I really do enjoy reading history, now that I don't have to memorize names and dates for an exam that is. Celtic paganism is a term that is usually used to refer to the religious beliefs and practices for the Celts, an Iron Age people of Western Europe, from about 500 BCE to 500 CE(1). Druids were part of this pre-christian religious practice.
The Druids left no written record, at least not one that has not been destroyed or is still hidden. The earliest known reference to the druids dates to 200 BCE, although the oldest actual description comes from Julius Caesar, when he was still a field commander, in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (50s BCE). The Druids were suppressed in the 1st century CE by the Roman government under the emperors Tiberius and Claudius after the Roman invasion of Gaul, and they disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century.
Unfortunately most of what we know about Celtic paganism and the Druids comes from two potentially unreliable and biased sources. First, we have the descriptions of the Celts and Druids as written by their conquering enemies, the Romans. Second, we have Celtic beliefs and practices that found their way into the local Catholic church. This happened, in part, through the conscious decisions of Catholic priests to make their religion more attractive to the local populace by incorporation local beliefs and practices into the new faith. It also occurred when Celts followed the outward practices of the new, imposed religion, while secretly retaining their own beliefs. Both of these effects can be seen in the incorporation of Brigid into the new religion.
Brigid, the "exalted one", was a goddess of pre-christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann (2). Some argue that that Brigid is a continuation of the Indo-European dawn goddess. She is associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. The christian Saint Brigid shares many of the goddess's attributes and her feast day was originally the pagan festival Imbolc, which I still celebrate and which marks the beginning of spring. Thus a pagan goddess became a christian saint. Unfortunately the power, majesty, and significance of the divine feminine were lost when the Goddess Brigid was demoted to the Saint Brigid.
With faith in the Old Ways,
(1) I use BCE to mean "Before the Common Era" and "CE" to refer to the "Common Era". Unfortunately this designation still relies on the zero year which divides BCE from CE. To me the zero year is simply a division where nothing particular important happened.
(2) This is probably where we will begin with the next blog post as we start to explore the Goddess and Gods of the Celts.
I'm Dr. Dave, a modern druid. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice Druidcraft, eclectic shamanism and Ayurveda.