Today is December 21st and that means the Winter Solstice… But this also means that people who call themselves ‘druids’ will have already been dancing around Stonehenge like there’s no tomorrow. And I hate to break it to you but those aren’t druids. Sure, they call themselves druids but they aren’t really druids in the proper sense of the word. They all think they’re practising an ancient pagan tradition, but no, they’re not. Everything about the modern druid is wrong. Seriously wrong. And there’s a good reason for this.
The thing about druids as we know them today is that they are modern, really modern. There isn’t an ounce of ancientness about them except for the name. It is true that there may have once been some ancient people called druids but the information we have about them is scant and we only have a few sources at best, and none in their own words. One of the earliest references we have to them appears in Caesar’s ‘Conquest of Gaul’ where he describes them as being essentially priests and important members of society. Kind of like the popular image vicar today I suppose. And that’s really all we do know about them. We don’t know what they really did or how they worshipped or how people treated them in the community. Just that they were an important priestly figure in society. Also they had absolutely nothing to do with Stonehenge.
The Romans really hated the druids, however. They despised them so much that in the end they decided to wipe them out. Many writers, Caesar and Suetonius amongst them, express utter contempt and disgust for the druids. They make rather erroneous claim that the druids practised human sacrifice, cannibalism and ate babies whole… But if you know your Roman scholar speak then ‘eats babies’ and ‘cannibalism’ are actually the technical term for ‘not liked very much by the Romans.’ As a matter off fact, they called a number of types of people that they didn’t like cannibals including the early Christians. Usually the description was reserved for the ones they detested the most, again the early Christians to use an example.
What we know about this is that the Romans just couldn’t understand why the Christians wanted to worship a man who had died in a way that was then largely seen as being reserved for the worst of all the criminal scum. Even in Christian circles the crucifixion was seen as something that was shameful and not celebrated at all. The truth is that Christianity seriously conflicted with what was considered as the Roman ideal and the Roman way of life (which was greatly tied up with religion in almost every aspect). So perhaps this is also why the Romans disliked the Druids so much. Perhaps they conflicted with the Roman ideal as the early Christians did. We can’t know for sure but it’s certain that the Romans had a distinct hatred for the druids and this is only one possible explanation for that.
So where do modern Druids fit into this picture? Like most ‘traditions’ in the modern world it comes from the Victorians. They were the first to romanticise the druids and turn them into what we know of today- the long bearded, white robed man in the forest with all sorts of jangly bits and spouting nonsense about free love like a hippy? This is all nothing but a modern day construct trying to pretend its an ancient ritual. It’s not as we really have no evidence about the ancient druids at all apart from a few contemporary Roman Sources which are no doubt biased and a complete pack of lies. There are no druidic archaeological sites and certainly no other contemporary sources for them. The only other sources we have are post-Roman, which in all likelihood are also unreliable. There’s little evidence for them, but they certainly didn’t go around like the druids of today do.
Also if you see someone using the term ‘Celtic’ at any point you have my permission (as a trained archaeologist and historian) to face plant them in the nearest puddle of and shout about how there is actually no thing as ‘Celtic’ and that’s also a Victorian invention.