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Did the Celtic Druids Worship the Darkness — Part I?

Did the Celtic Druids Worship the Darkness — Part I?

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher addresses the question: Did the Celtic druids worship the darkness?

It’s an interesting and provocative question. Modern-day pagans would bristle at the suggestion that the druids worshiped evil. But then they’re following in the druids’ footsteps, aren’t they? So naturally, they would object.

The question goes to the root of a person’s world-view. What kind of worship is evil and what is not? What kind of worship is true and what is false?

The Role of the Celtic Druids

Let’s start by looking again at this question, briefly: What was the role of druids in ancient, Celtic society? Druids were a major player in the clan’s hierarchy. It’s likely that the clan’s local king, or Rí Tuath, sought the druids’ advice or even deferred to them in many, if not most, decisions. The druids were the keepers of the law and the ones who passed judgment for crimes committed against the clan. They also held the ancient knowledge of healing, passed down from druid to druid by word of mouth, for it was taboo to write anything down. All knowledge must be memorized. Like many ancient cultures, Celtic society held to an oral tradition.

The druids were also the mediators between the people and a panoply of ancient gods and spirits. And this is where we come to our question. The ancient Celts lived close to the natural world, and like many such peoples, they were animistic. They believed that trees, waterways, caves, forests, mountains, etc… were inhabited by spirits, sprites, and demons. They believed in leprechauns, called “the little people”, whose invisible comings and goings could cause harm if  a person inadvertently offended them. If you disturbed the habit of such sprites, perhaps by cutting down their favorite tree or building a pasture on their meeting place, they might visit harm on your cattle or bring illness to your children.

Celtic Theology

The druids also developed a theology based on a multiplicity of gods—polytheism. The list of Celtic deities is legion, numbering in the hundreds. (See my posts on the Celtic Otherworld.)

There was Balor, a demonic one-eyed god of death and evil. As one after another of his eyelids opened up, his victims would experience increasing levels of heat until they burned up.

There was Crom Cruach, the sun god, before whom the druids at Killycluggin sacrificed children. Archaeological evidence attests to this. (This features prominently in my novel, The Bonfires of Beltane.)

Let’s not forget the Morrigan, one of the original members of the Tuatha de Danann, the mythical race of deities that made Ireland their home in the distant past. She’s a shape-shifter, changing from a ravishing woman to a crow to a hag. Badb, a warrior goddess, and Nemain, another battle goddess, are her sisters. The Morrigan is the military mother goddess.

Manannán mac Lir is the Irish sea god and god of the Underworld. Sea monsters and storms inhabit his realm, and he sometimes has affairs with mortals.

We’ve only covered a tiny handful of Irish deities. These were not benign, easily worshiped gods that inhabited the Celtic spiritual realms. Even looking at their statuettes and figurines in the archaeological evidence would give anyone nightmares.

Appeasing a Panoply of Gods

A people saddled with animism and polytheism is a people living in constant fear, never knowing which god, spirit, or demon they might offend next. Appeasement was key. And to appease all these deities, the people had to make constant sacrifices, leaving bits of food or drink in secret offering places in the forest, often under little piles of rocks. The ancient druids also sacrificed people, sometimes even children, to their ancient gods. For who knew what calamity might befall the clan if the spirits were offended and not satisfied with one’s sacrifices?

This, my friends, was the state of worship in ancient, Celtic culture. You can see where we’re going. But I must leave it to next time to finish the answer to our question: Did the druids worship the darkness?

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, click on the link.