Who were the druids?

The druids were the priests, bards, prophets and wise men among the ‘ ancient Celts in Gaul, Britain and Ireland. Owing to their practice of teaching orally and forbidding any written records very little is known about them. All their ritual and teachings were committed to memory. Besides expounding religion the druids were magicians and astrologers and were versed in the alleged mysterious powers of plants and animals. The oak tree was especially sacred to them and their ceremonies were often performed in the midst of an oak grove. Some authorities suppose that druid is derived from ah ancient Celtic word meaning omen. “Among the Celts and Gaul,” wrote Sir James G. Frazer in The Golden Bough, “the druids esteemed nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the oak on which it grew; they chose groves of oaks for the scene of their solemn service, and they performed none of their rites without oak leaves.” Others derive druid from ancient Celtic druid signifying man of learning and still surviving in the sense of a magician, wizard or diviner. These theories are not inconsistent, for the oak men may have been associated with magicians at an early date. Legend has it that the Celts and their priesthood were the posterity of Japheth, one of the sons of Noah, and that they migrated from Asia to Europe as early as 2000 B.C., first settling in Ireland, whence they spread to Britain and France. When the Romans invaded Britain the druids still existed in Wales and parts of France and seem to have been divided into different orders with distinct functions. One of the best accounts of them is that given by Julius Caesar in his Commentaries. The druids opposed the Romans and incited the people to rebel against the invaders. They were finally driven from the country, taking refuge and making their last stand on the island of Anglesey in the Irish Sea off the coast of North Wales, where most of them were exterminated by a Roman army under Agricola. Many stone structures in Britain, such as Stonehenge, were long thought to have been built by the druids, but these are now known to have been constructed in prehistoric times, although the druids may have used them to impress the populace with their mystic rites.