“The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay war-taxes with the rest; they are excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities. Tempted by these great rewards, many young men assemble of their own motion to receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report says that in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years in training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their private and public accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons – that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory.”
Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallica, VI.13-14
Julius Caesar’s not the kind of man you’d trust. He was, after all, a politician and his own very effective spin doctor. However, when he says that Druid teachings were passed on orally, he’s supported by the fact that not a single word of classical Druid lore written by a Druid has come down to us. And when Caesar says that Druid learning lasted twenty years, this is supported by later Irish literature although, to be fair, the Irish writers may have got the idea from Caesar. It is likely, though unprovable, that the bardic colleges that survived in Wales, Scotland and Ireland as late as the 18th century were descended from former Druid colleges. The records of these colleges agree with Caesar’s account in having pupils learning by rote.
Taking the surviving threads of evidence together suggests that Druidic training was equivalent to about six modern degree courses, not surprising given that Druids are reputed to have been lawyers, judges, doctors, philosophers, counsellors, historians, prophets, musicians, storytellers and poets as well as teachers. Modern Druids still fulfil many of the same functions. Although modern Druid training takes full advantage of printing and the internet, there is still a lot to be said for teaching face to face. To this end, we aim to offer regular hands-on teaching sessions to supplement the BDO courses.