I am busy writing a book about Druidic Ritual Practice. I wasn't intending on this being my second book, but it has been requested and seeing that have all the information available, I thought it would be a good idea to get it out there. What follows is the introduction:
To talk about the old Druids can sometimes be a daunting task, especially when one attempts to put together a source of information that is as close to what the original practices and beliefs would have been. Apart from information that can be gleaned from older sources which were written about the Druids, these sources being that which were written by their detractors, we know very little about the original Druids. However, with the wonderful reconstructionists and scholars that we have, who so careful put together a tradition that is as close as we can find, and I am sure more will be discovered over time, we can attempt to assemble a reasonable facsimile of what can be construed as “The Druidic Tradition” and of Celtic Spirituality.
Although this book will focus on ritual formats, construction of Sacred Space, and other specific seasonal festivals and possible mantic rituals, it is good to know where we are coming from before we can know where we are going to. For this reason I will give a very brief history of the Druids and their migration pattern, which allows us to ascertain some, and hopefully enough, of the ritual practices based on country and Lore of the times.
When we speak of the Druids, we are mostly referring to the Celts, and although we find some sources focusing on the Druids being Gauls, we also find that Gaul was a land of the Celts, and in the 1st Century, Gaul, which is now Western Europe was also noted as being called Celtica. When we refer to the Celts, we have to remember that they began as a diverse group in Central Europe during the Early Iron Age (1200BC-400AD), also known as the Hallstatt period. In the later Iron Age period, or the La Tène period, these Celts had spread over a large expanse of Europe, as far as Ireland, Scotland, Anatolia in Turkey and the Iberian Peninsula. By the first millennium AD however, the Celtic languages had become restricted to the British Isles. Today we find that the “Six Celtic Nations” (where the Celtic languages are still spoken) are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany (on either side of the English Channel), and it is these Six Celtic Nations where we still find the mother tongues spoken to some extent of Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton and two earlier revivals of Cornish and Manx. Other areas which are considered to be of Celtic heritage, but where no Celtic language survives are Portugal, Spain and France.
Because this is such an extensive study, and maybe we will cover it in a future book, although I do urge you to do some research to discover the history of the Celts and the Druids, we will focus on reconstructed Celtic Spirituality generally, without trying to dissect each regional and cultural perspective. This will give you a working format of Druidic ritual in which to take and develop as you see fit. One thing I learned about the Druids many years back was that as they migrated to new areas of Europe they would adapt their spiritual format to suit the land itself, and this must never change. One key principal is therefore to get to know the Land you find yourself standing on. Speak to it, feel it, See it, and function with or alongside it.
However before we move on, we must also briefly discuss the word “Druid”. When we first come across it, we tend to create the imagery of a wizard performing magic of a powerful nature. We do however have to understand that Druid was simply a title of a caste or class of the Celts, and other castes did exist, namely the Vates (often referred to as Ovates) and the Bards.
There are a variety of attempts at the etymology of the word “druid”, but the widely understood version is that it derives from the Irish Gaelic word doire which is an oak tree, but also has its root meaning in the word wisdom. However we also have the Indo-European word *dru-uid which means highly wise. The Druids are mostly described as the teachers and law-givers, but they are also considered to have been active in the medical field, as healers and those that knew plant lore.
The Vates were the ones that we might think of as the Magicians or Wizards. They were the Diviners, Seers, Astrologers and Mathematicians. Strabo described the Vates as “interpreters of sacrifices and natural philosophers”. Etymologically, the Irish fáith is connected to the word vates, which means “seer”, but in Welsh mythology, the “seer” was known as the dryw which connects to the word druid and so we do see some overlaps within these descriptions.
And then we have the Bards who were the “singers and poets”. This may not seem like a very important role, but if we take that as the truth, then we are missing a huge part of the puzzle. The Bards kept the religion alive. They were the ones that sung about the heroes of mythology and legend, adding descriptive tales of the history and function of the Druids and Celts. Singing was also used during ritual practice and spell crafting, and there are many tales of Bards who defeated enemies through song, weaving their power and the power into the Gods into song. Not to mention the courage they could give the warriors with tales of the heroes gone before them. A very powerful class in its own rights.
Some other titles that you may come across if you do some research are Filii (Bards, sometimes spelt Fili and Filli); Fathi (another derivative of Fáith and therefore meaning Vates); Seannachaidh who were the historians and storytellers, the soothsayers (which can also be connected to the Bard); Breitheimh and Vergobretus, who were the brehons or brieves, being the law-givers and judges; and Druidh, which is simply a derivative of Druid.
As can be seen, there is a great deal that can be written about the history and migrations of the Celtic people and hence, the Druids, the above only being an incredibly condensed version, but the purpose of this little book is to give you a basis of ritual format. To do that however, there are some aspects of Celtic Spirituality that must be understood beforehand, and so these will be discussed in the following chapters. Also, to round off the edges and give you a better insight into the history of the Vates, we will also take a look at Coligny Calendar which was created before the inclusion of the Julian Calendar and later replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, which we now use. But don’t forget, take what you read here, try it out, and then build on it. Use your instincts, speak to the Land and the Land Spirits, and move with the flow of the energy that surrounds you.