Druidry and the Religions
By comparison, the religion and philosophy of the Druids were so like that of the Pythagorean system that some writers have arrived, at the conclusion that one borrowed from the other and it is perhaps surprising to learn that most researchers have come to the opinion that it was Pythagoras who borrowed from the Druids. Indeed a certain Dr. Abraham Rees, in his Cyclopaedia, is of opinion that Pythagoras himself learned and adopted many of the ideas and beliefs of the Bards, and used them as a basis on which to add some of his own thoughts and discoveries. Milton also comments that ‑ "The studies of learning in the deepest sciences have been so eminent among us that writers of good antiquity have been persuaded that even the school of Pythagoras and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the philosophy of this island." Finally another authority, the writer Borlase, in his Antiquities of Cornwall, expressed the belief that long before Greece could boast of her wise men, Britain was famous for learning, philosophy, and wisdom, and that the Greek philosophers were really beholden to our Bards whom they copied in so many ways. The Druids then, were no heathen priesthood. They had a philosophy that was far deeper than any other system of the time and one that was the most powerful for enlightening the people.
Both the Druidic and Pythagorean systems cultivated the study of theosophy, metaphysics, ethics, physics, the magnitude and form of the earth, the motions of the heavens and stars, medicine, and magic. Both systems had alphabets that were Etruscan in character and both philosophies were divided into, what we might call three Degrees or grades and like most systems throughout the ages they concealed their learning from the uninitiated and forbade it to be written down.
The points of resemblance between Druidism and Brahmanism are also very striking. In ancient times, according to Brahmanical lore, a great intercourse existed between India and the countries in the West, and the British Isles. The author Faber, in his work entitled 'Cabid', is of the opinion that the undoubted resemblance which existed between Brahmanism and Druidism, probably originated from an Asiatic extraction of the Druids. The various Japhetic tribes which spread through Europe all came out of the widely extended regions of Tartary; and many of them came from the neighbourhood of the Indian Caucasus. In their belief, the Brahmans made it a rule never to reveal to the uninitiated the secret doctrine of their religion and, in like manner, the Druids concealed from strangers and the uninitiated, even of their own country, the sacred mysteries of their belief. Throughout India the serpent was venerated, and amongst the Druids there was a reverence for the Anguinum, or serpents' egg, and many of their temples were constructed in a serpentine form. The Druids regarded it as unlawful to eat ducks, hens, and other winged animals because of their ascendancy in the sky and terrestrial heavens. The Brahmans, of course, looked upon the killing of any live animal as unlawful and abstained from eating anything that had been killed. The Brahmans carried a sacred staff and similarly, the Druid carried a consecrated wand or magic rod as a sign of his initiation. Brahma is generally represented as holding in his hand a wheel or circle, and for the Druids, the circle was regarded as a symbol both of the sun and of eternity. The Indian stone temples were mainly uncovered or in the open; likewise Stonehenge, Avebury and, many other sites of the Druids were also completely open so that their 'ceiling' was the vault of the heavens. Each had solemn rites of initiation and in each religion the priests wore garland crowns and white robes and just as the Brahmans were the most venerated caste in India, so the Druids were regarded as superior even to the nobility of Britain. Finally, the immortality of the soul was the basic article in each creed, combined in both with the belief in transmigration. Therefore one would be forgiven for going so far as to say that both these Orders had been once united or at least come out of the same stable of the grand school of the Magi of Persia and the Seers of Babylon. Indeed one writer was of the opinion that a certain Abaris, the high priest of the Druids, who is said to have instructed Pythagoras, was, in fact, no other than the Puttee Cooroo, the lord of priests of Hindustan, and the Archmagus, or Peer‑i‑Moghaun of the Persians.
There is also a striking resemblance between Druidism and Judaism. Not only did each religion inculcate a belief in a Supreme Being, but the name given to that Supreme Being by each is closely related in symbolism and translation. The Jewish name for the Supreme Being, Jehovah means 'The Self‑Existent', or to adopt the term employed by Maimonides, 'The Eternal'. Among the Druids, Bel was the name given to the Supreme Being, the meaning of which is 'He that is'. Incidentally, the name Ptah is also of interest because its meaning is given as 'I am all that has been, is, or shall be'. For many generations the Hebrews were accustomed to worship the Eternal under the name of Baal. But we read in Hosea ii, v15: "And it shall be at that day," saith the Lord, "that thou shalt call me Ishi, and shalt call me no more Baal." Superficially this poses a problem with the acceptance of the name Baal, but such is not the case. Over time the Israelites had become idolaters and served and worshipped other deities under the plural name of Baalim, or gods. Their worship had degenerated to a worship of the name and symbol rather than of the Supreme Being who was the Inner Presence behind the material idol. Hence they worshiped the graven images and broke the 2nd Commandment that directed them not to have any graven images. Unfortunately the deeper significance of this has been completely missed.
Both these two faiths possessed a priest who was vested with supreme authority, but below him there were also three classes or orders of sacred men. The Jews had their Priests or judges, Prophets, and Scribes, while among the followers of the Druidic faith there were the Druids, Bards, and Ovates. Each creed measured time by day and night and grove worship was common to both Israelite and Druid. In connection with the concept of a grove, it is clear from the many references to the word 'oak' in the Old Testament that it was regarded as a sacred tree. The same Hebrew word which signifies 'oak' also means 'an oath', and the root of this word is 'mighty', or 'strong' and is the same root that is often used for the Deity. There are also a number of instances in the Old Testament when the oak tree is at the focal point of the story. For example in Ist.Kings xiii, v14; in Ezekiel vi, v13, and Hosea iv. v13, reference is made to the practice of offering up incense under the oak. It was at the oak of Moreh (Genesis xiLv6) that the Eternal God appeared to Abram, and it was there that Abram built an altar. Joshua (xxiv.v26) wrote particulars of the covenant in a book of the law of God and took a great stone and set it up under an oak tree, by the sanctuary of the Eternal One. Saul and his sons were buried under an oak (Ist.Chronicles x. v12) and Abraham planted a grove of trees as a retreat of silence, solitude and prayer, but in latter times, these groves were denounced as their worship degenerated into the worship of the mundane. Dr. Stukeley, who I have mentioned before, goes further and calls Abraham the first Druid in reference to the oak grove at Beersheba, but here I have to add that other authorities claim that Dr. Stukeley tends to be rather fanciful. All too often we, like our predecessors, read the word and remain blind to the meaning. The May Day festival was in honour of the season of Spring, when the sun entered the sign of Taurus, the bull. Hence the images of calves or bulls that were used by the Israelites were cast in gold, because gold was a fitting representation of the benign sun, as it began to shed its glittering rays at the approach of Spring. But to many minds this was a signal that those people began to worship the creature of the Bull, which of course they began to do as they lost touch with the deeper aspects of their religion as they descended into idolatry.
The oak has also been venerated by many nations and peoples. In Rome an oaken garland or crown was called 'corona civica' and was only bestowed upon a person who had saved another citizen's life, though in the course of time it was also bestowed upon an official if he spared the life of the Roman citizen when he had power to kill him. The Emperor of Rome was also recorded as having an oak tree growing between two laurel trees before his palace gates. This was an emblem that denoted two great virtues. The first was that the enemy would be conquered and the second that the citizens would be saved.
In Sweden the ancient inhabitants held the sacred groves and trees in reverence and awe, because they regarded them as being given by the Supreme Being as ornaments to his noble creation, and to afford protection to the cattle against the searching heat of the midday sun. The name of the peoples called the Dryopes, who lived near to Tibet, was said to have originated from ‘drus', an oak, and 'ops', the voice, and it is said that many of their beliefs were identical with the Druids.
The affinity between Druidism and the religion of the Persians is also strongly marked. The Druids held that the Supreme Being was too exalted to be confined within temples made with hands. Their open air temples were circular in form and in their worship they made use of the circle to intimate that God was to be found in every direction. The Persians also taught that the celestial expanse itself was their Jupiter, whom they worshipped in the open air.
Similar to the Druids, the Persians forbade the introduction of any image into their temples, for they believed that the Supreme Being was too refined to be represented by any figure, a belief that was also taught by Mohammed and held firmly by all Moslems to the present day. Although the Druids were never worshippers of any idols, they did permit the setting up of certain stones, which had to be rough‑hewn and straight from the quarry. These were consecrated according to ritual and set up to represent the deities such as Isis, or Ceridwen, or other British divinities whose merits were advocated by the Bards.
In those times, fire was held in great reverence. The Druids had their sacred fires and the Persians had their holy flame, to which they paid divine honours, and they, like the Druids, lighted festal fires at the return of the consecrated season. The Druids considered their fires to be antidotes against the diseases of cattle, and the Persians went one step further and because of their powerful influence on the human body, they placed their sick within the range of the gentle heat of the fire, in order that they might recover the more quickly. The Druids compelled the Britons at a certain season of the year, to extinguish all their fires and to re‑kindle them from the sacred fire, a toll being exacted, and, with some trifling variations, a similar custom prevails in Persia to the present day. This idea forms a central theme in Druidic rituals where the candidate is left at the only source of light and fire and he then has to rekindle all of the ritual flames
Both the Druids and the Persians are said to have been very proficient in the art of divination; both also regarded the mistletoe as a sacred plant. In such high esteem did the Druids regard it, that it was regarded as unlawful and moreover a sacrilege to cut the mistletoe with anything but a golden scythe. The Persians also used a knife that had been consecrated and set aside for that special purpose. The Persians, even in the ages when temples were common in all other countries, had no temples made by human hand. There were also similarities between the Magi and the Druids because each carried a bunch of plants in the hand during the celebration of sacred rites. The plant of the Magi was principally the 'Horn', or 'Barsum', which curiously, closely resembled the mistletoe. Some sources believe that this plant is the same as that mentioned in Isaiah vi, v13. ("like the terebinth and like the oak") and that the following translation would be more accurate ‑ "As an oak, whose plant is alive upon it," which, says Isaiah, "shall be eaten," so that here we have the same idea associated with the 'Horn' as with the all‑healing properties of the mistletoe.
There are also many points of similarity between Druidism and the religion of Greece. The Greeks worshipped their gods upon the tops of mountains. Jupiter, in Homer, commends Hector for the many sacrifices he had offered upon the top of Ida –
My heart partakes the generous
Hector, whose zeal whole
hecatombs has slain,
Whose grateful fumes the gods
received with joy,
From Ida's summits and the towers of Troy.
They also worshipped in groves of trees, and looked upon the oak as the oldest and most special tree. It was very common to erect altars and temples in these groves, and then to dedicate them for religious uses. Indeed the term 'grove' became synonymous with all sacred places, even when there were no trees to be seen. They came to be regarded as solitary places and this solitude was regarded as being the creative factor for the religious awe and reverence that these groves held in the minds of the people. Pliny said that in these groves the very silence of the place became the object of adoration and Ovid wrote ‑
A darksome grove of oak was spread out near,
Whose gloom oppressive said A god dwells here.
The Egyptians worshipped the sun and the serpent was sacred to them as representing the eternal existence of the Deity. At the temple of Isis at Dendera there is a representation of a procession of men and women bringing globes surrounded with bulls, horns, and mitred snakes to Isis and Osiris, who is standing behind her. The Egyptians, like the Hebrews also had a Tauric festival and they even went so far as to embalm the cattle. About twenty miles to the north of Rome and over on the west side of the Tiber lies the Sabin country where, on the top of the mountain Soracte were the grove temples and cam of Apollo. Here there was an annual sacrifice that was reported as being in every way similar to that of the Druids and this is referred to in Dryden's version of Virgil's Aeneid:
O Patron of Soracte's high abodes,
Phoebus, the ruling power among the gods
Whom first we serve, whole woods of unctuous pine
Burnt on thy heap, and to thy glory shine;
By thee protected, with our naked soles
Thro' flames unsinged we pass, and tread the kindl'd coals.
Give me, propitious power, to wash away
The stain of this dishonourable day.
In 'The Cross and the Dragon', John Keeson relates how that when the Franciscan missionaries reached the court of the Prince of Batou, which was situated on the Volga, they had first to pass through two fires in order to destroy any malign influence they might have brought with them. Two lances were erected by the side of these fires from which a cord was tied and from which several pieces of rag hung down. This all marked the way that they had to pass, together with their beasts and goods. As if to give them some comfort, two females, one on each side, sprinkled them with water and at the same time recited certain words ‑ some comfort this must have been.
It was the custom among many ancient peoples to erect a stone in commemoration or remembrance of any benefit that they had received from the hands of their Supreme Being. Such a practice was particularly seen among the Jews. Jacob, after his wonderful vision, "rose up early in the morning and took the stone that he had put for his pillow and set it up as a pillar and poured oil upon the top of it" (Genesis xxxviii. v 18). Jacob also did the same thing when he entered into a covenant with Laban (Genesis xxxl.v45), and when he was said to have talked with God at Bethel (Genesis xxxv. v14). At Gilgal, a word that also means a ‘circle', Joshua built a temple which simply composed of twelve stones, and after he had assembled the children of Israel within this temple, he told them that when their children should ask them the meaning of the stones, they were to make answer that it was the acknowledgment of the power of the Eternal. The custom of venerating baetyla, or consecrated stones, and worshipping under oaks was also very widely spread throughout both hemispheres in the remotest periods. The existence of stone monuments, whose antiquity is undoubted by archaeologists, is proof that learning and culture existed in Britain long before the Roman invasion, and long even before the foundation of Rome.
Stone circles are also common in America, in the province of Coimbatoor in India, and over all northern Europe, as well as in several of the islands of the Mediterranean. The explorations of the Ordnance Survey of 1869 proved the existence in Palestine and Arabia of circles "nearly identical in character with those, which in England and Scotland are commonly called Druidical circles." In Germany, as in England, the oak was regarded as a sacred tree and solemn assemblies were held beneath it, and decrees were often dated sub quercibus. Scandinavian folk‑lore ascribed man's origin to the oak or ash, a myth also prevalent among the Romans and a belief that their ancestors were oaks before they became men. So perhaps Tolkien was closer than we imagine when he created his race of Ents, the humanoid trees ‑ who knows?
Whenever possible the tops of hills were chosen by the Druids for their services and worship, but their temples of initiation and the performances of their secret and sacred rites were in caves. The Persians also worshipped on mountaintops and when Philip II waged war against the Spartans he made sacrifices on the mountains of Olympus and Eva. Cyrus also sacrificed to the gods on the mountains just before his death. Even in China, some 2,300 years before the Christian era, sacrifices were offered to the Supreme Being and to Chan‑Ti on the four great mountains.
The close affinity between the doctrines of the newly‑established Christian faith, as taught by the early missionaries, and the beliefs of Druidism, show many similarities and this gave rise to the easy transition from the old religion to the embrace of the new Christianity. It was really a question of merging the beliefs, rather than an entire change of faith.
"Nothing is clearer than that Patrick engrafted Christianity on the pagan superstition with so much skill that he won the people over to the Christian religion before they understood the exact difference between the two systems of belief, and much of this half‑Pagan, half Christian religion will be found, not only in the Irish stories of the Middle Ages, but in the superstitions of the peasantry of the present day", wrote one Irish writer. "The patriarchal religion of ancient Britain, called Druidism, but by the Welsh most commonly called Barddas", has never, as some imagine, been quite extinct in Britain. The Welsh Bards, throughout all the ages down to the present time, have kept it alive. The old Welsh Bards kept up a perpetual war with the Church of Rome and as a result they experienced a considerable amount of persecution and although a narrow perspective of the faith seemed to be contrary to many other beliefs, they did in truth hold many deep and fundamental truths. Such was the depth of their beliefs that the Druidical Britons gave rather more than a hearty welcome to the exponents of the newer creed. In fact, Christian historians state that the Britons embraced the new teachings with more alacrity than any other nation.
There is, indeed, a legend to the effect that Edwin was persuaded to embrace the Christian faith by Corfe, the chief of the Druids. At that time it must be remembered and this is so important, the Christian religion had not developed any of the corruptions that have afflicted it in later times.
Finally there is the important concept of the deity of Hu. Whether Hu was considered as the god of Arabia, India, or Greece; all of which countries have claimed him to be theirs, he is described as having been the first to teach his people to build, to plant and form themselves into groups and societies, and also to have given them laws and ordinances by which to live their lives. According to Grecian mythology he is also said to having been cast adrift in an ark on the sea and left to the mercy of the elements, and that he was miraculously saved. These similar and familiar stories are also ascribed to Menu, the great patriarch of Hindustan and also to Vishnu in his ninth incarnation. Sir William Jones is of opinion that this deity was also the Coin or Woden of Scandinavia and the Fo‑Hi of China. Hu is recorded not merely as having colonized Britain, but as having colonized it in equity and peace, rather than by means of bloodshed and violence. This praiseworthy distinction is also ascribed alike to Vishnu, Fo‑Hi, and to Manco Capac who is described by Bryant, in his Ancient Mythology, in the following words:
He lived in the time of the flood,
He first erected altars,
He first collected men together and formed them into petty communities,
He first gave laws and distributed justice,
He divided mankind by their families and nations over the face of the earth.
Finally it is most important to remember that the name 'Hu' is the same as the term that was used in the Hebrew for one of the Divine names. 'He' and 'Hu' are also used in the Arabic version of the Scriptures, once for EI (Psalm xcix. v2), and another in (Genesis xlix. v10) for Shiloh.
It will therefore be seen that the Druidic faith is of great antiquity and goes back to the earliest of times. Whilst it holds most dear some fundamental beliefs that seem to go beyond the Christian faith I believe that it holds more true to the real Christian Creed of Christ, as opposed to the traditional faith as set down by Paul. The Druid belief seems to me to hold more true to the true line of enlightenment than to the popular Creed that has been modified and adapted by the various Kingly and populist pressures of the day.
The Serpent Temple, WIlliam Blake's Jerusalem