What we refer to as the religion of Druidism is a very complex subject, usually broken into three stages:
- Paleodruidism: "Old Druids" 500 BCE - 700? CE
- Mesodruidism: "Middle Druids" 1700s CE -
- Neodruidism: "New Druids" 1960s CE -
Mesodruidism generally refers to the so-called "Druidic Renaissance" or "Druidic Revival" begun in the eighteenth century. Now, some mesodruids claim a lineage back to 1245 CE, when supposedly a group of underground druids and bards met somewhere in the British Isles and agreed to found something called the "Mount Haemus Grove". While there supposedly is a Mount Haemus Grove in existence today, there is no proof of their existence going back beyond the late 1980s. However, this claim of a continued lineage from at least the Middle Ages is one which is encountered many times when studying mesodruidism.
In fact, the movement's twin origins are in the mystical/fraternal societies of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as the Freemasons and Rosicrucians, as well as the philosophy of Deism, and in the new not-quite-yet-a-science of archaeology. In 1659, John Aubrey (an early antiquarian--i.e. proto-archaeologist) theorized that Stonehenge may have been a druidic temple. However, he was reluctant to publish this idea, and it took William Stuckeley in 1717 to publish the theory. Probably not coincidentally, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids claims to have been founded in 1717; also, the original charter of the Freemasons dates to this year. Mesodruids were even active in the New World. Around 1790, a mesodruidic society--simply called "The Druidic Society"--was established in Newburgh, New York. And so, numerous druidic revival groups were quickly formed and claimed a continuance from the original druids of the classical Celts.
But, as stated, this is a fallacy. Unlike, say, the Romans, the Celts were either converted peacefully, while those who retained a pagan belief eventually died out. Moreover, these druids were not influenced by Celtic mythology and history, but were influenced by mystical Christianity, ritual magic, and fraternal organizations of the era. Hense, there are many discrepencies between what is now generally accepted regarding the beliefs of the paleodruids and those which the mesodruids took up:
- That druids had built dolmens, cromlechs, and stone temples, especially Stonehenge, and that they used stone altars. (These structures predate the druids by at least 1500 years.)
- That druids worshipped the sun.
- That druids were descended of the Levites, or were akin to the Biblical patriarchs, right down to being monotheists.
- That druids were strictly male.
- That druids were freedom fighters against Rome (this was mainly a French idea).
- That druids practiced a ritual magic, alchemy, etc.--that is, they were like medieval magicians.
Mesodruidism's influence was set firmly in place by the forgeries of Iolo Morgannwg and his book Barddas, which claims to be the teachings of the medieval bards and druids. Included are such claims as that druids were not only monotheists, but Christians, as well as a cosmology which would have been foreign to the paleodruids:
There are two opposing forces in the universe--God (energy tending towards life) and Cythrawl (energy tending towards destruction, emanating out of Annwn, the Abyss). Now, God spoke his name, and manred--matter--formed into three planes of existence: Abred (the innermost circle where life and Cythrawl battle--this is our plane, apparently), Gwynfyd ("purity" where life exists free from evil), and Ceugant ("infinity" where God alone exists).
--from my w/u Barddas
Much of the above can be found in many of the older druid orders still in existence, such as the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, the Druidic Order, etc. (though many of these groups have begun to incorporate some more recent scholarship). It also influenced the pseudoscholarship of Rober Graves, Lewis Spence, and the many silly books published by Llewellyn, particularly the notorious The 21 Lessons of Merlyn. Many of these druid groups still gather at Stonehenge on the summer solstice, despite modern scholarship's doubt towards this practice, at least as regards the paleodruids.
On the positive side, however, it must be noted that mesodruidism, though maybe not ultimately responsible for the preservation and translation of medieval Welsh and Irish texts and folktales, was instrumental, especially in attempting to preserve the Welsh language with the establishment of the Eisteddfod.
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? no, no, they come later