Druids (Lat. Druidae or Druides; Gr. Δρυϊvδαι or Δρουϊvδαι). Various etymologies have been given of this word, all indicative of some characteristic of Druidism, viz.
(1.) the Greek word δρῦς, an oak;
(2.) the Celtic words deru or derw, an oak, and udd, lord or master, or hud, an incantation;
(3.) the Celtic compound derouyd or derawydd, from de, God, and rouyd or rawydd, speaker, i.e., God's speaker or theologian;
(4.) the old British word deruidhan, very wise men; and
(5.) the Hebrew derussim, contemuplators. Compare also the Anglo- Saxon dry, the Irish drui, the Romance drudo, and the German drude.
The Druids were an order of ecclesiastical nobility among the ancient Celts in Gaul and Britain, enjoying high prerogatives, and living in a sort of monastic way in communities, under the presidency of an archdruid appointed for life, who exercised the chief authority among them, and whose successor was designated by virtue of superior dignity, or chosen by suffrage when there were several of equal rank. Sometimes, however, this choice was decided by an appeal to arms. Like other ancient hierarchies, they were divided into several classes; but there is some difference of opinion as to the exact number of such, as well as the character and offices of each. Strabo and Ammianus Marcellinus mention three, viz. Bards, Vates, and Druids; Diodorus Siculus only two — Bards and Druids, which latter class embraced apparently the Vates. To the Druids proper was assigned the highest rank, and they exercised in some sense government and superintendence over the others; were the depositaries of the will of the gods, the judges and religious teachers, who, as Strabo says, πρὸς τῇ φυσιολόγίᾷ καὶ τὴν ἠθικὴν φιλοσοφίαν ἀσκοῦσι. The vates were, according to the same authority, priests and physiologists; according to Marcellinus, only the latter, seeking to discover the order and secrets of nature. Strabo says the bards were minstrels and poets. Marcellinus states that they "sang the brave deeds of illustrious men in heroic verses, with sweet modulations of the lyre;" and Diodorus, that "they sang songs of praise or invectives to the accompaniment of a sort of lyre." Very little is known with certainty, of their origin or history. If in their secret archives the ancient Druids kept any written or other records of their order, none survived the overthrow of their power and influence by the Romans, while the few extant notices of them by Greek and Roman authors are very brief and unsatisfactory, especially in this respect. The views of modern writers can claim no higher authority than speculations based on grounds more or less probable, yet not certain. Some fragmentary Welsh poems, known from the peculiar form of composition as the Triads, are supposed to preserve some of the traditions current among the Welsh bards in regard to the history, doctrines, and customs of the Druids; and, according to these triads, they came into Gaul from the East, during the first invasion or migration of the Kymry under Hu-Cadarn, or Hu the Mighty. The opinion that they were of Eastern origin, and made their appearance in Britain and Gaul at a very early period, is supported by the similarity of their doctrines, rites, and architectural monuments to those of certain early Oriental nations. The Druidical order has been by various authors connected with the Persian, the Hindoo, the Egyptian, and the Phoenician priestly caste, and the Pythagorean fraternity; while their choice of groves, especially of oak, as places of residence and worship, and their pillars and altars of rough stone, are deemed, by some, striking coincidences with the usages of patriarchal times as described in the Pentateuch. Caesar speaks of Britain as the parent seat of Druidism, affirming that those in Gaul who sought a fuller knowledge of it went thither to learn. This statement accords well with the theory of their Phoenician origin, since opportunity and motive for their early appearance in Britain may be found in that early and extensive commercial intercourse between the British Isles and Phoenician merchants in search of tin, to which we probably owe the name of Britain, i.e., the land of tin — according to some, from the Celtic bruit, tin, and tan, land; according to others, from a Phoenician word, whose modern representative is found in the Arabic beret-anic, or barat-anic. It is stated that the Druids held to the belief in one supreme God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, in the fall of man, and a future state of rewards and punishments. To these esoteric doctrines was added the public worship of the sun and moon, and of fire, as well as of divinities corresponding in functions with those of Greece and Rome, e.g. Mercury as Teutates, Mars as Hesus, Jupiter as Taranis, Apollo as Belin, probably the Baal of the East, Minerva as Belisama, and Hercules as Ogmius. We are told that "another remarkable principle of primitive Druidism appears to have been the worship of the serpent, a superstition so widely extended as to evince its derivation from the most ancient traditions of the human race;" and Pliny has left us a curious account of the anguinum, or serpent's egg, worn by the Druids as a distinguishing badge, its marvelous origin fully agreeing with the wondrous virtues ascribed to it. The same author testifies to their veneration for the mistletoe and its parent oak, and thus describes the ceremony of gathering (on the sixth day of the moon) of the sacred parasite, which was called by them the all-healer: "When preparations for the sacrifice and feast under the tree have been duly made, they, bring up to it two white bulls, whose horns are then for the first time bound. The priest, clothed in white, ascends the tree, and with a golden sickle cuts off the mistletoe, which, as it falls, is caught in a robe, also white. The victims are then immolated, with the prayer that God would make his gift propitious to its recipients." In another place Pliny also makes mention that a sacrament of bread and wine formed part of the ceremonies observed in gathering the plant selago. We have also the rite of baptism reckoned among their ceremonies.
From other classic authors we learn that they held the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which, as they taught, does not perish, but passes after death into other bodies, either directly or, after a certain time. They used this belief as an inenetive to valor among their countrymen, since death was only the entrance-way to a higher and better life for the brave man, and in keeping with this faith they put off the settlement of accounts and the exaction of debts to .the future meeting in another life, and also buried with the dead articles useful to the living, of which practice we find proof in the contents of their barrows or tombs, exhumed in recent times. Caesar's account further implies a recognition of the vicarious nature of sacrifices. Strabo says that they taught that this material world would never be annihilated, but undergo a succession of revolutions through the agency of fire and water: this latter element, it would appear from other accounts, they also held sacred, and in some sort worshipped. Diogenes Laertius sums up their ethical system with that of the Hindoo gymnosophists, in their favorite triad form, "to honor the gods, to do no evil, and to practice manliness." According to Higgins, the characteristics of Druidism in all ages and nations were "the worship of one supreme Being, the doctrine of metempsychosis and future rewards and punishments, hatred of images, open circular temples, the worship of fire as the emblem of the sun, the' celebration of the most ancient Tauric festival, and the possession of a seventeen-letter alphabet, although their instructions were always orally given." In their character of priests they had control of all matters pertaining to divine worship, officiated at the public and private sacrifices and other ceremonial rites. In the gloomy recesses of their deeply-shaded oakgrove temples, human victims writhed under the barbaric cruelty of their forms of sacrifice. Sometimes the victim was stabbed above the diaphragm, so that during a lingering death auguries might be drawn from the contortions of the sufferer, and the current and flow of his blood. Some were crucified; some shot to death with arrows. Sometimes huge images of wicker-work were filled with living men, or men and animals, and then set on fire, so that all perished together. Diodorus states that criminals were kept under ground for five years, and then sacrificed to the gods by being impaled and burned in great fires, together with vast quantities of other offerings; and that prisoners taken in war were immolated, and with them the captured cattle destroyed. Caesar says that they held criminals to be the more acceptable offering to the gods, but in default of such victims they sacrificed the innocent. We may suppose that in some of these cases civil and not religious ends were sought — punishment and not sacrifice.
In the capacity of judges they took cognizance of all questions, civil and criminal, public and private, enforcing their decrees by the terrible power of an interdict applied to communities as well as individuals, which excluded the recusants from the sacrifices, and consequently from the association or sympathy of others, who shunned the excommunicated as being without the pale of human or divine protection, and infecting with their guilt and pollution all who held any intercourse with them. According to Caesar, each year, at a stated period, the Gallic Druids were wont to meet in a consecrated place within the territories of the Carnutes, whither all litigants repaired to have their controversies decided. This would seem to have been a high court of appeals, and perhaps a like one for Britain met at Stonehenge, or in the island of Anglesea, the ancient Mona.
They were also the teachers of youth, and possessed some knowledge of Astronomy, Geography, Geometry, Botany, Medicine, Physics, Mathematics, Rhetoric, and other polite arts. This, in addition to their religious doctrines, was imparted to the pupils who thronged their schools. Attracted by the honors and privileges belonging to their order, many even of noble rank eagerly sought admission into it, though a rigid novitiate, sometimes lasting twenty years, was required. A vast number of verses, in which doubtless the history's lectrines, and precepts of the order were contained, had to be committed to memory, for the Druids forbade the writing out of these instructions, although, according to Caesar, they were acquainted with written characters, and used them for other purposes. While their sanction was requisite in all undertakings, they paid no taxes, and were exempt from the dangers of war, and we are told that their highest order enjoyed, vast revenues, and lived in more than regal splendor, receiving the homage of the people seated on golden thrones.
The Druidesses are divided by Borlase into three classes:
"1. Those who vowed perpetual virginity, and were constant attendants on the sacred rites.
2. Those who were married, but only saw their husbands once a year, that they might have children.
3. Those who were married, and performed all conjugal offices" (Fosbroke).
The priestesses of Dionysus, located by Strabo on an island near the mouth of the river Loire, and by Pomponius Mela on the isle of Sena, in the British Sea, were doubtless Druidesses of the 1st and 2d class. Notwithstanding the severe edicts of the emperors Augustus, Tiberius, and Glaudius against the Druids, the order seems not to have been entirely suppressed until a much later period. The vast structures, of which remains still exist at Stonehedge and Averbury, in Wiltshire, England, and Carnac, in Brittany, together with numerous smaller ones in Great Britain and France, are supposed to be of Druidical origin. (See illustrations, under ALTAR SEE ALTAR , in this Cyclopedia, 1:178, and ARK SEE ARK , page 401.) Similar ones are also found in various parts of Europe and Asia.
Literature. — Caesar, De Bel. Gall. 6:13-18; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 16:95; 24:62; 30:4; Lucan, Pharsal. 1:444 sq.; 3:399 sq.; Tacitus, Annals, 14:30; Ammianus Marcellinus, 15:9, 8; Pomponius Mela, De tu orbis, 3:2 and 6; Suetonius, De vita Coesarum, 5:25; Diodorus Siculus, Biblioth. Hist. 2:47; 5:31; Strabo, Geographica, 4, § 197-8; Diogenes Laertius, De vitis Philosophorum, Proemium, 1:1 and 3; Frickius, Comnm. de Druidis (Ulm, 1744, 4to); Iconographic Encyclopedia, 4:74-79 (N.Y. 1851); Godwin, History of France, 1:44-53 (N.Y. 1860); Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1854, 456-470; Edinburgh Review, July 1863, 20-36 (Amer. edit.); Pictorial History of England, volume 1, chapter 2, 5; Knight, Popular History (England, 1:3-10; ib., Od England, volume 1, chapter 1; Mountain, Ancient Gaul (in History of Roman Empire, Encyclopedia Metrop. crown 8vo ed., pages 5-10); Brand, Popular Antiquities (see Index); Chambers, Book of Days (see Index); Fosbroke, Encyclopedia of Antiquities (see Index); Maurice, Indian Antiquities, volume 6, part 1; Higgins, Celtic Druids (London. 1829, 4to); Davies, Celtic Researches, and Rites and Mythology of British Druids; Borlase, Antiquities of Cornwall; Rowland, Mona Antiqua; Smith, Religion of Ancient Britain (London, 1846, 2d ed.); Toland, Critical History of the Celtic Religion (n.d.); Barth, Ueber, d. Druiden der Kelten (Erlang. 1826); Burton, History of Scotland, volume 1 (Edinburgh, 1867, 4 vols.); Richards, Welsh Memorial and Essay on Druidism (London, 1820, 8vo); Alger, Future Life, page 83. SEE CELTIC RELIGION.