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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Druidism

According to traditional records, Druidism was the religion of the Celts of ancient Gaul and the British Isles. Description of their religion is difficult since very few authentic written records exist; those that do exist are not first-hand. According to the Stoic philosopher Poseidonius the main tenets of the Druids were that the soul of man is immortal and that the universe is indestructible although from time to time it could be temporarily consumed by fire or water (E.B. 1970 ed.).

The origin of the word “Druid” seems to have been from the Old Irish drui (n. pl. druid). Frazer, in his The Golden Bough, suggests that Druid simply means “Oak Men.” However, a later researcher has suggested that the name is derived from the Celtic Druthin which means “a servant of truth” (I. H. Elder, Celt, Druid and Culdee, 1947). The earliest reference to Druids was by Julius Caesar, dated about 50 BCE, but there is a dearth of reliable archaeological evidence about them; much of what is extant may come from prejudiced sources since the later writers were often Christian and it seems that there was little amity between the old and the new religions.

The frequently held belief that Druidism was a religion in ancient Britain and nothing more is not correct according to one writer. It seems that the order of Druids underpinned the legal system or what was the “parliament” of the time and its courts of law; it provided the country with physicians and surgeons; from its ranks came teachers and poets (op. cit.).

Caesar wrote 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. Many young men are tempted by these advantages and come to the Order to receive training that lasts about twenty years.” Caesar, more than once, calls the Druidic institution a disciplina, a term that implies a corporate structure (op. cit.).

The theological students were given a long course of training and no priest could be ordained until he had passed three major examinations in three successive years. Degrees were conferred after three, six and nine year’s training and the highest degree was that of Pencerdd or Athro (Doctor of Learning).

Druidic physicians were said to be skilled in the treatment of illnesses. The chief aim was to prevent rather than cure disease. Their recipe for health was cheerfulness, temperance and exercise. Human bones that have been fractured and re-set with skill have been found in Druidical tumuli (S. Lysons, Our British Ancestors, p. 44).

The popular idea of Druids performing rituals at Stonehenge and gathering mistletoe with golden sickles lacks any documentary foundation, but has been a persistent oral tradition.

Helena P. Blavatsky wrote about them in positive terms. She states in her work The Secret Doctrine:

The mystery veiling the origin and the religion of the Druids, is as great as that of their supposed fanes [temples] is to the modern Symbologist, but not to the initiated Occultists. Their priests were the descendants of the last Atlanteans, and what is known of them is sufficient to allow the inference that they were eastern priests akin to the Chaldeans and Indians, though little more. It may be inferred that they symbolized their deity as the Hindus do their Vishnu, as the Egyptians did their Mystery God, and as the builders of the Ohio great serpent mound worshipped theirs — namely under the form of the “mighty Serpent,” the emblem of the eternal deity TIME (the Hindu Kala). Pliny called them the “Magi of the Gauls and Britons.” But they were more than that. The author of Indian Antiquities[Thomas Maurice] finds much affinity between the Druids and Brahmins of India. Dr. Borlase points to a close analogy between them and the Magi of Persia; others will see an identity between them and the Orphic priesthood of Thrace: simply because they were connected, in their esoteric teachings, with the universal Wisdom Religion, and thus presented affinities with the exoteric worship of all.

“Like the Hindus, the Greeks and Romans (we speak of the Initiates), the Chaldees and the Egyptians, the Druids believed in the doctrine of a succession of worlds, as also in that of seven “creations” (of new continents) and transformations of the face of the earth, and in a seven-fold night and day for each earth or globe (SD II:756).

In the same work, Blavatsky writes, “The Druids believed in the rebirth of man . . . in a series of reincarnations in this same world; for as Diodorus says, they declared that the souls of men, after determinate periods, would pass into other bodies” (SD II:760).

P.S.H.

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