September 30, 2008
There’s a belief among some neo-pagans that Christianity in the British Isles destroyed the Druid religion of the Celts. I even recall reading a non-fiction book once where the author stated that early Christian saints personally burned written records of the ancient Druid religion. Sadly, a lot of people drawn to the “ancient ways” believe such nonsense in spite of contradictory historical facts. What actually destroyed the Druid stronghold, the influence of Christianity, the pre-Christian Roman Empire, or a mixture of various events?
One of the first things that must be kept in mind is that the Druid tradition was passed down orally. there was no established canon of Scripture as is found in major world religions. Much of what we now know about the Druids and ancient Celts comes from Roman writers, as well as modern archeological finds. Christian monks also preserved some information on Druidism.
A revolt against occupying Romans in Britain in 60 CE lead to a diminishing of Druidic influence. During this period of time, worship of Roman gods was introduced into the religious practices of Britain, with temples to Roman deities replacing the Druid worship sites. The Druids, however, were not willing to adopt the Roman religion, and the existence of their religion posed a threat to the Romans. It seems that the Roman Empire undermined the influence of the Druids in society, paving the way for eventual acceptance of a new religion.
It’s not reasonable to assume that a monolithic movement of Christians was responsible for the downfall of Druidism. After all, at the time Christianity arrived in Britain, the Roman Empire was still pagan and Christians were persecuted. A persecuted, “undercover” people could not have exerted that level of influence at the time. In short, Druidism in Britain seemed to fade due to major upheavals in society.