Druidism Guide Page Five: Traditions
by Brendan Cathbad Myers


It is difficult to describe warrior life to twentieth century people living in European and new world societies, because there is nothing comparable in today’s western cultures. Of course there were soldiers, mercenaries, and bounty hunters in ancient Europe as there is now, but of interest to those studying Druidism is the warrior as a way of life, as opposed to the warrior as a career. Though many of the great Celtic heroes were professional soldiers, what makes them heroes is the warrior’s spirit and not their salary. They are capable of great force and violence, like any fighter. Roman writers frequently said that Celtic men are all “mad for war”, and that they are constantly preparing themselves for the next cattle raid, the next border incursion, the next territorial conquest. They drink heavily (Romans used to mix water in their wine, whereas Celts drank their wine “straight”) and would boast about what great fighters they are, and what great deeds they would perform at the next battle. As rough, dangerous, heavy-drinking, boastful and proud young men, assured of their greatness and the greatness of their tribe, they can be compared to modern English football hooligans.

However, their fighting spirit and recklessness was also tempered by allegiances to tribes and territories, and to high-minded notions of honour, reliability, and fair play. These allegiances are more important to a Celtic warrior than how deadly and dangerous a fighter she is. The custom of fosterage (in which a child would be raised by another family for half of his childhood) created strong and complex bonds of family solidarity, enabling fighters to share in each other¹s honour, and making it more important for each fighter to uphold his own honour lest he bring shame upon his friends and family. Among the members of an Irish mythological army called the Red Branch Knights, it was important that only honourable noblemen can be members, and that they commit themselves to the protection of the province of Ulster.

A custom known as the “single combat” enabled Celts to earn personal glory on the battlefield and also keep the number of casualties small, so that wars and raids would not result in serious losses of the tribe¹s population. The two fighting sides would line up and challenge each other with noise, taunts, threats, and curses. A single fighter would step forward and challenge the best fighter of the other side to a one-on-one fight, usually to the death. The outcome of the entire battle, then, would be decided on the outcome of these single combats. Full-scale group fighting tended to be rare.

One group of Celtic warriors worth special mention is The Fianna, an out-caste class of warriors, typically adolescents and young-adults, similar to the Hindu “sadus” (wandering holy men) in their severance from society, but more militant than religious in nature. Still, there is a mystical dimension to the Fianna, for many of them were accomplished poets and seers, and Fenian myth abounds with hunting trips that wind up in the Otherworld. It is usually assumed that it is not possible nor desirable to cease participating in society. The existence of the Fianna in old Celtic society seems to show that ancient people thought differently about that.

Fianna may spend their time as Fianna living off the land, travelling, raiding the cattle stocks of other tribes, and experiencing some freedom. Fianna legends are filled with magical hunting expeditions, in which white animals with red ears lead hunters on a wild chase through unknown territory, after which they emerge in the Otherworld, in the presence of the gods. The Welsh story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, for example, brings Pwyll into the presence of Arawn, lord of Annwn (the Welsh word for the magical otherworld) while the two of them were hunting after the same stag.

The way of the hunter was known to warriors both in the Fianna and in regular Celtic society, for hunting was an important fact of their lives. But the prey that the hunter follows is more than just a source of food and clothing, but also a guide and a pathfinder in the Otherworld, in a manner reminiscent of the “totem animals” used by shaman as they travel through the spirit world. One who hunts an animal becomes the hunted one, for by taking the animal’s flesh into the body as food, the animal lives again in the hunter, and transfers its wisdom to the hunter. The hunter is aware that the death he brings to the animals he kills will someday come to him. It is sometimes believed that the hunted animal allows itself to be caught and killed, but does not make it easy for the hunter, so that the hunter is not allowed to forget the danger involved, and not allowed to be casual about bringing death to other beings. If a hunter caught something, it might be because his quarry found him worthy. In this way the relationship between predator and prey is not one of competition nor antagonism, but of love and kinship.

Most societies across the world that have hunted for their food have developed rituals to affirm and strengthen that brotherhood with the animals they hunt, and to bring them back again. It is very difficult to convey this idea when the animals we eat are captive, fed with hormones and genetically selected, and the preservative-laden meat we purchase bears no resemblance to the animal who gave it. What is more, “sport hunting” as done in industrialised nations bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the sacred hunt of ancient people, who depended upon the animals for their entire livelihood, and of course who did not hunt with modern firearms.

One final comment is worth noting. The spirituality of the Celtic warrior, while it is intertwined with commitment to one¹s family, tribe, and nation, cannot be used to endorse modern day racism and white supremacy. Some right-wing, racist and even neo Nazi organisations have attempted to use Druidry and Celtic culture to make themselves appear more acceptable and to poularise their message. This is utterly wrong. A statement on this topic issued by the Convocation of Irish Druids expresses this point clearly:

We declare that Druidry has absolutely nothing to do with racial superiority. We know this to be true not only on the basis of the mountain of scholarly information available to us on what Celtic religion was like in ancient times, but also on the basis of our spiritual insights and practices, and our deliberated decisions, concerning what we claim Celtic religion should be in contemporary timesŠ Tribalism, when it takes the form of a competitive and adversarial “us versus them” attitude, is in our view politically destructive, intellectually irrational, and spiritually degrading. We urge everyone to disregard any and all attempts to associate Druidry with this kind of tribalism, expressed or impliedŠ Finally, although this last request is likely to fall on deaf ears, we urge those who do associate Druidry with racial supremacy to re-think their lives.


The present form of popular witchcraft, wicca, is less than a century old, though it follows a tradition of wisdom that is as old as Druidism, if not more. Without going into great detail, modern Witchcraft was “remade” and popularised by the late British civil servant Gerald Gardner in books he published in the 1940’s. Those who practice it say that witchcraft is the worship of a comprehensive Earth Goddess, whose religion begain in the late stone age, refined during classical civilisations such as Egypt, Sumer, and Babylon, (and presumably also by European civilisations like the Greeks and Proto-Celts) wrongly branded as satanism by zealous medaeval christians, and violently hunted to near-extinction. This prejudice continues to this day, altho ugh thankfully not with violence.

The case for the survival of european witchcraft from antiquity to today is the same as the case made by Romantics for the survival of Druidism. It is said that during periods of persecution and inquisition, the old witches practiced the Craft in secret, transmitting the lore from mother to daughter and from father to son, re-emerging into society only after the flames of the inquisition pyres had mostly died down. It is an unverifiable claim, but a very compelling one.

Some who practice Celtic Witchcraft make the claim that Druidism was the religion of male mysteries and Witchcraft was of women’s mysteries, in the ancient Celtic culture. Given that there are many cases of powerful female Druids in the myths, it is unlikely. This author knows of only two textual references that might infer that ancient Celtic religion had special mysteries for women, both of which are on the Readings page. (I wonder if anyone can find them.) There is the perpetual fire of Brigid that is kept at the monastary in Kildare, Ireland, that is tended only by women, which is certainly a women’s mystery but is probably part of the worship of Brigid (or of Saint Brigid) and not a witchcraft ritual. As indicated elsewhere, Druidism does not specialise its skills across gender divisions.

The essentials of Wicca are signifigantly different from Druidism. It emphasizes the Earth, and the Earth-Mother; Druidism has equal emphasis on the Earth, Sea, and Sky. Wicca has two deities, The Goddess (in her triple maiden-mother-crone aspects) and The Horned God (sometimes with the additional aspect of the Dark God). Druidism has many gods, who are not aligned in a dualistic polarity but exist independently. Druidic triple goddesses are not linked by matrilineal line (like maiden-mother-crones) as is the Wiccan Goddess, but by generation, as sisters: Morrigu/Nemhain/Babd (war & battle goddesses), Banba/Fodla/Eiru (land and sovereignty goddesses) for example are all sisters. Witchcraft makes liberal use of four elements whereas Druidism does not. Druids are not bound by the Wiccan Rede; perhaps the closest thing to an ethical statement is Ossian’s Answer (see Belief) “Pectiwitta” is another non-historical Wiccan variation of Celtic religion, and the error is obvious in the name, for the Gaelic language does not include the letter W.

This is not to say that versions of Celtic Wicca are inherently untruthful from a philosophical point of view. Wicca occasionally borrows Celtic deities and themes for its work, and this Celt has no problem with that. It is to say, that there is no historical Celtic Wicca. Having said that, however, Celtic Wiccans are occasionally and most wrongfully berated by modern Druids for not being culturally or historically “pure” enough. Wiccans often call upon Celtic deities as their Goddess and God, which they justify with the interesting idea that, to quote the famous British witch Doreen Valiente, “All Goddesses are one Goddess, all Gods are one God, there is but one Initiator”. The problem is not one of historical accuracy, but of philosophical coherence.


The Arthurian legends are unique because they take place during delicate transition period between Druidism and Christianity. Christianity was well entrenched as the religion of the nobility, yet Druidism remained in the form of folk-practices. Arthurian mythology contains many distinctly ancient Celtic concepts but is a new and unique mythology as well. Misty islands and otherworldly hunting expeditions, which comprise much of Arthurian legend, clearly originate from the older Celtic mythologies where such encounters are common ways to enter the Otherworld. The Irish Druid Uath Mac Immoman challenged a warrior to a mutual beheading in much the same way The Green Knight (who can be interpreted as Cernunnos The Green Man) challenged Sir Gawain. The Perilous Bridge that Lancelot has to cross is similar to the bridge at Scatha’s School for Heroes that Cu Chullain had to cross. And perhaps all those “wise hermits”, that the Knights are always running into, are Druids in hiding. Merlin himself is now thought to have been a Druid by some modern fiction authors, since he too was an advisor to a king, a prophet, and made his home in the wilderness. To stretch it a bit, perhaps the Grail legends follow those magical cauldrons like the one possessed by Dagda, which could feed armies and raise the dead, and by Cerridwen, which was a font of wisdom.

It is worth noting that the sword called Excaliber may have come from legends surrounding a real sword. The Celts were iron-workers, ahead of most other contemporary cultures. Iron-age technology helped the Celts defeat the Dannans (who worked bronze). Around Arthurian times, it was discovered that nickel-iron from meteorites could be used to create stainless steel, and swords layered with this metal would never bend, scratch, break, nor rust. Weapons like that would have been seen as magical, and would have developed names and reputations independently.

An important concept in Arthurian Druidism is the concept of the sacred king. Arthur is a sacred king because he was chosen by God to rule, by virtue of his birth and the wisdom he developed. The story of the Fischer King is another that demonstrates the connection between kings and God, who is the Earth Mother, for he is suffering from the unhealable wound while at the same time his territory is barren and infertile, as if wounded just like him. The Grail is a symbol of divinity, of feminine divinity in particular, and though it is said to be the cup of Christ most Arthurian druids agree that it is the Earth Goddess, which is why its wine can be drunk by only those who are connected to her, like the sacred king, and the chaste knight who reserves his love only for her. Perhaps these concepts are a remnant of the old ritual of the marriage of kings to the land.


After Saint Patrick and Saint Columcille completed their missions to Ireland and Scotland, those nations evolved an unique and beautiful blend of Christianity and Druidism, headquartered on the Isle of Iona in Scotland and Armagh in Ireland, both of which we re later to be eradicated by the English. Catholicism eventually became an important element of national identity in Ireland, and without it Ireland may never have become independent.

The Celts of Gaul were among the first Celts to accept Christianity, but it is unclear when Christianity first entered the British isles. By successfully adapting itself to Celtic society, Christianity entered Celtic culture without confrontation, and without martyrs. The first well-recorded Christian mission to Ireland was by Saint Patrick, who was living in Britain (or Wales) and taken as a slave to Ireland during a raid. He made an escape to France, where he studied the new religion until he became a bishop. Then in 432 he returned to Ireland to preach. The complete conversion of Ireland did not happen within his lifetime, but the first permanent foothold of Christianity was established by him.

Celtic Christianity is an union of Druidism and Christianity nominally founded by Columba and Columcille, among other early saints, and centred on the Scottish island of Iona, in the southern Hebrides. Saint Columba is said to have first spoken the famous prayer “Mo Drui, Mac De” (My Druid, Son of God), as if identifying rather than contrasting the old and the new religions. Early Christian sanctuaries were built in circular shapes, unlike the rectangular or cruciform shapes of Roman Christian sanctuaries, which is in keeping with the earlier Druidic concepts. Many Druids may have converted to Christianity when it became popular with the nobility, and though they followed the new religion they kept most of the old wisdom. Other Druids became Bards, and the Bardic tradition kept many of the old mythologies alive in the culture. There are stories of Celtic saints speaking with animals and plants, as the old Druids used to do, something usually attributed only to St. Francis of Assisi. The Carmina Gadelica, a book of Celtic-Christian prayers collected by Alexander Carmichael in the outer Hebrides, shows a very strong connection to the natural world.

The Celtic church was less centralised than the Roman church, being somewhat more monastic than heirarchical, and also used a different way of calculating the date of Easter. Some of these monasteries were headed by women, including Abbes Hilda of Whitby who hosted the Council of Whitby, where it was decided to join with the Roman church and the rest of Europe.

There is debate among historians as to how distinct the Celtic church was from other forms of Christianity of its time, but there are some unique elements nonetheless. One unique feature of the Celtic church was the cut of the tonsure, which was bald in the front and long in the back, unlike the Benedictine tonsure, which is short all around with a bald spot in the centre. The Celtic Christian art of illuminated manuscripts, such as the beautiful Book of Kells, is another uniquely Celtic contribution to Christianity. Its symbol is the Celtic Cross, a cross with a circle around its centre.


Theosophical Druidism, also sometimes called “Meso-Druidry” (as distinct from ancient and from modern Druidry) or “Romantic” Druidry is the style of Druidism that developed in the early eighteenth century in England. Members were drawn from Freemasonry, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, the Golden Dawn, and several other mutual support societies organised around the principles of various kinds of occultism and ceremonial magic. The original impetus came from a desire to develop an indigenous British mystical order. The thing to note about this style of Druidry is that it is essentially a special variation of the Western magical tradition to which Celtic ideas have been applied. Most of the Celtic material it uses comes from the Arthurian myths, and the concepts of the Sacred King, the Grail Quest, and the Ordained Knight. It is characterised by a number of features that make it distinct from historical Druidism, although many of these Druids assert that theirs is the historically authentic and correct form Druidism. In some of their rituals they call upon the four classical elements, dragons, gods from Greece or Rome or older civilisations, and even Christian saints and angels. These rituals tend to resemble wizardly conjurations rather than the otherworld journeys that are so common in Celtic mythology.

Theosophical Druidism is largely based on the ideas expressed in a two-volume book called the Bardass. It was composed in the sixteenth century by Edward Williams, a stonemason from London, who used the pen-name of Iolo Morganwyg. This book describes a set of laws and philosophical propositions about the universe that the author asserts are what the Iron-Age Celts of Wales believed. According to the Barddas, the universe is organised into a trio of concentric circles: Abred in the center, being the source of organic life; Gwynfyd, or the realm where we are living now; and Ceugant the outer realm, inhabited only by God and apparently accessible to humans through enlightenment, which is seen as a merging with the divine soul, rather like the Hindu idea of Atman. The book correlates with historical Celtic mysticism in that it describes things in threes, however, the cosmology described in this book correlates more closely with the neo-Platonic Christianity popular among protestant clergymen at the time, and has virtually no hint of confirmation in the mythologies. (This, of course, is not to say that the ideas it expresses are philosophically untrue‹it is only to say that they are historically impossible to verify.) The Bardass was claimed to be based on an older work called the Book of Pferyllt, which supposedly contained many of the magic secrets possessed by Welsh and British Druids, including the Charm of Making. However, no copies exist but for those forged by their owners. In the Welsh legend called the Ystoria Taliesin, it is said that Cerridwen consulted “llyfreu Fferyllt” which means the books of Virgil, the Roman poet, and this perhaps is the origin of the legend of the Book. In modern Welsh the word Fferyllt means “alchemist” or “sorcerer”, and Virgil himself was the author who wrote the famous Roman epic “The Aeneid”, and was reputed to be a sorcerer. Considering that the Druids transmitted their mysteries through poetry and the spoken word, it is somewhat difficult to imagine such a book actually existing except, as noted above, when a copy has been faked by its owner.

There is a branch of Theosophical Druidism which could accurately be called Gnostic Druidism, since it asserts the existence of a single divine being who dwells immanently within nature and can be contacted personally and directly by the practitioner. The many Celtic gods, and the local spirits of landscape features or weather patterns, are like saints or divine beings who have special responsibilities, or else are the many faces and masks of the one divine source. Like Theosophical Druidism, this is a separate spiritual tradition to which Celtic ideas have been added. Your author is personally acquainted with several Druids in northern Ireland whose Druidism is a combination of Irish storytelling and heritage, ideas imported from Gnosticism, Hinduism, and the “New Age”, particularly the strong belief that universal peace can be obtained through a “spreading of consciousness” both within oneself and outwardly in the world.


The Faerie faith is the set of folk beliefs and folk religion practices that entered the Celtic culture when Christianity became the official religion. The Faerie Faith has no priests, ministers, Druids, or licensed professionals of any kind, nor does it have established churches or complicated theology. Its scripture is folk memory. Its members are ordinary people, but for whom the world is also populated by faerie beings, ghosts, prophetic signs, and the like. Instead of priests and ministers, there are “wise women” and “faerie doctors”; individuals who have experienced the faeries and carry the knowledge and skills to see them, identify their handiwork, and occasionally cure any ills caused by them. A “Faerie Faith” believer was an ordinary person who perhaps knew a magical cure or two, or who could predict the weather, or who knew when someone far away was in danger and about to die. In every other respect, such a person was likely to be an ordinary member of the community, even a devout Christian.

An example of such a person is Biddy Early, the famous Wise Woman from county Clare, Ireland. She had a little glass bottle which she always kept close to her, with which she could see the future or see far distant places.

The Faerie Faith includes a number of superstitions and taboos designed to prevent insulting or angering the faeries. When the Faerie Faith was most widespread, it was common to seek out a wise woman or faerie doctor to cure a disease in cattle or humans when the medical doctors or priests were unable to do so.

The first and still the authoritative study on the topic is Evans-Wentz’ The Faerie Faith in Celtic Countries. There are many collections of Irish faerie tales: among the earliest was published by W.B. Yeats and was called Folk and Faerie Tales of the Irish Peasantry. The Celtic Faerie Faith has only a tentative relationship to the faeries of Victorian children¹s literature, and indeed no direct connection with the “faerie path” that has become popular in contemporary paganism, having been created and/or popularised in America in from the 1960¹s onward. I do not intend this comment to be disparaging. American faerie-path paganism was undoubtedly inspired by the Celtic faerie faith, and is characterised by the belief in the necessity of restoring in our lives an attitude of wonder, innocence, child-play, and personal empowerment.


Today there are a great many organisations and churches that practice Druidism, to whatever extent each of them feels it is possible. Based on the sources of Druidism, each of them attempts to “reconstruct” old celtic religion, by writing rituals, organising festivals and conventions, and distributing study courses. Some will call what they do Celtic Reconstructionism in order to emphasise that what they do is not precisely the same as what was done in ancient times. Each bears their own unique style as well, based on how much Romantic influence they admit, or on which of the Celtic Nations they identify with. Some will be more votive, others will be more ecstatic, in their approach to ritual. They all tend to have a few things in common, though, such as a sincere belief in the existance of the Old Celtic Gods and a desire to preserve Celtic language and custom.

There used to be a comprehensive list of currently active Druidic and Celtic groups on Isaac Bonewitz’s web site. But with his passing in 2010, his website has changed. Wikipedia has a good article about his druidry organization which has links to other groups. But also check out the Druid Network, active as of 2013.

Naturally, I must also mention two groups that I was personally involved in helping to set up. One is called the Order of the White Oak which began life as an email group although it is also an independant (and primarilly invitation-only) association of “ethically-minded” Druids as well. Another is Conradh Draoithe na h-Éireann the Convocation of Irish Druids, which does all the usual things you might expect a religious association to do, such as public ceremony, etc. Membership is open only to residents of Ireland (north and south). [Update 2013: This organization no longer active]

Without meaning to endorse or promote any of them, here are a few more that I am familliar with.

In the United Kingdom, there is the Order of Bards, Oviates, and Druids. OBOD was founded in 1717, and has a correspondence course available worldwide. It encourages a spiritual understanding rooted in nature and the land, and protection of the Earth, and attempts to be a supplement to, not a replacement of, any religion each member already professes.

Write to: The Secretary, OBOD 
PO box 1333 Lewes, E. Sussex,
England BN7 3ZG 
Web: druidry.org

In the U.S.A., there is Ar n Draiocht Fein, meaning roughly “Our Own Druidism”. ADF is the fastest growing Druid organisation in the world. Its founder, Isaac Bonewitz, emphasizes accountable and highly qualified clergy, with a focus on the religion of all ancient indo-europeans.

Write to: ADF 
PO box 516 
E. Syracuse, NY 13057-0516 United States 
Web: www.adf.org

Keltria is a positive neo-pagan Druidic path focusing on the Celtic pantheons and the triads of Ancestors, Nature Spirits, and Gods. They offer several resources including a book of ritual, a quarterly journal and a correspondence course for members.

Write to: The Henge of Keltria 
P.O. Box 48360 
Minneapolis, MN 55448 
E-Mail: Keltria-Office@keltria.org 
Web: keltria.org

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