In Britain and France, there were religious leaders who were called dragins. Barry Cunliffe wrote in his book that they were "philosophers, teachers, judges, the repository of communal wisdoms about the natural world and the traditions of the people."

All of the surviving texts that mention druids were written by other people. Historians are trying to understand who the druids were and how they changed over time.

Historians do not know when druidism started. The earliest written reference to the druids is thought to have been around 2,400 years ago.

Julius Caesar's descriptions of the druids

Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C.


Caesar wrote in a series of books called "The Gallic Wars" that the druids were involved in things sacred, conduct the public and private sacrifice, and interpret all matters of religion. The translation was done by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn. The druids were often asked to resolve disputes.

If murder has been committed, if there is a dispute about an inheritance, the druids decide how to settle it. They reward and punish.

Caesar just deal with the Druids ( Campaigns Gallic ) 1867 Hippolyte Debon 1807-1872 France French ( Gaius Julius Caesar 100 – 44 BC Roman emperor general statesman).

Caesar speaks with the druids in a painting by French artist François Hippolyte Debon, 1867 (Image credit: Peter Horree via Alamy Stock Photo)

Conflicts about who should be the leader sometimes led to violence in groups of druids.

The druids did not allow their members to write down their beliefs. He wrote that the druids wanted their members to memorize their beliefs and teachings rather than looking at them, and that they did not want theirdoctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people.

It is possible that Caesar became friends with a druid. During his time as military commander in Gaul, he met the ruler of the Aedui, a powerful Burgundian tribe, and the Roman general commented that he trusted the Aeduan chief above all the other Gauls. Cicero lived at the same time as Caesar and he stated that Diviciacus was a druid.

The Celts were active in Britain, Ireland, Gaul and possibly other places. In the first century A.D., a Greek writer compared the druids to the magi and the Indians. He wrote that the Celts appointed those who they called druids, who were also devoted to the prophetic art and to wisdom in general. H Lamar Crosby wrote the translation. People from Gaul who wanted to become druids would sometimes travel to Britain, according to Caesar.

Druids and Stonehenge

A large crowd of Druids dressed in white robes at a night-time gathering at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England

A large crowd of druids gathers at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. (Image credit: robertharding via Alamy Stock Photo)

A lot of people think of Stonehenge as a pagan place. Around 2000 years before the earliest-known records of druids, Stonehenge was built. The question of whether or not druidism existed when Stonehenge was built is still up in the air. Live Science reached out to scholars that were not sure if druids were still around.

The last half of the 1st millennium BC saw the emergence of Druids, according to an email from an associate professor.

There is no correlation between stone circles and druids. Mike Pearson, a professor of British later prehistory at University College London, wrote an article in which he said that there was no link between ancient druids and stone monuments.

Mistletoe and the moon

A hand-colored steel engraving of 19th-century illustration of a group of Druids in white robes cutting mistletoe in the forest. They are being watched by several Roman soldiers who are dressed in red robes and yellow/gold-looking armor.

Druids cutting mistletoe in the forest watched by Roman soldiers. (Image credit: North Wind Picture Archives via Alamy Stock Photo)

Ancient sources give us some clues about what druids value.

The importance of mistletoe and the fifth day of the moon was discussed by a Roman writer. The mistletoe is gathered with religious awe. On the fifth day of the moon, which is the beginning of their months and years, is when this is done more. John Bostock wrote theTranslation

The importance of animal sacrifice and fertility was written about by the Elder. Two white bulls, the horns of which are bound for the first time, are brought by the druids. A priest dressed in a white robe ascends a tree and cuts mistletoe with a golden sickle, which is received by other people in a white cloak. He wrote that the victims were immolated while they offered prayers. They believe that mistletoe will give fertility to animals that are barren and that it is an antidote for all poisons.

How widespread was druidism?

Some scholars don't know how widespread druidism was in the past. In the British Isles, it flourished. Caesar claimed that people who wanted to study it traveled to Britain.

Caesar wrote that the institution was created in Britain and brought over from Gaul for the purpose of studying it.

It is not known if druids were found in Britain or far away. The Celts and their settlements have been found as far east as today's Turkey. Celts served as far away as Egypt and Judaea.

It's not clear if women are capable of being witches.

Did the druids practice human sacrifice?

Handcoloured copperplate engraving by Verico. It shows two druids and a priest in sacred robes with religious paraphernalia, gold vessels, serpent, and painted curtain.

Druids and priest in sacred robes with religious paraphernalia, gold vessels, serpent, and painted curtain. (Image credit: Florilegius via Alamy Stock Photo)

Humans may have been sacrificed by the druids. The first-century Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that thevates carried out the human sacrifice despite the presence of the druids.

The druids don't know how widespread human sacrifice was. Roman writers may have been hostile towards druids and the cultures they were part of.

In A.D. 60, there was a rebellion against the Romans in Wales. After the Romans crushed the rebels, they found evidence of human sacrifice, which may have been overstated to cast the druids in a negative light.

The groves were destroyed after a force was set over them. Tacitus wrote that they decided to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails. The translation was written by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb.

Some people think that archaeological evidence for human sacrifice is questionable. "Lindow man" is the remains of a young man who suffered a series of assaults in the first century A.D. and was stripped naked except for a fox-fur armlet. It is not certain if this is the remains of a human sacrifice or a druid's.

The end of druidism

druidism faded as Christianity spread druids were present in Ireland in a reduced form in the eighth century A.D.

Cunliffe wrote that "Druids are now seen to be the makers of love-potions and caster of spells but little else." One 8th-century hymn asks for God's protection from the spells of women, blacksmiths and druids.

Around the ninth century, paganism is thought to have ended. druidism is alive and well in modern times. There is a gap between the demise of the ancient druids and the reappearance of this revival group.

Additional resources

There is a group that represents seven museums in Wales. Cronkite News has an article about modern day druids. Caesar's " The Gallic Wars" is a major ancient source on the druids.

The original article was published on Live Science in May of 2014).