Druids: Then and Now

Many people have heard about Druidism in passing, but most have very little idea of what Druids actually believe and how modern Druids relate to their ancient counterparts. Fewer still know how Druidism might relate to some of the other world religions, in particular to the Vedic religions of India. If you’ve ever been curious about the topic yourself, then this article will provide you with an introduction to the Druidism of the ancient past all the way right up to the modern Druid revival.

Ancient Druidism

Ancient Druidry was centered on a certain class of the Iron Age Celtic people, the Druids. The Druids were the learned professionals of their societies, and held such varying professions as doctors, poets, lawmakers, philosophers and of course, religious thinkers and leaders.

The Druids, as their training and traditions were passed down orally, left no written records of themselves or their beliefs. Our only sources come from later Greek and Roman authors. These authors noted that sacrifice and ritual were important to Druidic practice, that the instruction of a Druid initiate was usually undertaken secretively in caves and in forests, and that Druids were exempt from paying taxes and from performing military service.

It also seems that ancient Druids held a very strong belief in reincarnation. They believed that the soul was indestructible and would move on to inhabit another body or another state of existence after death. This central belief was at the heart of most Druidic study, as they believed that robbing death of its fear and dread would lead one to develop the highest form of human courage and to live the fullest life.

If you’re interested in ancient Druidism and would like to read a bit more about it yourself, then you should pay a visit to both Druidry and to this fantastic article from the National Museum of Wales.

Druidism and Vedic Religion

Some readers may have picked up by now on the fact that many ancient Druid beliefs bear a close resemblance to the religions of India and to Hinduism in particular.

The idea of reincarnation and the importance of ritual and sacrifice are just a few of the Druidic ideas which are also emphasized in the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism. Popular ancient Celtic and Indian deities are also the embodiment of many of the same natural forces and performed many of the same functions. For example, the god of fire was imminently important for both religious systems.

Another curious similarity is that the Druids and their place in society bear a striking resemblance to the role that the ancient Brahmin class played in the society of India. The Brahmins were also the leading religious and philosophical thinkers of their day, and they too were in charge of performing rituals and sacrifices. Likewise, their instruction was strictly oral until the Vedas were finally written down long after their original composition.

Little is known about why these two cultures share such similar beliefs and ideas. Many theories have been put forward but none have won scholarly consensus just yet. What is clear is that a connection must have existed, as the similarities are simply too numerous to write off to chance.

For a more in-depth and comprehensive look at the similarities between the Druids and the Vedic religions of India, give a read to this article from the Centro Studi La Runa.

Modern Druidism

Modern Druidism, though it does hark back to the Druidism of ancient times, did not begin as a movement until the 18th century.

Many modern Druids continue to believe in the importance of ritual. However, there is now far less emphasis placed on sacrifice and more on the need to live in harmony with the natural world. In fact, the central core of Druid belief seems to have shifted away from reincarnation (though Neo-Druids by and large still believe in the concept of an eternal soul), and more towards veneration of nature. Some modern Druids have also taken up the practice of ancestor worship.

Modern Druids strive to stay away from strict dogmatic systems, and so have no central authority or texts that must be adhered to. Nevertheless, some of the more well-known organizations of modern Druidism include The Druid Network, The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and The British Druid Order. There is also the Ancient Order of Druids, which boasts Winston Churchill as one of its most notable members.

As you can see, Druidism has both a rich ancient history and a strong presence in the modern world. As more and more people turn away from traditional religion in search of a new kind of spirituality, many are finding themselves drawn to the values and beliefs of Druidism.

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