Monday, October 8, 2012

A Crash-Course in the Druids

Just in time for Halloween, the Radio 4 program In Our Time--a round-table discussion program that focuses on topics of history or the history of an idea--spent the September 20th program on a subject dear to my heart: DRUIDS.

Melvin Bragg's guests were Barry Cunliff, Miranda Aldhouse-Green, and Justin Champion. Cunliff, and Aldhouse-Green are well-respected archaeologists, the latter also known for her popular histories on the subject of the Celts, and Champion is a historian of early modern Britain, when the druids reemerged in the public consciousness.

The program itself sticks to an overview of the druids largely in the context of Greco-Roman records due, obviously, to the lack of contemporary records by the Celts themselves--though they did touch on the lingering of druid beliefs and myths in the bardic traditions of Ireland and Wales, a subject I wished they'd have gone into further. And unfortunately they really didn't speak much to the existence of druids in Ireland potentially into the seventh century; the program was largely focused on druids in Britain. 

There was no sensationalism in the subject matter; lurid stories of bloody human sacrifices were treated as what they likely were-fairly rare, but also not abnormal (with the note that the Romans themselves only outlawed the practice in the 90s BCE).

Over all, it was a good, fluff-free introduction to the druids. The format itself is, by its nature, a bit dry (which In Our Time can often be), but the subject matter makes up for that.


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Can you recommend any books/websites on how to become a bard or bardic training that has worked through the lore to come up with a unified synthesis of some kind? Were oghams association-aids utilized in writing poetry?

If you could let me know, I would be very interested :

Anonymous said...

Why is it that most of our information on Druidism seems to come from Roman works?I don't think we know hardly anything about them.we have records of many ancient oral histories.Nothing passed with a pro-Druidic cant?

Tlachtga said...

Well, the Celts didn't write down anything about the druids, except for the Irish, and they didn't do that until the Middle Ages. So all we have are Greco-Roman--i.e. outsider--texts. And they're not all negative; as the program points out, the earlier Greek writings are very positive and compare the Druids to the Pythagoreans.

Anonymous said...

Did the Irish written word happen much later?Where is it to be found?And maybe the Greek?

Tlachtga said...

Well, we have some ogham inscriptions that probably date to the 4th century--they're mostly grave markers, which doesn't tell us anything about the Druids. Beyond that, we have the earliest Irish manuscript, Lebor na hUidre, which dates from the 11th century. It's a collection of stories, mostly from the Ulster Cycle and stories about Mongan. The language used is older than the 11th century--possibly dating to the 9th century--which still places it long after the druids died out.

If you're looking for a good book that collects early Greek, Roman, Irish, and Welsh writings, check out The Celtic Heroic Age edited by John Koch and John Carey.