THE DRUIDS

Stuart Piggott, Penguin 1974 (Thames & Hudson, 1968)

The First Chapter, "The Problems and the Sources," states that there are two classes of problems, "Those concerned with what we may fairly call the factual basis of our knowledge of the Druids, and those involved with the unconscious or conscious creation of Druid idealizations or myths." (p. 3)

He raises the issue of the difficulty of interpreting archaeological evidence, quoting Margaret Smith, "'To expect an archaeologist to infer from a hut to chieftainship, or from the tub to Diogenes, is nothing less than a demand for logical alchemy...It has to be acknowledged that there is no logical relation between human activity in some of its aspects and the evidence left for the archaeologist.'" (p.7) He continues with the point, "As no pre-Christian inscription containing the word 'Druid' has so far been discovered, any connection between this body and an archaeological site can only be an unverifiable asumption in the present state of our knowledge." (p. 8)

He then examines iconographical evidence, mentioning that if a god is named in an inscription and has identifiable characteristics, such as horns, then one can attempt to identify similar uninscribed iconographical remains, though, "It would be rash to call all horned gods Cernunos, or even perhaps all stag-antlered ones." (p. 10) He adds that 305 of the 376 Celtic deities named in inscriptions have only a single inscription and that the name of a Roman god may correspond to more than one Celtic one, "An extreme example being the sixty-nine Celtic god-names joined with that of Mars." (p. 10)

Considering the written sources he underlines the difference between modern Western and Classical worldviews, pointing out that Celtic divination, ritual and portents would be quite comprehensible to Greeks and Romans, who also found correspondences in their own pantheons for Celtic deities. What was objectionable was human sacrifice. Also, a priestly caste was a foreign concept. (p. 16)

He proceeds to the Classical, "Unacknowledged use of secondary sources," (p. 17) and the thought that, "Four of the main writers referring to Celtic religion and the Druids appear to derive in great part from a single source." (p. 17)

He raises four points about the Irish sources: The original authors, pre-Christian and non-Classical, lacked, "Any of the self-conscious and analytical element which in the classical civilized tradition helps us to an understanding of it," (p. 18) they are old fragments of oral material, this material has passed through the hands of monks and it is exlusively related to Ireland, a distinct tradition.

Chapter Two, "The Celtic World of the Druids," begins with further reference to sources, adding of the later date of the Irish sources, "In the archaic world of traditional, conserving socities, the discrepency of date is of no great moment, as the close correspondence so often apparent between the classical and vernacular literary evidence demonstrates." (p. 21)

He adds that archaeology confirms a common culture over much of Europe. "Striking uniformity in many features -- weapon and tool types, fortification techniques, styles of decoration and of ornaments, burial modes." (p. 22)

He considers the use of natural resources: iron, tin and copper for bronze (p. 24), gold, silver (p. 25), "Salt, salted and cured meat (especially bacon, for which Gaul was renowned in Roman times), and salt fish" (p. 26), "Wheat," "Barley," "Oats," "Rye," "Timber," "Flax," "Beer," "Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs," "Horse (a pony rather, not more than 10-11 hands high)" (p. 27), "Honey, for sweetening and for mead, as well as wax." (p. 28)

He mentions the pastoralism of the British Isles and the prominence of hill forts and chariots throughout the Celtic world. He goes on to refer to, "The practise of individual combat, ritual nakedness in battle, head-hunting, battle-cries and chants." (p. 30)

The stratified social structure which we find documented by the classical and vernacular texts is reflected archaeologically in the presence not only of princely burials with rich offerings accompanying the dead, but by an aristocratic art of the adornment of the warriors, their women, their horses and chariots, decorated in an interlocking and developing series of traditions all united within what has rightly been called one of the great unclassical arts of Europe. (p. 30)
He moves on to look at the society divided into clans and tribes, headed by chiefs or kings and sometimes queens, though in Gaul and Britain with the growing influence of a Council of Elders, with knights, priests and people and, "Some social mobility." (p. 33) He also refers to the Irish aes da/na, "Expert craftsmen in things, word and thought, blacksmiths, and bronze-workers, lawyers and genealogists, poets and musicians." (p. 33) It is these, "Men of art" (p. 34), travelling between the tribes who played so vital a role in fostering national culture. (p. 34)

He next considers Celtic languages (divided into P and Q) and literacy in pre-Roman times, which may not have been so non-existent as some think, for besides such things as a name in Greek letters on a sword (p. 36), "There is presumptive evidence for the importation of papyrus as a writing material into Britain between the invasions of Caesar and of Claudius. This clearly would imply conditional literacy among a learned or merchant class, as do the coin inscriptions themselves, and the pre-Conquest graffiti in Roman letters on pottery at Camuledunum (Colchester). (p. 38)

Sanctuaries were largely in forests, and a number of classical references and archaeological finds indicating actual structures are mentioned (p. 40ff) with the cautions that often the Classical words need not necessarily refer to buildings and archaeological determinations of function, "Can at times be somewhat insecurely based." (PP 49-50) He does stress the point, "There is no evidence for Celtic religious observances having been associated with Stonehenge, nor with any similar monument of the earlier second millennium B.C. " (p. 55)

He refers to reitual deposits in ritual shafts, wells, pools, springs, lakes and the importance of cauldrons, sculptured humans or heads and heroic type grave goods. (pp. 67-73)

The Third Chapter begins by considering Classical concepts of hard and soft, realistic and idealized, primitivism and the possible confusion of reports on Chinese civilization (vegetarian, unwarlike, etc.) with the Celts. He mentions that the term "Most just," or "Most righteous," was commonly ascribed to all noble savages, not just Druids. (pp. 79-82) The chapter continues by mentioning the great scholar Posidonius, whose largely lost work was a major source for Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, Athenaeus and Julius Caesar. (pp. 83-84) Posidonius had been in Gaul (p. 83) and provides realistic information on such hard practices as head hunting. (p. 85) In contrast, the Alexandrians offer soft, "respectful," information derived from libraries emphasizing, "The alleged connections with the doctrine of Pythagoras, while equations are made between Druids, Egyptian priests, Persian magi and Indian brahmins." (p. 86)

Piggott mentions the probable connection of the word druid to the words "oak" and "to know." (p. 89) He mentions the presence of druids in the British Isles and Gaul and states that references to Galatia are ambiguous as they may refer to Gaul. (pp. 89-90) He refers to druids being perceived not only as priests, but the higher ranks of priests (pp. 91-92) holding lofty views. (p. 92)

He questions Caesar's assertions of the extent of druidic organization in Gaul (p. 94) and mentions corraborative evidence for oral tuition. "Such schools continued in Ireland to the seventeenth and in Gaelic Scotland to the beginning of the eighteenth century." (p. 96) He then mentions the functions of druids as fortune-tellers, teachers, judges (pp. 97-98) and such activities as ritually gathering mistletoe (pp. 98-99) and conducting sacrifices. (pp. 99-100)

He refers to Classical writings concerning Celtic belief in re-incarnation and/or eternal life in the Otherworld (p. 102) and to practical expertise in astronomy and calendars. (p. 104ff) He cites some triadic statements, as well as the correspondence of one of the earliest Turkic inscriptions (8th Century C.E.) to Celtic references to the heavens falling and eathquakes being all that was feared (p. 108), and he discusses the Roman opposition to the druids, more likely, it seems, as a suppression of human sacrifice than of a probably anachronistic national resistence movement. (p. 108ff)

The Fourth Chapter in some 47 pages considers the Renaissance rediscovery of the druids, influenced both by the Classical sources and primitivist concepts, hard and soft, connected with American Indians and other natives encountered by expanding Western Civilization.

The outline of personalities and concepts presented includes: John Aubrey (p. 118), William Stukely (pp. 124-125), druidic associations with Stonehenge and other stone circles (p. 118ff), natural sanctuaries in groves (p. 122), Indigo Jones (pp. 125-126), Henry Rowlands (p. 127), John Wood (p. 128), Natural Religion (p. 133), the druids coming to Britain with the Phoenicians (p. 135), and being, "Of the patriarchal religion of Abraham" (p. 135), Edward Williams, aka Iola Morganwyg (p. 143) and the Welsh Eisteddfod (p. 147), Druidic Cabala (p. 148), Henry Hurle and the Ancient Order of Druids and its splinters. (p. 155)

He concludes with a ten page epilogue, glancing over European pre-history, mentioning shamanism (p. 160), Neolithic villages (p. 161), and later, "Buildings appropriate to the nuclear family of the early Celtic world." (p. 161) And making clear the hypothetical nature of the statement he says: "So far as the area later to become Celtic Europe is concerned, we can do no more than suggest that by the opening of the second millennium B.C. there could have been speakers of Indo-European languages already establishing themselves, and that Celtic in some form could have been one of these. If we make another assumption, we can go on to add Indo-European social, institutional and religious patterns, if such can indeed be thought to have existed as a distinctively common factor before the diaspora." (p. 162)

This is a very useful book well worth the read.

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