Sunday, December 3, 2017

Crow and the Druids *


Late autumn being a changeable season here Crow and I spent a recent afternoon reviewing his archives while a drenching rain spattered the tall arched windows that overlook his terrace. Just as I was about to pour the tea he thrust an old picture between me and the Royal Albert saying, 'Aha! I've been meaning to show you a picture of Gaith, my old Druid friend, and here is one of both of us scratched upon this piece of bark. Amazing how well this stuff keeps, isn't it?'

I've long stopped being surprised at the immensity of Crow's historical social circle, but he'd never mentioned Druids before. I made myself comfortable in my favorite of his wing back chairs, took a sip of Oolong and sat back to listen:

'It probably won't surprise you to hear that even in the dim, dark past there were crazy, power hungry male persons who made a general nuisance of themselves by making up excuses to kill their neighbors and take their land. The first thing they always did was to demand that the young men in their kingdoms supply themselves with pointed sticks or whatever, swords being both rare and expensive, and join in the battles. Some young men who weren't pleased with this mad idea ran away to the forest.

'The forests of Europe and old England were very large indeed. Still, it wasn't easy to get by on your own and certainly there were no modern conveniences like waterproof shoes and tents - never mind nicely packaged emergency food supplies.

'On this particular fine morning, Gaith and I had been strolling along a path overhung by the branches of sacred oak trees when we came upon a weary looking but handsome youth sitting by a brook. After mutual greetings we sat and shared some food and listened to his reasons for preferring a life of peace. Rather than going to war he had run away to a place where he hoped to enjoy life and creation, learn its wonders and strive for answers to the big questions. My friend Gaith, being a Druid, one of those rumored to have strange powers, invited him to join his band as a junior member. 

'Whether they were called Yogis, Magi, Lamas, Monks or Druids, all of them strove to learn. They developed techniques and applications; they dreamed dreams and studied nature intensively. As it took a very long time to become a Master Druid, perhaps twenty years or more, they arranged their membership into sections (like colleges) that depended upon knowledge and individual attainments. They also developed a brilliant plan designed to lessen the violence of the crazy men. What was it? First, you have to understand they already had much to offer by their abilities with Astrology and calendars; they knew much about plants and the healing arts. They also knew how to manipulate materials and some, like my friend Gaith, were experts in speaking the Language of the Birds. That's how we first became friends (he told some excellent people jokes). What the Druids offered freely to the crazy men who ruled at that time were the members of their lowest college, the Bards.

'Our new young friend who was called Oisin would be trained as one of them, a singer of history. From what I heard later he did well and even stopped a war or two by singing Sagas of previous encounters between the combatants. Of course, the other king also had a Bard and the two likely collaborated to mold a peace. This was the foundation of Diplomacy vs mindless War.'


Rocking back on his perch, Crow snagged a piece of fruitcake, arched his brow and remarked, 'Aren't you glad to know there are still Druids in the world today?'

Yes, yes I am, but we could always use a few more. The rain having stopped by then, we went for a walk by the sea.

***

* Despite the fact this was originally posted several years ago it seemed worthy of another look. Besides, on a recent rainy afternoon Crow remembered the words of another of his old friends:

St. Thomas Aquinas raised the question of why there are so many diverse forms of life on Earth, and answered by saying, "It is because of the desire of goodness to share itself and so the Divine wished to reflect and share Himself in a created world. Because of the inadequacy of any one species to fulfil this role, the whole of creation participates in and represents the richness and splendour and majesty of God more than any single creature."

The response of some human beings to this has been to go to war against this diversity. Making war on creation you become the enemy of the Creator. There will never be peace between humans until you have peace with the Earth and the wider Earth community.


8 comments:

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
It’s an Interesting mystery about the earliest history of the Druids who possibly date back to Neolithic times (the oldest written reference to them is 750BC) as a cultural aspect of the Celts.

As you know the Celts generated enormous riches and went on to become the first kings. Way back then there is evidence of the age of the cosmological priests evident when I recently visited Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands.

According to archaeologists these Neolithic sites existed before the pyramids and Stonehenge in England. They provide a fascinating insight into existence then when farming (temperatures were much hotter then) allowed for the region to flourish with ample food from wild game, domesticated cattle, the sea and a type of maize framed. Skelton remains show a body structure about the same size as us – perhaps just an inch less in height.

What is also evident was the practice of ritualistic slaughtering of large number of animals for significant religious ceremonies of one kind or another which extended uninterrupted for about 1500 years.

Interestingly enough the procedure was different for wild game compared to slaughtering of domestic animals which was evident in the stacks of bones uncovered. The region was thought to be the powerhouse religious centre for Europe given it was the largest known structures of that time.

Little wonder when Christianity arrived thousands of years later many of the ideas were incorporated into the religious practices and thought.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Julius Caesar was fascinated with the Druids. He wrote that they were scientists, theologians, and philosophers, and acquired knowledge that was extraordinary. According to experts in Caesar's writings, the great Roman leader was well aware of the female Druids, priestesses and queens who were ignored by the Romans because they weren't male.

The ancient Celts worshiped trees as spirits or as objects inhabited by spirits. Much of the Celtic mysticism revolves around the magical properties of different trees. For example, the birch tree is often considered the primary tree. A feminine power, the Druids believed that the magical properties of the birch included protection of children, creativity, and purification. Another important tree was the mighty oak. A masculine power, the magical prosperities of oak were linked to security, strength, and loyalty.

It's fascinating to consider that the most famous descendant of a Druid woman was Queen Boudicca (very likely a Druid herself) who came very close to driving the Roman invaders out of England altogether.

Roman historian Cassius Dio, who described her and the destruction her forces wrought:

“...a terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame....But the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women....In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace ; and she wore a tunic of diverse colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.”

It's impossible for us to know what the world was like in those distant times but it's wonderful to imagine them.

All the best

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
You might also find this reference interesting, which talks about the Celts and their ritualistic form of religion or faith organized by a group of leaders known as Druids. As you say the Celts were a people of nature and thus worshipped many things of nature, knowing very well how to work and till the land and rear livestock, especially cattle. They were a cultured and abstractly artistic people, creating intricate and delicate motifs that are still prized (and copied) today. These new settlers in Scotland (in northern Scotland, Picts, and later Scots) and all of Britain were skilled metal workers.
http://skyelander.orgfree.com/scot1.html

Best wishes

susan said...

Thanks so much for the excellent comprehensive link to ancient Scots history, Lindsay. I haven't been able to read all of it yet but will certainly do so in the next few days. It's most definitely a place of deep magic and mystery.
All the best

troutbirder said...

Wonderful post. My limited knowledge of this subject is mostly limited to historical novels focusing on the early arrival of Christianity to early, Roman and post Roman English history. Perhaps you've helped me understand why they got a bad rap in some historical novels.... Thanks for the enlightenment...:)

susan said...

I used to enjoy reading pre-Christian Irish mythology, TB, books and stories that tell of a magical history that's mostly been ignored by our modern culture. I'm glad you found this interesting.

Should Fish More said...

Hello Susan
I once taught a semester of Romans in Britian at Cal before I decided to go off in a different direction. At that time (40+ years ago) Buduica was thought to be a 'perhaps', and little was agreed upon regarding her. Certainly she didn't bring about the end of the Roman period; the general collapse of the Empire was responsible for that around 450 when they were advised to "look to your own defenses".
I hope the 'druids' of today can get past the internal conflicts and disagreements that seem to be dividing them, when the warlike class seem to ignore or be uncaring about the same issues in their own ranks. We seem to be in an era when the things that helped the druids, rationality, truth and a sense of moral justice are no longer valued.
A sidebar (pardon the long comment) is once when the oldest was in high school, and all girls Catholic school who had given her a scholarship, had her turn to conduct a service in the 'world religon' class, a requirement. She brought in chalk, candles and incense, and conducted a Wicca ceremony. It prompted one of many, many calls I got from Sister Mary Catherine, the principal. I frequently reminded the good Sr. that they had invited her and were even paying her tuition.
Cheers, hope the season is treating you well.
Mike

susan said...

Hi Mike,
Nice to see you've been by to visit. The question of whether or not Queen Boudicca actually existed is certainly lost in the mists of time but the passage I noted above by Cassius Dio is real enough. Yes, by the time the Romans conquered Britain they were stretched very thin.
There's actually only one modern Druid whose work I'm familiar with and that's John Michael Greer (also known as the Archdruid of the Archdruid Report that I read every week for ten years. While the Report still exists in mirror form his new website called Ecosophia is also very informative.
That's a fine story about your daughter introducing her Catholic school classmates to Wicca practice.
All the best to you too
and a most happy holiday season.