Sunday, 29 May 2011

A hedgewitch's view of a druid

Druidry has been in the news fairly recently, having "officially been recognised as a religion". But even this is open to interpretation! For some it is an earth-based religion, for some a philosophy, for others it's a way of life. There are also the group of druids, based in Wales and associated with the Eisteddfod there, that aren't pagan at all, but that is another matter.

Druids were the ancient Celtic clerical elite, the shamans, the priests, the healers, the judiciary and the advisors to royalty. It is open to debate as to whether there is a direct line between the druids of the ancient Isles and those of today. It could be said that today's druids are the evolution of the druid line.

If we were training in the druid orders a couple of thousand years ago, we'd have embarked on a serious commitment to study, the path to druid was a long and arduous one, commonly taking at least 20 years. However, if you take into account the fact that the Celts weren't forced to spend 11 of their formative years in school, then the training course isn't quite so daunting.

I won't go into the details of the training, more information can be found on the OBOD site (page links down the bottom of the "What is a druid" section), but sufice to say, there were three stages to becoming a druid.

The first stage, and the stage that took the most time, about 12 years, was that of Bard. This will be a familiar word to many these days, commonly thought of as a wandering minstrel (or even The Bard, Mr Shakespeare himself!), but this is a somewhat watered down version of the role.

Bard's were indeed the storytellers and minstrels, but it was more to it than a catchy ditty. The bards were the lore keepers, the keepers of traditions and of the ancient wisdom. Nothing was written down in those days, all knowledge was passed down orally, in the tales and poems and songs. Much of a bard's training was spent learning by heart these compositions, as well as mastering the art of Ogham, the Celtic mnemetic coding system. (In very simplified terms, Ogham can be thought of as keycodes in a database).

The most skilled bards could not only remember and recite this vast store of Record, but they were able to write their own words of Inspiration. The best bards could be inspired and could inspire others, they thus needed to be extremely aware of the present, in addition to the past, and also to know the potential futures, as it could be their words that guided towards a certain possible future.

The next level of druidic training would be that of Ovate. The Ovates were the seers, the prophets and the diviners, they were skilled at reading the signs that Nature tells us, in reading the auguries, adept at the mysteries. In addition to this they were the healers, both of body and soul, knowledgeable in the herbs and spell-craft. With the coming of Christianity, the druids kept working their old crafts within the framework of the new religion. The Bards became disguised as minstrels, the Ovates more likely became the "Cunning Folk" those on the outskirts of the village and those that might be thought of today as the more recogniseable "witch".

The highest level, and the third level, was that of druid itself. Druids are often seen as priests, but this is somewhat of a misleading picture. They may have presided over the religious ceremonies, but their remit was so much more than a mere "representative of god". These were the teachers, the philosophers, the councillors and the judges. These people had gained the pinnacle of wisdom, of authority. They were also the scientists and inventors, these were the men and women who had earned the positions and the respect of society. The vast store of knowledge and wisdom that was available at their fingertips, that they had mastered both the bardic and ovate juristictions as well as their own, the druids were an incredible force within the Celtic world.

For a more in depth picture of how the druids may very well have been in history, visit the OBOD website, and read about What is a Druid there.

Love and hugs


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