Druids: A Very Short Introduction
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The Druids have been known and discussed for at least 2400 years, first by Greek writers and later by the Romans, who came in contact with them in Gaul and Britain. According to these sources, they were a learned caste who officiated in religious ceremonies, taught the ancient wisdoms, and were revered as philosophers. But few figures flit so elusively through history, and the Druids remain enigmatic and puzzling to this day. In this Very Short Introduction, one of the leading authorities on British archaeology, Barry Cunliffe, takes the reader on a fast-paced look at the ever-fascinating story of the Druids, as seen in the context of the times and places in which they practiced. Sifting through the evidence, Cunliffe offers an expert's best guess as to what can be said and what can't be said about the Druids, discussing the origins of the Druids and the evidence for their beliefs and practices, why the nature of the druid caste changed quite dramatically over time, and how successive generations have seen them in very different ways.
2nd millennium, the consignment of grave goods with the body, may well refl ect a belief in the continuity of spirit and some understanding of an afterlife. Finally, there can be little doubt that the celestial calendar was well understood and that it formed the structure around which the year, with its ceremonies and observances, was fashioned. The rich fabric of prehistoric belief, revealed by the archaeological evidence especially in Britain, Ireland, and Armorica, could only have been
Classical perception of the Druids changed. We are dealing with highly dynamic processes of change, the only clues to which are the surviving words of a few Greek and Roman writers. It is quite conceivable that the number of original sources – that is, people who actually observed Druids – was very small. Julius Caesar is certainly one. He was present in Gaul subduing its inhabitants from 58 to 51 bc and made two brief expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 bc. During this time, he had
circumnavigation of Britain in the 4th century bc. Forty years after the invasion of Britain, Tacitus had access to far more information. He tells us that through the activities of merchants the harbours of Ireland were reasonably well known and the land and people of Ireland were not unlike Britain and the British. Information continued to accumulate and by the end of the 2nd century ad, the astronomer Ptolemy was able to give latitude and longitude coordinates of 55 locations, many of them
Beltane is still celebrated widely throughout Europe in the many different manifestations of May Day. In pre-Christian and early Christian times, Ireland was divided into perhaps as many as 150 tribes ( túatha), each ruled by a king. Some of the kings would have been more powerful than others and able to command the allegiances of lesser kings. The king was all powerful within his túath. He would, by right, expect the loyalty of all his free men and could summon them to form a
observation ended as a fanciful theological tract designed to protect the Church of England against Deist free-thinking. In the process, the Druids had been provided with an architectural context, placed historically within the development of the Church and altogether comfortingly domesticated. 12. A Druid as imagined by Aylett Sammes in a publication of 1676 But what did they actually look like? Aylett Sammes offered a suitable image in his Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676). His Druid