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ROMAN CONTEMPLATIONS (5 of 12)

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Beliefs of the Druids

Some Romans accepted accept the Druidism of Rome's traditional enemy, the Gauls. Augustus Caesar found it necessary to forbid Druid practices among Roman citizens in Gaul. His successor, Tiberius, had the Senate decree a ban on Druid practices altogether. Druidism was seen as an enemy religion and subversive.

The Druids were Celts, whom the Romans called Gauls. They lived in the southern half of Germany, the Netherlands, parts of Poland, Russia, a part of Spain and in Britannia (Britain) and Ireland. They were an Indo-European people, at least in language. They were craftsmen and traders with coinage. Theirs was an iron civilization. They put decoration on their swords, helmets and brooches and participated in lavish burials for their dead. They have been described as a confident people, with some among them possessing swagger and some possessing elegance.

The Celts were polytheistic and animist. They participated in animal and human sacrifices. They believed that spirits permeated all aspects of what people today call nature. The Celts viewed hill tops, streams and lakes as sacred. They saw fire as a cleansing spirit, and like just about everybody else they are believed to have had purification rituals. Wikipedia describes two bonfires side by side with people walking between the fires as a ritual of purification. "Sometimes," adds the author of this article, "cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well."

The Druids among the Celts have been described as priests with some authority alongside kings. The Druids have also been described as healers. They have been described as ambassadors in time of war, and the website "British Express" describes the Druids as holding together Celtic culture, but not as a hereditary caste. Wikipedia describes the Druids as having "enjoyed exemption from military service as well as from payment of taxes."

In his book, A Brief History of the Druids, Peter Berresford Ellis writes that, "There is no support at all for Caesar's contention that in Celtic society 'the (ordinary) people are treated almost like slaves' and that only the Druids and the warrior class had any rights at all." Celtic societies were more communal than Roman society. Celts did not rule each other with the authoritarianism that existed in societies divided between wealthy aristocracies and poor common people. Women were treated more as equals, and Druids were both male and female.

As guardians of religion, the Druids were in charge of religious schools, where study involved memorizing. There was no writing. They were still in the oral tradition. It is written that it could take up to twenty years of learning to become a Druid. Peter Berresford Ellis quotes Caesar:

With regard to their actual course of studies, the main object of all education is, in their opinion, to imbue their scholars with a firm belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another; for by such doctrine alone, they say, which robs death of all its terrors, can the highest form of human courage be developed. Subsidiary to the teachings of this main principle, they hold various lectures and discussions on astronomy, on the extent and geographical distribution of the globe, on the different branches of natural philosophy, and on many problems connected with religion. note31

When the Romans fought to conquer the British Isles – which they never did completely – they extended their hostility toward the Druids there. In year 60 CE, Rome's governor in England, Suetonius, attacked the known heartland of the Druids, the island of Anglesey. But the Druids survived. The question of exterminating Druids continued with Roman expansion in years that followed.

When the Romans fought to conquer the British Isles – which they never did completely – they extended their hostility toward the Druids there. In year 60 CE, Rome's governor in England, Suetonius, attacked the known heartland of the Druids, the island of Anglesey. But the Druids survived. The question of exterminating Druids continued with Roman expansion in years that followed.

According to Peter Berresford Ellis, when Christianity first arrived in England the Druids merged with the new Christianized culture, "some even becoming priests of the new religion and continuing as an intellectual class." Ellis writes that law codified in 438 in Christianized Ireland gave recognition to Druids, which "gives authority to the idea that they were not suppressed nor did they disappear with the onset of Christianity."

Sources

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