The Truth About Books About Druids

Who were the druids, and how do you learn about them?

51yFHHmUexL._SY300_Depends on what you want to know.  But mostly from books.

I wanted to learn everything I could about the druids of the Iron Age that was backed up by some kind of evidence–either archaeological finds or first-hand reports.  That’s because I was writing a book and wanted it to be as accurate as possible, even though it is fiction.

Someone else who’s just reading for fun might want less fact, more speculation–even flat-out fantasy. But whatever you want, you’ll probably look up books with Druid in the title.

88009

There are several books with the title “Druids,” including a novel by Morgan Llywelyn which I thought was tons o’ fun. Basically, since I wrote about the same time period, I liked comparing my ideas with hers. Presumably we used the same research (more or less–there’s just not a whole lot available) and let our individual imaginations fill in the rest.

But to clarify, it’s time for a digression!

Fiction vs Nonfiction:

You know that when you read a novel, the author is allowed to Make Things Up, right? This picture just above, for instance, represents a fictional scene. Not Real.

With nonfiction books, the author is not supposed to Make Things Up. Some of them do, though. How can the reader beware of this practice?

Piggott

Your best bet is to look at the credentials of the author. If s/he is a university professor, chances are the information in the book is carefully researched. The book to the right, for example, is by Stuart Piggott, a noted and respected archaeologist. (It is quite dated, though, and that cover is a bit much.)

As a professional, the author has an academic reputation to uphold, and that probably is more valuable to him or her than the success of the book.

If the author has no real credentials, and especially if the book is self-published or from a publisher you never heard of, be careful of taking the words to heart.

(And yes, my book is self-published–but it’s fiction and that makes it all OK.)

51ue4hfq99L._SY300_Digression over.

The nonfiction books with “Druid” in the title fall into two categories: those dealing with the historical, Celtic Druids, and those devoted to neo-druidism.

At right, another example of a book by a noted archaeologist–though again, a bit dated and (imho) she puts way too much confidence in the writings of Julius Caesar, who–no getting away from it–had an Agenda when he wrote about conquering Gaul.  But I risk digressing again.

Neo-druidic books that promise to teach druidism are promoting a philosophy, religion, and lifestyle that was invented in modern times, and uses impressions of ancient druids as its inspiration.  Which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for and you have no romantic illusions that you’re following an ancient path to knowledge.

741912 (1)Look, no one knows what druids or their followers believed two thousand years ago. They left NO written record, and the writings about them are filtered through Romans and Greeks. Those authors may have been lying, or misinformed, or faithful reporters . . . we just don’t know. There  are a couple handfuls of books by scholars and historians about druids. Of these, I recommend Peter Berresford Ellis’ book, The Druids. Even though it features Stonehenge on the cover (a construction that preceeds Druids and Celts by millennia), it’s a recent book that gathers together all that we can know about Druids–from archaeology (including Lindow Man), ancient writing, and Irish and Welsh traditions. Ellis takes the position that Druids were the educated segment of society–the doctors, lawyers, judges, scientists, and yes, priests. He compares them to the Brahmins of India. He makes conjectures, sifts through the evidence.

51MYqgmdAhL._SY300_If you read a book by a different expert, s/he might have different opinions.

I haven’t read the book to the right, by Miranda Aldhouse-Green, though I have other books she’s written. This one just came out; I’m requesting it through my library (it’s $60!)

Druids are mysterious. They were the elite and they guarded secret information. That information died with them, though. I’m reminded of a line from the book Indeh by Eve Ball–a book about the Apache . . . a line I can’t find right now! Dang. I hope I don’t butcher the quote, but one of the Apaches who was telling his history turned to Ms. Ball and said, “You white people, you keep everything up here in your head, and nothing in your heart.”

Why didn’t the Gauls write anything down? The wanted it all in their head. (They believed the soul, the mind, and the emotions rested in the head, not the heart.)

The idea of keeping secrets safe and not leaving them around, written on paper or carved on stone to be discovered by strangers, is understandable. I imagine that druids didn’t want their most sacred, esoteric information and rituals–all of which they felt had great power–being used or misused  by whatever enemy got their hands on a scroll.

Kinda like putting up secrets on Wikileaks today.

If you had worked years to acquire arcane information, would you give it away?

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