The Druidic caste of the Celts had three major branches. The Druids, who were the priests and advisers to kings, the Ovates, the seers and the Bards who who kept the traditions and the stories of the people. All three were were could be thought of as interchangeable, in many ways, though a bard could compose on the fly, a Brehon was a specialist who knew the law, and the priest had the ability to "call the birds from the trees". Very little is know about the Ovates, though we can guess what their roles is and was.
To become a Brehon or Druidic lawyer, one must study the law, almost exclusively the law for over twenty years. Brehon law covers everything from how you treat guests to how you treat prisoners of war, to marriage. There are penalties for libel, slander and cattle thievery, most of which involve the exchange of gold.
To become a true Bard takes musical talent (obviously), twenty years of devotion to that talent, the mastery of several instruments, the ability to compose music on the fly (something that not even modern day musicians can do), know the songs of their people and knowledge, usually, of spy craft.
Druids themselves, the preists, were expected to be able to do both, as well as know scared teachings.
And none of this is written down. It is all an oral tradition.
Druids have been accused of some pretty gruesome things, over the centuries. Mostly by people who would conquer them.
Julius Caesar, who led the first Roman landing in 55 B.C., said the native Celts "believe that the gods delight in the slaughter of prisoners and criminals, and when the supply of captives runs short, they sacrifice even the innocent."
First-century historian Pliny the Elder went further, suggesting the Celts practiced ritual cannibalism, eating their enemies' flesh as a source of spiritual and physical strength.
Nice... as archaeologists found out... it is not as true as they would like. There is no conclusive evidence. It is more likely that while a few may have gone to the after life as a voluntary sacrifice, the mass burials at places like Alveston are a result of battles as resistance grew against Rome. After all, propaganda is propaganda, no matter who puts it out.
Druids do not follow the Rede. They have their own code of ethics, often referred to as the Virtues.
"Briefly stated the virtue of Honor requires one to adhere to their oaths and do the right thing, even if it will ultimately hurt others or oneself in the process. A Druid is obligated to remain true to friends, family and leaders thus exhibiting the virtue of Loyalty. Hospitality demands that a Druid be a good host when guests are under one's roof. Honesty insists that one tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth to yourself, your gods and your people. Justice desires the Druid understands everyone has an inherent worth and that an assault to that worth demands recompense in one form or another. Courage for the Druid does not always wear a public face; it is standing-strong-in-the-face-of-adversity, alone or with companions. Sometimes Courage is getting up and going about a daily routine when pain has worn one down without complaint or demur."
Like most Pagans, Druids follow the seasons with their holy days,
- Samhain (or Samhuinn) Literally the "end of warm season". November 1 marked the combined Feast of the Dead and New Year's Day for the Celtic calendar. It is a time when the veil between our reality and that of the Otherworld is most easily penetrated. This fire festival was later adopted by the Christians as All Soul's Eve, and later became the secular holiday Halloween.
- Imbolc (or Brighid) Literally "in the belly". February 1 marked The Return of Light. This is the date when the first stirrings of life were noticeable and when the land might first be plowable. This has been secularized as Groundhog Day.
- Beltaine (or Bealteinne). May 1 was the celebration of The Fires of Bel. This was the peak of blossom season, when domesticated animals bear their young. This is still celebrated today as May Day. Youths dance around the May pole in what is obviously a reconstruction of an earlier fertility ritual.
- Lughnasad (or Lughnasadh, Lammas). August 1 was The Feast of Lugh, named after the God of Light. A time for celebration and the harvest.
Druidism is an old tradition. Full of life and full of richness. It continues on today through scholarship.
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