How Did Someone Become a Druid Priest?

The druids were the intellectual and priestly class of ancient Celtic society. Because they left no written records, modern scholars have to rely on secondhand information to learn anything about their practices, beliefs or history. Ancient authors who wrote about the druids came from outside Celtic society and often didn't understand or sympathize with the customs they described. In some cases, the information they preserved may be unreliable. Despite the limitations of the sources, it is clear that a druid had to be an expert in several different subjects.

  1. Who the Druids Were

    • The druids were the most important and powerful of the three intellectual classes of the ancient Celts, the other two being the bards or poets and the seers. Greek and Roman writers portrayed the druids in contradictory ways, sometimes stressing their deep knowledge of nature and philosophy, and sometimes stressing what they perceived as Celtic barbarism. For instance, the Roman writer Diodorus Siculus described the druids as philosophers, theologians and prophets responsible for everything from overseeing religious rituals to making peace between warring tribes. Diodorus also claimed that the druids committed human sacrifice and foretold the future from the behavior of the dying victim. If the druids were actually responsible for such a wide range of duties, the process of becoming a druid must have been long and arduous.

    A Druidic Education

    • The druids passed down all of their knowledge through oral tradition, according to Julius Caesar's "Gallic Wars." Caesar described the druids as being responsible for religion and law among the Celts, and said that many young people were sent to the druids for their education. Because the druids had a strict taboo against writing down any of their secret lore, students were expected to memorize all of it verbatim. Druidic knowledge was passed down in the form of poetry, and Caesar claimed that it could take as long as 20 years to memorize it all.

    What the Druids Knew

    • If the classical authors can be relied upon, the course of study in the druidic schools must have been extensive. The druids gave instruction in astronomy, science and religion according to Caesar. Novice druids would have studied the teachings of the ancient Celtic religion and how to correctly perform its rituals. They would have also studied the Celtic legal system. They studied nature and moral philosophy according to Strabo, and gave advice to kings according to Dio Chrysostom.

    Becoming a Druid

    • The druids enjoyed a number of privileges -- they were not required to go to war or to pay tribute to kings or chiefs according to Caesar. For this reason, the profession of druid was very attractive and some people would voluntarily join the druidic order while others were sent to join the druids whether they wanted to or not, presumably in childhood. There is no way to know whether people from all social classes could join the druids or only people from certain families, but the profession must have been at least partly hereditary, as the fourth-century writer Decimus Magnus Ausonius mentioned a man who was descended from a druid family.

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