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The mysterious history of druids, ancient 'mediators between humans and the gods'


Still Waters
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Posted (IP: Staff) ·

Druids were religious leaders in what is now Britain and France. They were "philosophers, teachers, judges, the repository of communal wisdoms about the natural world and the traditions of the people, and the mediators between humans and the gods," Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of European archaeology at the University of Oxford, wrote in his book "Druids: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Almost everything we know about druids is second-hand knowledge; all surviving texts that mention druids were written by non-druids, often Romans. That poses a problem for modern-day historians who are trying to understand who the druids were and how their role changed over time. 

Historians aren't quite sure when druidism began. Cunliffe noted that the earliest written reference to the druids dates back about 2,400 years, though druidism likely goes back earlier than that.

https://www.livescience.com/who-were-the-druids

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The Druid Class goes all the way back to the Proto-Indo-Europeans. A comparison would be the Indo-Aryan Brahman Class which has a common origin.

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In Ireland the druidic tradition goes way back into the mists of time and continued well after the country was Christianised, lasting as late as the eight century, and it was characterised by committing all knowledge (genealogy, law, history, custom, poetry, song, religion, etc) to memory only, thus making such people important for social continuity and giving them equal status with kings. They acted as bards, judges (brehons), and seers. 

When St Patrick came to Ireland, he lit a paschal (Easter) fire upon a hill across from Tara where the druidic fire was kindled to signify spring and rebirth, thus challenging the power of the druids. In many ways, the old pagan religion was accommodated by Christianity. St Columba (Colmcille in Irish) once surreptitiously made a hand copy of a book belonging to another saint who asserted that the copy belonged to him. The matter went to arbitration before the king and his sages and the judgement became the basis for modern copyright law: 'To every cow, its calf; to every book, its copy.' 

The codex of ancient Irish law has survived in manuscript form in the Senchus Mór (= 'The Great Tradition'), a 7th (possibly, 6th) century document, although the tradition is that it was first committed to parchment under the patronage of St Patrick a century earlier. The law texts are written entirely in verse (indicating their original format as material to be memorised) and they clearly survived into the Christian era in Ireland as part of the oral tradition. Irish society at this time was organised upon an intensely aristocratic basis and set great store in memorised knowledge and the recounting of past achievements of whatever kind. Those who could narrate such things from memory were accorded high status and were often members of the ruling class families and they followed directly in the druidic tradition.  Concerning the survival of this tradition the Senchus Mór says:

'Until the coming of St Patrick speech was not suffered to be given in Ireland but to three kinds of people: to the historian who narrated and related tales of the past; to the poet who entertained with eulogy and satire; and to the brehon (law-giver) who judged according to custom and precedent.'   

Senchus Mór - Search (bing.com)

  

Edited by Ozymandias
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4 hours ago, Ozymandias said:

In Ireland the druidic tradition goes way back into the mists of time and continued well after the country was Christianised, lasting as late as the eight century, and it was characterised by committing all knowledge (genealogy, law, history, custom, poetry, song, religion, etc) to memory only, thus making such people important for social continuity and giving them equal status with kings. They acted as bards, judges (brehons), and seers. 

When St Patrick came to Ireland, he lit a paschal (Easter) fire upon a hill across from Tara where the druidic fire was kindled to signify spring and rebirth, thus challenging the power of the druids. In many ways, the old pagan religion was accommodated by Christianity. St Columba (Colmcille in Irish) once surreptitiously made a hand copy of a book belonging to another saint who asserted that the copy belonged to him. The matter went to arbitration before the king and his sages and the judgement became the basis for modern copyright law: 'To every cow, its calf; to every book, its copy.' 

The codex of ancient Irish law has survived in manuscript form in the Senchus Mór (= 'The Great Tradition'), a 7th (possibly, 6th) century document, although the tradition is that it was first committed to parchment under the patronage of St Patrick a century earlier. The law texts are written entirely in verse (indicating their original format as material to be memorised) and they clearly survived into the Christian era in Ireland as part of the oral tradition. Irish society at this time was organised upon an intensely aristocratic basis and set great store in memorised knowledge and the recounting of past achievements of whatever kind. Those who could narrate such things from memory were accorded high status and were often members of the ruling class families and they followed directly in the druidic tradition.  Concerning the survival of this tradition the Senchus Mór says:

'Until the coming of St Patrick speech was not suffered to be given in Ireland but to three kinds of people: to the historian who narrated and related tales of the past; to the poet who entertained with eulogy and satire; and to the brehon (law-giver) who judged according to custom and precedent.'   

Senchus Mór - Search (bing.com)

  

The Druid Class took over as the priestly class until Henry II forced the Irish to follow the Roman model.

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23 hours ago, Piney said:

The Druid Class took over as the priestly class until Henry II forced the Irish to follow the Roman model.

The 'Druid Class', as you call it, had ceased to exist as druids in the religious sense by the twelfth century when Henry II ruled England and decided to interfere in Irish affairs. Vestiges of the druidic system still persisted in the form of poets, historians, genealogists and judges. Such individuals continued to command a high social status in Irish society as I tried to explain in my original post, the druids as a religious force had long since been superseded and displaced by Christianity. 

Irish Christianity by the twelfth century was primarily monastic in nature and had little or no diocesan structure linking it hierarchically to the papacy as in England and elsewhere. It had few bishops or sees, but was chiefly organised on monastic spheres of influence (i.e. paruchia) administered by abbots. Neither did it observe Roman Catholic church laws on marriage or clerical celibacy but followed Celtic church customs that allowed divorce and married clergy. However, the Gregorian reforms initiated by Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrande) that had swept Europe through the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries had already been implemented in Ireland by a series of synods and church assemblies starting with the Synod of Cashel (AD 1101), and continuing through the synods of Inish Patrick (1148), Kells (1152), Breemount (1158), Clane (1162) and Lismore (1166).      

What Henry II did, in conjunction with Adrian IV, the first and only English Pope, was use the perception that the Irish church was out of kilter with Rome and not sufficiently under its dominion as an excuse to invade and subjugate the country in 1169, this despite the fact that the Irish monastic church had re-Christianised Britain and much of Europe and was continuing to do so even in the twelfth century.  The irony is that four centuries later the English under Henry VIII would go on to repudiate the religious authority Rome and try unsuccessfully to force Ireland to follow suit.  

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