The secret life of Druids

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The secret life of Druids

Miranda Aldhouse-Green

Quote:But Sedatus lived a double life. In the evening, he donned the mantle of a magician-priest and descended to his underground temple in the small cellar of his house. There he kept a group of four large incense-burners, placed symmetrically at the points of a square. He filled these vessels with aromatic, perhaps hallucinogenic herbs, and lit fires beneath them. When the drug-laden smoke was sufficiently dense for his needs, he and his followers began to summon the spirits by chanting their names and demanding that they provide him with guidance in the dark arts.
Who were these spirits, who had to be contacted so secretly in a small space, dimly lit with oil lamps and flickering candles? Fortunately, one of the incense-burners is complete enough to study closely. The vessel is inscribed, telling us who Sedatus was: a Roman citizen (because of his triple name) and the presiding ritualist who summoned the spirits. Beneath this statement is a long list of spirit names, almost all of which are unknown to archaeologists. But one stands out: ‘Dru’. If we are right in assuming this is an abbreviation of ‘Druid’ (and what else could it be?) then it is the only direct archaeological evidence for the existence of the Druids.

The Druids have long allured. A great many Greek and Roman writers mentioned them, with a mixture of awe, fear, disgust and respect. A thorn in the side of Rome because they exerted sufficient influence in ancient Britain and Gaul to threaten the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Druids were a shadowy class of priests, religious leaders, even freedom-fighters. They whipped up resistance and sedition that the Roman army found hard to fight. The Druids had no literate footprint of their own, and so their reputation continues to rely on Greek and Roman ‘spin’ that painted these elusive priests as bogeymen who bathed in the blood of human sacrificial victims, calling down terrifying spirits from the dark otherworld to shrivel their enemies. But who were they really? And how do we know?
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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