was John Aubrey, writing in the 17th century, who first thought
it a "probability" that stone circles, such as Stonehenge, "were
Temples of the Druids" and called his text on stone circles the
Templa Druidum. This idea was picked up by William Stukeley, in
the early 18th century, who subtitled his first book, Stonehenge,
published in 1740, "a Temple Restored to the British Druids, and
his second, on Avebury, published in 1743, "a Temple of the British
Druids." Although later, in the 19th century, Sir John Lubbock
(1834-1913) dated Stonehenge to a period much earlier than the
time of the Druids (that is, to about 2000 B.C.E., whereas the
Druids don't appear in the historical record until 1800 years
later), nonetheless the view was maintained by a minority that
Druids were pre-Celtic inhabitants of Britain and that the religious
beliefs and practices for which Stonehenge was first built are
ancestral to those of the later Celtic Druids. Although since
Christian times Druids have been identified as wizards and soothsayers,
in pre-Christian Celtic society they formed an intellectual class
comprising philosophers, judges, educators, historians, doctors,
seers, astronomers, and astrologers.
earliest surviving Classical references to Druids date to the
2nd century B.C.E. The word Druidae is of Celtic origin. The Roman
writer Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23/24-79 C.E.)
believed it to be a cognate with the Greek word drus, meaning
"an oak." Dru-wid combines the word roots "oak" and "knowledge"
(wid means "to know" or "to see" - as in the Sanskrit vid). The
oak (together with the rowan and hazel) was an important sacred
tree to the Druids. In the Celtic social system, Druid was a title
given to learned men and women possessing "oak knowledge" (or
"oak wisdom"). Some scholars have argued that Druids originally
belonged to a pre-Celtic 'non-Aryan') population in Britain and
Ireland (from where they spread to Gaul), noting that there is
no trace of Druidism among Celts elsewhere - in Cisalpine Italy,
Spain, or Galatia (modern Turkey). Others, however, believe that
Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia to be found among
all Celtic peoples, but were known by other names.
the revival of interest in the Druids in later times, the question
of what they looked like has been largely a matter of imagination.
Early representations tended to show them dressed in vaguely classical
garb. Aylett Sammes, in his Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676),
shows a Druid barefoot dressed in a knee-length tunic and a hooded
cloak. He holds a staff in one hand and in the other a book and
a sprig of mistletoe. A bag or scrip hangs from his belt.
observing that the name 'Druid' is derived from "oak", it was
Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia (XVI, 95), who associates
the Druids with mistletoe and oak groves: "The Druids...hold nothing
more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows
provided it is an oak. They choose the oak to form groves, and
they do not perform any religious rites without its foliage..."
Pliny also describes how the Druids used a "gold pruning hook"
or "sickle" to gather the mistletoe.
growing on those trees [oaks] they regard as sent from
heaven and a sign that this tree has been chosen by the gods themselves.
Mistletoe is, however, very rarely found, and when found, it is
gathered with great ceremony and especially on the sixth day of
the moon... They prepare a ritual sacrifice and feast under the
tree, and lead up two white bulls whose horns are bound for the
first time on this occasion. A priest attired in a white vestment
ascends the tree and with a golden pruning hook cuts the mistletoe
which is caught in a white cloth. Then next they sacrifice the
victims praying that the gods will make their gifts propitious
to those to whom they have given it. They believe that if given
in drink the mistletoe will give fecundity to any barren animal,
and that it is predominant against all poisons."
text is taken from the excellent guide book Stonehenge and Avebury
published by Pitkin Unichrome, available to purchase @ www.britguides.com
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