Druids, an order of priests which in ancient times existed among certain branches of the Celtic race. The name has been variously deduced from the Saxon dry, a magician; from the Greek and the Celtic deru, an oak; from the Irish drui or draui, a sacred person, etc.; but the most probable derivation seems to be that given by the abbe Pierre de Chi-niac, who refers it to the old Celtic compound derouyd, from Be, God, and rouyd, speaking, a participle of the verb rouyddim, to speak. The origin of the institution is no clearer than the etymology of the name. The druids did not allow their tenets and history to be committed to writing, and the ancient Greek and Roman authors describe them only in the vaguest language. It seems to be generally conceded that they were of eastern origin, because of the many and striking analogies between what we are told of their belief and practices, and what we know to be characteristic of the oriental nations. At the time when this mysterious order became known more clearly to history, i. e., in the first century before and after Christ, they inhabited chiefly Gaul and the islands of Britain. In Gaul their principal seats were in the west and centre, in modern Brittany and along the Loire, while beyond the channel they were found in Wales and Ireland, and afterward in the island of Mona or Anglesea. According to some writers Brittany was their cradle; but the Welsh traditions relate that they entered Gaul from the remote east at the same time with that branch of the Celtic race which is denominated the Kymric or Cymraeg. At least it is evident that they did not prevail among the Belgic branches of the people of Gaul at the north, nor yet among the Aquitanian or Basque branches at the south.
Their capital in Gaul was in the territory of a tribe called the Car-nutee, corresponding nearly to the province of Orleanais. Julius Caesar is the ancient writer who has given the clearest account of the druids, and Godfrey Higgins, in his " Celtic Druids," the modern who has most elaborately investigated their faith; but the Welsh triads are regarded by many as the most authentic sources of information in regard to them. Their characteristics, in the view of Mr. Higgins, consisted in the adoration of one Supreme Being, in the belief of the immortality of the soul and a future state of rewards and punishments, taking the form of a species of metempsychosis, in the use of circular temples open at the top, in the worship of fire as the emblem of the sun, in the celebration of the great Tauric festival (when the sun entered Taurus), and in the knowledge of an alphabet of 17 letters, though their instructions were always oral. If they acknowledged but one supreme God, they admitted other inferior deities, such as Hesus, Tarann, Belen, etc, to whom they paid a qualified worship. In their sacrifices to these the bodies of human victims often smoked on the same altars with the carcasses of beasts.
Their objects were apparently moral, for they professed "to reform morals, to secure peace, and to encourage goodness;" yet with these high aims they connected pernicious superstitions and pretences to a magical knowledge. They assumed, says Caesar, to discourse of the hidden nature of things, of the extent of the universe and of the earth, of the forms and movements of the stars, and of the power and rule of the gods. On all these subjects their instructions were conveyed orally, and by means of verses, which required a novitiate of 20 years before they could be well committed to memory. The triads of the Welsh bards are supposed to be specimens of this species of verse. They undoubtedly possessed some knowledge of the movements of the heavenly bodies, beyond what simply pertained to the regulation of their religious festivals, inasmuch as they composed the year by lunations, which supposes an acquaintance also with the solar year. Various relics found in Ireland among the druidical remains, thought to be astronomical instruments designed to show the phases of the moon, are described by Sir William Betham in the " Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy." At the same time not a little of astrology, divination, and magic was mixed up with their purer science.
In their doctrine of medicine particularly there was far more of superstition than of knowledge. To a great many plants they attributed a mystic sacred character; and most of all to the mistletoe, which they esteemed an antidote to all poisons and a cure for all diseases. It was gathered at certain seasons, with the most formal and pompous ceremonies. As soon as it was discovered, twining the no less sacred oak, the druids collected in crowds about the tree, a banquet and a sacrifice were prepared, a priest in white vestments cut the twig with a golden sickle, two other white-robed priests caught it in a white cloak, two milk-white heifers were instantly offered up, and the rest of the day was spent in rejoicing. Under similar mystic faith they plucked the samolus, or marshwort, with the left hand, fasting, and without looking at it; and the helago, or hedge hyssop, after ablutions, or offerings of bread and wine, barefooted, and without a knife. The vervain likewise demanded distinct ceremonials. All these plants were regarded as powerful prophylactics and remedies, not only in respect to physical diseases, but to the dark workings of evil.
They were carried about as charms, as well as amber beads, which the druids manufactured for warriors in battle, and which are still found in their tombs. A more potent talisman was the serpent's egg, which, according to Pliny, oozed out of the mouths of serpents when knotted together, and which they supported in the air by their hissings. That was the moment to seize it; and he who attempted to do so must suddenly dart from his hiding place, catch it in a napkin, and mounting a horse gallop off at full speed, to escape the pursuing serpents, until he had put a river between him and them. Among the druids, as among the Romans, auguries of the future were made from the flight of birds, and from an inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals. Their pro-founder ceremonies, performed in the depths of the oak forests or of secluded caves, are known to us only through the vaguest traditions, and in the stupendous but dilapidated stone monuments which strew the surface of France and Britain. - The druids were organized into a regular hierarchy, consisting of a triad, like almost everything else among them, viz.: the bards, the vates or prophets, and the priests proper.
The bards were poets not only of a religious but of a martial and satirical class. (See Bard.) The vates were the diviners or revealers of the future, who were charged with the conduct of sacrifices and other external ceremonies, and who, mingling in almost every event and relation of common life, stood as mediators or interpreters between the people and the more mysterious hiero-phants. These were the druids proper, or the priests, who dwelt in the depths of the oak forests, preserving the mystic doctrines of the faith, and consulting more directly the secret will of the divinity. They were the teachers of the youth, who resorted to them in great numbers; and they also exercised the judicial function. All men, whether in a public or private capacity, had to submit to their decisions, for the recalcitrant was condemned to excommunication, which rendered him an outcast and an outlaw. Over the community or college of druids an arch-druid presided, whose authority was supreme and irrevocable, although his office was elective. The election was made by the suffrages of the whole body, but sometimes, in the rivalry of factions, led to serious conflicts of arms.
At a fixed period every year they assembled at a consecrated spot in the territory of the Carnutes, which passed for the centre of Gaul, whither all resorted who had disputes to settle or decrees to solicit. The entire priesthood were exempted from all taxation or imposts, and from every burden of war or peace. - Affiliated to these three orders, without sharing their prerogatives, were prophetesses, or sorceresses, apparently divided into three orders also, according to their degrees of sanctity. Their rules were whimsical and contradictory, but their influence over the fears of the people was powerful. One branch of them could declare the secrets of futurity only to those who had polluted them; another was devoted to perpetual virginity; a third to long periods of celibacy, or they were allowed to visit their husbands but once a year; while others had to assist at nocturnal rites with their naked bodies painted black, their hair dishevelled, and abandoning themselves to transports of fury. Their favorite resort was the island of Sena, where the nine Senes dwelt, and the nameless islet opposite the mouth of the Loire, where once every year, between sunrise and sunset, they pulled down and rebuilt the roof of their temple; but if any one by chance let fall a particle of the sacred materials, she was torn to pieces, amid frantic dances, in which the Greeks saw the rites of their own Bacchantes, or the orgies of Samothrace. - The druids attained to an almost absolute rule, which was in many respects beneficial, but it also inevitably degenerated into tyranny.
They sooner or later, therefore, aroused the jealousy of another order in society, which Caesar designates the equites or warriors, who had taken the lead in the political conduct and constitution of the tribes. It is supposed that these gradually overthrew the power of the druids in Gaul. When that country was subdued by the Romans, the druidical religion gradually retired before the classic heathenism, and withdrew, at first into Armorica, and then into Britain, where in the time of Nero it was assaulted and mostly suppressed. It lingered as a public worship longest in the island of An-glcsea, whence it was finally driven out by the Romans with great fierceness. As a private superstition it continued to hold sway for many years thereafter over the minds of the Celtic tribes and their descendants. The only modern remains of druidism are the immense structures of stone, the menhirs, cromlechs, dolmens, and avenues, which are found in the immense ruins at Stonehenge, Avebury, and Carnac, as well as in many smaller forms throughout Great Britain and western France. - See Barth, Ueber die Druiden der Celten (1826); G. Higgins "Celtic Druids" (1827); and the first volume of Henri Martin's Histoire de France (1833).
A Druid Priest.