The Druid Legacy

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.

This entry was posted in Antiquities, Current Affairs, Stonehenge and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Druid Legacy

  1. corvusrouge says:

    Modern Druidry has been in the act of transformation for the last decade or so. There were some, and I include myself in this, for whom the lack of historical evidence of the Druids was a problem if using the descriptor for themselves was to be qualified (so much so that I actively refused to use it for at least 12 years) and so some of us went down the reconstructionist route for much the same reasons as you have highlighted. Whereas that provided a grounding for belief, modern culture is so far removed from the classical Druids as to be very problematic. So some of us then moved away from reconstructionism to reconnectionism.
    Just like every other aspect of evolution (be this a cultural evolution), for something to survive it has to have relevance to the times it exists in. So modern Druidry, whilst acknowledging it’s (limited) history, has to be able to interact with it own times for it to survive.
    I’m not part of this venture, though I know the people who are and have some respect for both them and their intentions with this. I’m not going to pretend that this is perfect, amongst other things for the reasons you have already highlighted. but I do actually think this is a good thing because if this thing we (I) call Druidry is to survive, whereas we can (and do) acknowledge both the history and the ancestors who lived the classical Druidry of history, that song of acknowledgement has to be our own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      Thanks for this, Red Raven, as I was very interested by what you had to say and I’m glad you took my words in the non-critical spirit in which they were intended. I’m not so convinced that ‘modern’ Druidry has the limited history you mention, as it’s something I explored at great but not exhaustive length on EI, while one aspect that particularly interested me was the fact that Darvill and Winwright’s excavation of 2008 at Stonehenge clearly showed that mid-winter ceremonies had been taking place there for millennia, up until the start of the seventeenth century, which was coincidentally just before the ‘modern’ movement kicked in. Allegedly.

      Again, I wasn’t being critical of this new Druid College and I wish everyone concerned the best of luck with it. The Druids aren’t the only movement from the past to enjoy a ‘renaissance’ in modern times, because there are of course the Templars as well. I’d originally intended to write a lengthier post about both groups and their resurgence, but my material on the Templars was so unpleasant that I didn’t want anyone thinking I was conflating it with the Druids.

      Finally, I may have mentioned it before, but if not, I would urge you to get hold of Anthony Burgess’s novel “The Kingdom of the Wicked” and read it. I last read it a few years ago and to my mind, it’s a masterful recreation of Christianity immediately following the crucifixion. I have no way of knowing how accurate it is, but I don’t think that matters, because the story concentrates on the characters of the time who found themselves essentially in the position of creating a new religion. For me, the best and most realistic parts dealt with the conflicts these characters had with each other and with the institutions of the time, while I also loved the way they argued with each other, had different visions of the way forward and generally cast around trying to make the best of a bad job because they had little clue as to how to proceed.

      From what I’ve seen, modern paganism and Druidry are in a broadly similar position, so I mention “The Kingdom of the Wicked” just as some kind of illustration that illustrious others have found themselves in your position before now and I hope you’ll profit from their example.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s