Lugodoc's Guide to

In Lugodoc's humble opinion, about a million times more stuff has been written about the original, real iron-age druids than we will ever actually know. The only fact that we know about them for certain is that they were mysterious.

The Chronicles

In an attempt to clear some very muddied waters, below I have collected every surviving word written down about the druids by the classical writers of chronicals up to A.D. 350. Everything written after this date (and even much before it) is pure speculation. All bold emphasis is by this author.

330 BC – Aristotle’s Treatise on Magic – Lost, possibly apocryphal, but referred to by Diogenes Laertius over 550 years later.

200 BC - Sotion of Alexandria’s Succession of Philosophers - Lost, but referred to by Diogenes Laertius over 400 years later.

70 BC – Poseidonius’ Chronicles – Lost, but used by his pupil Cicero about 30 years later.

50 BC - Julius Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul, book VI
13. The two privileged classes are the Druids and the knights. The Druids officiate at the worship of the gods, regulate public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions. Large numbers of young men flock to them for instruction, and they are held in great honour by the people. They act as judges in practically all disputes, whether between tribes or between individuals; when any crime is committed, or a murder takes place, or a dispute arises about an inheritance or a boundary, it is they who adjudicate the matter and appoint the compensation to be paid and received by the parties concerned. Any individual or tribe failing to accept their award is banned from taking part in sacrifice - the heaviest punishment that can be inflicted upon a Gaul. Those who are laid under such a ban are regarded as impious criminals. Everyone shuns them and avoids going near or speaking to them, for fear of taking some harm by contact with what is unclean; if they appear as plaintiffs, justice is denied them, and they are excluded from a share in any honour. All the Druids are under one head, whom they hold in the highest respect. On his death, if any one of the rest is of outstanding merit, he succeeds to the vacant place; if several have equal claims, the Druids usually decide the election by voting, though sometimes they actually fight it out. On a fixed date in each year they hold a session in a consecrated spot in the country of the Carnutes, which is supposed to be the centre of Gaul. Those who are involved in disputes assemble here from all parts, and accept the Druids' judgements and awards. The Druidic doctrine is believed to have been found existing in Britain and thence imported into Gaul; even today those who want to make a profound study of it generally go to Britain for the purpose.

14. The Druids are exempt from military service and do not pay taxes like other citizens. These important privileges are naturally attractive: many present themselves of their own accord to become students of Druidism, and others are sent by their parents or relatives. It is said that these pupils have to memorize a great number of verses - so many, that some of them spend twenty years at their studies. The Druids believe that their religion forbids them to commit their teachings to writing, although for most other purposes, such as public and private accounts, the Gauls use the Greek alphabet. But I imagine that this rule was originally established for other reasons - because they did not want their doctrine to become public property, and in order to prevent their pupils from relying on the written word and neglecting to train their memories; for it is usually found that when people have the help of texts, they are less diligent in learning by heart, and let their memories rust.

A lesson which they take particular pains to inculcate is that the soul does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another; they think that this is the best incentive to bravery, because it teaches men to disregard the terrors of death. They also hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their movements,   the size of the universe and of the earth, the physical constitution of the world, and the power and properties of the gods; and they instruct the young men in all these subjects.

16. As a nation the Gauls are extremely superstitious; and so persons suffering from serious diseases, as well as those who are exposed to the perils of battle, offer, or vow to offer, human sacrifices, for the performance of which they employ Druids. They believe that the only way of saving a man's life is to propitiate the god's wrath by rendering another life in its place, and they have regular state sacrifices of the same kind. Some tribes have colossal images made of wickerwork, the limbs of which they fill with living men; they are then set on fire, and the victims burnt to death. They think that the gods prefer the execution of men taken in the act of theft or brigandage, or guilty of some offence; but when they run short of criminals, they do not hesitate to make up with innocent men.

17. The god they reverence most is Mercury. They have very many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts the god who directs men upon their journeys, and their most powerful helper in trading and getting money. Next to him they reverence Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva, about whom they have much the same ideas as other nations - that Apollo averts illness, and Minerva teaches the principles of industries and handicrafts- that Jupiter is king of the gods, and Mars the lord of war. When they have decided to fight a battle they generally vow to Mars the booty that they hope to take, and after a victory they sacrifice the captured animals and collect the rest of the spoil in one spot. Among many ot the tribes, high piles of it can be seen on consecrated ground-and it is an almost unknown thing for anyone to dare, in defiance of religious law, to conceal his booty at home or to remove anything placed on the piles. Such a crime is punishable by a terrible death under torture.

18. The Gauls claim all to be descended from Father Dis declaring that this is the tradition preserved by the Druids. For this reason they measure periods of time not by days but by nights - and in celebrating birthdays, the first of the month, and new year's day, they go on the principle that the day begins at night.

21. The customs of the Germans are entirely different. They have no druids to control religious observations and are not much given to sacrifices.

36 BC - Cicero’s De Divinatione
I, XLI, 90: Nor is the practice of divination disregarded even among uncivilised tribes, if indeed there are Druids in Gaul - and there are, for I knew one of them myself, Divitiacus, the Aeduan, your guest and eulogist. He claimed to have that knowledge of nature which the Greeks call “physiologia”, and he used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometimes by means of conjecture.

8 BC - Diodorus Siculus’Histories
V, 28, 6 The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them (the Gauls), teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in another body.

V, 31, 2-5 And there are among them (the Gauls) composers of verses whom they call Bards; these singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others. They have philosophers and theologians who are held in much honour and are called Druids ; they have sooth-sayers too of great renown who tell the future by watching the flights of birds and by observation of the entrails of victims; and every one waits upon their word. When they attempt divination upon important matters they practice a strange and incredible custom, for they kill a man by a knife-stab in the region above the midriff, and after his fall they foretell the future by the convulsions of his limbs and the pouring of his blood, a form of divination in which they have full confidence, as it is of old tradition. It is a custom of the Gauls that no one performs a sacrifice without the assistance of a philosopher, for they say that offerings to the gods ought only to be made through the mediation of these men, who are learned in the divine nature and, so to speak, familiar with it, and it is through their agency that the blessings of the gods should properly be sought. It is not only in times of peace, but in war also, that these seers have authority, and the incantations of the bards have effect on friends and foes alike. Often when the combatants are ranged face to face, and swords are drawn and spears bristling, these men come between the armies and stay the battle, just as wild beasts are sometimes held spellbound. Thus even among the most savage barbarians anger yields to wisdom, and Mars is shamed before the Muses.

AD 10 – Strabo’s Geographies
IV, 4, c. 197, 41 Among all the Gallic peoples, generally speaking, there are three sets of men who are held in exceptional honour: the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids. The Bards are singers and poets; the Vates, diviners and natural philosophers; while the Druids, in addition to natural philosophy, study also moral philosophy. The Druids are considered the most just of men, and on this account they are entrusted with the decision, not only of the private disputes, but of the public disputes as well; so that, in former times, they even arbitrated cases of war and made the opponents stop when they were about to line up for battle, and the murder cases in particular, had been turned over to them for decision. Further, when there is a big yield (of criminals for sacrifice) from these cases, there is forthcoming a big yield from the land too, as they think. However, not only the Druids, but others as well, say that men's souls, and also the universe, are indestructible, although both fire and water will at some time or other prevail over them.

IV, 4, c. 198, 5 But the Romans put a stop to these customs, as well as to all those connected with the sacrifices and divinations that are opposed to our usages. They used to strike a human being, whom they had devoted to death, in the back with a sabre, and then divine from his death-struggle. But  they would not sacrifice without the Druids.  We are told of still other kinds of human sacrifices; for example, they would shoot victims to death with arrows, or impale them in the temples, or having devised a colossus of straw and wood, throw into the colossus cattle and wild animals of all sorts and human beings, and then make a burnt offering of the whole thing.

AD 15 – Timagenes - Lost, but quoted by Ammianus Marcellinus over 300 years later.

AD 25 - Valerius Maximus
II, 6, 10 Having done with the description of the town (Marseilles), an old custom of the Gauls may now be mentioned ; for it is said that they lend to each other sums that are repayable in the next world, so firmly are they convinced that the souls of men are immortal. And I would call them foolish indeed, if it were not for the fact that what these trousered barbarians believe is the very faith of Greek Pythagoras himself.

So far... less than 2,000 contemporary words survive written by people who might have actually met real druids or met people who had met them. The earliest half of these words was written by one politician, Julius Caesar, and like all politicians he had an agenda and he lied all the time.

When Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC as part of his invasion of Gaul, he had no interest in pacifying Celtic barbarians or bringing peace to Western Europe. What he really wanted was to destroy the Roman republic and make himself Emperor, and to do that he needed a very big army under his personal control, and to justify getting one of those he needed to find somewhere to invade "for the glory of Rome". And to justify that invasion he needed to present the European Celts as barbaric savages who needed to be brought under the "Pax Romana" both for the security of Rome and "for their own good". And to do that he needed to show that the Celts were a violent, barbarous people.

There are several references to human sacrifice, but a careful reading suggests that these sacrifices were actually carried out by the Gauls, that is to say the ordinary Gallic population, and not specifically by their druid priests.Human sacrifice seems to have been a common secular practise carried out by ordinary men. It is stated that the druids were asked to officiate at these sacrifices, but this does not mean that they were responsible for them. Strabo says that "they <meaning the iron-age Celts> would not sacrifice without the druids". Which suggests that the druids were not performing the sacrifice.

Today in America Christian priests officiate at executions, but does that make them executioners?

Caesar's description of The Wicker Man is not substantiated by a single piece of archeological evidence of any kind, and although Strabo mentions it as well he may just be copying Caesar. It is probably an outright lie, one of hundreds told by Caesar to help justify his invasion of Gaul.

Which is a shame, 'cos Lugodoc really digs...               The Wicker Man

Then came...

AD 43 - The Claudian Conquest of Britain

Wherever Rome conquered new provinces it always installed Roman governers and client kings to keep the peace and levy taxes, but it never usually made any effort to destroy local religions. Even after several rebellions in Judea it never tried to outlaw the local Jewish religion. And yet, after the Claudian invasion of Britain in AD 43, The Divine Emperor Claudius decreed that henceforth through out all Britain, Gaul, and the rest of The Roman Empire, all druids were outlawed and to be shot on sight.

The great druid stronghold on Anglesey was attacked and destroyed under the command of the local British governer Suetonius Paulinus in AD 61, and after this the druids ceased to have any official existence. Some survivors fled to Ireland or Scotland, which were never conquered by Rome but were conquered by Roman Christianity a few centuries later. Others went underground and became wandering poets and storytellers, without power or status. Their vast wealth of historical and metaphysical knowledge faded into myth.

So after this, everything is just heresay, rumour and repetition, and just over another 2,000 words survive from the following 300 years...

AD 50 - Pomponius Mela’s De Situ Orbis
III, 2, 18 and 19 There still remain traces of atrocious customs no longer practised, and although they now refrain from outright slaughter yet they still draw blood from the victims led to the altar. They have, however, their own kind of eloquence, and teachers of wisdom called Druids. These profess to know the size and shape of the world, the movements of the heavens and of the stars, and the will of the gods. They teach many things to the nobles of Gaul in a course of instruction lasting as long as twenty years,   meeting in secret either in a cave or in secluded dales. One of their dogmas has come to common knowledge, namely, that souls are eternal and that there is another life in the infernal regions, and this has been permitted manifestly because it makes the multitude readier for war. And it is for this reason too that they burn or bury with their dead, things appropriate to them in life, and that in times past they even used to defer the completion of business and the payment of debts until their arrival in another world. Indeed, there were some of them who flung themselves willingly on the funeral piles of their relatives in order to share the new life with them.

AD 60 - Lucan’s Pharsalia
I, 450-8 And you, O Druids, now that the clash of battle is stilled, once more have you returned to your barbarous ceremonies and to the savage usage of your holy rites. To you alone it is given to know the truth about the gods and deities of the sky, or else you alone are ignorant of this truth. The innermost groves of far-off forests are your abodes. And it is you who say that the shades of the dead seek not the silent land of Erebus and the pale halls of Pluto; rather, you tell us that the same spirit has a body again elsewhere, and that death, if what you sing is true, is but the mid-point of long life.

AD 77 – Pliny’s Natural History
XVI, 249 Here we must mention the awe felt for this plant by the Gauls. The Druids—for so their magicians are called—held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, always supposing that tree to be the oak. But they choose groves formed of oaks for the sake of the tree alone, and they never perform any of their rites except in the presence of a branch of it; so that it seems probable that the priests themselves may derive their name from the Greek word for that tree. In fact, they think that everything that grows on it has been sent from heaven and is a proof that the tree was chosen by the god himself. The mistletoe, however, is found but rarely upon the oak; and when found, is gathered with due religious ceremony, if possible on the sixth day of the moon (for it is by the moon that they measure their months and years, and also their ages of thirty years). They choose this day because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable influence. They call the mistletoe by a name meaning, in their language, the all-healing. Having made preparation for sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, whose horns are bound then for the first time. Clad in a white robe, the priest ascends the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is received by others in a white cloak. Then they kill the victims, praying that God will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has granted it. They believe that the mistletoe, taken in drink, imparts fecundity to barren animals, and that it is an antidote for all poisons. Such are the religious feelings that are entertained towards trifling things by many peoples.

XXIV, 103 Similar to savin is the plant called selago. It is gathered without using iron and by passing the right hand through the left sleeve of the tunic, as though in the act of committing a theft. The clothing must be white, the feet washed and bare, and an offering of wine and bread made before the gathering. The Druids of Gaul say that the plant should be carried as a charm against every kind of evil, and that the smoke of it is good for diseases of the eyes.

XXIV, 104 The Druids, also, use a certain marsh-plant that they call samolus, this must be gathered with the left hand, when fasting, and is a charm against the diseases of cattle. But the gatherer must not look behind him, nor lay the plant anywhere except in the drinking-troughs.

XXIX, 52 There is also another kind of egg, of much renown in the Gallic provinces, but ignored by the Greeks. In the summer, numberless snakes entwine themselves into a ball, held together by a secretion from their bodies and by their spittle. This is called anguinum. The Druids say that hissing serpents throw this up into the air, and that it must be caught in a cloak, and not allowed to touch the ground; and that one must instantly take to flight on horse-back, as the serpents will pursue until some stream cuts them off. It may be tested, they say, by seeing if it floats against the current of a river, even though it be set in gold. But as it is the way of magicians to cast a cunning veil about their frauds, they pretend that these eggs can only be taken on a certain day of the moon, as though it rested with mankind to make the moon and the serpents accord as to the moment of the operation. I myself, however, have seen one of these eggs; it was round, and about as large as a smallish apple; the shell was cartalaginous, and peeked like the arms of a polypus. The Druids esteem it highly. It is said to ensure success in law-suits and a favourable reception with princes ; but this is false, because a man of the Vocontii, who was also a Roman knight, kept one of these eggs in his bosom during a trial, and was put to death by the Emperor Claudius, as far as I can see, for that reason alone.

XXX, 13 It (magic) flourished in the Gallic provinces, too, even down to a period within our memory; for it was in the time of the Emperor Tiberius that a decree was issued against their Druids and the whole tribe of diviners and physicians. But why mention all this about a practice that has even crossed the ocean and penetrated to the utmost parts of the earth ? At the present day, Britannia is still fascinated by magic, and performs its rites with so much ceremony that it almost seems as though it was she who had imparted the cult to the Persians. To such a degree do peoples throughout the whole world, although unlike and quite unknown to one another, agree upon this one point. Therefore we cannot too highly appreciate our debt to the Romans for having put an end to this monstrous cult, whereby to murder a man was an act of the greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh most beneficial.

AD 78 – Tacitus’ Annals     (describing the invasion of Anglesey in AD 61)
XIV, 30 On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motion-less and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general's appeal and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troupe of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it, indeed, a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.

AD 120 – Suetonius’ Claudius
25 He (the Emperor Claudius) very thoroughly suppressed the barbarous and inhuman religion of the Druids in Gaul, which in the time of Augustus had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens.

AD 230 – Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers
intro 1: Some say that the study of philosophy was of barbarian origin. For the Persians had their Magi, the Babylonians or the Assyrians the Chaldeans, the Indians their Gymnosophists, while the Kelts and the Galatae had seers called Druids and Semnotheoi or so Aristotle says in the " Magic," and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his " Succession of Philosophers."

Vitce, intro 5: Those who think that philosophy is an invention of the barbarians explain the systems prevailing among each people. They say that the Gymnosophists and Druids make their pronouncements by means of riddles and dark sayings, teaching that the gods must be worshipped, and no evil done, and manly behaviour maintained.

AD 235 – Lampridius’ Alexander Severus
LIX, 5. While he (Alexander Severus) was on his way, a Druidess cried out to him in the Gallic tongue, " Go forward, but hope not for victory, nor put trust in thy soldiers."

AD 250 – Hippolytus’ Philosophumena
I, xxv 1 The Keltic Druids applied themselves thoroughly to the Pythagorean philosophy, being urged to this pursuit by Zamolxis, the slave of Pythagoras, a Thracian by birth, who came to those parts after the death of Pythagoras, and gave them opportunity of studying the system. And the Kelts believe in their Druids as seers and prophets because they can foretell certain events by the Pythagorean reckoning and calculations. We will not pass over the origins of their learning in silence, since some have presumed to make distinct schools of the philosophies of these peoples. Indeed, the Druids also practice the magic arts.

AD 260 - Clement of Alexandria’s Stromala
I, xv, 70, I Alexander, in his book "On the Pythagorean Symbols," relates that Pythagoras was a pupil of Nazaratus the Assyrian, and will have it that, in addition to these, Pythagoras was a hearer of the Galatae and the Brahmins.

I, xv, 71, 3 1 Thus philosophy, a science of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the pro-phets of the Egyptians ; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians ; and the Druids among the Gauls ; and the Samanaeans among the Bactrians; and the philosophers of the Kelts; and the Magi of the Persians.

AD 275 – Vopiscus’ Numerianus
XIV When Diocletian, so my grandfather told me, was sojourning in a tavern in the land of the Tongri in Gaul, at the time when he was still of humble rank in the army, and had occasion to settle the daily account for his keep with a certain druidess, this woman said to him, " You are far too greedy and far too economical, O Diocletian." Whereto he replied, jestingly, " I will be more liberal when I am emperor," to which the druidess answered, " Laugh not, Diocletian, for when you have killed The Boar, you will indeed be emperor."

After this Diocletian coveted the purple and never missed the chance of killing a boar when out hunting ; but Aurelian, and Probus and Tacitus, and then Carus, were all emperors before him, so that he was moved to exclaim, " I kill the boars, but it is always another who reaps the reward ! " At last, however, he killed the prefect Arrius, surnamed The Boar, and then the prophecy of the druidess was fulfilled, and he ascended to the imperial throne.

<editor's note: Diocletian executed the praetorian prefect Arrius Aper for the murder of his emperor and son-in-law Numerianus in A.D. 284, so how did Flavius Vopiscus write this down in A.D. 275? It appears that Vopiscus was only one of a group of authors of Roman history known as the Scriptores Historiae Augustae (the writers of Augustan history) who wrote about the emperors between A.D. 117 (Hadrian) and A.D. 284 (Carinus) and their work is suspected to have been re-written under Constantine in around A.D. 330. More Roman lies! >

AD 280 - Vopiscus’ Awelianus
XLIII, 4 and 5 He (Asclepiodotus) used to say that on a certain occasion Aurelian consulted the Gaulish druidesses to find out whether his descendants would remain in possession of the imperial crown. These women told him that no name would become more illustrious in the state annals than that of the line of Claudius. It is true, of course, that the present Emperor Constantius is of the same stock, and I think that his descendants will assuredly attain to the glory foretold by the druidesses.

<editor's note: Constantius becames Augustus In The West in A.D. 305, so somebody has definitely been re-writing history!>

AD 350 - Ammianus Marcellinus
XV, 9, 4 According to the Druids, a part of the population (of Gaul) was indigenous, but some of the people came from outlying islands and lands beyond the Rhine, driven from their homes by repeated wars and by the inroads of the sea.

XV, 9, 8 In these regions, as the people gradually became civilised, attention to the gentler arts became commoner, a study introduced by the Bards, and the Euhages < sometimes written as ovates - ed>, and the Druids. It was the custom of the Bards to celebrate the brave deeds of their famous men in epic verse accompanied by the sweet strains of the lyre, while the Euhages strove to explain the high mysteries of nature. Between them came the Druids, men of greater talent, members of the intimate fellowship of the Pythagorean faith; they were up-lifted by searchings into secret and sublime things, and with grand contempt for mortal lot they professed the immortality of the soul.

... And that is it. Everything written after this has been even wilder speculation.

Lugodoc finds it significant that everyone who described the druids seemed to see what they wanted to see.

The Greek philosophers described philosophers, both natural and moral. The Roman politician Julius Caesar described poweful, wealthy judges, law-makers and executioners. Later chroniclers described them as mere fortune-tellers, brought in to suggest Fate had some hand in the blood-soaked succession of Roman emperors.

Druid Kit

just possibly a druid If the written accounts of druids are flimsy then the surviving physical evidence, the archaeology, is even weaker.

In spite of accounts of golden sickles, druid's eggs and giant wicker men, nothing like these items has ever been dug up. Although there are hundreds of surviving carvings, statues, coins and other images depicting Celtic warriors, there is not one single definite image of an iron age Celtic druid. Furthermore, although there are many examples where the three main sources (history, archaeology and myth) agree on how warriors looked and behaved, there are almost no examples of even two of these sources agreeing on anything about druids. The only object found thought to be possibly an image of a druid is the Statue from The Sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias - part of a vast hoard of treasure including many figurines. It is just possibly a druid holding a druid’s egg, although it has no torc to denote status or any other kind of possibly druidic attribute. Or it might just be a very relaxed charioteer.

Druid spoonsArchaeologists have also found several pairs of Spoons – these items are typically Southern British dating from the first century BC and are usually about  2 inches long. One is always engraved with a simple cruciform pattern, the other punctured with a small hole. Many pairs have been found at ritual sites (for example this pair from Crosby Ravensworth) as opposed to normal domestic sites, and are therefore assumed to be of ritual significance. There is no mention of anything like them anywhere in the histories or the myths.

Druid grindersAnother class of object, similarly identified with iron age ritual sites, is the Grinder – also typically Southern British. They are typically 2 to 3” wide, and apparently designed to grind small quantities of something and to be worn as a pendant. The British Museum has about twenty on display, and if this many have survived for two thousand years then many thousands must have been made and been in use. And yet, again, there is no mention of them anywhere in the writings.

Druid CallendarSomewhere in the first century AD, after the druids started to use Latin to make inscriptions but before they were outlawed, one group of druids created the complex, mysterious and extremely expensive Coligny Calendar. This huge bronze plate (5 ft x 3 ½ ft) was made in a single piece but then broken up and buried. It covers 5 years and attempts to reconcile lunar and solar observations. Each month is 29 or 30 days long and covers exactly one cycle of the moon, and is divided into a good half (waxing) and a bad half (waning). The full moon (Atenoux) appears to be in the middle of each month. Each year has 12 or 13 months.

At least this object agrees with Pliny's comments on the druidic measurements of time, but it is the only one of its kind ever found.

The Dark Ages

Although the institutions which supported the complex and highly formal magic, ritual and law of the druids were wiped out in the first century AD, and the druids themselves had written absolutely nothing down, a tiny fraction of their vast body of orally recorded history and myth survived amongst story tellers, and the common Celtic practise of folk magic carried on.

The myths were eventually written down in Latin by early Christian monks, a practise which began in the eighth century AD and carried on until  at least the fourteenth. The folk magic merged with that of the invading Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Jutes Vikings and Normans right up until the thirteenth century, when the Roman Christian Church got nasty and created The Spanish Inquisition to burn anyone who practised it, and this carried on for over three hundred years.

During the early medieval period history was not a science, it was an art, and was hopelessly confused with myth by those who tried to study it. After the Norman invasion of 1066 the new masters of Britain needed to justify their right to rule, and in 1135 they comissioned a monk called Geoffrey of Monmouth to write a definitive history of Britain. Monmouth's History Of The Kings Of Britain supposedly covered everything from the fall of Troy in 1240 BC to the end of the Saxon conquest in AD 689, and although lots of fun it is not accurate. Arthur is covered in detail, and Merlin the druid is introduced, but the two never meet. However, the first ever connection is made between druids and Stonehenge (or maybe Avebury), as Merlin is credited with having used magic to steal The Giant's Ring from Ireland and bringing it to Britain as a memorial to the British who died fighting alongside Arthur's dad Uthur against the Saxons. Monmouth was fascinated by Merlin, and wrote two more books just about him. We have no idea where he got most of his information from, although he does mention "a certain very ancient book written in the British language" (ie Celtic) that was loaned to him by Archdeacon Walter. Apart from this one casual mention by Geoffrey trying to back up his stories no such book is known to exist, and for all we know he made it up to please his boss.

In 1469 Sir Thomas Mallory MP wrote La Morte Darthur (The Death Of Arthur) in which Merlin meets Arthur and becomes his druid. He is described as having a master called "Bleise" in Northumberland, suggesting some kind of druid order. When William Caxton printed it in 1485 he said in his own preface that although some people thought Arthur was a real king, most others thought he was just a myth.

The Seventeenth Century

During the seventeenth cenury, for the first time, some well educated aristocrats with time and money to spare began the first attempt at a rational study of history, trying to knit together the various sources into a sensible coherent record. These sources included folk-myths, ancient Greek, Roman, Saxon and Welsh histories kept in latin by monks and available to the well-educated upper classes, and the ancient and mysterious features still explorable in the landscape, such as Stonehenge.

One of these first "antiquarians" was John Aubrey, who "stumbled" across Avebury whilst fox hunting in 1649. Fascinated by the place, he collected lore and gossip into his note books and was the first to suggest ten years later that Stonhenge and Avebury were druid temples. This idea has persisted, even though we now know that Stonehenge was abandoned in around 1,900 BC in the bronze age (and Avebury even earlier), whereas the druids were iron age Celtic priests, and the iron age did not begin in Europe until at least 1,100 years later in around 800 BC. Furthermore, the literature at the top of this page utterly fails to mention stone circles of any kind, instead repeatedly making it clear that the druids worshipped in groves.

It is Lugodoc's personal belief that the druids did build both these sites, and many others, and that when the first iron age Celts came to Europe and Britain they found and adopted the bronze age priests that were already there, and that these were later identified by classical scholars as the Celts' iron age priests. The druid religion evolved from practising ritual at megalithic sites in the bronze age to practising within groves in the iron age. Religion does evolve. Christ himself never seems to have held meetings in temples (which he detested), but mostly at parties, on hilltops or in restaurants. Early Christians used to meet in catacombs. Now they meet in churches or meeting houses. But they still call themselves Christians.

Aubrey raised such popular interest in the stones at Avebury that in 1663 they were visited by King Charles II, and Aubrey completed his manuscript  Monumenta Brittanica in 1690. This was not actually published until the 1980s, and he died in poverty in 1697.

Whatever the truth, Aubrey welded druids  to Stonehenge in the British consciousness so perfectly that it is now impossible to separate them ever again.

The Eighteenth Century

One unlikely young man who met Aubrey and adopted his view of Stonehenge as a druid temple was the Irish revolutionary John Tolland. He wrote a book expanding on Aubrey's ideas, but far from romanticising the Irish druids he saw them as narrow-minded political fascists, in a thinly disguised satyrical lampoon of the contemprary Irish Christian Church.

1723 druid by Rowland

Aubrey's work encouraged many others with an education and time to spare, and in 1723 the Reverend Henry Rowland published Mona Antiqua Restaura. This work is not well known, but it did include one of the first known attempts to imagine what a druid might have looked like. It is complete rubbish, but it influenced everything that came afterwards and now we are well and truly stuck with it. Maybe I'll dress like this when I get older.

Stukeley's druidJust a little later but far more famous was William Stukeley. He was born in 1687, studied medicine and in 1718 he became the first secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He first visited Stonehenge a year later and fell in love with it. He published the results of his travels around Britain in his Itinerarium Curiosum in 1724, and the results of his excavations at Stonehenge and Avebury in Stonehenge, a Temple Restored to the British Druids in 1740, and Abury, a Temple of the British Druids three years later in 1743. His illustrations were heavily influenced by, but even wackier than, Rowland's.

Stukeley wasn't just fascinated by druids, he wanted to be one. In 1730 he changed career and was ordained as Vicar of All Saints Church in Stamford, but he never saw this as a problem. He had the vicarage garden redesigned as a druid grove complete with a megalithic folly, and included his ideas of druid philosophy into his sermons. He even started to sign his letters "Chyndonax, Druid of Mount Haemus."

Neo-druidism had taken off, and after this everyone was writing about them and trying to grab a piece of the action.

Meanwhile, political as well as historical consciousness was developing.

At the end of the seventeenth century a new trend in literature and philosophy began, and for the first time people began to seriously question the divine rights of kings and priests. This process continued through out the eighteenth century, and so this century is sometimes referred to as The Age Of Reason, or The Enlightenment.

At the begining of the eighteenth century practical minded people were begining to create Friendly Societies, mutual interest societies intended to provide support for their members in time of need. The 19th century British Cooperative Society had its origin in these early mutual benefit societies. More theoretically minded people were also beginning to meet in secret or semi-secret societies to discuss philosophy, politics and religion, ideas about human freedom and the rights of Man, and many of these ideas were, technically, still illegal, heretical or treason. Although very few people were being burned at the stake for heresy or hung for treason it still wasn't really safe, and some precautions were necessary by these early free thinkers. Meetings were held in private houses or rooms in taverns, and members were often required to take oaths of secrecy. This was partly just common sense, and partly copied off the freemasons. Some of these societies were workers' organisations to lobby for better working conditions, some were middleclass societies discussing radical politics, and a few upperclass ones were just sex-clubs like The Hellfire Club. Freemasonry was a strong inspiration, and somehow druidry got dragged into the mix.

These radical societies and the changes in political consciousness they brought about crossed the Atlantic and were ultimately responsible for the creation of the world's first secular democracy in the newly settled United States Of America on July 4th, 1776.

Kings Arms Tavern
Just one such society was The Ancient Order Of Druids, a secret benefit society founded in London in 1781, possibly by a man called Henry Hurle. It first met in The Kings Arms Tavern in Poland Steet in Soho, and there is an engraved wooden plaque on the wall there comemorating this event. It spread rapidly, forming new lodges all over Britain and was even introduced to the USA in 1833. The AOD is men-only and still meets on both sides of the Atlantic, making it the oldest existing neo-druidic society. However, it no longer meets in The Kings Arms because that is now a gay bar.

Kings Arms Plaque

In 1792 a letter appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine describing an event on Primrose Hill in London, in which a group of men calling itself the Bards of the Island of Britain performed what they obviously thought were druidic rituals at the Autumnal equinox. The author was a Welshman calling himself Iolo Morgannwg (born Edward Williams). In Wales there had been an annual Eisteddfod held since 1568, a Christian music and poetic festival, but Iolo had successfully lobbied to turn it druidic, and was now doing the same in Britain. Unfortunately one of his favorite techniques was to fake vast quantities of ancient druidic knowlege, supposedly written down by the last druids and somehow passed on in secret for seventeen hundred years to none other than Eddie (sorry, Iolo) so that it could now be revealed once more. Iolo actually was a good poet, and much of his excellent material is still in print in various forms and in use by many modern druids. Unfortunately it isn't real. Everything that might be real is at the top of this page, remember?

Also in 1792 the famous proto-socialist Sheridan  was lobbying for parliamentary reform and he created the Society of Friends of The People to gather support for wider and fairer elections. Naturally the authorities didn't like these developments and in 1795 Lord Braxfield ruled that "to agitate for equal representation of the people in the House of the People [the House of Commons] was in the circumstances of itself sedition". The "friend" Thomas Muir got 14 years transportation and the society dissolved itself.

By the end of the century the number of new semi-secret or friendly societies questioning the philosophical and political status quo in Britain were growing, so in 1799 an act of parliament was passed outlawing all societies which used oaths (although the freemasons were, naturally, exempt). Some Essex lodges of AOD were prosecuted under this new law, which could inflict punishments up to and including forcible transportation to the colonies.

The Nineteenth Century

1815 druidInspite (or maybe even because) of the English government oppression, The Ancient Order of Druids continued to grow, spread, split and spawn further neo-druidic groups, and the nineteenth century is littered with them. Neo-druidic societies were sprouting like mushrooms with names that would make Monty Python proud, such as The Druid Church Of The Universal Bond, The Circle Of The Universal Bond, The United Ancient Order Of Druids, The Ancient Druid Order or even just The Order Of Druids. They mostly came and went, but the AOD carried on through out the century. By 1815 the commonly held opinion of what an iron age druid looked like had evolved into the sorry drag act on the right.

The new laws punishing any societies that took oaths were used, and in 1834 six labourers in Dorset who had formed an early trade union were banished to Australia for "administering illegal oaths". They became famous as The Tolpuddle Martyrs (even though they weren't actually martyred).

The 19th century was the Victorian century in England, and a lot was happening. Rapidly accelerating developments in science, engineering, physics, chemistry, astronomy and geology were changing the European perception of the universe in a way not even the 20th century could come close to. At the start of the century most people thought that the universe was enclosed by a sphere a few million miles across with stars stuck on it containing the Earth and planets and that the whole thing had been created by God about eight thousand years ago, just for us. People were being buried in graveyards that they truly believed would still be in existence at the end of the world when Christ returned to judge the living and the dead just a few centuries into the future. But by the end of the 19th century it was starting to sink in that the uncountable stars being revealed by the new telescopes were suns like our own, that the universe was at least hundreds of thousands of of light-years in size and that mankind had evolved from animals over millions of years and that the Earth itself had taken billions of years to form. Mankind had been displaced from the centre of God's tiny cosy pocket creation to an obscure corner of something so mind-bogglingly huge and old that the first attempts by Christian scientists to get their heads round the new universe must have been like taking acid. Old-style Christianity now looked foolish, and the new science looked frightening.

The response to this almost hallucinogenic expansion in consciousness was to look for new ways to explain Mankind's spiritual significance. Released from silly old Christianity and repelled by scary new science, people (like Madame Blavatsky's Theosophists or The Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn) imagined weird histories involving ancient races and hollow Earths, or found spiritualism and talked to the dead, or founded obscure societies protecting "the Wisdom of the Ancients". The new druidical societies were just typical examples of these many attempts to find comfort in a newly rediscovered eternal spiritual wisdom.

Christian clergymen seemed particularly vulnerable, and for example in 1836 the Reverend D James, curate of Almondbury in Yorkshire, published a book called The Patriarchal Religion of Britain or a Complete Manual of Ancient British Druidism, and he dedicated it to the Ancient Order of Druids lodge in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His main source was the rubbish of Iolo Mogannwg, and if he had tried it 200 years earlier he would have been burnt at the stake.

If there was a common idea behind this explosion in 19th century neo-druidry, it was that modern Christianity and politics had lost their way, and that perhaps greater metaphysical truths could be found in the lore and ritual of the ancients. Christianity had suppressed truth in many forms for centuries, and when the straight-jacket came off during The Enlightenment of the 18th century interest turned to the obscure semi-magical teachings of ancient secret societies, whether real or imagined. The ancient chronicles recording their reverence for truth made the druids seem particularly attractive.

The Twentieth Century

After more than a century AOD was still going strong. In 1905 there was a huge gathering of AOD at Stonehenge, which included Stonehenge's owner Sir Edmund Antrobus. By now the whole druid drag act had evolved into white robes, nemets (silly faux-Egyptian head gear), false white beards, golden sickles, staffs and cod-masonic symbols.

1905 AOD Stonehenge

1908 Churchill

Neo-druids had become quite cosy and the authorities no longer felt threatened by them. Even Britain's wartime prime minister-to-be Sir Winston Churchill was photographed at Blenheim Palace being "installed" into the Albion Lodge of the Ancient Order of Druids in 1908.

The inexorable march of science and social change and the nostalgic reaction against it accelerated, not always pleasantly. The Nazis of the thirties drew some of their support and inspiration from the many neo-pagan and semi-druidical groups that formed in Germany after their defeat in The Great War.

After WWII the repeal of the British witchcraft laws in 1951 (by Sir Winston himself) brought all sorts of neo-pagan groups out of the woodwork, and some are still famous such as the Wicca groups created by Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols.

The Sixties

Then came the The Sixties and everybody just wanted to Part-ayyy!!! Stonehenge was a great place to party and the druids couldn't help getting dragged in.

Philip Ross Nichols left AOD in 1964 to form his own druid group, The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, or OBOD. This group is still going strong and is one of the most well-known after AOD itself. It has many prominent members including Philip Carr-Gomm, Professor Ronald Hutton, Philip Shallcrass and John & Caitlin Matthews.

The Seventies

1975 Stonehenge Free Festival

It was now well known that Stonehenge was alligned with the midsummer solstice, and neo-druids, pagans and hippies swarmed there on June 21st every year to get high in ever increasing numbers. This process accelerated during the 1970s until The Stonehenge Free Festival  became an unofficial free party around the stones every year, lasting up to a fortnight and thronged with tens of thousands of people.

Neo-druids seemed to get on very well with hippies.

By now Stonehenge was no longer in private ownership, but in the custody of a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation (QUANGO) called English Heritage.

The Eighties

In Britain, this was Thatcher's decade. It was as bad as you've heard, and the reaction happened on the streets. Opposition to greedy, selfish, un-fettered capitalism was expressed in the "Stop The City" protests in the financial heart of the city of London, or in the Peace Women's protests at Greenham Common against American nuclear weapons on British soil. But the rise in political consciousness didn't stop people partying - quite the opposite. And the Stonehenge Free Festival grew year by year.

Naturally, the thought of thousands of people getting high in the sun and having a good time without any interference from the authorities was simply unbearable to those in power, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded according to her nature. The unwashed swarms of hippies and other travellers had to be stopped from congregating at Stonehenge, and so on June 1st 1985 the government launched a vicious attack on a convoy of vans and buses in a field in nearby Cholderton in Wiltshire. The result was The Battle Of The Beanfield. This is well documented elsewhere and recommended by Lugodoc for study by anyone interested in the real history of the twentieth century.

After this, Stonehenge was sealed off with fences and security guards 24/7 to prevent any access at all, except to paying tourists. At every summer solstice a huge and expensive police operation would be launched by the Wiltshire Constabulary to prevent anyone getting anywhere near the stones to party or worship. Or both. The popular response to this absurd over-reaction by the authorities was the creation of several brand new neo-druidical organisations.

In June 1986 a previously obscure ex-squaddie, biker and veteran of the 1970's free festivals legally changed his name by deed poll to Arthur Uthur Pendragon, declared himself to be the living incarnation of King Arthur and dedicated the rest of his life to Stonehenge access, the road protests that came later in the 90s and the rights of the people against the government everywhere. He formed his own neo-druid order, The Loyal Arthurian Warband, or LAW. This order was represented at the meetings of the COBDO, and through sheer charisma  King Arthur became accepted as the nominal arch druid or senior office-holder of many of the newly formed neo-druidical orders that appeared in the 80s and 90s.

Wherever he went the cameras followed, guaranteeing publicity for causes that the government would have preferred to have been ignored.

The Glastonbury Order of Druids  or GOD came into being in May 1988, headed by Rollo Maughfling. One of its main functions was to lobby for open access to Stonehenge.

The Secular Order of Druids or SOD was headed by Tim Sebastian, an old rock and roller who had been in a 70s concept band called Gryphon and had attended many of the free festivals.

There were even rumours of a (possibly ironic) neo-druidical group called the Police Lodge Of Druids, or PLOD.

In order to keep some kind of a lid on this chaotic blossoming of neo-druids the four most venerable neo-druidical orders (AOD, OBOD, SOD & GOD) formed the Grand Council Of British Druid Orders or COBDO, which organised quarterly councils with representatives from every order and  lobbied for free access to Stonehenge at the Summer solstice.

After more than five years of simmering resentment on all sides Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threw more petrol onto the fire in 1989 with a speech to the United Nations in which she insisted that “nothing can stop the great car economy”. Elsewhere her transport minister was busy declaring (his actual words) “the biggest road-building programme since the Romans.

Then came...

The Nineties

New roads had  been built all over Britain ever since the coming of The Romans two thousand years ago, but suddenly something snapped. The accelerating disappearance of Britain's fields under tarmac started to produce a reaction. It might be said to have begun with Twyford Down.

Nobody had heard of this obscure hill near Winchester until, in 1992, the government tried to dig it up to make way for a new motorway extension to the M3. A small group of travellers, banished from Stonehenge, set up a permanent camp there to get in the way of the builders, and this grew into the first Anti-Road Protest of the many others that took place during the nineties. The protest failed, and an ancient hill, including iron age remains and medieval plague pits, was demolished so that the Winchester by-pass could be built for a few million quid less. The travellers named themselves after one of the mysterious earthworks on the hill where they had been camped - The Dongas Tribe.

Strange resonances were at work. The Romans had built roads. They had outlawed the old iron age druids. The government was now building roads through ancient sites. They had stopped the partying at Stonehenge by travellers and neo-druids. At the same time Rave culture found the youth of Britain, taking over where the hippies had left off and the punks had given up, and the party evicted from Stonehenge spilled out into every field in Britain.

The Dongas, the travellers, the druids, the road-protesters, the anti-capitalists, the open-air ravers... everybody got dragged into a huge, fuzzy, protracted and seemingly endless protest that went on for the whole of the nineties, against road-building and environmental destruction (such as at Cradlewell, the M11, Solsbury Hill, and the Newbury bypass) and for access to Stonehenge and free open-air parties in general.

1993 Summer solstice - Dylan & Arthur Every Summer solstice King Arthur would be at Stonehenge, quietly and peacefully asking to be allowed in, so that he could worship there. The nearest he usually got was the chainlink fence at the Hele stone by the A344 road that passes the monument. It was sitting there awaiting the dawn in 1993 that he met a young shaman from Portsmouth called Dylan Blight. The exact moment is recorded in the photograph to the left, taken by a press photographer. Dylan is seated at the left in dreadlocks and Arthur is next to him in robes. (the man standing on the right is Barnade, a French neo-druid who arrived with the press buss.)  The two became lifelong friends, and at King Arthur's suggestion Dylan returned home to create The Insular Order of Druids, or IOD. He didn't call it the Portsmouth Order of Druids because POD sounds silly. This is the neo-druidical order that Lugodoc belongs to.

These peaceful protests at the stones were harmless and legal, but elsewhere at open-air free parties and at road-building sites all over Britain the authorities were frustrated by their inability to arrest non-violent demonstrators for standing in the way of Thatcher's Britain. The government response was The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, designed to prevent people gathering at road protests or at Stonehenge by making it an offence for the first time in England to be out in public in a group of twenty or more people, and just standing around. The act was designed to criminalise peaceful protest.

The sheer obvious injustice of this act brought further popular support to the Stonehenge access and road protest movements. The druid orders and many other peaceful lobbyists for open access to the stones never gave up. Druid and activist George Firsoff created (almost single-handedly) the Pagan And Druid Rights And Services organisation ( or PADRAS), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Stonehenge and The Stonhenge Peace Process. He maintained steady pressure on the authorities for years and proved that, yes, an old hippy can beat a government.

The authorities' will finally broke and, after fifteen years, open access to Stonehenge was granted in AD 2000.

The Twentyfirst Century

Druids are supposed to be able to tell the future, but Lugodoc has no idea what happens next.

During the iron age we were priests with the power of kings. Then we were outlawed for centuries and became just minstrels in the wilderness. After the dark ages of Rome and Christianity had passed we re-manifested into eccentric semi-masons, and then at the end of the twentieth century we found a use as publicity magnets and as the articulate voice of the people who cared about the land.

Since we "got Stonehenge back" we haven't really known what to do with it, or ourselves. The road protests are over, though King Arthur is still going strong and Britain is still disappearing under tarmac, only more slowly and with less fuss.

I think that for inspiration we need to look back to the earliest Greek accounts of natural and moral philosophers, and to the 18th century friendly societies where much of The Enlightenment actually took place. In pubs.

"It is our job to start thinking where science stops"

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