The topics of what to wear when practicing Draíocht and the equally varied topic of what the ancient Druids wore when performing ritual and ceremony is one that is often discussed among those who follow the ways of Druids. These are the beginnings of some thoughts that I have had on this topic from time to time:
The Druidic Revival
The Druidic Revival concept of Druids was of men with long white beards and robes, perhaps wearing larger golden torcs or necklaces known as lunulae, and possessing a golden sickle. This approach is often ridiculed by modern scholars and some Pagans. I'm not so sure that the clothing and adornment concepts are wrong, so much as they are off in terms of style and application to the occasion.
The "Golden" Sickle
The golden sickle was most likely a bronze one and perhaps was worked or plated with gold. Such implements were ornamented and in common use among Bronze and Iron Age Celts. There are two very nicely ornamented bronze sickles shown as line drawings in _A Social History of Ancient Ireland_ on page 273 of Volume 2 by P.W. Joyce. These are called serr or searr (sharr) in Irish, but another name is carrán (which means a reaping hook). Each of these sickles looks as if it would have been suitable for ceremonial use in gathering herbs or field work in cutting wheat and other grains. In _Forbhais Droma Dámhgháire, Seán O'Duinn translates an episode in which the great Druid Mogh Roith had a "... gray curved sword, .. bronze dagger, .. two hard five-forked spears..., the hide of a brown hornless bull to cover whole surface of the chariot..." He uses this hide and "..his speckled bird-mask with its billowing wings.." to ascend clouds of smoke into the Sky to do battle with other Druids among the clouds..
It would seem that bull hides were the clothing of the day when doing battle. In _A Guide to Irish Roots_ William and Mary Durning, state,
"The druid had four ritual uniforms, each identified a different function. During religious ceremonies and advisory councils, his white robe represented purity. When acting as an observer during a battle, a bull's hide and feathered headdress were worn. In council, at banquets or when reciting the genealogies, the uniform was a coat of six colors. When acting as a judge, a collar of gold was added to the coat."
In _A Social History_ Joyce cites the Druids as wearing a white robe based on notes by Tirechan regarding Rechrad, the Druid of Amalgaid, and his eight companions who were wearing white tunics when they attempted to kill St. Patrick. He also cites Pliny; remarking about the white robes and "golden sickles" of the Druids during the mistletoe ceremony.
Speckled and Multi-colored Garments
In _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish_ Volume III by Eugene O'Curry, there is a translation of a color guide for the classes from the Book of Ballymote that says:
"...the order of the cloths according to their colors...
Mottled to simpletons; blue to women;
Now this book is a 14th century writing, though it contains traditional materials that are probably 9th century or before. The clerics mentioned are surely Christian clerics and not Druids (though I think that Druids would have worn similar clothing when they held a corresponding rank in Irish society.)
A Speckled White Robe
O'Curry also describes a Druid named Tulchinne. the royal Druid of Teamhair during the reign of Conaire as wearing a speckled white cloak with clasps of gold on his ears (Da Derga's Hostel). In the same work, the swineherds are said to wear green frocks and black kilts. The three judges, Echdruim, Echruid, and Echruathar are described as wearing kilts of mixed colors with silver brooches for their robes. The harpers wore light blue cloaks with gold brooches, gold ear clasps and silver torques. Da Derga is said to have worn a white shirt and a green robe.
In another place O'Curry describes the dress of the three Fili, Sui, Rosui, and Forsui, as being "three speckled cloaks... three shirts with red interweavings of gold... and three brooches of gold.."
Cathbad the Druid
(Described by Fergus Mac Roth)
The entire Ta/in can be found at: http://vassun.vassar.edu/sttaylor/Cooley /
"There came yet another company to the mound in Slane of Meath," said Mac Roth. "A most terrible, dreadful sight to behold them. Blue and pied and green, purple, grey and white and black mantles; a kingly, white-gray, broad-eyed hero in the van of that company; wavy, grizzled hair upon him; a blue-purple cloak about him; a leaf-shaped brooch with ornamentation of gold in the cloak over his breast; a shield, stoutly braced with buckles of red copper; yellow sandals he wore; a large, strange-fashioned sword along his shoulder. Two curly-haired, white-faced youths close by him, wearing green cloaks and purple sandals and blue tunics, and with brown shields fitted with hooks, in their hands; white-hilted swords with silvered bronze ornaments they bore; a broad, somewhat light countenance had one of them. One of these cunning men raises his glance to heaven and scans the clouds of the sky and bears their answer to the marvelous troop that is with him. They all lift their eyes on high and watch the clouds and work their spells against the elements, so that the elements fall to warring with each other, till they discharge rain-clouds of fire downwards on the camp and entrenchments of the men of Erin."
The Ancient Irish Color System for Clothing
The Ancient Irish had a color system for clothing (detailed later), with white being a very rare color reserved for the finest of shirts and garments. I personally think that a Druid would have had a white undergarment or long shirt and a speckled robe, that was threaded and embroidered with gold, though there is mention made of the Druid Mogh Roith wearing a brownish gray bullhide when he went into battle..
Clothing for Modern Druids
I see no reason why a modern Druid could not wear a white robe or long shirt with a speckled or tartan brat (robe or kilt) as a part of today's ceremonial garb. I'm also wondering if there might be a reason why a white shirt has long been considered to be a part of formal attire. Is it because, such a shirt must be often cleaned or new in order to not show soiling? In the past, access to such levels of cleaning must have been a mark of social standing or proper behavior, even as it is today. Let's see what else can be found through research about colors in Celtic clothing.
Celtic Color Facts
Research on colors in Celtic dress produced some additional information. Here are some of the quotes that were discovered. It seems that the léine or long shirt would sometimes be banded with several stripes of different colors as was the right and status of the person who wore it. Cloaks and tunics were sometimes different colors, with crimson and scarlet being favored colors of the upper classes. If one was related to a king, a Druid or a Fili, then gold or silver jewelry and ornamentation also was used. Other folks used brass and copper. The outfits were completed with the wearing of a sort of kilt that came down close to the knees. Here's the bare facts:
The Color System of Tighernmas
Tighernmas introduced the colors of yellow, green and blue to Ireland in 900 BCE (according to Lebor Gabála and Keating).
Slaves wore saffron (yellow) colored long shirts.
Druids wore white robes in ceremony, grey bull hides in battle and many speckled robes on state occasions such as banquets and court appearances.
The kings usually wore robes of crimson or red.
The foster sons of kings wore cloaks of scarlett, purple or blue.
The information above regarding Tigernmas "The Lord of Death", who introduced the colored system of clothing came from both "Irish Mythology" by Peter Beresford Ellis and "A Guide to Irish Roots" by William and Mary Durning.
According to Cain Law
According to the Cain Law, the dath was proscribed as follows: satin and scarlet for the sons of king; black yellowish, grey and blay clothes for the maic na ngra'd fene. The mac in airrech, mac in airrech tuis, mac in airrech ard, mac in airrech forgill, mac in airrech rig, also had colors assigned to their cloths as well, though no mention is made of them in the Dictionary of the Irish Language (DIL).
In another reference, the following colors were prescribed for these classifications:
Free class - yellow, black, white, blay.
Other Sources About Colors in Gaelic Clothing
Only the Scottish high king could wear a purple stripe in his tartan.
The shields of the five provinces of Ireland (Leinster, Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Meath) contain the colors: red, gold, white, blue, green, black and purple.
Scottish tartans had a hierarchy of color numbers just as did the Irish.
The Scottish King could have seven colors in his tartan. All others could have only six colors. The extra color was purple. The Royal Stewart tartan contains the colors: red, yellow, white, blue, green, black and purple (very similar to the colors of the shields of the Irish provinces).
From the Tain Bo Cuailgne: (describing the cavalcade of Bodb Derg)
"There was no person among them that was not the son of a king or a queen. They all wore green cloaks; and they wore kilts with red interweavings, and borders or fringes of gold thread upon them, and pendants of white bronze thread upon their leggings or greaves, and shoes with clasps of red bronze in them."
From "The Story of the Irish Race" by Seamus Mac Manus: (said of Tighernmas, Milesian King of Ireland)
"Sometimes to him, sometimes to his successor, Eochaid, is credited the ancient ordinance which distinguished the various classes and professions by the colors of their dress. A King or Queen might wear seven colors; a poet or Ollam six; a chieftain five; an army leader four; a land-owner three; a rent-payer two; a serf one colour only."
From the Tain Bo Cuailgne: (Said of Connor Mac Nessa by the herald MacRoth)
"A tall graceful champion of noble, polished, and proud mien, stood at the head of the party. This most beautiful of the kings of the world stood among his troops with all the signs of obedience, superiority, and command. He wore a mass of yellow, curling, drooping hair. He had a pleasing, ruddy countenance. He had a deep, blue, sparkling, piercing eye in his head and a two-branching beard, yellow, and curling upon his chin. He wore a crimson, deep-bordered tunic over his bosom; and a brilliant white shirt, interwoven with thread of red gold, next his white skin."
From the Book of Ballymote: (describing Cormac Mac Art at the Feis of Tara)
"His hair was slightly curled, and of golden color; he had a scarlet shield with engraved devices, and golden hooks and clasps of silver; a wide-flowing purple cloak on him, with a gem-set gold brooch over his breast; a gold torque around his neck; a white-collared shirt, embroidered with gold, upon him; a girdle with golden buckles, and studded with precious stones around him; two golden net-work sandals with golden buckles upon his feet; two spears with golden sockets, and many red bronze rivets, in his hand; while he stood in the full glow of beauty, without defect or blemish. You would think it was a shower of pearls that were set in his mouth; his lips were rubies; his symmetrical body was as white as snow; his cheek was like the mountain ash-berry; his eyes were like the sloe; his brows and eye-lashes were like the sheen of a blue-black lance."
Here is a description of Edain from the Tale of the Bruidean Da Dearga:
"...he saw a woman on the brink of a fountain, having a comb and a casket of silver, ornamented with gold, washing her head in a silver basin with four birds of gold perched upon it, and little sparkling gems of crimson carbuncle upon the outer edges of the basin. A short crimson cloak, with a beautiful gloss, lying near her; a brooch of silver, inlaid with sparkles of gold, in that cloak. A smock, long and warm, gathered and soft, of green silk, with a border of red gold, upon her. Wonderful clasps of gold and silver at her breast, and at her shoulder-blades, and at her shoulders in that smock, on all sides. The sun shown upon it, while the men (that is the king, and his retinue) were all shaded in red, from the reflection of the gold against the sun, from the green silk. Two golden-yellow tresses upon her head, each of them plaited with four locks or strands, and a ball of gold upon the point of each tress. The color of that hair was like the flowers of the bog fir in the summer, or like the red gold immediately after receiving its coloring. And there she was disentangling her hair, and her two arms out through the bosom of her smock."
From the Book of Rights: (details of the tuarastal payable from the king to subordinate kings)
"Seven mantles with wreaths of gold,
The prosperous king of Rathlenn is entitled
The king of Ara of beauty is entitled
In the tale of Bruidean Da Dearga, Incel reports of Conari Mor's druith (jesters):
"I saw there...three jesters at the fire. They wore three dark grey cloaks; and if all the men of Eirinn were in one place, and though the body of the father or the mother of each man was lying dead before him, not one could refrain from laughing at them."
A description of Maine, son of Ailill and Medb:
"There were seven greyhounds attending his chariot, in chains of silver; with balls of gold upon each chain, so that the tingling of the balls against the chains would be music sufficient. There was no known colour that was not to be seen upon these greyhounds. There were seven Cornaire (trumpeters), with corna (horns) of gold and silver, wearing cloths of many colours, and all having fair-yellow hair. Three druids also went in front of them, who wore minda (diadems) of silver upon their heads and speckled cloaks over their dresses, and who carried shields of bronze ornamented with red copper. Three Critire (harpers) accompanied them; each of kingly aspect, and arrayed in a crimson cloak. It was so they arrived on the green of Cruachan."
In the "Colloquy of the Two Sages":
Bricriu gave a "...purple tunic, adorned with gold and silver..." to Nede an aspiring Ollamh. Then Nede went and sat in the Poet's Chair and pulled his robe of three colors about him: a covering of bright bird's feathers were in the middle, at the bottom a speckling of findruine (a white gold, white brass, silver combination), while the top was a brilliant golden color.
From the _Metrical Dindshenchas_
"Ni find, ni liath, ni lachtna,
"It is not white, nor gray, nor dun;
The Numbers and Types of Clothing Colors
I previously mentioned that Tighernmas (900 BCE) introduced the colors saffron (yellow), blue and green to Ireland from trading with the Phoenicians. He also was said to have established the numbers and types of colors that could be worn by the different classes of Irish society. Many works define the actual number of colors for each level in Irish society, though none of these lists (in my knowledge) specifically equates these levels to particular colors. From my research, I'd like to suggest these colors for the different levels of Irish society:
Suggested Colors for Each Level
Ard Righ (also Kings and Queens)- Seven colors: Purple, white, black, blue, red, green, yellow (these are also the colors of the Royal Stewart Tartan in Scotland.)
Nemed (Druids, Churchmen, Lords, Poets) - Six colors: white, black, blue, red, green, yellow.
Provincial Chiefs - Five colors: black, blue, red, green, yellow.
A Bruiden or Wealthy Landowner (perhaps also the lesser Nemed?) - Four colors: blue, red, green, yellow.
A Warrior (officers as well) - Three colors: red, green, yellow.
A Peasant (rent-paying farmers)- Two colors: green, yellow.
A Slave (and servants) - One color: yellow
This list is based on information regarding the léine, the long shirts of the Irish which preceded the belted plaid worn by the Scots, that I found in "Scottish Clans & Tartans" by Ian Grimble. The léine was said to have been "striped" and persisted into the 17th century before being replaced by kilts or "belted plaids". The class structures were mentioned in both "Celtic Myths and Legends" by T.W. Rolleston and "A Guide to Early Irish Law" by Fergus Kelly. I also got this information regarding colors from "The Sacred Cauldron" by Tadhg MacCrossan": White for truth, red for physical strength, green/blue for fertility.
According to Seán O'Tuathail from Cainteanna na Luisce, these are the symbolic color meanings:
blue - protection (dark blue)
Many Colors and Many Choices
I think that we can see from the research into the facts of colors in Celtic and Druidic clothing and ritual, that there are many choices. In my opinion, Druids selected and wore colors to appropriately indicate their role in a working. White, speckled, and black are each forms of all the colors in terms of reflection, separation and absorption, respectively. Green and brown are colors that blend into Nature. Blue, gray-green and gray are the colors of the Sky and Sea. Red is the color of blood and sacrifice. Gold is the color of the Sun and silver is the color of the Moon. I would choose the color of vestments to suit the spirit and nature of my actions today. I'd think that the Druids of yesteryear would have also chosen their colors to suit the symbolism of their workings. It is important for us, as followers of the ways of Druids in the modern world, to establish the meanings and relationships of colors and dress as we perform ritual and Druidical actions. The choice of color in clothing is a statement of meaning, style, status and intent in any Druid's ritual or actions.
Copyright Lá Geimreadh 1999