"The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour. Besides this, they have many discussions as touching the stars and their movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of the immortal gods."
Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallica
Caesar was writing of the beliefs of Druids in his time. Elsewhere it is said that our ancestors belief in the afterlife was so strong that they would often agree to repay debts in the Otherworld. The afterlife was considered so blissful that death was a cause for celebration. The surviving echo of this belief may be seen in the Irish tradition of the wake.
Druidry is not a religion of the book. It draws instead on dreams, visions and encounters with the spirits of our gods, ancestors and the living world around us. Such spirits are our teachers and guides and a large part of the ovate study is to learn to listen to them and heed their words.
The Native American leader, Chief Seattle, is reported to have said:
" To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors -- the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems (chiefs), and is written in the hearts of our people.
"Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them."
Chief Seattle, 1786 - 1866.
These words could equally have been spoken by a Druid ovate. We too seek to commune with our ancestors. We speak of ancestors of blood, our direct genetic forebears, and ancestors of spirit, those who have walked a spiritual path similar to our own. Sometimes the two are the same.
As bards, we begin to open our ears to hear the messages brought to us on the wind from our ancestors, our gods and the spirits of the natural world. As ovates, we seek to open our eyes to visions of these beings. This enables us to penetrate deeper into the mysteries of time and space, of spirit and being. This is why Strabo refers to ovates as 'natural philosophers.'