Druid Philosophy, Festivals & Ogham

Written by Mervyn - Visit My Lab

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Druid Philosophy - Celtic Festivals
Ogham Table & Typewriter
Some Celtic Concepts & Words

The word "Druid":
o greek drus, meaning oak, is often mistaken for the origin of the word Druid
o there is however an undeniable connection between the word for tree and for science
o in irish fid means tree, and fios knowledge
o celtic dru (super) & indo-stem wid (to see, know) form Druid - super-seeer (visionary)

Latin writers have called the Druids:
o sarcedos (priests) - by Ceasar
o mages (magic priests, astronomers, philosophers, soothsayers) - by Pliny the Elder
o vates (fili): judges, doctors, magic musicians, historians & specialists in myth (in the tradition history & myth were blended)
o philosophers, doctors, theologians, bards (not part of a Druid class for certain)

Ancient Druid Philosophy

Druidism designates a vast intellectual, technical & spiritual tradition common to all Celtic societies, that was lost, not through Romanization, but because of Christianity. Celtic society is recognizable around the 5th century bc, slowly swallowed up by Ceasar's conquest of Gaul, but surviving into the 6th century ad in Great Britain. Celtic was a single tongue of Indo-European origin, but divided into two branches: Gaelic and Britannic (Gallic, Breton, Cornish, Welsh).

Key to Druid philosophy is the concept of Monism - never did there exist the slightest difference between the sacred and the profane. All action was sacred. Druids made the decisions, the king merely acted. Decisions were made to put the society closer to the masterplan, the way of the Gods, realized in the Otherworld. In opposition to the Eastern 'maya' (illusion of the world) and its denunciation, and Christian 'sin', Druid philosophy was based on action, freewill, justice & responsibility. Druids observed the flight of birds and sacraficed in order to 'predict the future', or rather come into contact with the divine masterplan. Also, they were said to calm storms and shift shape.

The two most prominent places where one could be educated to become a Druid were on island Anglesey on the coast of Wales and in the neighbourhood of what is now Chartres, to the west of Paris.

If you are interested in the philosophy of modern Druids, you could read these essays concerning a modern Druid's Beliefs and Ethics & Values. In short:

  1. Life is all and all are responsible for protecting it.
  2. Action has a consequence that must be observed and you must be prepared to compensate for your actions if required.
  3. Uphold the Truth, starting with yourself. Be sure in your convictions, particularly when judging or accusing someone, but also when debating.
  4. Make an honest living. Work with high standards. Serve your community. You live in society and are bound by its rules.
  5. Be a good Host as well as a good Guest.
  6. Maintain a healthy Balance of the Sacred and the Mundane.
  7. Take care of yourself...

Here are my thoughts concerning bird symbolism and the 'allocentric map' in the brain, which together provide a rather Theosophical view of religion: the world's religious beliefs do not contradict at all!

Celtic Festivals

October 31 - November Eve
Samhain (sow-inn) - New Year

* Samhain is Gaelic for "summer's end".

* Samhain is a symbol for the 'last challenge', death.

* It is one night when the barriers between the worlds of life and death are uncertain, allowing the ancestors to walk among the living, welcomed and feasted by their kin, bestowing the Otherworld's blessings. Celts put out food and drink for the dead with great ceremony. They left their windows, doors, and gates unlocked to give the dead free passage into their homes. At Mabon, the God Lug died in order for us to live through his abundance. During the intervening time, He has gathered the spirits of those that have died over the year and waits for this night so that they may pass through the gate to the other side.

* This is the time when cattle and sheep where brought in from summer pasture, all but breeding stock being killed for winter food and to make fewer mouths to feed. The last fruit was picked, except that which would be left for the Sidhe (faery folk), and the grain was already gathered and had been processed for fodder, flour, and beer.

* Oidhche Shamhna, the Eve of Samhain, was the most important part of Samhain. Villagers gathered the best of the autumn harvest and slaughtered cattle for the feast. The focus of each village's festivities was a great bonfire. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. Our word bonfire comes from these bone fires. With the great bonfire roaring, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the one great common flame, bonding all families of the village together.

* There was also a much lighter side to the Celtic New Year rituals. Young people would put on strange disguises and roam about the countryside, pretending to be the returning dead or spirits from the Otherworld. Celts thought the break in reality on November Eve not only provided a link between the worlds, but also dissolved the structure of society for the night.

* The Western Church gave Samhain a Christian blessing in 837 AD when November 1 was designated the Feast of All Saints or Hallow Tide. Oidhche Shamhna became Hallow E'en.

December 21 - Winter Solstice
Alban Arthan [light of Arthur]

* The sun is at its nadir, the year's longest night. From this day until Midsummer, the days grow longer. Yule, also called Winter Solstice, celebrates the rebirth of the Sun. It is a time to look on the past year's achievements and to celebrate with family and friends. The name "Yule" derives from the Norse word for "wheel", and many of our customs (like those of the Christian holiday) derive from Norse and Celtic Pagan practices (the Yule log, the tree, the custom of Wassailing, et al).

* Although the Bible indicates that Jesus was born in the Spring, it is no accident that the early Church chose to move his official birthday to the time of the Midwinter Solstice - for it is indeed a time when the Light enters the darkness of the World, and we see again the building of Christianity on the foundations of earlier belief.

January 31 - February Eve
Imbolc (immol'g)

* Imbolc is from Old Irish, and may mean "in the belly", and Oimelc, "ewe's milk", as this is the lambing time.

* Imbolc is a symbol for the pureness and the care we need in the first years of our life: "the Mother Goddess is honoured with eight candles rising out of the water at the centre of the ceremonial circle."

* It is the holiday of the Celtic Fire goddess Brigit, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, healing, and poetry/inspiration. Her gift of smithcraft comes with an added bonus, fire. Brigid's fire is a symbolic transformation offering healing, visions, and tempering.

The Three Brigits guard the entrance to the land of the Gods. Brigid the Smith worker stands at the left hand gate. She has black hair and eyes, dressed in blue and purple, with bronze ornaments on her belt and sandals. She represents the painful and laborious side of life. Brigit of Medicine has a fair gentle face, dressed in light blue and silver embroidered detail. She represents the sympathetic side of life. Brigit of Poetry stands over the central gateway. Her robes are somber and cloudy, she sees both the sorrows and happiness. (Secrets of the Druids p.109-110, Matthews)

* Februum is a Latin word meaning purification - naming the month of cleansing. The thaw releases waters (Brigit is also a goddess of holy wells) - all that was hindered is let flow at this season.

* The Christian development of this festival is Candlemas - the time of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

* This is the date when the first stirrings of life were noticeable and when the land might first be plowable. This has been secularized as Groundhog Day.

April 30 - May Eve
Beltane (b'yol-tinnuh)

* The name "Beltane" means "Bel's Fire".

* Beltane is a symbol for the blooming of our sexuality as young adults.

* An important festival for the herds would leave their shelters and would be put out on the pastures again. Cattle were driven between twin bonfires to bless them, and people leaped the fires for luck. Being 'caught between two Beltane-fires' still means being caught in a dilemma.

* "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) is collected as a basis for healing drinks and potions for the year to come.

* Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name "May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth"). It is legend that children conceived at Beltaine were gifted by the gods. These children are known as Merry-Be-Gots.

June 21 - Summer Solstice
Alban Hefin [light of the shore]

* It is believed that at twilight on this day, the portals between worlds open and the Aes Sidhe (faery folk) may pass into our world.

July 31 - August Eve
Lugnasa (loo-nus-uh)

* Lugnasa is a symbol for the formation of family, marriage.

* It was a time of gathering together, of contests and games and of marriages. The marriages contracted at this time could be annulled at the same time the following year - offering the couple a sensible 'trial period'.

* One of the Celtic fire festivals, honoring the Celtic culture-bringer and Solar God Lug (actually another name for Belenos or Bel). In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu (these may have been funeral games). His name occurs as an element in place-names like Lyon, Laon and Leiden.

* The Christian version of this festival is Lammas, which has recently been revived in some churches. The word Lammas comes from hlafmasse - 'loaf-mass' - since bread is offered from the newly harvested grain.

The Ogham Table & Typewriter

birch (berk)
L Luis
rowan (lijsterbes)
F Fearn
alder (els)
S Saille
willow (wilg)
N Nuin
ash (es)
LEFT H Huath
D Duir
oak (eik)
T Tinne
holly (hulst)
d. grey
C Coll
hazel (-aar)
Q Quert
Hen (O)
G Gort
ivy (klimop)
Mute Swan
Ng Ngetal
reed (riet)
St Straif
R Ruis
elder (vlier)
O On
U Ur
Heather (heide)
E Eadha
I Ioh

Type Ogham signs with the Ogham Typewriter

Find more celtic animal symbolism at nexus board (in german).

Some Celtic Concepts & Words

Creation - The World was created from Chaos or Cythrawl, Annwyn in non-Gaelic celtic terms. The World created consists of three concentric circles: Abred, the present life, Gwynffrydd, where the undying soul passes as a rite of passage, and Ceugant, where one attains a state of pure rejoicing.

Festivals - Celebrated 40 days after the Equinoxes and Solstices: November, February, May & August Eve

Gods - Brilliant warriors, but also great craftsmen. Lug knows how to do everything. Lug's symbol is the crow.

Nemeton - From 'nemus' meaning heaven. An (open) sacred place, moment or person. Druids thought it was vain to enclose an area where gods resided, they didn't built temples.

Omphallos - Sacred symbolic center, place where all Druids gathered once a year
(Ireland also had a symbolic 5th kingdom)

Severed Heads? - Druids cut off enemies' heads, to prevent them from being magically healed. Heads from corpses of enemies may have played a role in ritual sacrafice.

Four elements? - Of the 4 elements (fire, water, air & earth), only fire and water were of considerable importance. There was no metaphysic concerning 'the' 4 elements.

Sources: 'The Druids' (Markale), 'Secrets of the Druids' (Matthews), 'Druid Mysteries' (Carr-Gomm), 'A Witches' Bible' (Farrar & Farrar) & snippets from various websites