What do we know of the Druids? The answer is not much. They were said to be illiterate though opinion is divided as to whether they could not write or chose not to. They were learned as well as warrior-like. They were magicians, priests, healers, seers, apothecaries of nature and they did not want their extensive knowledge to fall into the wrong hands, i.e Roman hands and so their tradition was to share that knowledge orally. There have been records of the equivalent of household accounts which does suggest they were literate. I shall never know for sure.
We do know that they lived in a world of omens and symbols and messengers. The Common Raven was deemed a messenger between worlds. They saw portents in the skies and stars, they believed in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, of night and day, of the wheel turning. And they believed that the veil between worlds was permeable on the night of Samhain, what we call Halloween.
Sadly, most of what we do know about the Druids is gleaned from the writings of their Roman oppressors. History is typically written by the victor and typically slanted. The Romans feared the Druids and their supernatural powers. They feared their practices of congregating under oak trees which they deemed sacred, drinking bull’s blood (literally), and spilling the entrails of their enemies and reading signs from the coiled intestines.
I had a conversation a while back with the renowned historical writer Tom Holland about the problems of writing, albeit fiction not non-fiction, based on historical characters. His view was that the lack of historical data was in one way liberating. You can make it up!
I read extensively and I attempted to put myself into their minds, travelling back 2000 years to the wilds of Wales, to the strongholds of the Druids in the north. I’ve done some work on a novel for young adults based on Druids. Here is an excerpt:
Happy Samhain. Mind how you go…
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