Modern Druidry is a neopagan religion based on the ancient practices of a Celtic culture in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany and Gaul. Druid tradition was rich and complex but it was an oral tradition; almost nothing written exists from that lost time. Piecemeal evidence reveals that Druids observed a generous moral code and acted as arbiters of disputes and transgressions against society. What little is known of the old ways influences the moral principles of contemporary Druids.
Brehon Laws and Moral Behavior
Druids have been called the Brahmins of Indo-European society. They were an educated, powerful class in ancient Celtic culture, entrusted with adjudicating disputes at every level, divining auspicious dates and courses of action, overseeing sacred rituals, dispensing medical advice and care, safeguarding cultural myths, spoken poetry and the arts. When Ireland codified its first formal set of laws in the fifth century, the drafters used the commonly accepted “laws” passed down from the days of the Druids. These became known as the Brehon laws, and they are a rare source of information about the definition of civic and religious behavior in Druidic society. Because Druidry was an oral tradition, the rules Druids lived by and the moral code they embraced has to be reconstructed from fragmentary evidence by historians and modern practitioners of Druidry.
Truth and Honor
Enforcement of iron-clad rules covering moral precepts was not a hallmark of early Druidry. Instead, the ancient Druids had a code of honor, based on truth. The truth was the determinant for decisions about disputes or violations of community practices. People were free to live as they pleased provided they caused no harm. Virtues considered exemplary for a moral life included observance of all vows, generous hospitality, loyalty, courage to outlast adversity, devotion to justice, and living honorably -- choosing to do the right thing no matter the cost.
A central principle of belief in early Druidism was the sanctity of the natural world. Stewardship of the fragile and magical Earth -- a strong sense of environmental responsibility -- defined Druid life. To disregard the welfare of a person, creature or plant was an offense that required reparation. Performance of sacred rites at wells, springs and rivers, religious ceremonies to honor the sun at the solstices and equinoxes, and observance of the full moon connected Druids to the physical world and underscored their obligation to live in harmony with it. Druids believed so strongly in reincarnation that they expected to return to a place and time very much like the one they left, more reason to protect their environment.
Participation in the community was critical in the era of the ancient Druids because individuals were dependent on collective resources and protection for survival. To be expelled for violating the terms of acceptable behavior was to lose all contact with the community -- the equivalent of a death sentence. Although there was wealth disparity in the culture, the Druids administered practices that ensured each person had a voice in disputes and could receive medical care when injured or ill. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of numerous Druid hospitals, sophisticated surgeries and other advanced treatments. Under Brehon law, every person had the same right to "sick maintenance" -- doctor visits, therapeutic remedies, monetary assistance and healthy, medicinal foods. Fines, to pay for the hospitalization and cure of the victim, were levied against anyone who caused an injury.
The poor could also bring a grievance against the socially prominent with the practice of troscad, which survives as a political act to this day. An aggrieved person declared an injustice, sat in front of the door of the accused and fasted against them until the wrongdoer accepted a legal penalty or the terms of an arbitration conducted by Druids. A pauper could fast against his chieftain to satisfy a grievance; a Druid could fast against the king. Failure to honor troscad guaranteed intolerable spiritual punishment and forfeiture of personal legal rights.
- The Druids; Peter Berresford Ellis; 1994
- Religious Tolerance: Beliefs, Practices & Celebrations of Celtic Druidism
- Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids: Ethics & Values in Druidry I
- Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids: Ethics & Values in Druidry II
- The Druid Tradition; Philip Carr-Gomm; 1991, p. 70
- History World International: Druids
- The Druid Network: The Brehon Laws: Defining Ethics and Values for Modern Druidry
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