The Druids were a sacred order of priests who existed in Britain and Gaul, but whose mystical rites were practiced in most perfection in the former country, where the isle of Anglesea was considered as their principal seat. Godfrey Higgins thinks that they were also found in Germany, but against this opinion we have the positive statement of Caesar.
The meanings given to the word have been very numerous, and most of them wholly untenable. The Romans, seeing that they worshiped in groves of oak, because that tree was peculiarly sacred among them, derived their name from the Greek word, apes, drus thus absurdly seeking the etymology of a word of an older language in one comparatively modern. Their derivation would have been more reasonable had they known that in Sanskrit druma is an oak, from dru, meaning wood. It has also been traced to the Hebrew with equal incorrectness, for the Druids were not of the Semitic race. Its derivation is rather to be sought in the Celtic language. The Gaelic word Druiah signifies a holy or wise man; in a bad sense a magician; and this we may readily trace to the Aryan druh, applied to the spirit of night or darkness, whence we have the Zend dru, a magician. Druidism was a mystical profession, and in the olden time mystery and magic were always confounded. Charles Vallencey (Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicus, iii 503) says: "Walsh, Drud, a Druid, that is the absolver or remitter of sins; so the Irish Drui, a Druid, most certainly is from the Persic duru, meaning a good and holy man"; and Ousely (Collectanea Oriental iv, 302) adds to this the Arabic dari, which means a wise man. Bosworth (Anglo-Saxon Dictionary) gives dry, pronounced dru, as the Anglo-Saxon for a magician, sorcerer, druid. Probably with the old Celts the Druids occupied the same place as the Magi did with the old Persians. Druidism was divided into three orders or Degrees, which were, beginning with the lowest the Bards, the Prophets, and the Druids. Godfrey Higgins thinks that the prophets were the lowest order, but he admits that it is not generally allowed. The constitution of the Order was in many respects like that of the Freemasons. In every country there was an Arch-Druid in whom all authority was placed. In Britain it is said that there were under him three arch-flamens or priests, and twenty-five flamens. There was an annual assembly for the administration of justice and the making of laws, and, besides, four quarterly meetings, which took place on the days when the sun reached his equinoctial and solstitial points. The latter two would very nearly correspond at this time with the festivals of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. It was not lawful to commit their ceremonies or doctrines to writing, and Caesar says (Commentarii de bello Gallico vi, 14) that they used the Greek letters, which was, of course, as a cipher; but Godfrey Higgins (page 90) says that one of the Irish Ogum alphabets, which Toland calls secret writing, "was the original, sacred, and secret character of the Druids."
The places of worship, which were also places of initiation, were of various forms: circular, because a circle was an emblem of the universe; or oval, in allusion to the mundane egg, from which, according to the Egyptians, our first parents issued; or serpentine, because a serpent was a symbol of Hu, the druidical Noah; or winged, to represent the motion of the Divine Spirit; or cruciform, because a cross was the emblem of regeneration.
Their only covering was the clouded canopy, because they deemed it absurd to confine the Omnipotent beneath a roof; and they were constructed of embankments of earth, and of unhewn stones, unpolluted with a metal tool. Nor was anyone permitted to enter their sacred retreats, unless he bore a chain.
The ceremony of initiation into the Druidical Mysteries required much preliminary mental preparation and physical purification. The aspirant was clothed with the three sacred colors, white, blue, and green; white as the symbol of Light, blue of Truth, and green of Hope. When the rites of initiation were passed, the tri-colored robe was changed for one of green; in the Second Degree, the candidate was clothed in blue; and having surmounted all the dangers of the Third, and arrived at the summit of perfection, he received the red tiara and flowing mantle of purest white. The ceremonies were numerous, the physical proofs painful, and the mental trials appalling. They commenced in the First Degree, with placing the aspirant in the pastes, bed or coffin, where his symbolical death was represented, and they terminated in the Third, by his regeneration or restoration to life from the womb of the giantess Ceridwin, and the committal of the body of the newly born to the waves in a small boat, symbolical of the ark. The result was, generally, that he succeeded in reaching the safe landing-place, but if his arm was weak, or his heart failed, death was the almost inevitable consequence. If he refused the trial through timidity, he was contemptuously rejected, and declared forever ineligible to participate in the sacred rites. But if he undertook it and succeeded, he was joyously invested with all the privileges of Druidism. The doctrines of the Druids were the same as those entertained by Pythagoras. They taught the existence of one Supreme Being; a future state of rewards and punishment; the immortality of the soul, and a metempsychosis; and the object of their mystic rites was to communicate these doctrines in symbolic language, an object and a method common alike to Druidism, to the Ancient Mysteries and to Modern Freemasonry (see also Druidism, Dudley Wright, London, 1924, containing a bibliography of the subject).
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