Druid Philosophy as a Celtic Process Philosophy

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.

Druid Philosophy

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)

Process philosophies

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 product'.

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) philosophies.

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 Philosophies.

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 further intervention.

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.

Transcendental Substantive Philosophies
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.

Transcendental Process Philosophies
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 motion.

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 Druids.

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 processes.

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.


If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?

Christian versus Buddhist worldviews

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation