Irish and Gaulish Druids

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER V....continued

2. Points of Agreement and Difference between Irish and Gaulish Druids.

Chief Points of Agreement.—1. They had the same Celtic name in both countries: 'Druid.' 2. They were all wizards—magicians and diviners. 3. They were the only learned men of the time: they were judges, poets, professors of learning in general. 4. They were teachers, especially of the children of kings and chiefs. 5. Their disciples underwent a long course of training, during which they got by heart great numbers of verses. 6. They were the king's chief advisers: they were very influential, and held in great respect, often taking precedence even of the kings. 7. Among both the Irish and Gauls there were druidesses. 8. They had a number of gods; and many of the Irish gods were identical, both in names and chief functions, with those of Gaul.

Chief Points of Difference.—1. The Gaulish druids were under one head druid, with supreme authority: and they held periodical councils or synods. There was no such institution in Ireland: though there were eminent druids in various districts, with the influence usually accorded to eminence. 2. The Gaulish druids held the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, as applying to all mankind: the soul of every human being passing, after death, into other bodies, i.e. of men, not of the lower animals. There is no evidence that the Irish druids held the souls of all men to be immortal. But in case of a few individuals—palpably exceptional—it is related that they lived on after death, some reappearing as other men, some as animals of various kinds, and a few lived on in Fairyland, without the intervention of death. 3. Human sacrifice was part of the rite of the Gaulish druids, sometimes an individual being sacrificed and slain: sometimes great numbers together. There is no record of any human sacrifice in connexion with the Irish druids: and there are good grounds for believing that direct human sacrifice was not practised at all in Ireland. 4. The Gaulish druids prohibited their disciples from committing to writing any part of their lore, regarding this as an unhallowed practice. There is no mention of any such prohibition among Irish druids. 5. The Gaulish druids revered the oak, and the mistletoe when growing on it: the Irish druids revered the yew, the hazel, and the quicken-tree or rowan-tree.

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