"To the peoples of antiquity, the isle of Britain was the very home and environment of mystery> a sacred territory. To enter was to encroach upon the region of enchantment, the dwelling of the gods." —Lewis Spence, The .Mysteries of Britain
fully appreciate the Wiccan religion, one must ^^^^ understand its history. Wicca, as we know it today, evolved from the pre-Christian, Shamanic religious traditions of Europe, which were heavily influenced by the practices of Celtic Druids.
The Celts were a branch of the Indo-European people who migrated around 3000 B.C. from their homeland, west of the Black Sea, into Old Europe, a small region east of the Black Sea. They were a loosely knit group of tribes with a common culture and language. By about 400 B.C., they were recognizable as a distinct culture. The Celts were cattle herders, horse breeders, and head hunters (they took heads as war trophies). Short swords, lances, and chariots were some of their sophisticated war-making implements. Among their sports were fishing, hunting, and, of course, fighting—which they loved above all. They were not a docile, peaceful race, but rather aggressive, barbaric, and war-loving.
In general, the Celts were exceptionally tall and robust compared to the shorter and slighter Greeks and Romans, whose territory they invaded. Because of their size, tattoos, and blonde hair, the Celts must have seemed like strange giants to the civilized Romans. Even their clothing appeared odd, as both sexes generally dressed alike in breeches, knee-length tunics, and brightly colored cloaks. They adorned themselves with rings, bracelets, armlets, ornate buckles, and intricate gold and silver brooches that secured their cloaks.
The Celts were known for the fairness of their laws, which, among other things, guaranteed rights for women. In Celtic society, a woman could own property, choose a husband, and get a divorce. Women fought in battle alongside their husbands. If a woman's husband died, she took over his role as chief in their family line.
Within the Celtic tribe, or clan, there were three levels of recognition. First was the king, a descendent of a hero or warrior leader who was recognized for his prowess in battle. Next were the warriors, chosen for their ability to protect and defend the clan during times of attack. Last came the common people, who were the herders, farmers, and producers of the products needed for sustaining daily life.
Separate from the clan and yet a part of it were the Druid priests, the Celtic clergy. This special priesthood, like the tribe, was divided into three classes, each with its own functions and responsibilities. First in order was the Druid/ Derwydd, who was adviser to the chief or king and acted as judge and lawyer to the people. He also held authority in worship and ritual. Next were the Ovates/Ovydd, who were the priests and priestesses in charge of prophecy and divination. In the last grade were the Bards/Bardd, who were poets, musicians, and keepers of tradition. They were trained in music, history, and song-spell. An Arch-Druid ruled all three groups. The senior brethren (those considered the most learned) elected the Arch-Druid by lot.
The Celtic cosmology and Druid spiritual system were based on the fundamental belief in the Law of Three (or the Logical Order of the Triad), which was the association of humans with nature combined with divinity. This produced a religious system that was monotheistic in its underlying creed (Druids believed in one creator), but polytheistic in its ritualistic practices (they worshipped many gods and goddesses). Prior to Christianity, this dualistic approach toward religion was common, especially in agricultural and livestock-breeding cultures. Because of their association with the land and animals, these people were more aware of the subtle energies and power potential of natural phenomena.
The Druids unfortunately did not keep written records of their spiritual practices. Most of what we know about them comes from the records of their conquerors and the myths and legends of the bards.
Basic Beliefs and Practices of Celtic Druids
Three Aspects in One
The Druidic faith of the Celts centered on one supreme creative force, which manifested itself through:
1. Divinity: The gods, goddesses, angels, and nature spirits.
2. Nature: Including the elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water), as well as places where energy was present, such as caves, rivers, wells, mountains, tree groves, and the ocean.
3. Animated Existence: Humanity, animals, birds, fish, and all living creatures great and small.
Spiral of Abred__
Druids believed in reincarnation, as expressed in the Spiral of Abred, the circle of creation. This was the great circle on which the cycle of life moved like a wheel from birth to death and then back again. Each life allowed for more experience to be gained in order to elevate the individual's spirit closer to its original source.
The Spiral of Abred (The circle of Creation)
Annwn (the circle of birth and learning)-
Abred (the circle of life and knowing)-
Gwynyd (the circle of death and wisdom) — Ceugant (the unmanifested) -
Belief in reincarnation or an afterlife was very important to tribal people. Living conditions were less than comfortable, but they believed that with effort and work, one could almost guarantee a position in the afterlife and progress in lifetimes to come.
As with every aspect of their lives, the Druids' view of the deity was expressed in a triad, known as the transcendent three. The reason for their belief in threes was the fact that it takes two to create a third, which contains elements of the original components and is at the same time unique.
The first principle of the triad was the employment of God to lighten the darkness, invest nonentity with a body, and animate the dead. The second principle was the employment or duty of God to express will, wisdom, and love. The third principle was the expression of God that stated there were three things beyond the human realm: the extreme limits of space, the beginning and end of time, and the work of God.
The Five Forces of Influence
The Druids also honored anything of natural importance. Nowhere was this more evident than in their Five Forces of Influence:
1. Influence of place.
2. Richness of time.
3. Treasures of tribe.
4. Glory of ancestors.
5. Joy of journey.
The Celtic culture was based on agriculture and livestock breeding, which no doubt influenced the religious customs and practices of the Druids. Because of their dependence on the land and the herd, Druids recognized the four elements and seasonal changes as being of great consequence. As with most early peoples, everything that affected the tribe — including the weather—had some sort of mystical significance.
The four Elements and their corresponding symbols of the land:
Air Slea Blue (the spear).
Fire Cliamh Solis (the sword).
Water Cauldron of the Dagada.
Earth Lia Fail (the stone of destiny).
As a pastoral people, the Celts had great respect for the land and all that rose from the soil. From their appreciation for the bounty of Mother Earth came their observance of seasonal rites. In the eyes of the Celts, planning, planting, and harvesting were parts of life that could be governed through ritual observance. Their legacy of celebration is still with us today in the form of the eight Sabbats that make up the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.
October 31, the union of the worlds of spirit and man, the slaughter of the animals for winter food, and the beginning of rest. The Celtic New Year's Eve.
Wheel of the Year
Alban Arthuan/Winter Solstice:
December 21, the death and rebirth of the sun, the lowest point of the sun, and the prayers for the return of the sun.
February 1, the time of natural beginnings and preparation for the growing season.
Alban Eiler/Spring Equinox:
March 21, the time of fertile ground, when planting begins; also the time of equal day and night.
May 1, the time of fertility, when both animals and land were ready for impregnation by seed.
Alban Heruin/Summer Solstice:
June 21, the highest point of the sun, the time to nurture the young and appreciate the eternally moving circle.
August 1, the marriage of light and fire, the baking of the first loaf, and the beginning of the harvest.
Alban Elude/Autumnal Equinox:
September 21, the time of ripened achievement and equal day and night; also known as the harvest home.
The Druids, like members of many religions and spiritual traditions, had a symbol that expressed their philosophy in a simple form. This sacred symbol consisted of three columns, each of which corresponded to one of the letters O, I, and U. These mystical letters and corresponding lines represented the three attributes of God:
The N) erne ton
Because of the Druids' relationship with the land, they did not believe that God should be housed in a building. Thus they practiced their faith in what was called a Nemeton, sacred ground that had been consecrated for spiritual use. For added power and energy, the Nemeton was set in a grove of trees, upon a hill, or near a sacred well.
The Nemeton was surrounded by a bank and a ditch with water, somewhat like a miniature moat. Oftentimes poles with the heads of sacrificed victims were placed around the perimeter of the Nemeton. Inside the border of the Nemeton there was a sacred fire pit, an altar stone, and a shaft or well for votive deposits. The shape of the Nemeton may have been important as well. It is believed that the rectangular Nemetons were dedicated to the Gods, and that circular ones were dedicated to the Goddess. Situated on a hilltop, deep within the forest, or beside a babbling brook, the Nemeton was sacred space consecrated to the work of the Old Gods.
The influence of both the Druids and Celtic culture on Western culture cannot be ignored. The Druids left a rich heritage of symbolism, celebration, and worship. The most recognized of their customs are the seasonal celebrations. The Druid festival of Samhain became All Hallows' Eve, which we now celebrate as Halloween. The fertility festival
of Beltane became May Day. Carving pumpkins, kissing under the mistletoe, Easter egg hunting, and May pole dancing were all passed down to us from our Celtic ancestors.
As the priests of the Celtic people, the Druids taught belief in the soul's eternal nature and that all forms of creation contain a living spirit. According to an ancient Druid saying, "Spirit sleeps in the mineral, breathes in the vegetable, dreams in the animal, and wakes in man." The Druids also believed the soul could be contacted after death and that eventually the soul would reincarnate.
The Druids had a practical approach to living in harmony with the world around them. If we embrace their ways, we learn to respect nature, God, and the creative force within. It is through the symbolism, seasonal rites, and worship of the Old Gods that Celtic Wicca is able to celebrate the Druids' philosophy and way of life. With some modification and creative mixing, this beginner's guide can help you create a Wiccan tradition of your very own. And even though some will say that Wicca and Druidry are two separate and distinct entities, they nevertheless complement each other and offer themselves as alternatives to mainstream religious thought.
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