A brief history of druidry

From being the educated elite of the 'Celtic' peoples through to a modern revival that began 300 yea

The Druids were the educated elite of what is now called the "Celtic" peoples. Many historians and archaeologists now argue that there never was an actual Celtic ‘race’, that it was more a cultural movement, but for the sake of clarity and to give a sense of familiarity, I will use the term.

The Celts were a tribal people, each tribe having its own chieftain. They were often at war with one another, raiding nearby tribal villages and stealing their neighbours' cattle. They were a warrior race who, in one of those strange historical paradoxes, created the most beautiful art and inspired a religion which had a deep respect for Nature.

The Roman invasion of the Celtic regions was made easier because Celtic society was so fragmented. The Romans systematically conquered one tribe at a time. The Druids were the only common link between the Celtic tribes. They were the prophets, magicians, seers, healers, royal advisors and judges. Druids could move in complete safety between tribes as to kill a Druid was punishable by death.

For some years the Druids and Romans co-existed, but then for a reason that has been lost in the mists of time, the Romans turned on them. It was in the year 61CE that two crushing blows were dealt against the Britons. The first was the sacking of Ynys Mon, the Isle of Anglesey, off the north coast of Wales, which was a major centre of Druidic learning.

It was written by Tacitus that the Druidesses were like screaming furies who spat curses across the bay at the assembling Roman armies. Although this chilled the blood of the Centurions, they attacked and won the battle. All of the Druid Groves (sacred clearings within the forests) were destroyed and all of the Druids and their children were slaughtered.

The other blow was the defeat of the Iceni Queen Boudicca whose revolt very nearly put an end to the entire Roman occupation. However, the massacre of the Druids did not destroy the religion. It continued in smaller groups and gradually the Druid was seen as little more than a wandering magician. A far cry from the high status previously held.

Between 5OOCE and the late middle ages the Druid tradition was kept alive in the tales and songs of the storyteller and wandering minstrel. During this time we see such characters as Merlin and Taliesin emerging as seer-poets, living on the edge of society and completely accepted by the spirits of Nature. Much of modern Druidic teaching comes from the words of the ancient Bardic tales and the poetry of Taliesin and Merlin.

Bardic colleges continued to operate in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, for many centuries, but eventually the last one was closed in the 17th century. However, the pull of this tradition was too strong and soon poets such as William Blake rediscovered the voice of the Bard.

What is Druidry today?

With the growing awareness many people have towards the environment, there is an understandable interest in the Nature-based, or Pagan, religions, and more and more people are finding the Druid tradition.

Druidry means different things to different people. There are those who take their spirituality from Druidry and blend it with their own tradition, be that Pagan or Christian. And there are others who try to follow a rediscovered "Druidism", i.e. the Druid faith.

The start of modern Druidry probably rests in the 17-1800s, the time of antiquarian William Stukeley, poet William Blake, and Welshman Edward Williams (aka Iolo Morganwg).

These three gentlemen, and other romantics began to look for the ‘Noble Savage’ within our own ancient British past. They each came to their own conclusions, with Blake declaring that he was a Druid, Stukeley and his antiquarian friends made the associations between the ancient Stone Circles and the Druids, and Iolo Morganwg wrote a book called The Barddas, that he said contained the authentic teachings of the ancient Welsh Bards.

Although much of Stukeley and Morganwg’s work has been discredited, the inspiration has proved unshakeable, and the tradition that they unwittingly revived is now coming of age, looking at its roots with a clearer vision offered by up-to-date archaeology and history, but also not discarding entirely the works of the original revivalists.

Modern Druidry, as it now stands, is over 300 years old, and with its emphasis of ecology, environmentalism, the arts, and folklore, it is needed now more than at any time in the Earth’s history.

Damh (pronounced Darv) is a modern-day Bard whose spirituality, and love of folk tradition, is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry. He is an Honorary Bard of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD)
Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.