Monday, February 11, 2008
Master of Druidism
Rev. Marc D. Graham
Castle Rock, CO
While Druidism has been around for millennia, most of its adherents and practitioners are lost in the mists of time. Few of the ancient practices have been reliably transmitted, and our best records derive from invading forces and writers of folklore. Well‐meaning or otherwise, the tales, legends and histories that have survived to the present cast their subjects in the light of a Roman or Christianized culture, foreign to Druidic and Celtic society. Within the limitations of the available resources, this work will attempt to present an overview of the lives of three druids: one historical, one mythical and one speculative or apocryphal.
History records the works of the great bard, Taliesin, a British poet of the mid‐ to late 6th Century CE. Born near present‐day Caerleon, Wales, his home would have been near the Bristol Channel and the borders of Mercia and Wessex. Significantly, the period of his life corresponds with the time of consolidation of the Saxon conquest of Britain, when the Celtic Britons were pocketed in Wales (or Cymru) and Cornwall (Kernow) in the Southwest Peninsula.
Though belonging to the historical era, an account of Taliesin’s origins, recorded in the Mabinogion, places him in the company of the ancient gods, goddesses and heroes of Celtic mythology. In this version, the sage derives his wisdom from a magical concoction brewed by the witch Ceridwen, after which he embarks on a series of adventures similar to those of Fionn mac Cumhaill, the Welsh
Hercules. Outside of this fantastical account, little is known of the man called Taliesin.
The Book of Taliesin is a compilation of poems attributed to Taliesin, and dated to the 10th Century CE—three to four hundred years after the bard’s death. While there is some question as to the authorship of the poems (variations in style suggest multiple authors), historians agree that the bulk of the work could be that of one person. Taliesin may well have created the poems, which were handed down according to the oral tradition of the Britons, and finally compiled centuries after his death. Only slightly nearer in history to Taliesin, the History of the Britons is attributed to Nennius, the 9th Century Welsh monk. This pseudo‐historical work gives passing mention to Taliesin, along with several other British poets.
Beyond the legends, there is little to link Taliesin directly with Druidry. Indeed, by his time Rome (in the form of the recently‐departed Legions and the Church centered there) had effectively ended the age of the Druids. There are records as late as the 7th Century, however, that tell of the survival of some Druids in Ireland to that time. It is not a great stretch of imagination to suggest similar hold‐outs in remote Wales a hundred years earlier. What better position for a surviving Druid—in terms of both influence and protection—than as poet in the king’s court? Given the little that is known of the historical Taliesin, it is reasonable to place him among the Druidic class of Bards.
Perhaps the best‐known Druid in the popular imagination is Merlin, famed magician and advisor to the mythical King Arthur. First popularized as Merlin Ambrosius in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, the wizard is considered by scholars to be a composite character based on Myrddin Wylit, a 6th Century Welsh hermit, prophet and acknowledged madman; and Ambrosius Aurelianus, a 5th Century Romano‐British warlord who successfully fought the invading Anglo‐Saxons. Each of these figures dates from after the period of Arthur—now reckoned by historians as being contemporaneous
with the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 410CE—which would preclude either as being the great Sage of Camelot. In Gildas’s work On the Ruin of Britain, however, Ambrosius is identified as the victorious leader of the Britons against the Saxons at the battle of Mons Badonicus (Badon Hill). This has led some scholars to believe that Ambrosius may have been a model for Arthur himself, rather than his court magician.
Mythical stories of Merlin abound. In one account (borrowed from Nennius), King Vortigern is advised to sprinkle the foundation of a tower with the blood of a “child born without a father”, to stop the on‐going collapse of the tower during construction. The child Merlin fits the bill but, before he can be sacrificed, he reveals to the king the true reason for the tower’s collapse: a lake of battling dragons located directly beneath the foundation. Other legends tell of Merlin’s great wisdom and of his powers of prophecy, shape‐shifting, remote viewing and projection—all abilities attributable to a master Druid.
The legendary accounts imbue Merlin with a preternatural wisdom, derived from his being sired by a demon or incubus, but sanctified by baptism immediately following his birth. His wisdom and knowledge range from the natural world of plants, herbs and animals; to the very human world of politics, war and diplomacy; to the other‐worldly pursuits of divination, spells and prophecy. Though mythical, the Merlin thus described fits within the highest class of Druidry, the Druid himself.
Yeshua bar Yusuf
Better known to the world as Jesus of Nazareth, Yeshua bar Yusuf has been identified by some as a member of the order of Druids. Though the religion attributed to him was largely responsible for the demise of the ancient Druids, there is much in the history, legend and teaching of the Great Master to suggest an affiliation with the Celtic wise men.
Tradition holds that Yeshua’s uncle (possibly, great‐uncle), Joseph of Arimathea, was a trader in tin who made frequent trips to Cornwall on Britain’s Southwest Peninsula. Though generally considered
a rather common element—think “tin cans” and “tin foil”—tin is actually a precious metal, being the fourth in common usage behind platinum, gold and silver. (For comparison, Tin comprises 2.3ppm of the earth’s crust, whereas Uranium is found at 2.7ppm and Lead makes up 14ppm.)
The alloying of tin with copper to form bronze has been known since about 3500BCE. Its discovery gave the name to the Bronze Age—mankind’s first venture into metallurgy—and gave any society with knowledge of its secrets a great advantage over neighbors with only wood, stone or copper tools and weapons. During the Roman Era, Cornwall had been mining tin for more than 2000 years, and its importance to the Roman military machine (for the production of weapons, armor and statuary) cannot be exaggerated. Any merchant with a hold over the importing of tin would be a person of great wealth and influence. The scriptures and tradition suggest that Joseph of Arimathea was such a man.
Scripturally, there are two great gaps in the life of Yeshua—from birth (or infancy) to roughly twelve years of age; and from that time to his mid‐ to late thirties, when his ministry began. Much speculation has gone into what occurred during these years. The less imaginative (though not necessarily less accurate) suggest that the years were spent humbly serving in his father’s carpentry shop. Others suggest that the time was spent learning the great Secrets at the Library of Alexandria or among the Buddhist monks ofIndia and Tibet. Still others have hinted at the Druidic connection, via Joseph of Arimathea’s journeys of trade.
As an apprentice, young Yeshua might have accompanied his uncle from the age of seven. From the age of fourteen, he might have been capable of distant travel on his own. Regardless of the time frame, tradition and local lore place Yeshua in Cornwall at some point prior to his ministry in Palestine. In Did Our Lord Visit Britain? CC Dobson suggests that Yeshua did travel with Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury in Cornwall as a youth, later returning on his own “for the purpose of quiet study, prayer and meditation.” He quotes Gildas (see Merlin, above) as stating that Yeshua’s “light and precepts [were] afforded...to this island during the...last year of the reign of Tiberius.” This could refer to 37CE,
the year of Tiberius’s death, or—more likely—26CE, when Tiberius retired from public life.
Legend and tradition aside, the most compelling link between Yeshua and the Druids is in his teaching. Yeshua’s teachings resonated (and echo yet today) with the common people, yet confounded contemporary scholars of the Torah. Those learned men who pored over every nuance, strained every gnat in their study of the Law, choked on the camels so obvious to those with eyes to see. While the scholars debated whether or not it was legal to clap one’s hands on the Sabbath, Yeshua summed up the entirety of the Law in two sentences: Love God with your whole being; and love others as you love yourself. The Druids said, “Lord, thou art everywhere”; Yeshua said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” The Druids said, “Thou hast no need of prayer and sacrifices”; Yeshua said, “The Lord desires mercy, not sacrifice.”
Highly significant is Yeshua’s association with the Tree. The very name, Druid, is derived from the word for “oak tree”, and trees of all kinds were sacred to the Druids. Yeshua’s most obvious connection with the Tree is that of his crucifixion, but does the association go deeper? Though Yeshua is commonly portrayed as the son of a carpenter, the word used to describe Yeshua’s father is tekton (τεκτον). The Greek word can be used to denote a builder, architect or even Master Mason. That wood has been specifically linked with this generic term is meaningful. Additional ties are the Garden, or Grove, of Gethsemane and the crown of thorns. The hawthorn is a plant of significant import to the Druids, representing the month of April (the time of Yeshua’s crucifixion) and the color purple (the same as the robe with which the Roman soldiers mocked him). The hawthorn is also considered to be among the class of “peasant” plants, so its use in fashioning a crown carries an even greater insult.
While the evidence is speculative, connections can be made between Yeshua, his teachings and ministry, and those of the Druids. While his political and mystical leanings may relate to the order of Druid, his role as teacher, healer and counselor link him at least to the order of Ovate.
The three Druids presented here represent a cross section of historicity and likely role within the Druidic orders. While historical references are taken from many sources, much of the speculation is that of the author. It is hoped, however, that—whatever the reader’s personal beliefs and opinions—the thoughts presented here may lead toward new avenues of thought relative to the role of Druidry in the past and yet today.
Ordination with the Universal Life Church, is free, and lasts for life, so use the Free Online Ordination, button.
The ULC, run by Rev. Long, has created a chaplaincy program to help train our ministers. We also have a huge catalog of Universal Life Church materials. I've been ordained with theUniversal Life Church for many years and it's Seminary since the beginning and have loved watching the continual growth of the seminary.
Try our new free toolbar at: ULC Toolbar