The term ‘Druid’ is linked both to the Greek word ‘drus’ meaning oak and the British word ‘druthin’ meaning the ‘knowing or wise one’ or ‘servant of truth’. Their motto, and the principle upon which their Order was based, was ‘the truth against the world’. They began their discussions, debates and court cases with the question, ‘what is truth’?
This is very interesting because these are the same three words spoken by Pontius Pilate at the beginning of Jesus’ trial (John 18:38). Indeed, there are stories that Pontius Pilate finished his education in a Druid college in Britain and even that he may have been a Scot! Whether these stories are true or not, there does seem to be a strong case that he understood Druidic practice and probably recognised that Jesus did too. His opening remarks at Jesus’ trial are interpreted by some as a form of Druidic password.
Druidry is strongly related to the British Isles, but was practiced all over Northern and Western Europe in various forms. Indeed, a native folk faith of Old Prussia and Lithuania is called Druwi, a word meaning ‘faith’ but cognate with ‘tree’.
Druids were not ‘witch doctors’ or ‘medicine men’, but highly skilled orators, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, poets, priests, judges and doctors – all rolled into one! Their training could take up to 20 years and there were many Druid colleges around the country. Druid priests followed a particularly exacting training programme and were required to pass three separate exams in successive years. Degrees were conferred after three, six and nine years of learning. According to Dr Abraham Rees, in his Cyclopaedia, Pythagoras was heavily influenced by the Druids.
Writing around the middle of the 1st Century AD, the Roman author Pomponius Mela speaks of the Druids as ‘teachers of wisdom’ (Ponponius Mela III), whilst the 3rd century theologian, Hippolytus, refers to them as ‘philosophers and theologians’ (Philosoph I).
The Origins of Druidism
R. W. Morgan, in his work `St. Paul in Britain', writes:
Morgan quotes Taliesin, the prince Bard and Druid, “Christ, the Word from the beginning, was from the beginning our teacher, and we never lost his teaching. Christianity was a new thing in Asia, but there never was a time when the Druids of Britain held not its doctrines.”
Britain as a Centre of Learning in the Ancient World
Caesar comments on the fact that the Gauls sent their youth to study in Britain. Pontius Pilate, who was born in modern day Spain, is thought by some to have studied in British Druid Colleges – probably where he trained as a lawyer. This explains his comment to Christ at the start of his trial; ‘what is truth’? (Luke 18:38)
The educational system adopted by the Druids can be traced back in legend to 1800 BC when Hu Gadarn Hysicion led the first colony of Cymri into Britain from Defrobane, where modern day Istanbul stands. Hu is remembered for his wisdom and learning. He is thought to have founded Stonehenge and introduced several crafts, such as glass making, for which Britain would later become famous.
R. W. Morgan in his work `St. Paul in Britain' writes of the British Druids; `Westward of Italy, embracing Hispania, Gallia and the Renish frontiers, portions of Germany and Scandinavia, with its headquarters and great seats of learning in Britain, extended the Druidic religion. There can be no question that this was the primitive religion of mankind, covering at one period in various forms the whole surface of the ancient world.
There is evidence to support Morgan in his assertion that Britain was, even before the time of Christ, a centre of learning in the world. Far from being the `painted savages' of Caesar's war propaganda, the British excelled over both the Greeks and the Romans in their culture and learning. Isabel Hill Elder writes; `Concerning the educational facilities available to the so-called barbarous people of these islands, there were at the time of the Roman invasion forty Druidic centres of learning… the students of these colleges numbered at times sixty thousand of the youth and young nobility of Britain and Gaul. Caesar comments on the fact that the Gauls sent their youth to Britain to be educated' Celt, Druid and Culdee. Page 54.
That Jesus had had a superb education by the time he returned to Palestine is beyond doubt. That it had not been a typical Jewish education is also beyond doubt. The way Jesus was able to confound the Pharisees and Sadducees, themselves no mean practitioners of the art of debate, indicates that he had had a considerable education. Even a Roman sent to arrest Jesus came back without having done so and exclaimed `Never a man spake like this man'. Britain was at the time not part of the Roman Empire and so was not subject to its authorities. Nowhere in Europe would Jesus have been more readily accepted than here in Britain. Nowhere else in Europe could he have had the confidence that after his death there would be a safe refuge for his mother Mary and Joseph of Arimathea.
Whilst acknowledging many gods and goddesses, the Druids appear to have recognised a single supreme deity that transcends all other deities. Not only was the unity of the Godhead paramount to Druidry, but it seems to have been expressed in a form of Trinity. Procopius of Caesarea, writing in AD 530, states “Jesus, Taran, Bel – One only God. All Druids acknowledge one Lord alone” (Origen on Ezekiel).
According to Caesar, writing in AD 54, “the Druids make the immortality of the soul the basis of all their teaching, holding it to be the principal incentive and reason for a virtuous life”. Caesar also said that the Druids “teach that by no other way than the ransoming of Man’s life by the life of a man is reconciliation with the Divine Justice of the Immortal Gods possible”. In other words, they believed in a doctrine of atoning sacrifice, even though this was likely through execution! However, this is not the same as human sacrifice as it is closer to the concept of atoning for certain crimes through execution that was practiced in Christian Europe until quite recently.
Druidry emphasised respect for the law and the rights of the individual to be judged fairly by it irrespective of social status. It was free of idolatry and fostered peace and peaceful solutions to disputes. Strabo refers to the Bards of Britain as ‘hymn makers’ and records their wearing white robes. It is said that the robes worn by Druids were almost exactly the same as the Levitical Priests of the Hebrews.
The Druids certainly revered nature and the natural world. But there is no evidence that they worshipped nature as a god, rather that they recognised and honoured the hand of God in nature. However, as with their Germanic brothers, they did recognise spirit beings that were associated with various elements of nature and were more attuned to these than we are today.
Similarities between Druidism and the ancient faith of Israel
In his book, ‘Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Giant Albion’ (not to be confused with the famous hymn), William Blake states that “All things Begin and End in Albion’s Ancient Druid Rocky Shore” and he asks the question, “was Britain the Primitive Seat of the Patriarchal Religion?” He went further, claiming that Abraham, Heber, Shem and Noah were all Druids! And if Britain were the seat of the ancient Patriarchal Religion, Jesus had come to Britain to return to the land of His forebears’ religion. John Milton said much the same in his poem “Areopagitica.”
Charles Hulbert, in his ‘The Religions of Britain’ (1826) states: “so near is the resemblance between the Druidical Religion in Britain, and the Patriarchal Religion of the Hebrews, that we hesitate not to pronounce their origin the same”. “The Old Testament Roots Of Celtic Mythology”
But was this just fanciful thinking on Blake’s and others part?
The association of Druidry with the ancient Patriarchal religion was quite widespread, especially amongst the Celtic Romanticists of the 18th and 19th century, including Blake himself. Some of this work was based on the work of Iolo Morganwg – work that many scholars now consider discredited.
But others take a different view. Similarities between Druid and ancient Hebrew worship have been commented on by archaeologists. Sir Norman Lockyear states, “I confess I am amazed at the similarities we have come across” (Stonehenge and other British Monuments). Edward Davies states, “I must confess I have not been the first in representing the Druidical as having some connection with the patriarchal religion” (Mythology and Rites of the British Druids as ascertained from national documents). The antiquarian, William Stukeley also writes, “I plainly discerned the religion professed by the ancient Britons was the simple patriarchal religion” (Religions of Ancient Britain).
Several classical Greek writers, including Alexander Polyhistor (c105 BC), Dio Chrysostom, Hippolytus, Clement, Cyril and Diogenes Laertius liken the Druids to the Persian Magi, the Priests of Egypt, the Brahmins of India and the Pythagoreans of Classical Philosophy. For instance, Hippolytus, writes in AD 200, “The Druids amongst the Celts having profoundly examined the Pythagorean philosophy.” Plato affirmed that all the streams of Greek philosophy were to be traced, not to Egypt, but to the fountains of the West.
Polyhistor writes (On the Pythagorean Symbols), “Pythagoras was a pupil of Nazaratus the Assyrian … and in addition he was a hearer of the Galatae (Gauls) and the Brahmins.” Clement of Alexandria makes a similar point, though he may simply be repeating it. Julius Caesar tells us that the Druid religion began in Britain and spread from there into Gaul.
Theologically Jesus would have been stifled in the legalistic attitude adopted in the Temple and Synagogues of his day. When he returned to Palestine and commenced his ministry we see how far he had departed from the oral traditions of the Pharisees.
Druidism and Magic
The Druids were accused of sorcery because they held so much wisdom that other people could not understand and equated it with magic. They had great knowledge of herbal medicine and healing, of science, astronomy and so on. They must have appeared to have been magicians to others!
In this, they were very similar to the Magi (magicians) we know as the ‘Three Wise Men’, men who almost certainly shared much of the same knowledge as the Druids.
It was said, they could bring the moon down to earth. In all probability, they were using a form of telescope which in a way did do just this.
When the legendary Druid Abaris, who lived around 500 BC and is reputed to have instructed Pythagoras, visited Greece, the Greeks said he possessed the `Arrow of Apollo', a magical contrivance that Abaris only had to consult to be guided wherever in the world he wished to go. Again, rather than being some spell binding machine, this was most likely a very small arrow as part of a compass as the Druids did have a knowledge of magnetism!
It was because of the great similarities between Druidry and Christianity that the Britons were able to accept it so readily. Druidry was absorbed into a specific British Christianity – one that saw the advent of Christ as the fulfilment and restoration of an ancient religion from which Druidry itself was derived.