Much has been written about
Druid beliefs, almost none of which is by Druids themselves.
Not that the Druids were illiterate, it's just
that they chose to propagate their teachings by a purely oral transmission of what was
apparently a vast corpus of knowledge. Consequently the information that we have was
mostly written by their enemies in the Roman Empire and its successor the Roman Church.
The truth seems to be that the Druid religion
was quite compatible with Buddhism and early Christianity, and was based
on advanced philosophical and ethical principles. There is no independent evidence of
Druidic human sacrifices or the other atrocities claimed by the Roman propaganda machine.
Philosophies come in four types:
This article proposes that Druidism, like
Buddhism, was a Transcendental Process philosophy.
Process versus Substantive philosophies
(A tidal wave is just as deadly as an iceberg)
Time and change are fundamental aspects of all
experience (all compounded phenomena are impermanent).
Processes are ever-changing relationships with
causes producing effects which themselves are causes of further effects.
Causes and effects are defined as the coming
together and dissolution of parts and wholes, structures and substructures, changes in
relative disposition in space, energies and attributes.
Physical substances can only be understood in
terms of the disposition of their constituent particles and how these change and are
changed by interaction with particles of other substances.
Relationships, dependencies and interactions are ontologically more
fundamental than 'things in themselves'. 'Process has priority over
Any 'thing' that causes a change is thereby
itself changed. Any 'thing' that is observed is itself changed by the act of
observation (not much use against a cannonball but effective against an electron).
Substantive (or reifying)
Substantive/reifying philosophies regard the
world as being composed of things and substances.
Substances have essences that define their properties. Diamond
has a different essence from graphite.
There is a universal 'pattern' for every
distinct class of thing (eg furniture, chairs, stools, tables, trees, bushes, shrubs,
saplings, puddles, pools, ponds, tarns, lakes etc)
Mechanistic versus Transcendental
Mechanistic Substantive Philosophies
All phenomena are caused by interactions between material things and/or substances.
Thoughts and mental phenomena are epiphenomena of matter. God is a watchmaker who designed
every mechanism in the universe, wound them all up and left them to run down without
Mechanistic Process Philosophies
All processes are deterministic and are governed entirely by mathematical
equations. Processes occur exclusively within three spatial and one temporal dimension.
There is no need for mental dimensions. There is also no need for God as the Process
of Evolution explains all sentient phenomena.
There is a non-material soul which is either 'a thing in itself' or is
composed of a non-material substance called ectoplasm. The soul is the ghost which
controls the machine of the human body. Animals don't have souls and are simply machines.
God is a kind of supersoul who created all the
other souls. Unfortunately he didn't get them 100% right and some of them are bad and will
have to be incinerated.
There are mental dimensions to the universe in which qualitative experience and
spiritual aspects of existence such as aesthetics, ethics, love and compassion move and
have their being. The mind is not a thing, it is a process or mental continuum.
Mental processes interact with and affect 'physical' processes at all levels of
reality. The mental dimensions are all-pervasive. The act of observation is more
fundamental than the division into subject and object. Since nothing, not even God,
has any fixed, defined essence, freewill becomes possible.
God provides the physical, temporal and mental
space in which all phenomena occur and is thus the source and upwelling of possibility,
freedom, potential, intuition, inspiration and creativity. The Druids called this
upwelling 'awen'. God provides the mental continuum with an escape path from
conditioned biological existence and rebirth.
As the Buddha said: 'Monks,
there is an unborn, a not-become, a not-made, a not-compounded. Monks, if that unborn,
not-become, not-made, not-compounded were not, there would be apparent no escape from this
that here is born, become, made, compounded. But monks, since there is an unborn,
not-become, not-made, not-compounded, therefore the escape from this that here is born,
become, made and compounded is apparent'
Evidence for Druidism as a process philosophy
Druidism, like Buddhism, sees the ultimate nature of reality in terms of three
types of dependent relationship. To the Buddhist phenomena exist in three fundamental
ways. Firstly, by dependence upon causes and conditions. Secondly, by dependence upon the
relationship of the whole to its parts and attributes. Thirdly, and most profoundly,
phenomena depend upon mental imputation, attribution, or designation. All these
relationships are constantly changing and so all produced phenomena are impermanent. Existence is merely impermanence viewed in slow
These dependencies are are also fundamental to
the Druid world view and are known as gwyar (change, causality), calas
(structure) and nwyfre (consciousness). The triskele represents reality arising
from these three dependences and may have been used as a meditational symbol by the
Early Celtic Christian theologians such as
Pelagius and John
Scotus Eruigena appear to have been influenced by Druidism, and in contrast to
continental theologians they placed great emphasis on human potential and freewill
Celtic art, with its elaborate knotwork seems
to represent an aesthetic and spiritual outlook of interacting and interpenetrating
Druid religious celebrations emphasized
impermanence and the process of becoming rather than the state of being. The changing seasons of the year
were metaphors for the processes of growth, decline, death and rebirth.