The Cultural Heritage of the Druids among the Britons

The Druids and the Britons

About two thousand years ago England was occupied by the Britons, a people of Celtic race who spoke a language that has survived in Scotland, Wales and Ireland as Gaelic, Welsh and Irish. The Britons were organized in tribes with Chiefs, and sometimes Kings and Queen, but the tribes were always fighting each other. An important factor in unifying the nation was, however, their religion, which was called "Druidism."

Their priests were the "Druids" who were also their doctors, teachers and prophets, and the Island of Anglesey was the Druids' holy island. It is believed that many of the stone circles still to be found such as that of Stonehenge, were open-air temples in which the Britons worshipped the Sun, the Moon and other nature Gods as well as rivers, trees and stones, all of which were believed to have "souls."

The Britons considered their "Druids" as "Living Archives" of tribal law, history, science, medicine and religion. In his famous book entitled "A Child's History of England" Charles Dickens drew a brief outline of the Druids, saying that they taught the immortality of the soul, and practised their rites, which were barbarous and often cruel under the oak trees. Besides, Dickens described their religion as a "terrible religion." The Druids were called "enchanters" and "magicians" who made human sacrifices in honour of the gods. Dickens added that the Druids had a great veneration for the Oak and for the mistletoe, which was an object of special worship.

The Druids also arose Caesar's interest. By the time of Caesar's invasion the Britons of the South-East had made some way in civilisation; they had already begun to trade with the Continent and used gold, silver, and brass coins; bronze was usually employed in making knives, daggers, and swords. Caesar said that in England there were only two groups of great social importance: the Druids and the Knights, and that the Druids believe in the immortality of souls, which, after death, passed from one body to another.

With regard to human sacrifice, they were practised among all primitive populations, such as, for example, the Etruscan in Italy. Hence the Britons were called "barbarians." Instead they developed a great civilization on which Druids used their influence, thanks to their "mysterious secrets." Thus the Britons developed many artistic techniques that had previously been widely diffused. Jewellery enjoyed remarkable success because it was linked to the local metalworking skills of the workers and their Priest and was in perfect agreement with their way of life.

We can observe the influence of the Druids especially in the development of the technique of metallurgy, which was linked to weaponry and the nomadic warrior, rather than to the monumental culture of the sedentary state. Jewellery was a mobile art, both because the smiths who produced it and who also produced weapons were themselves itinerant artisans and because the works they created had no fixed place but were attached to movable objects such as the horse's harness, the warrior garments or the sheath or handle of swords and sometimes even to the heads of arrows which would be used only once.