Travel & Roots

Druids, Filid & Bards: Custodians of Celtic Tradition

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Shadowy Nomads Were Guardians of Irish Lore

Drombeg stone circle (known as The Druid’s Altar) is one of Ireland’s best examples of a druidic shrine.

  • Mysterious holy men and poets were the World Wide Web of pre-Christian Ireland

  • Druids, Filid and Bards skilfully memorized ancient Ireland’s history and traditions

  • Shadowy nomads were revered by Irish chieftains but reviled by the Roman Empire

 

Who were the fabled druid, filid and bards of ancient Ireland and what role did they play in safeguarding Irish lore? The subject often raises more questions than it answers and much of the wisdom from this era has been eclipsed by the dominance of Christianity and preference for the written word.

Their era was dominated by storytelling, poetry and the mastery of the spoken word. Recorded history and the Latin alphabet had not yet illuminated their shadowy world giving these mysterious nomads an elevated and respected position in ancient Irish society. IrishEmpire.org recently set out in search of the faintest of ancestral footprints in the lost sands of Celtic time.

I: Druids

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Druids were revered in ancient Ireland wandering from clan to clan for ceremonial duties.

Ancient Ireland operated under a rigid and clearly defined hierarchical social network similar to the caste system in India. The upshot of this social stratification was that everybody from the head honcho all the way down to the lowly serf knew his or her place and role in society. One notable exception to this systematic ethos was the nomadic and mysterious life of an Irish druid.  

As custodians of ancient Celtic knowledge, wisdom and history, these holy men roamed from clan to clan to perform religious ceremonial duties. Revered as oracular scholars, these pre-Christian sages were guardians of Celtic beliefs and spiritual conduits for the vast pantheon of Gods worshiped by the Celts. In addition to the spiritual realm, druids also served as ancient judges, counselors and mediators.

II: Filid

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Filid were the master poets of the Celts honing their craft for years before becoming journeymen.

The Irish fili occupied a very important social position in Celtic Ireland similar to the role of a Bedouin poet in pre-Islamic Arabia. One unsolved mystery is whether or not the filid were offshoots of the druids or an entirely separate group. One theory is that the druids officiated at religious ceremonies as priests while the filid were cast in more of a supporting role.

What is known is that the filid (like the druids) studied for years and years in order to memorize ancient Irish oral lore. Their  focus was directed toward the material world prioritizing history, genealogy and the law rather than spiritualism. The filid were experts in preserving and guarding knowledge rather than entertainment and performance.

III: Bards

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Bards were considered a class beneath the Filid and were renowned performers and entertainers.

Bards were at the bottom of the food chain in this pre-Christian Holy Trinity but still played an important role as teachers, entertainers and disciples of druidic values. Bards were typically professional storytellers and/or poets employed by chieftains, monarchs or noblemen. Steeped in the history of clan and country, the bard could perform a number of key functions including commemoration of ancestors (and the patron), storytelling, poetry and musical entertainment.

Although bards were beneath the filid in the Celtic social structure, their enduring influence is arguably far greater in modern Irish society than that of their more esteemed counterparts given the eternal popularity of the Irish seanchaí and the plethora of celebrated Irish poets, playwrights and musicians.

IV: Legacy

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The Roman Empire and the popularity of Christianity eclipsed druidism and ancient pagan beliefs.

The mighty Roman Empire despised the druid class not just as savages and pagans but also as prehistoric jihadis willing to fight for their beliefs and lead the resistance movements. This marked the druids out as prehistoric terrorists in the eyes of the Romans helping to seal their eventual downfall.

A massive surge in the adoption and popularity of Christianity across the world also ushered in a new era where the druids had lost much of their relevance. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though as the introduction of the Latin alphabet helped the last vestiges of druidism record parts of their remarkable history for posterity providing us with tantalizing glimpses of another world.

Take a 3D tour of the famous Drombeg stone circle and The Druid’s Altar below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giVsX-1TYYk

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