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The ‘Shamanic’ Druid

"among the Welsh there are certain individuals called awenyddion who behave as if they are possessed... When you consult them about some problem, they immediately go into a trance and lose control of their senses... They do not answer the question put to them in a logical way. Words stream from their mouths, incoherently and apparently meaningless and lacking any sense at all, but all the same well expressed: and if you listen carefully to what they say you will receive the solution to your problem."

Giraldus Cambrensis, from his Description of Wales (trans. Lewis Thorpe, Penguin Books, 1978, p.246ff)

This account of a type of inspired diviner existing in Wales in the late 12th century bears a striking resemblance to descriptions of shamanic trances entered into in other cultures for similar reasons. Other references in the literature and folklore of Wales, Ireland and Scotland speak of Druids shape-shifting, prophesying, controlling the weather, healing, conversing with spirits and wearing feathered cloaks in order to facilitate flight, all activities associated with shamanic figures in other cultures. Antlered figures representing a Lord of Animals, like the one on the 1st century BCE Gundestrup Cauldron (left), suggest a shamanic belief in the spiritual power of animals. Taken together, these fragments of information give us an image of early Druids that is clearly shaman-like.

In the British Druid Order, we look to the Story of Taliesin, in which the inspired bard gains three gifts from the cauldron brewed by the goddess Ceridwen: poetry (bard), prophecy (ovate) and the shamanic power of shape-shifting (Druid). It is our belief that classical Druids, 2,000 years ago and more, were the shamans of Europe, and that, as modern Druids, we may still fulfil that same role for the benefit of our communities and our world.