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Druid (Old IrishdruíWelshderwydd) was a member of the educated, professional class among the Celtic peoples of GaulBritain,Ireland, and possibly elsewhere during the Iron Age. The Druid class included law-speakerspoets and doctors, among other learned professions, although the best known among the Druids were the religious leaders.

Very little is known about the ancient Druids. They left no written accounts of themselves, and the only evidence are a few descriptions left by Greek, Roman, and various scattered authors and artists, as well as stories created by later medieval Irish writers. While archaeological evidence has been uncovered pertaining to the religious practices of the Iron Age people, "not one single artefact or image has been unearthed that can undoubtedly be connected with the ancient Druids." Various recurring themes emerge in a number of the Greco-Roman accounts of the Druids, including that they performed animal and even human sacrifice, believed in a form of reincarnation, and held a high position in Gaulish society. Next to nothing is known for certain about their cultic practice, except for the ritual of oak and mistletoe as described by Pliny the Elder.

The earliest known reference to the Druids dates to 200 BCE, although the oldest actual description comes from the Roman military general Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (50s BCE). Later Greco-Roman writers also described the Druids, including CiceroTacitus and Pliny the Elder. Following the Roman invasion of Gaul, Druidism was suppressed by the Roman government under the 1st century CE emperors Tiberius and Claudius, and it had disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century.

In about 750 CE the word Druid appears in a poem by Blathmac, who wrote about Jesus, saying that he was "... better than a prophet, more knowledgeable than every Druid, a king who was a bishop and a complete sage."  The Druids then also appear in some of the medieval tales from Christianized Ireland like the "Táin Bó Cúailnge", where they are largely portrayed as sorcerers who opposed the coming of Christianity. In the wake of the Celtic revival during the 18th and 19th centuries, fraternal and neopagan groups were founded based on ideas about the ancient Druids, a movement known as Neo-Druidism. Many popular modern notions about Druids have no connection to the Druids of the Iron Age and are largely based on much later inventions or misconceptions.


The modern English word Druid derives from the Latin Druides (pronounced [druˈides]), which was considered by ancient Roman writers to come from the native Celtic Gaulish word for these figures. Other Roman texts also employ the form Druidae, while the same term was used by Greek ethnographers as δρυΐδης (Druidēs). Although no extant Romano-Celtic inscription is known to contain the form, the word is cognate with the later insular Celtic words, Old Irish druí ‘druid, sorcerer’, Old Cornish druwMiddle Welsh dryw ‘seer; wren’. Based on all available forms, the hypothetical proto-Celtic word may then be reconstructed as *dru-wid-s (pl. *druwides) meaning "oak-knower". The two elements go back to the Proto-Indo-European roots *deru- and *weid- "to see". The sense of "oak-knower" (or "oak-seer") is supported by Pliny the Elder, who in his Natural History considered the word to contain the Greek noun drýs (δρύς), "oak-tree" and the Greek suffix -idēs (-ιδης). The modern Irish word for Oak is Dair, which occurs in anglicized placenames like Derry – Doire, and Kildare – Cill Dara (literally the "church of oak"). There are many stories about saints, heroes, and oak trees, and also many local stories and superstitions (called pishogues) about trees in general, which still survive in rural Ireland. Both Old Irish druí and Middle Welsh dryw could also refer to the wren possibly connected with an association of that bird with augury in Irish and Welsh tradition (see also Wren Day).

Societal role and training

Imaginative illustration of 'An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit', from "The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands" by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815), the gold gorget collar copying Irish Bronze Agee e xamples.

One of the few things that both the Greco-Roman and the vernacular Irish sources agree on about the Druids is that they played an important part in pagan Celtic society. In his description, Julius Caesar claimed that they were one of the two most important social groups in the region (alongside the equites, or nobles) and were responsible for organizing worship and sacrifices, divination, and judicial procedure in Gaulish, British and Irish society. He also claimed that they were exempt from military service and from the payment of taxes, and that they had the power to excommunicate people from religious festivals, making them social outcasts. Two other classical writers, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, also wrote about the role of Druids in Gallic society, claiming that the Druids were held in such respect that if they intervened between two armies they could stop the battle.

Pomponius Mela is the first author who says that the Druids' instruction was secret, and was carried on in caves and forests.

Druidic lore consisted of a large number of verses learned by heart, and Caesar remarked that it could take up to twenty years to complete the course of study. There is no historic evidence during the period when Druidism was flourishing to suggest that Druids were other than male. What was taught to Druid novices anywhere is conjecture: of the Druids' oral literature, not one certifiably ancient verse is known to have survived, even in translation.

All instruction was communicated orally, but for ordinary purposes, Caesar reports, the Gauls had a written language in which they used Greek characters. In this he probably draws on earlier writers; by the time of Caesar, Gaulish inscriptions had moved from the Greek script to the Latin script.

source: wikipedia

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