The Druid Trades: True Druids, Brehon, Fathi, Filid, Bard, Smiths (Gowan or Govannon) and The Fiana

Despite all the interest these trades seem to generate, they have a very meager historical record on which to draw in trying to create for them the same sort of fulsome fantasy existence evident in the descriptions of the other trades in RoM, for which so much more information was available. What has come down from the historians is based largely on the words of the Greeks and the Romans, but that body is in fact very scant, less than 2,000 words in all, not to mention the bias of a foreign culture and in the case of the Romans, a certain slant due to political agenda, as well. Some historians, mostly Greek, treat Druids as great philosophers and scientists worthy of admiration. Others, mostly Roman, make them into bloodthirsty barbarian priests, epitomes of backwardness, ignorance and cruelty. Yet others, like Caesar, suggest that they were both. Caesar’s Gallic Druids were members of a highly developed national organization with a special training.The tales and chronicles set down on parchment around the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries, when Christianization preserved what had been for hundreds of years a strictly oral tradition, in the lands where true Celtic societies managed to continue through the 4th or 5th centuries and in some regards much later (like a fly in amber), provide a much richer resource. The physical archeological evidence and the lifestyle depicted in the epic tales and chronicles such as the Mabinogion provide a similarly rich resource. Thus, these diverse forms of evidence are considered to corroborate one another. The chronicles of the Celtic countries comprise the chief resource on which we have drawn in writing the descriptions of the trades that were such an intrinsic part of Celtic society.

There has been MUCH fanciful imagining done to reconstruct what is little more than a facsimile of the Druid myth, and almost none of it is supported by any sort of evidence, literary or archaeological. We have striven here to come to terms with all the evidence from the chronicles and the histories that could be garnered, however. This is our best effort to sort it out what is available and make some sense of what evidence we have, and also to make of it something the players of RoM might find enjoyable.

The first difficulty to tackle in regards to these trades is the fact that the term “druid” is not as definite and finite a term as most believe.

The word Druid is composed of two parts, first dru-, regarded by some prominent scholars as an intensive, and vids, which comes from vid, which is “to know,” or “to see.” Thus, the Druid was “the very learned one”, “the very wise one” or “the all-seeing one”. It is possible, however, that dru- is connected with the root which gives the word “oak” in Celtic speech—Gaulish deruo, Irish dair, Welsh derw, and that the oak, occupying such a prominent place in the religion, was brought into relation with the title referring to the most important leaders of that religion. In this case the Druids would be “wise one of the oak” or perhaps “learned [in the secrets] of the oak”. The modern forms of Druid, drui and draoi in Irish and Scots Gaelic, respectively, simply mean “sorcerer”. Anyone who wields magick can be called a Druid while they are in the process of exercising that power/knowledge, regardless of the trade by which they earn their daily bread or any other skill set they may have mastered or for which they may be known, such as Warrior or Huntsman like a member of the Fianna. Those who practice druidecht, or wizardry, as the main thrust of their activities are therefore full-time “true” Druids, but the designation is in fact very elastic.

In Ireland the term(s) denoting a magician slides back and forth between a number of labels of which ‘druid’ is only one. If Druid was an ancient Celtic word for anybody who wields or has an understanding of supernatural power then it can be applied to a great range of trades in different societies speaking one of the Celtic languages.

In the sagas of the Irish texts, the word druidecht, or literally “druidcraft”, is simply used as a general term for magick, and slat an draoichta, or “rod of Druidism,” is a magic wand, rod, or staff. The Tuatha De Danann are reputed to have learned “Druidism” (wizardry) from the four great master Druids of the region whence they had come before landing in Ireland. As beings of great power themselves, the four great Druids must have been greater still, and that is a very powerful legacy for the Druids.

Classical evidence tends to show that the Druids were a large and varied but all-inclusive priesthood made up of a number of different classes performing a variety of social and religious functions, some priestly, some prophetic or magickal, and others medical, or legal, or poetical. At their origins, the Druids combined the functions of wizard, keeper of the law, judge, counselor to the lord or king, and poet. The Druids were the ultimate authority in matters sacred and mundane. Later, but still at a very early period of development, the offices became divided, the “true” Druids arrogating to themselves the magickal knowledge, the Brehons devoting themselves to the study of law and the giving of legal decisions, the Fathi among them taking the offices of augury and divination and some priestly functions (especially taking the role of custodians of the temples and sacred wells or pools and groves), and the Filid being principally poets and musicians, historians, and natural philosophers of magickal prowess, along with their less prestigious colleagues, the Bards. The Fiana emerged as guardians of the realms, wide-ranging Warrior-Huntsmen after a fashion, blended with their native Celtic druidecht. The mystical Smiths emerged from the ranks of the Fathi, steeped in the magick of making. But ALL these trades – Brehons, Fathi, Filid and Smiths – were referred to at one time or another as “Druid”, and so they are in the context of RoM due to each trade’s connection with magick, especially among the Celtic people who are not so very concerned with labels.

Large numbers of young men flock to the Druid masters of all these trades for instruction, as they are held in great esteem. The scholastic studies and training process to become a member of one of the Druid trades can take as long as 20 years (Brehon), or as little as 9 to 12 years (Bard or Fili, respectively). Students are taught by rhyme and rote in endless repetition of the words of the master until the information is memorized.

Not only during peacetime but also in war, the Celts obey with great care the Druids, both friend and enemy alike, especially the Brehons and Fathi, and singing Fili or poet-Bards, but each of the various trades according to their area of dominion or expertise. Often when two armies have come together with swords drawn these men have stepped between the battle-lines and stopped the conflict, as if they were wild animals held spell-bound. Such is the power of their presence, their knowledge, their magick. Thus, even among the most brutal barbarians, angry passion yields to wisdom – even Ares himself must stand in awe of the Graces and Muses.

Once a year, all Druids meet at the “navel of [country]” or the “navel of the world” to discuss affairs and settle quarrels and disputes. Historically, this was in a consecrated spot in the country of the Carnutes, which is supposed to be the centre of Gaul.

Those who are involved in disputes assemble here from all parts, and accept the Druids’ judgements and awards. These Druid councils decide matters of not only a single tribe or clan affairs, but also matters concerning the entire Celtic nation, of all the Celtic tribes. This conclave is headed by the highest in prestige among their number, similar in nature to an independent high prelate, for the Druids are immune to the interference of the chieftains. Indeed, they have no territorial boundaries.

The sixth day of every lunar cycle is the “Druid Moon”, celebrated with a great feast. According to Pliny, no sacred rites are performed without oak branches and/or leaves. The mistletoe is culled with a golden sickle from the oaks and laid upon cloths of white. The mistletoe is valued for its medicinal properties and also as a protection from lightning and from sorcery [when its Power is awakened]. It is not considered harmful or as dangerous to pick a poisonous plant with the ‘sinistra’ or left hand; indeed one of the principle plants used by the Druids had to be picked with the left hand, another with the right hand through the left sleeve of a white robe. The sinistra is the more suitable for dangerous work in the Druidic practice.

All the Druids are under one head, whom they hold in the highest respect. In Gaul, one chief Druid had authority over the others, the position being an elective one. The insular Druids of Britain and Ireland were similarly organized, the chief Druid is referred to as Primus Magus (“PREE-moose MAH-goose”).

The Filid had an Ard-file, or chief, elected to his office also.

On the chief Druid’s death, if any one of the rest is of outstanding merit, he succeeds to the vacant place; if several have equal claims, the Druids usually decide the election by voting, though sometimes they actually face-off and fight it out.

The Irish traditions also show Dryades or ban-drui, female Druids, or “Druidesses” of great knowledge and prowess among their numbers, even in the arts of war. Indeed, in their cultures, the Celts relied on their women as strong comrades in arms in times of strife. The British Celtic queens gave the Romans more trouble than the Celtic kings. The British queen Boudicca is a good example, and she is noted as exercising priestly functions, having loosed hares before a battle to look for an omen in their pattern of flight. This is very indicative of the strength of women in both society and religion.

Women with priestly functions, such as the virgin guardians of sacred fires of Brigit in Ireland to whose functions Christian nuns succeeded, are widely represented.

Such priestesses as the British queen Boudicca, apart from the Dryades, existed among the continental Celts, also.

Inscriptions speak of an antistita deae at Arles, and of a flaminica sacerdos of the goddess Thucolis at Le Prugnon. These were servants of a goddess like the priestess of the Celtic Artemis in Galatia, in whose family the position in the priesthood was hereditary. The virgins called Gallizenae practiced divination and magic in the isle of Sena, priestesses of a Gaulish god, and some of the women who were “possessed by Dionysus” and practiced an orgiastic cult on an island in the Loire, were probably of the same kind. They were all priestesses of some magickal religious group after the Druidic form, related to the Druidic nature deities, practiced solely by the society of women, like the guardians of the sacred fire in Ireland, which was banned to men.

This implies the presence of an equal and parallel organization of women in all the trades of druidecht.

The folk of the Druid trades all share many traits, a common cultural matrix, and point of view, bound together by their common language, beliefs and religious service to the Celtic peoples. They are prone to speak laconically and to the point, in general all of them men of few but weighty words.

“Truth in the heart, strength in the arm, honesty in speech.”

“The gods must be honored, no injustice done, and manly behavior [integrity] always maintained.”

“Three things from which a true Man must never be moved:
One’s Oaths, One’s Gods, and the Truth.”

“The three highest causes of the true Man are:
Truth, Honor, and Duty.
Among them, Honor above all!”

“The three candles that can illuminate every darkness:
Truth, Nature, and Knowledge.”

These are all prime, basic Celtic principles, framed in the typical Celtic triadic mould. While all Druid trades practice some form of magick, they each have very different roles in Celtic society and also responsibilities and accompanying ancillary skills. The Druids’ magick, regardless of the specific trade, harnesses the energy of Life shared by all living things universally: plants, insects, animals, and all sentient beings, all forms of life no matter how great or small. In their view, EVERY-thing in the world is alive and has its own spirit, every rock, body of water, and tree.

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