and the Classical World, University of Texas Press, 20000; ISBN: 292725183
Looks at Greek and Latin literary sources that mention Ireland and the archaeological and linguistic evidence. Since most books on the classical world neglect Ireland, this is a very useful volume.

Leslie Ellen Jones, Druid, Shaman, Priest: Metaphors of Celtic Paganism, 1998, Hisarlik Press; ISBN 1874312273 How the image of druids has evolved from the earliest classical texts, to medieval Irish and Welsh materials, to modern books and film. Points out how modern neo-druidry and neo-shamanism differ from ancient traditions.

Joseph Falaky Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, 1997, Cornell Univ Press; ISBN 0801483689
How early Irish scribes used literary methods to transmit tradition in early Ireland. As part of his examination, Nagy looks at how druids were depicted in hagiography.

Liam Mac Mathúna, "Irish perceptions of the Cosmos," Celtica 23 (1991), pp. 174-187
Evidence for the pre-Christian tripartite model of earth-sea-sky and how it changed under Christian influence. Available on line at:

Nora Chadwick, "Imbas Forosnai," Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol 4, part 2, Oxford University Press, 1935
A classic of modern scholarship; summarizes and critically examines Old Irish texts that describe seer methods. Available on line at:

Barry Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts, 2000, Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN 0140254226 Archaeologist's view of how the Celtic-speaking peoples developed and spread throughout Europe, enhanced by a variety of maps. An excellent introduction if you are new to Celtica.

Books on early Ireland:

Peter Harbison, Pre-Christian Ireland: From the First Settlers to the Early Celts (Ancient Peoples and Places) Reprint edition,1995, Thames & Hudson; ISBN 0500278091

Barry Raftery, Pagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age, 1998, Thames & Hudson; ISBN 0500279837

Daibhi O Croinin, Early Medieval Ireland: 400-1200, 1995, Addison-Wesley Pub Co; ISBN 0582015650

Michael Richter, Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition, 1996, Palgrave; ISBN 0312158122

If you are unfamiliar with Early Irish history, these texts will help. Harbison and Raftery cover the pre-Christian period. O Croinin and Richter cover medieval Ireland up to the Anglo-Norman period.


1. General acknowledgements: thanks to Kent Jewell for help with references, to Dennis King for assistance with language questions, and to Stiofan MacAmhalghaidh for suggesting Irish sources. Also, my appreciation to members of the Celtic_Well, Brehon Law, Early Medieval Ireland, and Old-Irish e-mail lists for assistance with several questions. Other acknowledgements are cited in specific notes as they apply. Of course, conclusions and errors are mine alone.

2. This scene reflects the unreliable writings of Pliny the Elder, a historian who died in the eruption of Vesuvius, 79 CE, because he ignored pleas of his friends and slaves to leave while escape was possible.

3. Stuart Piggott, The Druids, Thames & Hudson, reprint edition, 1999, p. 11.

4. Training manuals for Irish poets dating from medieval times are tantalizing because they may contain pre-Christian tradition. However, whatever was not outright discarded was reworked and adapted to the Christian context. So we cannot know what was discarded as unacceptable, or what the remaining materials looked like in pre-Christian times. Also, the texts, even when considered simply as poetic manuals, are not easy to understand. Medieval Irish poets used highly technical terms to describe their art, terms that were taught only to other poets. The surviving texts do not always explain these terms.

5. The Irish did develop their own writing system, ogham, used for marker stones and poetic activities such as cursing, but at this point, scholarly consensus places the earliest ogham evidence as within the Christian era. Over and above the issue of date, there is no evidence that the Irish used ogham for recording and transmitting lore.

6. For example, the story of Conall Cernach's birth emphasizes that the druid will not give Conall's mother a spell until she gives him a good fee. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, Thames & Hudson, 1989, p. 219.

7. Earlier form, brithem; plural, brithemain

8. Lester Little, Benedictine Maledictions, Cornell University Press, 1996, pp. 161-165.

9. This section draws on material from "Popular Misconceptions about the Celts and Celtic Religion" by Francine Nicholson and Kent Jewell, a chapter in a book, Land, Sea, and Sky, currently in preparation and edited by Francine Nicholson.

10. In light of current controversy concerning the proper use of this term, note that in this article, "Celt" refers to peoples identified as speaking Celtic languages and their culture, especially the peoples and cultures of Celtic-speaking groups in ancient Gaul, Britain, and Ireland. Similarly, I use "British" for the Brythonic-speaking ancestors of the Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons, and "Gaelic" for the Goidelic traditions of Irish, Scots, and Manx peoples.

11. "Metus Gallicus: The Celts and Roman Human Sacrifice," Briggs L. Twyman (Texas Tech University) The Ancient History Bulletin 11.1 (1997) 1-11

12. Sissela Bok, Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment, Perseus Publishing, 1999, p. 13.

13. Leslie Ellen Jones, Druid, Shaman, Priest: Metaphors of Celtic Paganism, 1998, Hisarlik Press, p. 93.

14. I first encountered the idea that some of the Fenian evidence might be remnants of hunter rituals and beliefs similar to those found in shamanic cultures in an unpublished essay by Corby Ingold. References to the marks, cries, chants, and other behaviors attributed to the díbergaigh (a Christian-era term for the historical fénnidi on whom the Fenian stories were based) are especially suggestive of shamanic hunting rituals, and the díbergaigh apparently held on to pre-Christian practices after they were abandoned by the general populace. However, as I see it, barring discovery of additional evidence, we lack sufficient detail and context to do much more than speculate about what those early Irish hunter rituals might have been like. Also, for the purposes of this essay, none of the Fenian material clearly associates druids with fénnidi, except that one of Fionn's fostermothers is identified as a bandruí. So, even if there once were shamanic figures among the fénnidi, díbergaigh, or their hunter-gatherer antecedents, this does not make druíd shamanic.

15. For example, see the perspective offered by Alice B. Kehoe in "Eliade and Hultkrantz: the European primitivism tradition" in The American Indian Quarterly, Summer-Fall 1996 v20 n3-4 pp. 377-93.

16. Calvert Watkins, 1992 Third Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary, cited by Lisa L. Spangenberg,

17. Pomponius Mela, De Chorographia, ed. Carolus Frick, Liepzig, 1880 iii. 2

18. Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, 1988, p. 47.

19. Diodorus Siculus, Historiae, v, 31, 2-3, 5

20. Gaius Julius Caesar, De Belli Gallico, 6.13

21. Caesar, De Belli Gallico 6.14, trans. A. Lea

22. ibid.

23. Ammianus Marcellinus, xv, 9, 8.

24. De Belli Gallico, vi, 14.

25. Diodorus Siculus, Historiae, v, 31, 5.

26. Dio Chrysostom, Oratio xlix

27. The plural of Old Irish fáth is fáith or fátha.

28. Cicero, De Divinatione, I xli, 90

29. Diodorus Siculus, Historiae, v, 31, 2-5.

30. The collection is attributed to the king-bishop of Cashel, Cormac mac Cuillenáin who died in 908 CE, or his scribes.

31. Nora Chadwick's article on imbas forosnai presents several scholars' somewhat conflicting translations of the same passage. One wonders if the scribes were equally unsure as to what they were describing!

32. J.F. Nagy, Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 25-26..

33. The plural of Old Irish bard is baird.

34. Diodorus Siculus: Historiae, v, 31, 2.

35. Ammianus Marcellinus, xv, 9, 8.

36. Simon Magus or Simon the sorcerer is a character that appears first in Acts 8:9-25 where he is identified as a worker of miracles through magical power. When Simon sees the apostles Peter and John performing miracles, he offers them money if they will give him the same power. The apostles scorn Simon. A large body of legend grew up around the figure of Simon, and he appears in Christian apocrypha as someone who stalks Peter from place to place, antagonizing and opposing Peter wherever he went. Several of the ante-Nicene Fathers refer to the legends. Simon also was depicted as a false messiah who taught an assortment of beliefs from several of the cults active in the early Christian era. In Irish material, however, Simon appears mainly as a sorcerer and teacher of other sorcerers.

37. Diodorus Siculus, Historiae, v, 31, 3.

38. Tacitus, Annals, xiv., 30.

39. Piggott, The Druids, pp. 49-62.

40. Ammianus Marcellinus, v. 2.

41. Pomponius Mela, De Chorographia, iii. 2.

42. Diodorus Siculus, Historiae, v, 28, 6.

43. Lucan , "Pharsalia," i, 450-8.

44. Cornelius Tacitus, Liber xiv. c. 30.

45. Rees and Rees, p. 156.

46. Kelly, pp. 60-61.

47. See Corpus Iuris Hibernici (CIH)1480.12-3 and 1482.30 for more information.

48. Rees and Rees, p. 35.

49. Rees and Rees, p. 96.

50. Thanks to Stiofan MacAmhalghaidh for the wattling fence suggestion.

51. Dio Chrysostom, Oratio xlix

52. Pliny, Natural History, xxx, 13.

53. Piggott, p. 119.


 Francine Nicholson MMII


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