Wednesday 22 June 2022

Land of Druids

They weren't all Mr Nice Guys - Druids probably performed human sacrifices as well as the good stuff

There is a famous passage in Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars, where he discusses the Druids; and describes their relationship to Britain:

Throughout all Gaul there are two orders of those men who are of any rank and dignity... But of these two orders, one is that of the Druids, the other that of the knights. The former are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion. To these a large number of the young men resort for the purpose of instruction, and the Druids are in great honor among them. 

For they determine respecting almost all controversies, public and private; and if any crime has been perpetrated, if murder has been committed, if there be any dispute about an inheritance, if any about boundaries, these same persons decide it; they decree rewards and punishments; if any one, either in a private or public capacity, has not submitted to their decision, they interdict him from the sacrifices. 

This among them is the most heavy punishment. Those who have been thus interdicted are esteemed in the number of the impious and the criminal: all shun them, and avoid their society and conversation, lest they receive some evil from their contact; nor is justice administered to them when seeking it, nor is any dignity bestowed on them. 

Over all these Druids one presides, who possesses supreme authority among them. Upon his death, if any individual among the rest is pre-eminent in dignity, he succeeds; but, if there are many equal, the election is made by the suffrages of the Druids; sometimes they even contend for the presidency with arms. 

These assemble at a fixed period of the year in a consecrated place in the territories of the Carnutes, which is reckoned the central region of the whole of Gaul. Hither all, who have disputes, assemble from every part, and submit to their decrees and determinations. 

This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it.

From this reference, and other evidence; Britain was the centre of the Druids and their religion of eternal (probably reincarnating) life. It was the main place where Druids were trained by a complex and prolonged process of education and initiations - all done by word of  mouth and memorization, because writing this secret knowledge was forbidden. 

And the Druids were a problem for the Romans, because they organized and inspired the fiercest resistance they encountered in their invasions and eventual conquests of Gaul and Britain. Caesar comments that the druidic beliefs inspired the Britons with exceptional personal courage in battle, since they did not fear death. 

In Claudius the God, Graves makes the destruction of druidry the major objective of the inclusion of of Britain in the Empire - despite that Augustus had originally made it a principle that the boundary would be Gaul. So long as Britain existed to train and export Druids, then Gaul could never be securely subjugated. 

After the conquest, it was a major priority to extirpate the Druids and break their power; which is exactly what the legions were doing, a couple of decades later, in North Wales and Anglesey (as described by Tacitus) - when Boudicca mounted her massively destructive rebellion in the opposite corner of the country.   

Whether or not these Celtic Druids were in any way descended from the Neolithic/ Bronze Age priesthood who created the vast sacred landscape of southern England around the megalithic monument of Avebury, it is not known. 

But it seems clear that  there were several times in history - up to the 'Oxford Movement' of the 19th century - when the British Isles has been a major focus for religion, with international significance.

However, Britain was also the place where the industrial revolution began - and the way of thinking we could call 'positivism' or materialism began to be established, and where this eventually achieved perhaps its most thorough triumph; with, here-and-now, the all-but eradication of religion as a powerful motivator in human lives. 

Positivism has a fascinating role in the history of human consciousness, if we regard positivism as a development in human thinking - rather than as a response to changed conditions. In other words, if we regard the industrial revolution as a product of positivistic thinking (i.e. Not the cause of positivism). 

We need to recognize that positivism was - at first - experienced as a great liberation of the previously-passive human individual from the oppressive constraints of... well of all forms of communal immersion and control (good and bad). 

Positivism meant that its adherents felt able to think for themselves for the first time in history - and to experience life from a centre in the individual; and from this centre to evaluate and choose-between the ideas and instructions of the rest of society.

Positivism activated Men's thinking, and grounded it in his self.  

Of course we are now at the incoherent, alienated, and self-destroying end-stage of this process - and Britain has become (under the recent domination of its diaspora-nation the USA) an originating and generative centre of materialistic global totalitarianism and (therefore) evil.

But this has been our choice, and the choice of our ancestors

Exactly because of our individualistic consciousness, we could have chosen otherwise - and still can do - if we wished.  

Positivism is not necessarily evil when it is known to be what it was intended (by God) to be: a transitional phase of human consciousness. 

If the people of Britain had instead chosen to root their knowledge, lives, culture in God and the spirit - then we could have taken a very different and better path - and so could the rest of the world, if they too had chosen.

It is not a matter of eradicating the mind state of 'positivism' and trying (but failing) to go back to an earlier phase of consciousness; instead we ought to use our innate capacity (and doom) of individual knowing, evaluating, and choosing to create (because this freedom is precisely a form of creation) a world rooted in the spiritual, in God, in context of a perspective of resurrected eternal life - made possible by Jesus.

Consider; in the world here-and-now people believe/ know/ live-by all kinds of weird, nonsensical and evil stuff - and our communal, institutional world therefore operates on the basis of these beliefs; and (by our choice) forces them back upon us. 

If, instead, we choose to believe/ know/ live-by that which is true, beautiful and good; then... our world and the communal world would begin to operate on those beliefs. 

...It really is as simple, and as difficult, as doing that

Note added: Another way of thinking about this matter is that Positivism - as such - was actually an expression of divine destiny, and an intended aspect of that line-of-development initiated by Jesus Christ. Its many evils are a consequence of being cut-off from Christianity on the one hand; and also because the Christian Churches cut themselves off from the implications of this new mode of thinking - initially by the Churches excluding and resisting individualism and a spirituality rooted in originative intuition, later (and now) by these same Churches accepting and assimilating-to atheistic-positivism.



Pilot Doc said...

If I consider history as cyclical, even when these cycles run on an apparent linear timeline (seasons), then a potential solution becomes apparent.

The "linear" evolution of positivism at the individual level has resulted in me choosing the good, true and beautiful. I can't speak for the crowd, but I can influence it as part of it. As more people see, they will change their communities and hopefully form the next cycle of growth until corruption sets in and it starts anew.

Or, cataclysmic changes will occur and the cycle will start over if we are to rebuild and survive which in itself is a cyclic reset that flushes corruption when cooperation is required to survive. Then priests and politics start it all over again.

Bruce Charlton said...

@PD - I see history as linear - not cyclical; indeed, I think it was Jesus Christ who made history linear, or made its linearity clear.

Within the linearity there are cycles discernable, but only relatively superficial repetitions.

For reasons I have often discussed here; I don't think there is any solid reason for confidence that human society will rebuild; and several reasons to suppose it will not - and even if 'human beings' continue to survive in some way, somewhere - so what? That way of thinking (about the 'human species') is extremely abstract, and does not motivate us to any useful degree. More often it serves as cover for evil manipulations by the rulers.

Crosbie said...

I long found it strange that Romans were in Scotland. The infrastructure of the day made long distance transport of goods uneconomic. Even the 'ores' explanation I find questionable. With the exception of tin, were there *no* suitable metal deposits in the Mediterranean basin? And tin is not in Scotland. So indeed, I thought it had something to do with druids.

My own personal pet theory is that Scotland was the last redoubt of Phoenicia. If the druids were harbouring Phoenicians, that would explain the antipathy! But, perhaps, an intuition difficult to support with evidence.

Crosbie said...

To spell it out, my feeling is, they were not there for economic, or even military reasons, but rather spiritual. Is it wholly insignificant the Caesar, after making contact with the druids, founded the most celebrated empire of all time? (And one about to host the greatest spiritual transformation of all time)

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - An interesting idea, that fits with the mystery of the druids such as we encounter in William Blake!

My idea about the Romans in Scotland has always been that they were trying to make a border across the shortest, most defensible, line in Britain - between the Forth and Clyde estuaries.

Another factor is that the Hadrian's wall border on the East side excludes a lot of 'good land' to the Northern side, while the Southern side is much less fertile. For example, I have heard 'The Merse' in south east Scotland (Berwickshire) called the best agricultural land in (modern) Scotland. And there are rich and fertile lands around the old Scottish border towns such as Jedburgh, Melrose, Selkirk, Kelso - much more prosperous country than the Northumbrian lands to the south.

Maybe it was a continual temptation to extend the border north to include these?

Another idea is that some Roman bureaucrat or ruler wanted the prestige of expanding extending the Empire - even if it was useless - just like modern managers who always want to grow their corporations and institutions - even when this makes them less effective and efficient.