"The Druids ... held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, always supposing that tree to be the oak. But they choose groves formed of oaks for the sake of the tree alone, and they never perform any of their rites except in the presence of a branch of it ... In fact, they think that everything that grows on it has been sent from heaven and is proof that the tree was chosen by the god himself. The mistletoe is found but rarely upon the oak; and when found, is gathered with due religious ceremony, if possible on the sixth day of the moon ... They choose this day because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable influence. They call the mistletoe by a name meaning, in their language, the all-healing.
"Having made preparation for sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, whose horns are bound then for the first time. Clad in a white robe, the priest ascends the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is received by others in a white cloak. Then they kill the victims, praying that god will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has granted it."
Pliny, Natural History, xvi, 249
This quote from Pliny is the most famous description of a Druid rite and elements of it have sunk deep into Druid lore, in particular; reverence for the mistletoe; white robes; and the golden sickle. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Pliny himself witnessed such a ceremony and it is quite possible that the anonymous informant who told him about it may have been passing on some half-remembered tale or simply inventing the whole thing. Even if such a rite did happen, it is likely to have been localised to a single tribal area rather than generally practiced among all Druids.
Having said that, there is nothing inherently unlikely about it. White is a symbol of purity in many cultures and therefore appropriate to a sacrifice to the gods. Fixing ceremonial dates by phases of the moon is also common to many ancient cultures. The date of Easter is still fixed by reference to the first full moon after the Spring equinox, a method derived from pagan Babylon. Feasting on sacrificial animals is common in antiquity and in modern tribal cultures. The visibility of mistletoe in Winter, its white fruits, its parasitic growth, its toxicity and its medicinal potential may well have combined to make it specially prized by Druids.
Druid ritual today takes many forms, though animal sacrifice is not one of them. We celebrate the passing of the seasons, the phases of human life or the attainment of life's goals. We make rituals for healing, divination and prayer, or to commune with our gods and ancestors. Our rites may be public, like the open gorseddau (bardic gatherings) that were pioneered by the BDO in the early 1990s, or private and personal. Most rituals begin with casting a circle and calling to the elemental powers of the directions. Such a circle may be blessed and consecrated with herbs, incense, water, light or fire. We will usually ask the blessings of the spirits of the place where we are. Often we invite the participation of our ancestors, gods and other guiding spirits. When a circle has been cast, it will normally be unwoven at the end of the rite.
There are common elements that recur frequently in Druid ritual. One is the call for peace often made at the four quarters at the beginning of a rite. Another is the Oath of Peace:
"We swear by peace and love to stand heart to heart and hand in hand. Mark, O Spirits, and hear us now, confirming this, our sacred vow."
We regard the sacred space in which ritual is made as existing beyond the normal confines of linear time and space yet intimately connected with all existence by the threads of the web of being within which both ritual and life itself are woven