A few days ago, I noticed some excitement in my news feed at the birth of a Druid college in the UK. Over the past ten years, I’ve heard much about the location of supposed Druid colleges in Britain in ancient times, none of which I could substantiate, so I was naturally interested to hear that a modern one has been founded, even if it only exists online for the time being.
However, I was bemused when I read through the website; the Druid College site is a well-presented, classy affair, so it deserves praise for this reason alone, but I was mystified by its content. They readily concede that “The Druid College is not an accredited college and offers no degree programme”, so I’m not questioning their authenticity, but I just find it strange that they and so many other modern Druids are seemingly so far removed from their ancient brothers and sisters as to be almost unrecognisable.
We’re no longer in the midst of a Roman invasion and capital punishment has long since been abolished, so there’s no call for the notorious Wicker Men or for any of the other means by which we’re told that the ancient Druids took human lives. Modern Druids cannot impose the sanction of forbidding others from taking part in sacrifice, while there are many other aspects of life in the ancient world to which the Druids were closely linked that no longer exist, so I understand that the world’s changed, and with it, the practises and priorities of modern Druids.
However, Caesar recorded that Druidism was said to have originated in Britain, so I’d expect a modern Druid to be able to speak at least a few words of Welsh, the old language. The ancient British Druids presumably worshipped Brythonic gods and goddesses, a subject I looked into in great depth while Eternal Idol was online, but I can see no mention of this particular pantheon on the new Druid college site. It’s not for me to dictate or even to suggest how modern Druids should worship or which studies they should apply themselves to, but given that they’re evidently proud of being Druids, I’m baffled as to why their ‘founding fathers’ should exert so little influence on them.
For my part, I find the ancient Druids endlessly fascinating, not least when I consider those ancient texts that clearly refer to Druids and to Druid practises without mentioning this cult by name. I’ve heard all the arguments about how there are only 4,000 or so words from the classical sources that mention the Druids, a body of work that’s unreliable to the modern reader depending on their viewpoint(s) about Roman propaganda and how any meaningful information in this surviving record has long since been exhausted, but I disagree.
To give just one example, I wrote at length several years ago about Pomponius Mela’s use of the word ‘specus’ to describe the cave in which the Druids tutored others; in brief, there are numerous other words this man could have used if he had wished to describe a straightforward cave in the side of a mountain or a hill, but he chose instead ‘specus’, which can mean a chasm, a pit, a channel or a grotto – artificially constructed or otherwise – that has some kind of covering.
When we consider this variety of meanings, then it seems to me obvious that we could include long barrows such as those at West Kennet as fitting the description, while it’s just possible that Stonehenge itself could be described as a ‘specus’, depending on whether or not you regard the lintels as coverings and if so, to what degree. Understandably, this one word alone has given me enormous food for thought over the years, but there’s something in the region of 3,999 others that might potentially be of similar or even greater interest.
Looking back over my draft of the study of the scientific stranglehold on Stonehenge, I’m reminded that a good part of it goes into enormous detail about the links between the ancient British Druids and Stonehenge, an association that most people deny exists. There was a time until quite recently when this subject excited some fairly animated debate, but I get the impression that no one is really that interested anymore, perhaps because they’re more concerned with using their time and energy to oppose the planned tunnel and to consolidate their own organisations, the new Druid College being just one aspect of this burgeoning pagan revival in Britain.
So, I wish them all luck with their plans and I suppose I’ll just have to find a more engaging aspect of Stonehenge to write about.