Did Christianity Destroy the Druids?

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.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druidism

http://druidnetwork.org/articles/philipshallcrass.html

http://www.britannia.com/church/bond1.html

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5 Responses to “Did Christianity Destroy the Druids?”

  1. mochenddu said

    What druids? Other than a single mention in Tacitus’ Annals and a similarly brief reference in Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars there is no evidence for British Druids.

    Gaulish ones existed witout a doubt, but British? Can anyone here show me the evidence for them please?

    Craig .

  2. mochenddu said

    It is interesting that Mr.Michell doesn’t show the references he quotesin their full context. All but two of the classical references to druids refer directly to Gaul,not Britian.

    Caesar’s reference is that he ‘believed’ that druidry originated in Britain,was made in a section of the Commentaries on the Gallic Wars in which he is justifying his unsuccessful and costly invasion attempts. His actual description of Britian and the invasions themselves make no mention of this priestly caste whatsoever.

    Tacitus mentions the druids once when recounting the assault on Mona (Anglesey). He says there was a ‘band of druids’ hurling curses at the Roman auxiliary troops. He makes no further mention of them in his Annals. More significantly there is no mention of them in his biography of his father-in-law, Agricola, who served in Britain on the staff of the Military Governor duringthe period of the Boudiccan revolt and the invasion of Anglesey.

    And that is it folks…

    Mr.Michell’s piece says more about his level of scholarship, simply regurgitating out of date historical beliefs, than it does about the spirituality of Britian in the immediate pre-Roman period.

    I suggest that you read the classical authors yourself or Prof. Ronald Hutton’s book on the druids.

    Craig .

  3. Well I suppose the first thing I would say is that using Roman texts to prove or disprove any part of “British” history would be a bad place to start.

    The Romans were notorious for recording self-serving propaganda, not history.

    So, rather than dabble with Romano-centric British archaeology (we were all savages until the Romans came along and civilised us) to make a point, and since there is little in the way of recorded history about the Druids one has to read between the lines and look at things like customs that originated with the Druids and remain part of the culture of the UKs – particularly in Scotland and in the Celtic church itself.

    First, there’s the custom of driseal, the idea that everything of importance must be done in a clockwise manner. Weekly, during the celebration of the Celtic Sabbath doesn’t the woman of the house light candles at sundown on Friday to begin the Sabbath? And doesn’t she light those candles in a clockwise manner? This custom comes to us directly from the Druids, and has remained with us as part of the Celtic faith.

    Second, if one reads Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica they will find sians for the picking of different plants that are believed to have special powers. Before Scots started wearing the clan crests one sees in their caps today, they wore a sprig of the plants that I’m referring to. Nowadays we call them “Plant badges”, and they were our original form of heraldry. Now, who in Scots history ascribed power to various plants and trees? Wasn’t it the Druids?

    Third, didn’t Colmcille say “Christ is my Druid”?
    Fourth, the Celtic Cross predates Christianity, look online for an aerial view of the Calanais Stones.

    Now, the original question was: did Christianity destroy the Druids? Quite simply, the answer is no. The Druids were amongst the first converts to Christianity. Which makes a lot of sense when one thinks about it – the Druids, like Christians, believed in an afterlife.

    The Druids were absorbed into the Celtic faith and some of their practices remain with us to this day.

  4. In my own opinion, i think the modernization killed off many ledgends and lores, such a theroy isn’t found in books, but through the timeline of walking through life as a whole.

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