Tag: celtic

Review: The Book of Druidry, by Ross Nichols

By Mike Gleason | January 25, 2005 | Leave a comment

The Book of Druidry, by Ross Nichols
Thorsons/Element, 1855381762, 320 pages (incl. bibliography, index and black-and-white illustrations), 1992

Over the years, I am sure that hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written on the topic of Druidry. Some of them have been scholarly, some have been fanciful, and most of them have been written by outsiders. Factual history of the movement is hard to find, for a number of reasons. In the early days there was a reluctance to commit the teachings to writing. Once some of the teachings began to be written down, they were condemned and destroyed by the dominant religion (Christianity). For the safety of its members it disappeared from the sight of the common man. It continued underground, as have many persecuted minorities.

This book has one major advantage over many of those other books. It has been written by a Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). While he acknowledges the lack of historical data from the earliest times (“…the gaps are larger than the area covered by what is known.”), he has the advantage of access to what records do exist. He makes no claim to an uninterrupted lineage. In the past two hundred plus years, there have been numerous manifestations of the Druidic movement – from the OBOD, the Ancient Druid Order, the Secular Order of Druids, the Glastonbury Order of Druids, to the ADF started in the US by Isaac Bonewits. There have been, and continue to be, differences in emphasis.

In the words of Philip Carr-Gomm (one of the editors of this book) “Ross managed to combine three books in one: a history of Druidry, a guide to certain ancient sites, and an anthology of Druid wisdom.” It was certainly a necessity when it was written (1975) and it still is. It serves as a counterpoint to much of the romanticized nonsense written on the topic. It is thoughtful, considerate of varying opinions, and presented in a manner which is both educational and interesting.

The author perceives Druidry as a philosophy as opposed to a religion, which may offend some readers. Nonetheless, this is an important work on the subject and deserves to be read by anyone interested in the topic. Whether you agree with the conclusions of the author, there is a great deal of information and food for thought between these covers.

More modern books tend to confine their notes; it seems to me, to the back of the book, thus necessitating a constant back-and-forth to see what the notes say. Mr. Nichols used footnotes (i.e., notes at the bottom [foot] of the page) thus doing away with this. Personally, I much prefer the footnote style, if you don’t, well there aren’t a lot of footnotes to deal with, so it shouldn’t be too large a problem.

The Bibliography and Index are both short (three and five pages, respectively). While some of the referenced works may be hard to locate, most of them should be accessible through any reasonably large library or on interlibrary loan.

In all honesty, I almost didn’t order this book, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tackle the subject – since so much has been written on it in recent years. It was who the author was that decided me. I am grateful now that I did request it. It is informative without boring, and it is a fairly enjoyable read. If you are looking for a good book to read about Druids as they probably were, this is the book for you.


Henge of Keltria

By Henge of Keltria | November 30, 2003 | Leave a comment

What is the Henge of Keltria?

The Henge of Keltria is an organization dedicated to the positive, life affirming spiritual path of Neo-Pagan Druidism we call Keltrian Druidism. The Henge exists to provide information and training to those interested in Keltrian Druidism.

What do you mean by ‘Neo-Pagan’ and by ‘Druidism?’

The word Pagan is generally used to describe pre-Christian religions that existed throughout the Western world. ‘Neo’ means new, so Neo-Pagan would literally mean new Pagan. Neo-Pagan is used to describe the people who are part of the revival of some of the beliefs and practices of these old pre-Christian religions. Neo-Pagans often drop the prefix and just call themselves Pagans.

Druidism is our modern adaptation of ancient Celtic religion. The priests of the ancient Celts were called Druids.

Who were these Druids?

The word Druid probably comes from the Greek word Drus, meaning oak, and the Indo-European wid, meaning knower. Literally, Druid means ‘oak-knower’. The Druids did not have many buildings for worship. The classical writers noted that the Druids’ preferred sanctuaries were forest clearings.

Although the Celts existed throughout much of Europe, the Druids were known to exist only in what is called the latter Celtic range. This area is basically Gaul and the British Isles.

The priestly class of these Celts were on an equal level with nobility. They included the Druids (priests), Bards (poets and musicians) and Seers (diviners). The Druids were held above Bards and Seers, and according to Caesar, had authority in peace and war.

The Druids met in caves, deep in the woods, and in buildings for study and training that could last as long as 20 years. All the Druidic teachings were orally transmitted, so little is known about their teachings.

How do we know what we know about the Druids?

Knowledge of the druids, and the ancient Celts in general, is found from direct archaeological evidence, from the writings of classical authors in Greece and Rome, and from folklore transcribed by 12th c. Christian scribes and scholars.

Didn’t the Druids build Stonehenge?

No, the Celts didn’t expand into Britain until between the 5th to 3rd c. BCE. Stonehenge was completed by about 1600 BCE. The Druids had enough astronomical knowledge to realize the significance of Stonehenge. They may have used Stonehenge, at least for observational purposes, although there is no evidence to support this.

Didn’t the Druids practice sacrifice?

The ancient Celts practiced sacrifice. It was written that the Druids were required to be present for all public sacrifice. Caesar described huge wicker works that were filled with grains, animals and humans and then burned. Other classical writers described sacrifice by stabbing and impaling.

There has been a wide range of opinion about sacrifice and its significance to the Druids. Caesar was attempting to show the brutality of the Celts, while some scholars compare these sacrifices to modern executions.

The answer probably lies somewhere between these two. The ancient Celts believed strongly in reincarnation. They did not fear death as most people in our culture do, because they knew that their souls would live again in another body. The Celts were described as having used criminals and political prisoners whenever possible. In the cultural context of the ancient Celtic people, sacrifice may have been the best possible treatment for these people.

Do the Keltrian Druids practice human or animal sacrifice?

No, we don’t. Over the centuries, religious thought has evolved. During the time of the Ancient Druids, blood sacrifice was seen as a powerful way of contacting the Gods. Today we recognize blood as a symbol representing he power that exists within all of us. In modern practice, we replace blood sacrifice with another representation of our power. We would use grain, a small piece of handiwork, or other positive representation of our devotion to the Gods.

Explain some aspects of Celtic belief that you emulate in your modern practices.

We know very little about the specific religious practices of the Celtic peoples. We have adopted the use of many Celtic Dieties that we know about through the study of mythology. Our rituals celebrate the cycles of life and the year. With the changing of the seasons we choose different Gods that best represent the things we associate with that season.

We have also adapted many Celtic symbols to our religion. We believe that these symbols helped trigger the connection the Celts felt between themselves and the Gods, and that it can do the same for us. For example, the Celts placed great importance in the number three. We have developed many associations of threes. We worship and revere the Gods, Ancestors and Nature Spirits. We associate them with the realms of sky, water and earth. We also associate them with the three aspects of our being: spirit, mind and body.

Another example: The only detailed account of Druidic ritual was written by the Greek historian Pliny. He described the gathering of mistletoe which was found growing on an oak tree. A Druid, dressed in white, cut the mistletoe using a sickle and allowed it to fall on to a white piece of cloth. This ritual took place on the 6th night after the new moon. From this account, we see that the Druids held some importance to the color white, and used a sickle. We prefer white robes for ritual, and have adopted the sickle for use in ritual. We also set aside the 6th night of the moon for our ‘Mistletoe’ Rite.

You use the term ‘Gods’. What is the Keltrian view of Deity?

We see Deity in many different aspects, both male and female. These different aspects of Deity each represent different aspects of life, nature and the seasons. We use appropriate aspects of Deity throughout rituals and our lives to help us maintain our contact with Deity. The idea that these aspects of Deity are in some way separate from each other is called polytheism (many Gods). The idea that these aspects are part of a larger whole (often called the unmanifest) is called pan-polytheism (pan means all, like in pan-American). In Keltrian Druidism, we see both polytheism and pan-polytheism as valid views of Deity.

We believe that Deity exists in all living things. We see each human, animal and plant as a unique expression of the Divine. Some Druids extend this view to what are normally considered inanimate objects as well. They see Divinity in many places such as mountains, rivers, and the wind. This idea, that inanimate objects are in some way living is called animism. Keltrian Druids are animistic at least to the level where they see the Divine within plant life.

What are the other beliefs of Keltrian Druidism?

The following set of statements encompass the major points of our values and world view:

We believe in Divinity as it is manifest in the Pantheon. There are several valid theistic perceptions of this Pantheon.

We believe that nature is the embodiment of the Gods.

We believe that all life is sacred, and should neither be harmed nor taken without deliberation or regard.

We believe in the immortality of the spirit.

We believe that our purpose is to gain wisdom through experience.

We believe that learning is an ongoing process and should be fostered at all ages.

We belief that morality should be a matter of personal conviction based upon self respect and respect for others.

We believe that every individual has the right to pursue enlightenment through his or her chosen path.

We believe in a living religion able to adapt to a changing environment. We recognize that our beliefs may undergo change as our tradition grows.

How do you worship?

Since we consider ourselves a nature religion, the ideal place for our rituals is outdoors, preferably in the woods or another place away from cities and ‘civilization’. This is not always practical, especially during winter, so we worship where ever it is convenient. The purpose of our rituals is to celebrate the Divine and have communion with the Gods and each other. We do this mainly through meditation, prayer and invocation to the Gods, Ancestors and Nature Spirits.

Most of our rituals are done around a sacred fire (or sacred candles for indoor rituals). Our rituals involve the participation of everyone in attendance. We distribute the ritual functions among several people, rather than have everything done by a priest and priestess. Our rituals also involve the participants through a good deal of singing and some dancing.

When do you worship?

Instead of worshipping according to the modern Calendar, we choose our times of worship according to the cycles of the Sun and Moon.

We celebrate two lunar rites. They are called the Mistletoe Rite and the Vervain rite. Pliny wrote that the ancient Druids collected Mistletoe on the 6th night of the moon (roughly the first quarter). Because of this, we celebrate our Mistletoe rite on the 6th night of the moon. Since mistletoe was known as the ‘all heal’, one of the themes of this rite is healing. This theme extends to healing of our community, through a sharing of food and drink at the rite. The Sun and moon are in a position of equilibrium at this time, so we also see this as a time of balance, where we seek to find balance in our livs.

Our other lunar rite is the Vervain rite. The time of this rite was also chosen from classical writings of ancient Druidic practices. It was written that Vervain was gathered when neither the sun nor moon were in the sky. This occurs sometime during each night, except when the moon is full. We generally celebrate tis around the third quarter. This is gives us ample time for the rite uring the evening hours. It also places this rite opposite the Mistletoe Rite in the lunar cycle. Vervain was said to be of aid in working magic. We have thus made the Vervain Rite our time for working magic. Druidic magicis not like stage magic that is done to entertain. The purpose of magic in a Druidic sense is more like prayer. We work magic to help effect change in our lives. Drudic Magic may involve contemplation, meditation, ritual or ecstatic dance.

We also celebrate 8 holidays through the year. These holidays originally come from two separate cultures. The solstices and equinoxes, which celebrate the cycle of the sun, came from one culture, and the ‘cross quarters’, which mark the agricultural and pastoral seasons of the Earth, came from another. These holidays were all adopted by the Celts. In our modern rites, we also relate the cycle of the year to the cycle of our lives. We choose a specific God and Goddess (Patron and Matron) to honor at each rite. These figures each represent a different aspect of our lives, from youth and vitality to age, wisdom and finally death. As the year gets older, the Patron and Matron get older.

Each rite, along with a description of the major theme and God and Goddess chosen aredescribed below:

Samhain (October 31st) celebrates the last harvest of the year. Samhain literally means ‘summers end’ and is the Celtic new year. It is a time of endings, when the last harvest is completed. It is also a time for beginnings, when we set goals which we will track through the coming year. Dagda and Morrigan are the Patron and Matron of this feast. Dagda represents the bounty of the harvest, and the Morrigan represents the ending of the year.

Yule or Winter Solstice (December 21st) is a time of new beginnings. The sun is at its lowest point, about to begin its renewal as the days will start to get longer. The Dagda continues as the Patron of this rite, his cauldron of Bounty sustains us through the Winter. Bridget is the Matron of this rite. She is a bringer of light and represents the rebirth of the sun’s light and the fire that burns in our hearths (or fireplaces!)

Imbolc (February 2nd) is still a time when we feel the cold of Winter. The Celts saw the first signs of spring during this time. The ewes began to give milk and the Celts were able to take the first of the Earth’s gifts that year. As the fire of the sun continues to grow, Bridget continues as Matron for this rite. Angus Og, the God of Young love, comes in as Patron.

Spring Equinox (March 21st) is when the sun is at the midway point between winter and summer. The Earth is waking from its winter slumber. Depending on our climate, the snow may still be melting, or new plant life may just be starting to grow. In any case, the Earth is definitely warming up. We relate the spring with love as the mating season starts, Angus Og continues as Patron. Boann, who represents fertility and growth becomes the Matron of this Rite.

Beltane (May 1st) brings planting of the new crops. By this time the plans we began at Samhain and refined though the winter should start taking physical shape. Boann continues as Matron. Bile’, for whom this rite is named, comes in as patron. Bile’ represents the still increasing fire of the sun and fertility.

Summer Solstice (June 21st) is the time when the sun is highest in the sky. At this time the sun is at a balance point. Since the Winter Solstice, the sun has been climbing higher and the days have been getting longer. Now the sun reverses itself, and begins to get lower in the sky, until it returns to its lowest point at the Winter solstice. It is a time of ripening, when the fruits have grown and start to ripen. Bile’, represents the glory of the sun at its highest point. Danu, the all mother, comes in as Matron. She represents motherhood, pregnancy and nurturing.

Lughnasadh (August 2nd) is the time we start to notice the sun is loosing its strength. It is also the time of the first harvest. Danu continues as Matron. Lugh, who this festival was named for, comes in as Patron of the rite. Lugh represents the harvest, and the sun.

Fall Equinox (September 21st) is celebrated when the Sun is half way between Summer and Winter. The plans we made last Samhain should be near completion. Lugh continues in his role as Patron, representing the declining sun. Morrigan starts her role as Matron now, and continues into Samhain.

How can I find out more about the Henge of Keltria?

The Henge of Keltria publishes a quarterly journal, and other resources including a new members handbook, a correspondence course and this pamphlet. If you would like to explore Keltrian Druidism further, write to us at:

Henge of Keltria
P.O. Box 4305
Clarksburg, WV 26302

Please enclose an S.A.S.E with your request.

Note: Address updated 30-11-03.


Review: Maiden Magick, by C. C. Brondwin

By Mike Gleason | May 30, 2003 | Leave a comment

Maiden Magick, by C. C. Brondwin
New Page Books, 1564146707, 211 pp. (+ bibliography & index), 2003

I must admit to a bias when I started this book. Actually, a couple of them. The first is a culturally based one. This is a book written for a young female, and I am neither. The second bias is a personal one. I read (and reviewed) Clan of the Goddess by this same author and found it disappointing in a number of ways. So, I was already poised to dislike this current offering.

My major problem with Ms. Brondwin, and authors like her, is her tendency to look to the past as we wish it had been. She sees the young maidens of Celtic clans as being highly honoured and treated as special. They may have been. They may also have been treated as chattel and have had lives of drudgery. Fairness demands equal representation for differing points of views.

Once again Ms. Brondwin says that you can worship the Goddess without giving up your familial religious beliefs. That may work in some cases, but certainly not all.

And again she comes up with an extremely simple method of invoking protective barriers. The last time it was a clenched fist. This time it is a triple tap of the third eye. The problem with these methods, in my opinion, is that while effective for an experienced handler of energy, they won’t work well for someone just starting down the path. All they will do is impart a false sense of confidence.

On the plus side, she does encourage young women to take charge of their own lives. She makes it clear that blaming others for problems is not the way of the Goddess.

I have to admit that many of the authors I have been reading lately, and not just feminists, seem to be suffering from a case of “history as it should have been.” Ms. Brondwin apparently sees Celtic peoples as having a predominantly joyous life with the women in charge and sees them as loving “…to dress up, wear makeup, and colour their hair with reds and purples and greens. They wanted a different hairstyle for every festival, and they’d spend hours doing each other up for the party.” (page 101). So who, I might ask was cooking the food, preparing the feasting area and watching the children? The Clan Mothers? No, they were busy running the tribe. The men? No, they were busy hunting, drinking and recounting their bravery on the hunt. According to Ms. Brondwin the food was prepared in advance and then the hired “…great musicians, storytellers, comedians and even puppeteers.”

She asserts an emphasis on harming none as a basic fact of Celtic life. Tell that to the Roman legionnaires facing a screaming horde of woad-painted Celts who didn’t have enough sense to lie down and die when they had been run through. Tell that to the neighbouring tribes who had their cattle (and maidens) stolen in raids. If they had been as peaceful as she believes, they would have been wiped out long before they were assimilated into the general European population.

Her designation of “Ire” (the fifth element) as a “lesser” element may work for her, but most folks I know consider that elements (often called “Spirit”) to be the source of the other four elements, and hence do not consider it to be less than the others.

I remarked on my earlier review of her writing that I have a problem with those who teach “the old ways” and then make them P.C. That isn’t as evident in this work, although her disparaging remarks about the consumption of alcohol in large quantities by the Celts were unnecessary, in my opinion. A simple statement that such is no longer expected would have been enough.

Once again, over half the book passes before any mention is made of male energies. This is, in my opinion, a very narrow perception of mankind and the Celtic peoples in particular. It conveys the impression that only the feminine part of the Celts had any interest, or involvement, in the spiritual life of the tribe.

According to Ms. Brondwin, merely thinking about a spirit instantly draws it to the individual. “Telepathy, channeling, or the calling up of spirits has instantaneous results.” (page 157). Not the way I was taught. She tells the reader how to communicate with spirits, and then says “There are certain cautions to be observed, and tricks for controlling your communications with the Otherworld. Read it [the next chapter] too, before you actually try to channel.” The warnings should come first, in my opinion.

Banishing an unwanted entity is as simple as saying “Go in peace. Leave me.”? Excuse me? Well, if that is true, why did we have to learn to create a protective garment (the Lorica), and make a fist of power? Ms. Brondwin’s work appears to be at a very low level of energy, by the examples she cites.

Her view of the Celtic women’s life is one of constant joy and happiness. They laughed all the time. I have to wonder, when did they find time to tend the fires, raise the children, and be wives?

This is the second book I have read in the past month that I cannot recommend to the serious student. I really hate to say that about a book, but there it is. In fact, since this is the second book by this author which has elicited this response from me, I would hesitate to recommend any of her work. Although her book is categorized as “Young Adult/Wicca,” there is nothing of Wicca in it.

Save your money on this one.


The Fairy Ring, by Anna Franklin

By Mike Gleason | November 30, 2002 | Leave a comment

The Fairy Ring: An Oracle of the Fairy Folk, book by Anna Franklin, illustrated by Paul Mason
Llewellyn Publications, 0738702749

One thing needs to be very clear at the outset. This is NOT a Tarot deck. It has no Major Arcana, as such, instead it has eight Fairy Festival (Sabbat) cards, there are only 13 cards in each of the “suits” of the Minor Arcana (there is no “ten” and the Page has been replaced by the Lady). It also includes four cards illustrating layouts and the meanings for each position within the layouts. These cards will be an invaluable aid to becoming comfortable and familiar with these new layouts.

These cards are interesting on many levels, ranging from the expected ones of divining information and serving as a meditation tool to the unexpected use as a kind of mug shot book of the Celtic branch of the wee folk. Utilizing the book which explains the cards, one can gain more insight into the habits and behaviours of the most elusive inhabitants of our world.

Proper methods of behaviour towards these races are discussed, as are their expectations of the humans they choose to interact with.

Granted that there are a very limited number of fairy folk discussed, and this group is all derived from Celtic lands (specifically the British Isles), still there is a wide variety of types discussed. In all there are 56 spirits covered (each suit contains one double card). Of these, ways of contacting and working with are given for 40. The other 16 are “not recommended” to work with, for various reasons.

The cards are beautifully drawn, and the descriptions and divinatory meanings given in the book give a good starting point for your own encounters with the inhabitants of the land of Fairy.

Even in you don’t want to use them for divinatory purposes you could spend hours meditating upon them, Each card provides an easy entrance into the world of the particular spirit.

It will be a while before I have any solid, personal opinions regarding the layouts developed for these cards, but at this time I can say that they appear to offer some very interesting insights.


Review: Celtic Astrology, by Phyllis Vega

By Mike Gleason | August 1, 2002 | Leave a comment

Celtic Astrology: How the Mystical Power of the Druid Tree Signs Can Transform Your Life, by Phyllis Vega
New Page Books, 2002
One of the things I liked about this book is the assumption on the part of Ms. Vega that she shouldn’t assume anything about the basic knowledge of her readers. She doesn’t assume that everyone knows the “standard” astrological dates and attributes. On the other hand, she doesn’t assume that her readers have no basic background. She walks the fine middle line by giving out basic details without being condescending about it. She does a fine job of contrasting the “normal” astrological types with the types associated with the Celtic astrology.

Make no mistake. This is not an astrological book in the usual sense of the word. There are no calculations to make; no charts to cast; no planetary alignments to be concerned about. It simply breaks humanity into the thirteen types associated with the Celtic Tree Calendar (plus the Nameless Day). This makes it easy to compare general sun sign attributes with Tree sign attributes.

She feels that the sun sign represents the outer qualities in an individual – those that the world sees and reacts to, while the Tree sign represents the inner qualities – those that affect how you react to the world.

On a non-astrological note, Ms. Vega does not fall into the trap all too many other authors have of assuming that the Celtic world consisted of a homogeneous, matriarchal society, with established sacred schools of learning. She acknowledges the patriarchal basis of the Celtic world, without insisting on a matriarchal or balanced role of the sexes. Neither does she claim an advanced social agenda on the behalf of the Celts, although she does give a nod to their technological innovations and advancements.

Unlike many books on either of these topics (Celtic studies and/or astrology), this book is an easy, enjoyable read. When this book arrived, I figured I was in for a difficult reading, especially as I am not a big astrology fan. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy Ms. Vega made it to understand. It contains a lot of food for thought and will encourage the reader to stretch his or her mind. It is not, however, a fluff book. It contains a great deal which is usable by almost anyone.

She does rely extensively on The White Goddess by Robert Graves for her information on the Ogham alphabet. While this is an extremely popular work, there are significant questions about its validity on a factual level. Graves himself acknowledged that he was writing as a poet, not a historian.

Ms. Vega relates basic stories of each of the deities associated with the thirteen trees, which compose the tree alphabet, as well as explaining about each of the animals associated with each of them.

She shows the correspondence between the Celtic tree astrology and the more traditional zodiac. She takes the time to give thumbnail sketches of the traditional signs in language, which is easy to understand, and entertaining to boot. Nor does she sugar coat the shortcomings we all have. She does her best to present things in a positive light, without the cloying sweetness and light, which is so prevalent in many books today.

The exercises and techniques she sets out for each of the tree/sun sign combinations are easy and fun to do. They do not involve strenuous occult exercises and beliefs. She runs the gamut from healing baths to chakra balancing, with guided meditations and simple charm construction thrown in for good measure. All of these are designed to made use of regardless of the reader’s religious orientation, if any.

Once again, I have to state that this not your standard astrology book. It is, however, a handy companion to help one understand all of the influences that affect our daily lives. And, given the popularity of Celtic orientation in the modern Pagan world, it should find a home on many bookshelves. Just don’t let it sit there, though. Take it down periodically and re-explore the offerings contained within these covers.


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