Reply To: Who’s afraid of the big bad witch?

The British Druid Order Forums BDO Public Forum Who’s afraid of the big bad witch? Reply To: Who’s afraid of the big bad witch?


    Taliesin was a bard, and it did not take him 20 years to become one.

    I’m not sure; according to myth, he was already a young boy as Gwion Bach ap Gwreang when he was serving Ceridwen, then the fateful day occurred and he went through a series of transformations with the enraged Ceridwen in pursuit until he washes up on the shore and is found by Elffin ap Gwyddno as a newborn baby (again). At the age of 13, he is taken to the court of Maelgwn ap Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd where he prophesies the downfall of the king. So that would, albeit mythologically speaking, give us somewhere of around twenty or more years and a couple of reincarnations/transformations. I think that in Gaelic tradition we find that the progression from a bronze-branch bard, or Ollair, to an Ollamh was about ten years, and a golden-branch bard probably about 12 years – let’s not forget that the bardic tradition remained alive in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland as well as in Wales into relatively recent historical times.

    I believe that the whole idea of a twenty-year druid school is a hoax

    Again, I wouldn’t be so sure. There would be no reason for Caesar to have made this up, and the Romans had had dealings with the Celts/Gauls for hundreds or years, most of northern Italy was Gaulish/Celtic at one stage and the great Roman writer Cicero, Caesar’s friend, also claims to have known a druid by the name of Diviciacus/Divitiacus and of whom he writes in friendly terms; Diviciacus was actually allied with the Romans against his own brother. Reading through what the Greek and Roman authors wrote about the druids, within the greater context of their views on non-Greeks and non-Romans, you’ll find some writers more sympathetic than others – it’s a mixed bag.

    The fact that druidic training may have taken so long, given their reluctance to commit anything to writing, doesn’t really surprise me. It’s interesting to note that an oak tree takes up to twenty years to grow from an acorn until reaching maturity and a lunar metatonic cycle is 19 years. Perhaps there is/was a connection? In many traditions around the world, training and initiation require long periods of devotion and study and I believe that in dharmic paths in India, the sadhus train for many, many years too. In Christian tradition, Christ started his ministry when he was in his thirties. So, given the traditions around the world and the writings we have from the ancient world, I see no reason for this claim to be a hoax. What would it have served Caesar to make something like this up? Furthermore, the Romans he was writing for were well acquainted with the Gauls, and it would not have been in Caesar’s interests to be too blasé with the facts otherwise he would have lost credibility. The great Roman writer Virgil was himself from Cisalpine Gaul, near modern day Mantua, which had only been a fully-fledged Roman province fewer than ten years before his birth in 70 BCE.

    The period of transition to Christianity in the Celtic countries seems to be marked more by transition and syncretism than by bloody conquest or conversion, at least for the most part, and as was mentioned elsewhere, some of the so-called Celtic saints have something very druidic about them. Saint Columba himself is said to have maintained the bardic traditions in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland and the bards or filí were the keepers of much druidic lore. Saint Brigid’s mother was supposedly a Pictish slave who had been sold by her father Dubthach to a druid. The later traditions surrounding Saint Brigid, with maidens tending an eternal flame under a sacred oak at a place that had been dedicated to the Irish goddess … Brigid, all tantalisingly point to some syncretism and continuation going on here. Although the later hagiographers no doubt edited and exaggerated and added more vitriol, a lot of the earlier material and the survivals point to a lot of transition too, so I wouldn’t write everything off either, especially not from people who were dealing with druids in their own historical lifetimes. Was it for nothing that Saint Columba is said to have written: “Christ is my druid?”.

    Another important thing that I believe we should bear in mind is that the societies we are talking about were not homogeneous and static, comparing a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age druid to an early medieval Irish or Welsh “druid” or bard would be like comparing a medieval priest to a modern-day pastor, it’s anachronistic at best.