and Drudes. The priests of religion among the ancient Gauls and Britons. Britain, according to Caesar (B. G. vi. 13 and 14), was the great school of the Druids, and their chief settlement was in the island called Mona by Tacitus, now Anglesey. To this island the natives of Gaul and Germany, who wished to be thoroughly versed in the mysteries of Druidism, resorted to complete their studies.
Caesar's account of the Druids is as follows: They attend to divine worship, perform public and private sacrifices, and expound matters of religion. A great number of youths are gathered round them for the sake of education, and they enjoy the highest honour in the nation; for nearly all public and private quarrels come under their jurisdiction; and when any crime has been committed, when a murder has been perpetrated, when a controversy arises about a legacy or about landmarks, they are the judges too. They fix rewards and punishments; and should any one, whether a private individual or a public man, disobey their decrees, then they exclude him from the sacrifices. This is with them the severest punishment. The persons who are thus laid under interdict are regarded as impious and wicked; everybody recoils from them, and shuns their society and conversation, lest he should be injured by associating with them. [p. 559] They cannot obtain legal redress when they ask for it, nor are they admitted to any honourable office. All these Druids have one chief, who enjoys the supreme authority amongst them. When he dies, he is succeeded by that member of the order who is most prominent amongst the others, if there be any such single individual; if, however, there are several men equally distinguished, the successor is elected by the Druids. Sometimes they even go to war about this supremacy. At a certain time of the year, the Druids assemble on the territory of the Carnutes, which is believed to be the centre of all Gaul, in a sacred place. To that spot are gathered from everywhere all persons that have quarrels, and these abide by their judgments and decrees. It is believed that this institution was founded in Britain, and thence transplanted into Gaul. Even nowadays, those who wish to become more intimately acquainted with the institution generally go to Britain for instruction.
The Druids take no part in warfare; nor do they pay taxes like the rest of the people; they are exempt from military service, and from all public burdens. Attracted by such rewards, many come to be instructed of their own choice, while others are sent by their parents. They are reported to learn in the school a great number of verses, so that some remain there twenty years. They think it an unlawful thing to commit their lore to writing, though in the other public and private affairs of life they frequently make use of the Greek alphabet.
Beyond all things they are desirous to inspire a belief that men's souls do not perish, but transmigrate after death from one individual to another; and they hold that people are thereby most strongly incited to bravery, as the fear of death is thus destroyed. Besides, they hold a great many discourses about the stars and their motion, about the size of the world and of various countries, about the nature of things, about the power and might of the immortal gods; and they instruct the youths in these subjects.
Some further details are given by Pliny the Elder in his Historia Naturalis (xxix. 62, 1; xxiv. 12, 1; xxx. 4, 1). Besides their priestly character, the Druids appear to have practised magic, and to have been thoroughly versed in botany and in other sciences. The oak was especially sacred among them, and in oak-groves they performed their rites. The mistletoe was particularly reverenced, and Pliny tells us that it was removed from the tree by a Druid clothed in white, who cut it with a golden knife and gave it to a second Druid also in white, who, standing on the ground, received it. Pliny further speaks of a distinguishing badge, the serpent's egg, worn by the Druids, and formed by the poisonous spittle of a great number of serpents twined together and gathered by moonlight. It was worn in the bosom and was regarded as a powerful talisman. The account of Pliny refers to the Druids of Gaul, but there is no reason for supposing that there existed any essential difference between the Druidism of Gaul and that of Britain as described by Caesar. Mr. Whitley Stokes asserts that the Druids of Ireland were of less importance, forming not a priestly class, but simply a species of wizards and soothsayers.
The Druids, by reason of their great influence with the people, were a cause of continual trouble to the Roman conquerors, keeping alive the national aspirations and encouraging rebellion. Hence, the emperor Claudius formally refused the privilege of practising Druidical rites, and when Suetonius Paulinus defeated the Britons on the island of Mona (Anglesey) the sacred groves were destroyed. Yet on the Continent, Druidism continued to have followers down to the final overthrow of paganism.
Scholars at the present day are extremely conservative in making any general statements regarding the Druids, and nearly all the elaborate theories that were formerly held are now regarded as unsafe. Even the view that the huge structures of stone found in Keltic countries were Druidical altars, or mark the seats of Druidical worship, is no longer accepted. The so-called Druidical temples at Avebury and Stonehenge in England, and at Carnac in France, were very possibly not Druidical at all, since similar structures have been found in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe where Druidism never existed. Regarding the etymology of the name Druid nothing certain can be alleged. Among the tentative and traditional explanations are the following: from the Keltic deru, an oak; the Old German druthin, a master; the Saxon dry, a magician; the Irish drui, a sacred person, or priest; and in the Keltic compare derouyd, a prophet (De Chiniac). The old etymology from δρῦς is absurd. The feminine form of the Latinized Druida is Druias (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 60) or Druis (Vop. Aurel. 41). The Greek masculine form is Δρυΐδης ( Aristoph. Fr.30).
See Pelloutier, Histoire des Celtes (Paris, 1771); Davis, Mythology and Rites of the British Druids (London, 1809); Pictet, Du Culte des Cabires chez les Anciens Irlandais (Geneva, 1824); Higgins, Celtic Druids (London, 1829); Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois (Paris, 1828); Reynand, De l'Esprit de la Gaule (Paris, 1866); Barth, Ueber die Druiden der Kelten (Erlangen, 1828); Scarth, Roman Britain (London, 1883); Rhys, Celtic Heathendom (London, 1888). Besides Caesar and Pliny , scattering notices of the Druids are found in Cicero (De Divinatione), Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Pomponius Mela , Tacitus, Lucan, Lampridius, Vopiscus, Ausonius (Professores), Ammianus Marcellinus, Origen, and Clemens Alexandrinus.