According to early Irish legends, druids were people of learning and wisdom in ancient Celtic society. The Celtic word druid means ‘knowing or finding the Oak Tree’. Druids were members of the learned class among the ancient Celts. They seem to have frequented oak forests and acted in many roles including religious leaders, teachers, and judges. The earliest known records of the Druids come from the 3rd century BCE. ‘Druid’ is the anglicised version of a title used for some religious leaders of the pre-Christian Celts. In Old Irish, the correct term is druí (singular) and druíd (plural).
In Irish Celtic mythology, a druid was also referred to as a bandrui in medieval Irish tales. There were also women known as a flaith or a prophetess. ‘And of course there are the banfhlaith (sometimes banfhili), the ‘women poets’, most notably Fedelm in the Táin (though one may argue that flaith and filí are entirely separate, it is a distinction that is often difficult to discern in the medieval texts themselves)’.
The Druids were the original ‘religious leaders, scientists, teachers, judges and researchers of the Celtic society. For centuries, there was a common misconception that Druids were only male. However, numerous historical records attest to the fact that there were in fact women among their ranks’. A Druid could be many different professions such as a poet, an astronomer, a judge, a magician, a medicine healer, or be proficient in law. A druid spent many years in study, it is said up to 19 years, and they were respected members of society. They came from many different areas of life such as philosophy, theology, law, the sciences, medicine and many other areas.
According to Plutarch, female Celts were nothing like Roman or Greek women. They were active in negotiating treaties and wars, and they participated in assemblies and mediated quarrels. According to the ‘Pomponius Mela’, virgin priestesses who could predict the future lived on the island of Sena, in Brittany. In Celtic times women were equal in marriage, could be financially independent, divorce was available, women negotiated treaties and there was no distinction between male or female rulers.
A Celtic Queen in England was Boudica who led the ‘last British uprising against the Romans in 60 AD. She was a priestess of Andraste, Goddess of Victory’. In Ireland Saint Brighid of Kildare or Kil-dara, Church of the Oad, was the daughter of a Druid and was said to be a druid herself before she converted to Christianity. ‘She had both men and women in her religious community and she and her nuns kept a fire altar which was tended continuously until 1220 when an archbishop ordered it quenched. This fire altar mirrored the perpetual fire of the Ard-Drui (Arch-Druid) that had burned at Uisneach for centuries and thankfully the fire has been lit in modern times and is now once again tended by nuns and lay-folk.’ Romans never took over Ireland but as Christianity took over it closed down religious orders run by women and stopped the continuation of female led communities.
A modern day interpretation of druidism sees it as ‘an expression of the indigenous wisdom tradition of pagan Ireland connecting us to nature as the supreme being and to the spirit of our ancestors. . Celtic Druidism is a means of knowing yourself, understanding where you came from and realising your potential. Progressing along that path. . is to ‘feel and respect the inherent life-force in all things’.