An Introductory FAQ
for the alt.religion.druid Newsgroup
This FAQ is the creation of Elaine Stutt and is being hosted on the Summerlands as a service to all who use the alt.religion.druid newsgroup. It was first posted Oct.7 '98. The website urls were checked as to being operable Jan. 8 - 10, 2000. E.
This is an introductory FAQ for alt.religion.druid.
A.r.d hived off of alt.pagan, alt.religion.wicca, etc. in the Fall of 1995. It is for discussion about: Druids; Druidry/Druidism; Celtic cultures, history, religion and spirituality. Note that some, who are interested in Brehon Law and Druids as leaders of Celtic society, are only faintly interested in Celtic spirituality; for others it's just the opposite.
I'm Elaine and I've followed a.r.d almost since it's inception. Because I wrote this FAQ, it necessarily reflects my interests and biases. However, my aim was neither to give my opinions, nor to give academic definitions but rather to show the range of knowledge and opinion on a.r.d.
Thanks to all those who post on a.r.d for their information, opinions and websites.
1. Where can I find information?
Websites for Druidic and Celtic Pagan Organizations: checked Se/10/2000
Some of the following have: FAQs(*), listservs, correspondence courses
Websites with more of a Celtic cultural emphasis:
Possibly related newsgroups, your interest may vary:
Books: chosen from recommendations by posters
2. Who are were the Celts?
This is a hot topic and there are many definitions. - A culture and people defined by the archeological remains of two cultures now in Austria and Switzerland: Halstatt ( 800BC to 250BC ) and La Tene ( +/- 430BC to 1AD ). The Celts, whose language group belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, eventually occupied lands from Turkey to Spain to the British Isles. Names of a few of the tribes were: Arverni, Treveri, Helvetii, Venetes, Silures, Caledonii. Most were conquered by the Romans by 200AD. Remnant peoples in Ireland, Scotland and Wales converted/were converted to Christianity by +/- 700AD. ( N.B. This definition excludes the pre-Celtic Neolithic peoples, who built stone monuments, such as StoneHenge and New Grange. ) - The peoples living in the modern Celtic "nations" of: Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Mann, Scotland and Wales. While united in pre-history, they have differances in language, history and culture. ( N.B. The Welsh and Scots get really annoyed if you equate "Celtic" solely with "Irish". ) - Anyone, living or dead, in an area, ever occupied by the Ancient Celts. - Anyone, anywhere with a drop of Celtic blood in their ancestry. So, roughly, the definitions run from: "The Celts as a people were extinct by 400AD and that's that!" to: "Anyone can be a Celt, if they really feel it!"
3. How do you say ... in Celtic?
Dumb question, unfortunately, because there is no one Celtic language. Ask rather about: Breton ( Brezhoneg ), Cornish ( Kernowek ), Irish ( Gaeilge ), Scots Gaelic* ( Gaidhlig ), Manx Gaelic ( Gaelg ), or Welsh ( Cymraeg ). You might also post such a request to one of the related soc.culture groups. There have been occasional naughty mis-translations.
The modern Celtic languages are in two groups:
Q-Celtic, Goidelic - Irish, Scottish and Manx Gaelic - derived from Old Irish
P-Celtic, Brythonic - Breton, Cornish and Welsh - derived from Old Welsh
* Note: Don't confuse with "Scots" a Germanic language related to English.
4. Who are/were Druids?
They were religious and social leaders of the continental Celts, e.g. the Gauls, as described by the Greeks and Romans. The Romans later used the same term for leaders of the Britons. It's not certain if all Celtic cultures used a word similar to "druid" or if their social structures were the same. General attributes assigned to Druids: they passed their teachings along orally, not by writings; becoming a Druid required a long period of study; they were excused from military service but could enter battle if they chose; they were members of an elite class which included various occupations. Today the term is used variously, with some opinion that it shouldn't be used at all because the ancient Celts no longer exist. Currently people using the term "Druid" can be:
Members of a modern Druid organization, some of whom will only call themselves Druids after a period of study.
Self-recognized "traditional" Druids, who claim to have received the knowledge in a family descended from Druids but who won't describe their beliefs much as they must be taught face to face.
( generally, on a.r.d., the last three would not be approved usage)
It is a little hard to categorize the Druid organizations as they tend to overlap in interests and attitude. They were all founded fairly recently, although some were founded by members of previous Druid organizations. They have been influenced by similar cultural threads. Even nationalist influences have been reduced by migration and the Internet. The following are some broad categories, maybe stereotypes, of types found in Druid groups. When things are going well, their members discuss their common interests politely on a.r.d.
Traditional or organized Traditional - These derive from folk history in the British Isles and from the Celtic Renaissance/Revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They consider that they come from an unbroken line. The European ones have the benefit of living near modern Celtic communities and/or historical Celtic and Neolithic sites. Others complain that their traditions are the result of nineteenth century invention and occultism. Celtic historicists accuse them of being fluffy bunnies.
Neo-Pagan Druids - This group concedes that they're not sure what the Ancient Druids did but they want to create/recreate a modern version. They study the ancient Celts and Neolithic peoples throughout Europe and also modern interests such as psychology and comparative religion. They are seriously trying to establish a religion. Some others, especially British Traditionalists, accuse them of being fluffy bunnies.
Historically Accurate Druids - They limit their research to Celts only. If, there's no text or no archaeological site to back up an idea, they won't consider it. They may be disdainful of modern society and want to recreate something better. Some seem to express little spirituality or sense of humor. They would eat fluffy bunnies, if properly roasted on a historically accurate Celtic hearth, but fear it might give them indigestion.
Eclectic verging on New-Age - They trip through dewy pastures seeking influences from the world round. Choices of ritual or myth are made on an intuitive basis: does it feel right, not, is it related to reality. Some are making serious attempts. Others would be if they could just find the right necklace to match their cape. Some are out and out fluffy bunnies and are loving every minute.
5. How can you be interested in Druids when they sacrificed humans!!?
The Romans sacrificed prisoners of war to their Gods but nobody expects to see human sacrifice in Rome today. This question seems to fascinate. Did Ancient Celts practice human sacrifice? The answer is: yes and no. Some seem to be certain that the answer is a firm "no" and, moreover, that Druids were non-violent. Given the references to fighting prowess by the Romans and Greeks and all the warrior imagery in the old Irish texts, this seems unlikely to me. The existence of spectacular Wicker Man type sacrifices also seems unlikely, given the only source is Roman military texts. The Greeks and Romans had practiced human sacrifice sometimes during their histories so it wouldn't be all that surprising if the Celts also did. From what I've read, the Celts took body parts as trophys during war and they most likely executed prisoners of war and criminals. However, we don't know if these acts had religious connotations for them, because the Druids didn't believe in writing down their beliefs and practices. Some are sure that the strangled "Bog Men" prove at least small scale human sacrifice. But reading the difference between "execution" and "sacrifice" in archaeological remains is difficult. If the topic interests you, read up on it yourself.
6. Isn't the "Twenty One Lessons of Merlyn" marvelous!
A flame bait question, if ever there was one. Approach carefully. I've never read the 21LoM. It is, evidently, a work of fiction, that some admire but which contains a lot of misinformation. Those charitable toward it, say that it's a pleasant work of storytelling that inspired them at the time, even if they now realize that a lot of the details are wrong. Those, who think it's harmful because it spreads lies about Celtic culture, loathe it so much that they practically foam at the mouth. Some webpages contain files devoted to pointing out a few errors. See:
7. Why is Druid group #### so inauthentic?
Yeah, well, they probably think you're inauthentic so be polite! (Or, in my case, try to be polite. I do try. )
8. Were there women Druids?
No. Yes, of course! Yes. Well, maybe a few exceptional ones but... A very, small minority of those posting to a.r.d. think that leading Celtic religion is sex linked. Some think that Druids were men and somewhat military, that the healing was done by women who were witches. This idea is more common among some Celtic Wiccans. Many think that not only did the Ancient Druids have women Druids but they had an egalitarian society. Others, more historically inclined, will point out that whereas the Celts allowed their woman more freedom than the other cultures of the era, it was hardly equality as we know it. But there certainly were women Druids then and there certainly are now, two thousand years later. Well...say some others, the position of women leaders is not adequately defined in the Roman texts. There were women military leaders, such as Boudicca, but do we know that they were fully accepted as Druids ? They can't have been common. etc. etc.
9. How do you become a Druid?
There is no one authority on Druids so no-one agrees. You can simply declare yourself a druid. Not everyone will agree with you but it's been done before. The ancient Druids had to study a long time - twelve, twenty years and were the leaders of their people. Not every Celt was considered a Druid. Those following this model, think you have to study a long time and be acknowledged by other Druids, before you call yourself a Druid. You'd have to study Celtic history, culture, language and spirituality and maybe demonstrate a special gift such as insight or leadership skills. Some of those, who follow this model, only believe in teaching face to face so, if you ask on a.r.d about becoming a druid, you may get silence or cryptic answers. Several of the Druid groups have descriptions of the qualifications for Druids, some offer lessons or correspondence courses. You can do the course and, in some cases, be considered a Druid by that group. It may be a simple reading list, others evidently require that you mail in essays etc. I think OBOD's course ends up requiring three to six years of study. Many figure that if they are interested in the practice of Druidism/Druidry then they are Druids. The assumption is that anyone interested in "Celtic religion" or "Nature religion" is automatically a Druid. Some add qualifiers such as: neo-pagan, neo-, solitary, eclectic, true, nature, etc. Others name themselves Druids but only do so after some consideration and study.
10. Why isn't there more talk around here about actual Druid practices?
One reason, is that newsgroups are entirely public. Someone may not mind their boss knowing about their interest in Druids and history but might fear getting fired for being religious "weirdoes" if any practices were mentioned. Another reason is that some may think rituals should be secret and therefore do not belong on newsgroups. List-servs, mailing lists and websites may be better places for that sort of topic. On the other hand, there have been good threads on what people do and believe. The best way to get talk going on a topic, is to post on it yourself. This usually works better than a simple question.
11. Isn't Wicca Celtic ?
Check on a Wiccan site for a definition of Wicca. Generally, around here, Wicca is considered to be a modern, neo-pagan religion, with myths and practices derived from many sources. Some of those sources are Celtic but it's usually quite in the minority. Celtic Wiccans try to stick to Celtic sources but still, their core beliefs are handed down from Gerald Gardner and he wasn't trying to be Celtic. Many Celtic Wiccans are excellent scholars but not all are. A lot of things reputed to be Celtic are not. Check the essay on the topic at:
12. Are Druids polytheists or pantheists? Monotheists?
The ancient Celts seem to have been polytheists. There are many gods and goddesses identified with the Celts. After the Gauls, Belgae and Britons were conquered by the Romans, there were hybrid forms. Or, at least, there were inscriptions pairing the names of a Roman god and a Celtic god. There have been on a.r.d.: polytheists, dualists, monotheists, pantheists and nature worshippers. Also the type of belief varies e.g.: are the gods real or are they metaphors?; is faith authoritative or individual?, etc. This can be a very sensitive subject. Agnostic types and true believer types can hurt each other's feelings without even meaning to.
13. Is Nature important to Druids ?
- It's everything to Druids.
- Of course, it was important to Druids, they lived in the forest but let's discuss something more interesting.
While people in many parts of the third world are intimately dependant on nature for their survival, few of us are. The Celts had to read the seasons so they could plant their crops; had to know where to find wild plants if the crops failed; had to know birds and their habits for divination; had to know which tree produced good wood for spears or yokes or buckets; had to know the habits of animals for hunting and fishing; had to know the earth so they could find ores for their tools and weapons and jewelery.
Some figure, that the modern Druid should know a lot about nature and spend time in the Wild, that nature ( or Nature ) is the true focus of Druidism. Some figure that a well educated adult, knows a fair amount of science but that most people now live in cities so the focus of Druidic studies and discussion should be history and ethics.
Some worship Nature. Some romanticize Nature. Some live in nature. Some mine it as a source for symbols. Some abstract it and assign it a place in their philosophy.
Nature definitely pops up in discussion.
14. Nettiquette - very briefly, please:
If you need more information on anything:
research it yourself;
post a question to a.r.d .
Elaine firstname.lastname@example.org : )
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