Who were the ancient druids?
Historically, druids were the intellectual class in the Indo-European Celtic culture found in many parts of Europe from c. 200BCE to 800 AD. This culture was made up of many different ethnic groups. Some of these druids had ‘priestly functions (among others), but not all did.
What we know of the Celtic religion is that it was polytheistic, with female and male gods. Religious practice was regionally variable, including local deities. Outdoor groves and shrines were known. The druids (or Celtic intelligensia) did not write their beliefs down.
In their time, druids were renowned for their decades of training and pursuit of knowledge, and in their roles in the arts, divination, and in service to their communities.
What did the ancient druids believe in?
What we know currently comes from archaeology, historical records (including from the most recently Celtic areas in northwest Europe), and lore. Some of the things ancient druids (or Celtic intellectual class) believed are –
That certain plants, places, waterways, skills, and arts were sacred.
That there are many realms – Land, Sea, and Sky, or other dimensions to existence.
That there are places where you can find bridges to connect the realms. (Trees are one place).
What is a primary goal of Druids today?
A primary goal is to venerate and honor nature or the Earth, and seek a spiritual relationship with her. (Similar to other modern “Earth Based” traditions.)
Who are today's Druids, what is their religion, and where did this come from?
People who follow a modern Druid spiritual path call themselves Druids. (The term is not just used for ‘priests’.) Druids now have many religions, including Pagan (such as Wicca), monotheistic (including Christianity and the other Abrahamic faiths), polytheistic, animist, Buddhist, and agnostic religions. There are Druids in scores of countries and cultures across the globe, with (likely) more practitioners living outside than in northwest Europe.
Druid practice today is informed by – lore and what is known of the ancient Celtic culture of Europe; creative arts, and modern sciences; our current cultures; and our connection to the land where we live. There is no one written book that sets laws or practices in the Druid tradition.
How do Druids worship?
Yearly seasonal celebrations form a central part of worship. These celebrations vary from the 2 equinoxes and 2 solstices, to modern 8 ‘wheel of the year’ celebrations (often specific to a distinct European region), to observances based on local seasonal changes, or combinations thereof. Ongoing practice will often include revering and connecting with nature, local spirits, ancestors, and the various realms. Outside in nature is the preferred place for worship.
Grove (or other group) worship is held outside, or inside in member’s homes, or at public or church venues. Group celebrations or rituals are held in circles, and often with rotating roles and input. Private and group altars are used, usually with items representing the elements, realms, symbols of the season, and deities (if any), and offerings (food, seeds, herbs, libations, etc).
There are also gatherings with large rituals, multiple altars, and meditation areas used for worship.
What do Druids do?
There are significant variations with how people practice as Druids. Generally, we find meditation, training to achieve contact with and to honor the other realms, poetic use of the arts, nature based healing, divination of all sorts, an understanding of the natural world and our place in it, and living a full and ethical life in the world enriching.
One way of describing Druid ethics is that we strive to do our best for everything and everyone, including beyond this lifetime (actually a part of historic Druid practice). Many Druids will choose or change to professions to help others and the environment, practice and share the arts, teach, and work in their communities.
Are there different branches or types of Druids in North America?
Yes. There are Revival or Romantic (from the1600s in NW Europe), Reformed (from 1960s based on scholarship in the US), Neopagan (usually- offshoots of the Reformed or Revival movement, and centered on a specific Celtic sub-culture) branches, and other Druids in North America. See full article on the branches here.