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March 10th 100 A.D.

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The Druids

The Druids were priests to the Celtic tribes who at one time occupied much of mainland Europe as well as Britain. They left no writings and our knowledge of them comes almost entirely from various casual references by Greek and Roman writers.

Julius Caesar, who fought a nine year war against the people of Gaul is one of the prime sources. “The Druids preside in matters of religion, have the care of private and public sacrifices and interpret the will of the Gods.”  Later he states “They believe in effect, that, unless for a man’s life, a man’s life be paid, the majesty of the immortal Gods may not be appeased. They use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those that have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal Gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent.” 

After the conquest of Gaul, human sacrifices were suppressed by the Romans and the power of the Druids diminished rapidly. In common with many primitive religions the Druids believed in the immortality of the soul but there seems to be very little foundation for claims that they had anything more than the most rudimentary knowledge of astronomy or geography. Their meeting places were cleared areas, ‘sacred groves’ within forests and it does not appear that Druidical temples actually existed.

They celebrated four great festivals, March 10th, the New Year’s Day of their reckoning when the mistletoe was ritually cut down; May Day; Midsummer’s Day and November 1st. The Celtic tribes were largely pastoral and it has been suggested that May 1st was important as the day when the cattle were put out to pasture and November 1st was when the beasts were brought inside again. March 10th might also have been of importance as the date on which seed was sown. It is interesting to find that the Beltane ceremony was performed until the early 19th Century and Hallowe’en is still with us today. In 1676 William Pope could write,

I will not forget these stones that are set
In a round on Salisbury plains,
Tho’ who brought ‘em there, ‘tis hard to declare
The Romans or Merlin or Danes.

No mention of Druids. It was the 18th Century before it was even suggested that Stonehenge might be a Druidical temple. Since that time the Druids have been rediscovered, with myths piled upon myths. Complicated rituals have been devised to accompany their solemn celebrations of the summer solstice. The Druids have become, for some, repositories of ancient wisdom, the noble savages of ancient Britain. If they ever possessed such knowledge it has been lost long ago, for they were unwilling or unable to write about their doctrines. The likelihood is that they were priests of a religion that satisfied a relatively primitive people, which died out with time, partly because of official disapproval but mainly because it no longer satisfied the spiritual needs of the people.

In around 1810 Archiebald Gorrie of Rait gave an interesting talk to the Perth Literary and Antiquarian Society on the subject of the Druids. He maintained that Kilspindie in the Carse of Gowrie was one of the centres in Perthshire and suggested that Beal Hill about three miles from Kilspindie was where they held their annual assemblies. It is a hill of about 850 ft with a flat top and from its name might well have been an area for the annual Beltane ceremony. He talks of the area near to Beal Hill being called Dritch Muir or Druids Muir, and suggests that Pitroddie, a small village near to Kilspindie was originally Pit-Druide (the burial place of the Druids). He also mentions various stone circles near Beal Hill and Kilspindie. None of these remain today.

He is even more specific about the stones near to Kirkmichael. On the east side of Strathardle he states that there is a large circle of stones 90 yards in circumference and 25 feet high. From the east side of the circle two parallel rows of stones extend southwards in a straight line upwards of 100 yards. These form an avenue 32 feet broad leading to the circle. West from this line are two concentric circles and 37 yards further on are yet another pair. All the concentric circles are of the same dimensions, the inner 32 and the outer 45 feet in diameter.

These circles which must have been an impressive sight in 1810 have also disappeared. Mr Gorrie assumed that the stone circles were evidence of Druidical activity but this is not so. The stone circles were of a much earlier origin and normally marked the boundaries for sepulchres of the bronze age inhabitants, probably 1000 years before the Druids ever came to Scotland.

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