From the Introduction of the book by Peter Ellis
"The Druids"
Finally, a book that separates fact from mythology, telling us
what we can and cannot know about the ancient Druids. This
remarkable book by a leading historian of the Celts offers much
for the academician as well as the general reader. Fascinating
author of Ireland to North America
The Druids penetrates the veil of fiction and folklore by
painting a compelling picture of a central aspect of Celtic
society that has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. The
author's insights are extremely fresh, based on impeccable
scholarship, and presented in an engaging style certain to
interest readers from all backgrounds. Once again Peter
Berresford Ellis has made an invaluable contribution to Celtic
-PETER CHERICI author of Celtic Sexuality: Power, Paradigms, and
A thoughtful, comprehensive, and highly informative study that
corrects many of the ill-founded theories propagated concerning
the Druids. It is one of the best books available on the topic.
Ellis approaches his subject with realism, respect, and
impeccable scholarship, providing a balanced view not only of the
Druids but of Celtic society and achievements in general. His
book will be equally valuable to the scholar and the interested
author of Peredur: A Study of Welsh Tradition in the Grail
"THE DRUIDS" by Peter Ellis
IF this were an academic dissertation, I would probably choose
the subtitle 'An introductory argument'.... In no field is it
more necessary to ask the right questions than when attempting to
discover the Druids. The simple truth is that one person's Druid
is another person's fantasy. The Druids have been conjured in a
wide variety of perceptions, as to who they were, what they
believed and what they taught, since the sixteenth century. The
basic problem is that no Druid, nor sympathetic contemporary
observer, ever committed to writing the necessary unequivocal
information for our latter-day understanding. We have to search
diligently among many sources to come up with our answers and, as
Levi-Strauss implies, the result of the search depends on what
questions we ask.
In spite of several references to Druids in Greek and Latin
writings and in spite of the traditions recorded in the native
Celtic literatures, we are still far from being absolutely
It is true that we possess a few respectful Greek sources; but
the bulk of the 'Classical' observations consist of the
anti-Celtic propaganda of the Roman Empire. There has been a
tendency for scholars to accept these sources as giving us facts
written in stone which are not to be questioned. By the time the
Celts themselves came to commit their knowledge to writing, they
had become Christianized and, not surprisingly, the Druids
continued to get 'a bad Press'. Their portrayal remains an
extremely biased one. And when some of the 'gentlemen
antiquarians' of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries felt
that they could see the Druids in a more sympathetic light, they
romanticized them out of all recognition to what their role in
Celtic society originally was.
Most people these days would be able to make some response if
asked to define a Druid. In fact, the Druids have achieved
something of a unique place in the folklore of Western Europe and
its New World offshoots. They captured the imagination of the
ancient world as no other group of people ever did and they still
have a tremendous impact on the esoteric life of the modern
world. The Celtic scholar, Nora Chadwick, has commented: 'The
fascination of the subject is everlasting.' Apart from a vague
acknowledgement that the Druids were the intellectual class of
the ancient Celts, they are usually perceived as variations of
religious mystics and priests.
Many will remember being taught at school that the Romans saw the
Druids as bizarre, barbaric priests who indulged in the most
horrendous human sacrifices, searching for auguries in the
entrails of their victims. According to others, they were simply
ancient patriarchal religious mystics, generally portrayed in
white robes and beards, who worshipped nature, particularly
trees, and who gathered in stone circles to perform their
religious rites at the time of the solstice. To some they were
powerful magicians and soothsayers. To others merely bards and
prophets. How many would immediately conjure Merlin of Arthurian
Saga fame as the archetypal Druid? No doubt a good many modern
children would see the Druid through the eyes of Goscinny and
Underzo, in Asterix le Gaulois, where the character of the Druid
is known in the English translations as 'Getafix', originally
Panoramix, supplying magic potions from his mystical cauldron.
Those readers who have encountered Celtic mythology, and the
early sagas of Ireland and Wales, will know that the Druids are
depicted as an all-powerful and essential element in society. By
Christian times they had, more or less, been reduced to the
status of wizards and soothsayers.
Others will associate the Druids as something to do with the
recreation of the Welsh, Breton and Cornish Gorseddau and the
romantic movement of the late eighteenth century. The robed
figure of the ArchDruid of Wales is now an easily recognizable
one, thanks to the press and media coverage of the Gorsedd
ceremonies - particularly the Welsh Gorsedd - as part of the
National Eisteddfod.
However, in England, people popularly associate Druids with
earnest looking, white-robed men and women who continue to hold
mystic ceremonies at the time of the summer solstice in stone
circles such as Stonehenge and even at such sites as Parliament
Hill or Tower Hill in London. Indeed, there still exist
descendant groups of the Ancient Order of Druids formed by
enthusiasts in London in 1781. Sir Winston Churchill was
initiated into the Albion Lodge of the Order in 1908. These
gatherings, of course, have nothing to do with Celtic culture,
ancient or modern, and the 'mystic' incantations of these
particular Druids, to the sun and pagan deities, are chanted in
Indeed, Druids have also been hijacked by the 'New Age' movement
and conjured to their philosophies. An offering which has been
reprinted several times now, The Mind of the Druid, by Dr E.
Graham Howe, has a foreword by David Loxley, claiming to be
'Chief Druid of the Druid Order'. Again, this work has absolutely
nothing to do with ancient Celtic philosophy, but, sadly, Druids
are commercially acceptable in the new wave of esoterica and
alternative religious thought. Any half-baked philosophy can have
the word 'Druid' or even 'Celtic' attached to it and be assured
of an enthusiastic, if somewhat gullible, following.   
The first problem, then, is - who is right in their perception of
the  Druids? The simple answer is rather like the logic found in
Alice in Wonderland. Everyone is wrong but everyone has glimpsed
a tiny part of the reality, so everyone is right and we all get a
prize! Readers will recall the story of the blind men being asked
to define an elephant by touch. One, feeling a leg, claimed
that the elephant was like a tree, another, feeling its trunk,
claimed it was like a snake, yet a third, feeling an ear, thought
the elephant was a large winged creature and so on and so forth.
This is precisely what has been happening over the last three
hundred years in the case of the Druids. Definitions are derived
from small items of knowledge and no one seems to have perceived
a totality of information to give an accurate picture of who they
were and why they have survived into our modern folklore.
(I think Isabel Hill Elder did do that in her work, "Celt, Druid
and Culdee - Keith Hunt).
This work, which is an attempt to present the Druids to a general
readership, sets out to demonstrate the role of the Druids in
ancient Celtic society; what we know of their teachings, and how
they imparted their knowledge without the aid of writing. This
oral tradition existed not because they had no knowledge of the
art of writing but because they placed a religious prohibition on
committing their knowledge to that form, in order that such
knowledge should not fall into the wrong hands. It thus took
between twelve and twenty years of study to reach the highest
level of learning among them. This prohibition on committing
their knowledge and philosophy to writing has been a great
stumbling block for modern scholars attempting to understand
exactly what they believed and taught; that, combined with the
periodic destruction of native Celtic books and manuscripts by
conquering forces. Indeed, it is argued that when the Celtic
civilization first became known to the Greeks, the Greeks called
them the Keltoi, which was a Celtic word used to describe meaning
'the hidden people'. Celt is seen by some linguists as being.
cognate with the Old Irish ceilid, used in Modern Irish as ceilt
- to hide or conceal. It is also argued that the word kilt,
entering English in about 1730 from Scottish Gaelic, meaning the
distinctive short skirt of male Celtic dress, comes from this
same root word. However, it should be pointed out that others
have contended that the word kilt derived from the Scandinavian
languages, kilte meaning 'to tuck up'. This latter derivation
seems a little too plausible.
The Druids were no simple barbaric priests or priestesses.
Indeed, nothing in the accounts really suggests a priesthood nor
does any Classical writer call them priests or sacerdotes. This
is not to say that some Druids were not called upon to oversee
religious functions. 
I would suggest, as many other scholars in this area have now
done, that the Druids were the parallel caste to the social group
which developed in another Indo-European society - the Brahmins
of the Hindu culture. They formed the intellectuals, or learned
class, of Hindu society and were deemed the highest caste. While
they had a priestly function, they were not solely priests. 
So, too, with the Druids; they were a caste incorporating all the
learned professions. The caste not only consisted of those who
had a religious function but also comprised philosophers, judges,
teachers, historians, poets, musicians, physicians, astronomers,
prophets and political advisers or counsellors. Druids could
sometimes be kings or chieftains, such as Divitiacus of the
Aedui, but not all kings were necessarily Druids.
Our earliest and most extensive sources, as I have pointed out,
are from Greek and Roman writers. In other words, from writers
alien and often extremely hostile to Celtic culture.
Significantly, the Greek sources are generally more respectful to
the Druids, particularly the Alexandrian School of writers, while
the Latin sources are universally hostile. Yet, as I have said,
these sources have, in the main, been accepted without question
even by scholars who are usually more critical of source
material. Imagine, the culture and history of the American
Indians from the perceptions of nineteenth century white American
settlers being accepted without question. What a curious,
prejudiced view we would have of the Native Americans.
Imagine, too, the commander of a foreign army which has been sent
to conquer and destroy a people then writing a book about the
culture and customs of those people and it being regarded by
subsequent generations as written totally without prejudice. Yet
we are asked to accept Julius Caesar's accounts of the Celts and
Druids as totally accurate. Had General, Lord Chelmsford, written
an account of the culture and philosophies of the Zulu nation,
following his conquest of Zululand in 1879, we might have had
some reservations in accepting everything he wrote as being
without prejudice. Yet many would have us believe that the
passage of time makes for unquestioning accuracy. We can accept
that Chelmsford would very likely have been prejudiced, but that
Julius Caesar's comments on the Celtic civilization and the
Druids are beyond reproach. This is not to say that Caesar was
totally inaccurate to the point where he should be dismissed.
Indeed, from native Celtic sources, we can confirm several of his
We should question everything, especially if it comes from
sources hostile to Celtic civilization. 
The cultural prejudice of both the Greek and Roman sources must
be taken into account when they speak of matters pertaining to a
culture they generally deemed as barbaric or inferior.   
When Christianity replaced the pre-Christian Celtic religion and
the Druidic proscription on writing down the native history and
philosophy was ended, the Celts poured out a wealth of
Indeed, Irish became Europe's third written language. From early
Irish and Welsh sources there are many references to the Druids
and, in a few places, they do confirm some of the information
found in Greek and Roman sources.
What emerges from a close study of the sources is that the
commonly held belief, that the Romans attempted a widespread
repression of the Druids because they were horrified by Druidic
priestly practices, is no more than a conjecture which has become
an accepted historical myth. There is, indeed, evidence that the
Romans attempted to abolish the Druidic caste although Nora
Chadwick argues that the attempt was not as widespread as later
historians would have us believe. Certainly such an attempt was
not the result of Roman sensitivities about the religious rites
practised by the Celts. As an intellectual class, the repository
of Gaulish and British cultural and national resistance to Roman
conquest, it would be inevitable that Rome would attempt to
suppress them. It is a traditional imperialist maxim that to
conquer a nation you must first subvert or remove the class which
is most dangerous to your objectives, that is - the
Professor Jean Markle, in his "La Femme Celte" (1972) makes the
following argument as to why the Romans attempted to suppress the
     When Rome spread its empire over the whole Mediterranean 
     and into part of Western Europe, care was taken to eliminate
     anything that might harm its socio-political organization.
     This is very evident in Celtic countries: the Romans pursued
     the Druids until they disappeared into Gaul and later into
     Britain. The Druids represented an absolute threat to the
     Roman State, because their science and philosophy
     dangerously contradicted Roman orthodoxy. The Romans were
     materialistic, the Druids spiritual. For the Romans the
     State was a monolithic structure spread over territories
     deliberately organised into a hierarchy. With the Druids it
     was a freely consented moral order with an entirely mythical
     central idea. The Romans based their law on private
     ownership of land, with property rights entirely vested in
     the head of the family, whereas the Druids always considered
     ownership collective. The Romans looked upon women as
     bearers of children and objects of pleasure, while the
     Druids included women in their political and religious life.
     We can thus understand how seriously the subversive thought
     of the Celts threatened the Roman order, even though it was
     never openly expressed. The talent of the Romans in ridding
     themselves of the Gallic and British elites is always
     considered astonishing, but this leaves out of account the
     fact that it was a matter of life or death to Roman society.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24-79) seems to be the first to raise
questions bout the reasons for the decline of the Druids and
certainly has no hesitation in attributing it to Roman
repression. Yet one cannot really take seriously the claim that
this was done because of Roman outrage against a religion they
associated with human sacrifice when Rome itself was so used to
mass sacrifices. Eminent men from the nations that Rome had
conquered were dragged though the streets, chained to the
chariots of her victorious generals, and ritually strangled in
the Tullianum at the foot of the Capitol to propitiate Mars, the
Roman god of war. Vercingetorix, the famous leader of Celtic
resistance to Caesar in Gaul, met his end here. It can hardly be
believed that the Romans, especially during the reigns of such   
emperors as Caligula and Nero, could be shocked by human
It is only the Romans course, who would have us believe in their
sensitivity to human sacrifice. The curious fact is that no
Insular Celtic literature, nor traditions, provides evidence for
the practice of human sacrifice as a religious rite.
When Augustus excluded the Druids from Roman citizenship by
forbidding Roman citizens to practise Druidical rites, when
Tiberius banned the Druids by a decree of the Roman Senate and
when Claudius attempted to 'wholly abolish' them in AD 54, it was
not, I believe, in disapproval of 'inhuman rites' practised by
the Druids, but to wipe out an intellectual class who could, and
did, organize national revolt against Rome.
Further, my argument is that the Druids were not entirely
suppressed in the Celtic lands under Roman rule as is commonly
thought. Nor would I accept Nora Chadwick's contention that they
perished by slow strangulation from the superimposition 'of a
higher culture on a lower'. Mrs Chadwick, for example, claims
that when the inhabitants of the chief town of the Aedui in Gaul,
that is Bibracte (Mont-Beuvray), were transferred to the new
Roman town of Augustodunum (Autun), and their oral Druidical
school was replaced by a Romanized university, the Druids were
driven into the backwoods where they eventually perished. On the
contrary, I believe that the Druids remained and adapted to the
new culture.
The great Gaulish intellectual Decimus Magnus Ausonius (C.AD
310-c.393) provides us with some fascinating evidence in this
respect. He was the son of a physician of Burdigala (Bordeaux)
where he taught for thirty years before being appointed as tutor
to Gratian, son of the Emperor Valentinian 1. When Gratian
succeeded as emperor, Ausonius became prefect of Gaul and finally
consul in AD 79. He was nominally Christian, but without any
deeply committed feeling. He wrote one discourse on the
properties of the number three, so closely associated with
Druidic teachings. Ausonius came from an educated Celtic family
which would have been of the Druidic caste before Roman
Ausonius himself admits that his contemporary Delphidius, famous
for his eloquence, and a likely teacher of his, also descended
from a Druidic family. Delphidius' father was Attius Patera, a
famous rhetorician, whose own father, Phoebicius, had been an
aedituus or 'temple guardian' of the Celtic god Belenus at
Bordeaux until he had been persuaded to become a teacher in the
local Latin university.
Ausonius' own maternal grandfather was banished by Victricius,
the Roman bishop of Rouen (C.AD 330-c.407), with the two local
chieftains, to Tabellae (Dax) on the Adour for taking part in an
insurrection of the Aedui. In Parentalia, Ausonius also tells us
that his maternal grandfather practised astrology in secret and
implies that he was from a Druidic family. Victricius was an
ex-Roman soldier who converted to Christianity while he was still
serving and stationed in Gaul. He was an implacable opponent of
'Pelagianism', which Rome claimed to be an attempt to revive the
concepts of Druidism. And, most interesting of all, Ausonius had
an aunt called Dryadia which means 'Druidess'.
With the arrival of Christianity, the Druids began to merge
totally with the new culture, some even becoming priests of the
new religion and continuing as an intellectual class in much the
same way as their forefathers had done for over a thousand years
previously. We find an interesting reference in a 'Life of
Colmcille' that, when the Irish missionary arrived on the island
of Iona, he encountered two Druids who were bishops and who
claimed that they had already planted the Christian faith there.
Colmcille did not believe that they had been properly ordained
and ordered them to depart, which they did. Many early Celtic
Christian saints were referred to as 'Druids'. According to the
earliest known surviving biography of a British Celtic saint,
written about the end of the sixth century AD, 'A Life of
Samson,' Samson's teacher, the famous Illtyd (C.AD 425-505) was
'by descent a most wise Druid'. In the life of the seventh
century AD British Celtic saint Beuno (which survives in a
manuscript written in 1346) we are told that his last words, as
he lay dying, were that he saw the Holy Trinity and the saints
and Druids. Beuno was the father of St. Gwenfrewi, more popularly
known as Winifred of Gwytherin in Denbigh.
The late fourth, early fifth century AD, Celtic Christian
theologian Pelagius, of whom Victricius so strongly disapproved,
was eventually declared a heretic after his conflict with
Augustine of Hippo. Pelius, was accused of attempting to revive
Druidic philosophy on Nature and Free Will. Pelagius' argument
was that human beings had free will, while Augustine believed    
in predestination. We Bear how the Bishops of Rome despaired of
the hold Pelagain philosophy had in the Celtic Church during
subsequent centuries. This is not so surprising if such a
philosophy was simply a centuries old cultural attitude passed
down by generations of Druids. The ninth century AD Welsh
historian, Nennius, says that when the Celtic king Vortigern was
excommunicated by Germanus of Auxerre (C.AD 378-448) for adhering
to the teachings of Pelagius, he invited twelve Druids to assist
him in his councils. We shall consider the matter of Pelagianism
in the discussion on the Druids as philosophers.
The father of St.Brigid of Kildare was a Druid named Dubhthach 
who is often wrongly associated with Dubhthach Maccu Lugir, who
taught Patrick about the Irish law system. Significantly, there
were no recorded Christian martyrdoms in Ireland and indeed
scarcely any among other Celtic peoples. Those few martyr which  
occurred in Britain, for example that of Alban in C.AD 287, were
the result of antagonism among the Roman occupiers and not the
native Celts. 
In Irish ecclesiastical records we have a comment on the
extensive land holdings of converted Druids being granted by them
to the Church. Adomndn's 'Life of St. Columba' certainly
indicates that the Druids were regarded as belonging to the same
class as the leaders of Celtic Christianity.
The adoption of Christianity in Ireland did not lead to the
abolition the Druids but simply to their transformation. 
Father Joe McVeigh, in his polemic work 'Renewing the Irish
Church: Towards an Irish Liberation Theology' (1993), points
     The first Christian missionaries to Ireland did not attempt
     a root and branch eradication of the Celtic Druidic
     tradition and beliefs. Instead, the new religion absorbed
     the holy mountains and the innumerable holy wells and gave
     them a Christian name. (It has been estimated that there
     were approximately 3,000 holy wells some of which, like Doon
     well in Donegal, remain in use.) This popular or vernacular
     religion, separate and distinct from the institutional
     hierarchical Church, has, from the outset, been a
     vibrant characteristic of Irish Christianity.
I believe that this transformation of the Druids occurred in
other Celtic societies as well.
There is no support at all for Caesar's contention that in
Celtic society 'the (ordinary) people are treated almost like
slaves' and that only the Druids and the warrior class of
Celtic society had any rights at all. No other observer goes so
far as this, nor do the native sources indicate such a situation.
Indeed, native sources demonstrate a contrary state of affairs.
Again we encounter the bellicose propaganda of the conqueror
attempting to find justification for his conquests. If the people
are being treated like slaves by their own ruling class, then the
logic is that their conquest is justified.
Druids were recognized by Irish law even after the introduction 
of Christianity. The civil law of Ireland was first known to have
been codified in AD 438 as the Senchas Mor.' The criminal law,
contained in the 'Book of Acaill,' was codified shortly
afterwards. The Druids still had a place in these codices, which
gives authority to the idea that they were not suppressed nor did
they disappear with the onset of Christianity. Indeed, a Druid
was entitled to a position in society although, so far as any
religious practices were concerned, the 'Bretha Crolige' puts the
Druid on the same social level as a cainte (satirist) or a diberg
(brigand), and as a religious functionary the Druid was reduced
to a sorcerer or prophet. Indeed, the Irish word Druidecht came
to mean sorcery, magic or necromancy while the Welsh word Derwydd
meant a prophet.
So, with Christianity, the perception of the function of the
Druid was already changing within Celtic society.
Under ancient Irish law the provision of sick maintenance,
including curative treatment, attendance allowance and nourishing
food, was made available to all who needed it. The Druids were
'entitled to sick maintenance (othrus) only at the level of the
boaire (literally, a cow-chieftain or local magistrate), no
matter how great his rank, privilege or other rights'. It is
obvious from this qualification that a Druid still attained to
high rank. Indeed, as both the civil and criminal law code of
Ireland survive in their completest form in the 'Leabhar na h
Uidre' (Book of the Dun Cow) dating from the late eleventh or
early twelfth centuries, it might be remarked that there had been
no amendment of the laws relating to the Druids by that time. Two
reasons can be argued: one, that the Druids still existed with a
definite, if diminished, role in Irish society;  two, that the
Druids had vanished and so no one bothered to change the laws. A
comparison here might be that it was not until 1951 that the
English judicial system finally scrapped the medieval laws
relating to the prohibition of witchcraft.
This work has been arranged in order to attempt the easiest
presentation to the general reader. The initial chapters
present the Celtic world to which the Druids belonged, together
with their origins in that world. Next, we consider our sources
concerning the Druids; firstly, how they were perceived through
the foreign eyes of the Greeks and Romans, and secondly, the
Celts themselves, albeit Christianized Celts, perceived these
influential figures in their national ancestry. 
The reader will note a heavy reliance on Irish sources. This is
because there is a veritable treasure trove of Irish material
which remains near to the original pre-Christian source.
Druids, of course, were both male and female and we shall examine
some of the prominent female Druids or Druidesses.
In religious terms just what did Druids believe, and what were
their rituals? What we know from Classical and native
sources, together with archaeological evidence, is presented
together with an examination of the controversial matter of
whether they did or did not, practise the rite of human
sacrifice. (I will present you with this in full as given and
investigated by Ellis in "Druids #4" in this series - Keith
Once again, relying on both Classical and native sources, we
discuss the wisdom of the Druids in those areas of knowledge in
in which Classical sources claim the Druids had especial renown.
We examine them, among their other occupations, as philosophers,
as historians, a physicians, seers, astrologers, and magicians.
Finally, we examine how the Druids came to be revived and have
developed as part of our modern folklore.
This book, as I have stated at the beginning, is no more than a
modest attempt at an introductory argument about the reality and
the legend of the Druids. As Nora Chadwick has already stated,
there can be no doubt that the Druids were the most enlightened  
and civilizing spiritual influence in prehistoric Europe. Yet in
trying to recreate the historical reality of the Druids, myths of
white bearded sages, of rites at the summer solstice in megaliths
belonging to an earlier culture than the Celts, have developed
into wild theories and speculations, to poetic romanticism and
mystical dreaming and outright literary forgeries.
If, however, at the end of this work, the reader comes nearer to
glimpsing even a little of the reality of what was once
'Druidism', then this book will have served its intended purpose.
I here also present to you the basic truth of the famous
Halloween night as it is now pictured in the celebrations of our
modern times. Here again, many (including the Worldwide Church of
God under HWA), mis-applied, through lack of proper in-depth
research, what the original teaching and understanding was
believed by the Druids on this special night of October 31 and
November 1. It was NOT what has been often attributed to them.
On one night of the year the Otherworld became VISIBLE to
mankind. this was the feast of SAMHAIN (31 October 1 November),
when the gates of the Otherworld were opened and the inhabitants
could set out to wreak vengeance - on those living in this world
who had wronged them. The ancient belief survived into
Christianity in a TRANSMUTED FORM as Halloween, the evening of
All Hallows or All Saints' Day being on 1 November. The MODERN
idea is that it is the night when witches and demons and spirits
from Hell set out to ensnare unsuspecting souls....
END QUOTE, p.178,179
Ahhhh, did you NOTICE IT?  The ORIGINAL belief and teaching of
the Druids was NOT what is taught and practiced today, and is NOT
what is commonly taught as what the Druids taught and believed.
The Druids taught that those in the otherworld who had BEEN DONE
WRONG by some still living in this world, could come back and
take vengeance on them. It was a teaching of "if you do wrong to
people, they will have the chance in the next life to come back
and take revenge on you." The Druids were NOT teaching that
witches, demons, evil spirits, were set free to ensnare and harm
people. This is as Ellis stated a "modern" idea, and was NOT the
thought or teaching of the Druids at all. 
Oh for the want of correct research into things before you spout
off some fanciful wrong ideas on what the Druids taught. Of
course these wrong ideas have been perpetuated in some
Encyclopedias (the writers of the article not knowing what they
were taking about the wheel keeps turning) which have
been quoted by ministers of the WCG and written in various
religious articles on the Halloween subject. 
Now, you have the truth of the matter. Yes, the Druids did teach
and believe in the "immortal soul" doctrine, but what they taught
about the October 31st feast or celebration, is NOT what is
taught that they taught. It was for them, in their religion, the
day when people who did wrong to others (who had now passed on to
the Otherworld), would have revenge, or punishment, come upon
them, from those they had wronged. It was then a Druid teaching
that taught in essence, "You better do GOOD to people in this
life, not EVIL, for if you do evil to people, you will have

revenge come upon you one day, by the people you  did evil to."


Part One
                 FROM THE BOOK "THE DRUIDS"
                         Peter Ellis
But before we leave the subject of rites and rituals, we should
deal with the most controversial rite ascribed to the Druids: the
practice of human sacrifice. The question of whether the Celts
did or did not practice such sacrifice has been the subject of
much controversy between scholars during the last two centuries.
A Greek poet named Sopater of Paphos, in Cyprus, born in the time
of Alexander the Great and living to mention Ptolemy 11
(285-246 BC), writes that the Celts of Galatia sacrificed their
prisoners to their gods by burning them after a victory. This
reference survives in the work of the Greek author Athenaeus of
Naucratis (c.AD 200). Diodorus Siculus, the Greek historian
(c.60-30 BC) also speaks of the execution of prisoners by the
Galatian Celts:
     The Galatian general returning from the pursuit, assembled
     the prisoners and carried out an act of extreme barbarity
     and utter insolence. He took those who were most handsome
     and in the strength and flower of their youth, and having
     crowned them, sacrificed them to the gods, if indeed any god
     could receive such offerings.
These references to the slaughter of prisoners have to be treated
for what they are. There is not an army in the world in any
historical epoch who has not been guilty of slaughtering
prisoners after a battle. We must also remember the high degree
of hysteria with which the Greeks regarded the Galatian Celts,
especially after the invasion of Greece in 290 BC. Pausanias,
(fl. CAD 160), the Greek traveller and geographer, goes on record
to accuse the Celts of practising cannibalism after their defeat
of the Greek armies of Athens, Pocis, Aetiolia and Thessaly. He
further implies that this was normal Celtic behaviour. According
to Caesar, and he is always a questionable source, during the
Roman siege of the Celtic hill fort of Alesia (Alias Ste Reine),
a Celtic chieftain, Critognatus, proposed that the starving city
hold out by eating its own dead. This was an extreme resort. The
Celts were eventually forced to surrender. Alesia and
Vercingetorix, their king, was taken as captive to Rome, to be
sacrificed to the Roman god of war, Mars.
Thus we have to be careful as to what is propaganda and what is
truth. So far as the Celts eating the Greeks during their
invasion in 290 BC, the story falls into the 'bogeymen'
propaganda that is always spread in such circumstances, such as
the fabricated stories of German atrocities in Belgium at the
opening of the Great War in 1914. As Rudyard Kipling, a leading
disseminator of the stories, cynically told an audience of
Scottish university students after the war, the first use that
the first man made of the gift of language was to lie about his
The first contentious mention of human sacrifice as a deliberate
act of religious worship by the Celts is made by Caesar and
Strabo, apparently quoting Poseidons as a source.
According to Strabo: 'They used to strike a man, whom they had
devoted to death, in the back with a knife, and then divine from
his death-throes; but they did not sacrifice without a Druid.' He
goes further:
     We are told of still other kinds of sacrifices; for example,
     they would shoot victims to death with arrows, or impale
     them in temples, or, having built a colossus of straw and
     wood, throw into the colossus cattle and animals of all
     sorts and human beings, and then make a burnt offering of
     the whole thing.
Even if we accept this at face value, there is nothing to suggest
that the Druids were responsible for the sacrifice, only that
their presence during it was essential. It has been pointed out
that Strabo gives the Druids the position as judges and it can be
argued that their presence was probably that of officials to
check procedure and prevent miscarriage of the law.
Diodorus actually differentiates between the Druids and the seers
who divine by human sacrifice. He says that on great occasions
the 'vates' nominate a person as a sacrifice and, after plunging
a dagger into him, they read the future from the manner of his
fall and the twitching of his limbs and the flow of blood. He
adds that it was not the custom to make the sacrifice without a
Druid, for it was a saying that offerings acceptable to the gods
had to be made through those acquainted with their nature. He
concludes that in internal wars among the Celts both sides would
obey the Druids. Even when two armies were about to open battle,
if a Druid stepped between them they would be forced to desist.
Caesar emphasizes that it was upon occasions of danger, whether
pubic or private - the Celts of Gaul immolated human victims, or
vowed to do so, employing the Druids as to the conducting of
these sacrifices. He adds that in order to appease the gods, a
life must be paid. 'Others make use of colossal figures composed
of twigs which they fill with living men and set on fire.' Caesar
adds a new twist to this, when he says that the victims were
preferably criminals but if the supply failed then the innocent
were used. This passage corresponds in general very closely with
those by Strabo and Diodorus and it may be safely assumed that
he, too, was using the same source.
Caesar's contemporary, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) in his
oration in 64 BC, 'Pro Fonteio,' mentions the prevalence of human
sacrifice among the Gaulish Celts as if it were a well-known fact
at the time. But whether this was merely something he had picked
up from Poseidonius, the source of Strabo, Diodorus and Caesar,
is a moot point.
Certainly, Pomponius Mela of Tingentera (near Gibraltar) C.AD 43,
who wrote in that year 'De Chorographia,' the earliest surviving
Latin work on geography, which gives information on the Druids
not found elsewhere, reports that the Celts had once made human
sacrifices but that they were now a thing of the past. 'At one
time they believed a man to be highly pleasing as a sacrifice to
the gods.' However, Mela does not refer to the Druids as being in
any away connected with sacrifices. But he says of the Celts:
     'They have, further, their eloquence and their Druids,
     teachers of wisdom, who profess to know the greatness and
     shape of the earth and the universe, and the motion of the
     heavens and of the stars and what is the will of the gods.'
Mela certainly borrows some material from Caesar, such as the
passage: 'One of their dogmas has become widely known so they may
the more readily go to wars; namely that souls are everlasting,
and that among the shades there is another life.'
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Lucan, (AD 39-65) from Cordoba, a
grandson of Seneca the Elder, is concerned to support Rome's
imperial policies and justifies the repression of the Druids
because of the 'barbaric rites and a forbidding mode of worship
in deep groves'. In this he seems to be hinting at the ritual of
human sacrifice.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (b. C.AD 70) in his 'Lives of the
Caesars,' speaking of Claudius' reign, mentions that the religion
of the Druids was 'cruel and savage' and thus hints at human
sacrifice, like Lucan, but again without actually stating so.
We have a clearer reference from Tacitus who speaks of human
sacrifices in Mona (Anglesey). He says that when Suetonius
attacked Anglesey, the Druids 'lifting up their hands to heaven,
and pouring forth maledictions, awed the Romans by the unfamiliar
After the conquest: 'A force was next set up over the conquered,
and their groves devoted to cruel superstitions were cut down.
They deemed it a duty, indeed, to cover their altars with the
blood of captives, and to consult their deities through human
Petronius Arbiter (d. AD 65) is quoted by Marius Servius
Honoratus (c. fifth century AD) on the rite of the emissary
sacrifice, whereby a person is chosen to be sacrificed to the
gods. In ancient Greece, where of course sacrifice was practised,
the victim was called pharmakos, a scapegoat. Petronius refers to
this custom in Marseilles:
     Whenever an epidemic broke out at Marseilles, one of the
     poor of the town offered himself to save his fellow
     citizens. For a whole year he had to be fed with choice
     goods at the town's expense. When the time came, crowned
     with leaves and wearing consecrated clothes, he was led
     through the whole town; he was heaped with imprecations, so
     that all the ills of the city were concentrated upon his
     head, and then he was thrown into the sea.
While Marseilles was a Greek colony, founded in the sixth century
BC, and this practice was undoubtedly a Greek custom, it has also
been argued that Marseilles was on the Gaulish seaboard and that
it was probably a Celtic custom. Lactantius Placidus, giving a
commentary on the work of the Celtic writer, Caecilius Statius,
from the Cisalpine Gaulish town of Mediolanum (Milan), talks of a
similar custom which he attributes to his fellow Celts. Statius
was brought to Rome as a slave c.223/222 BC, following the Roman
invasion of the Celtic territory. Freed, he became the chief
Latin comic dramatist of his day. According to Placidus' comments
on Statius:
     The Gauls had a custom of sacrificing a human being to
     purify their city. They selected one of the poorest
     citizens, loaded him with privileges and thereby persuaded
     him to sell himself as victim. During the whole year he was
     fed with choice food at the town's expenses, then when the
     accustomed day arrived, he was made to wander through the
     entire city; finally he was stoned to death by the people
     outside the walls.
The passage is so similar to the comment on the Massiliot custom
that it seems obvious that they both have a common source. But
was it Greek or Celtic?
If such a basic philosophy as the need to propitiate their gods
through human sacrifice had such prevalence among the Celtic
peoples, one might expect some mention of it to emerge in the
extensive Celtic literature, especially as these traditions were
set down by Christianized Celts who would seize the chance to
impugn their pagan past and revile the Druidic traditions.
O'Curry in his 'Manners and Customs o f the Ancient Irish,'
maintained: 'in NO tale or legend of the Irish Druids which has
come down to our time, is there any mention of their ever having
offered human sacrifices'. There is, however, one specific
reference to human sacrifice as a religious rite but not
connected with Druidical observation. But it is one reference in
the whole corpus of Celtic literature and even its veracity is
questionable as it is open to interpretation.
This SOLE reference to human sacrifice as a SPECIFIC religious
rite in general practice comes from the twelfth century
compilation of Irish place-names, the Dindshenchas (sometimes
given as Dinnsenchus), recording traditions much older than the
period it survives from. The Dindshenchas was recorded by a
Christian scribe, of course, and mentions human sacrifice only
twice in the account of the naming of Tailltenn and Magh Slecht.
The first reference is to Patrick preaching at Tailltenn and
arguing against the 'burning of the first born progeny', while
the second reference is to the worship of the idol Cromm Cruach
at Magh Slecht.
Cromm Cruach (sometimes Crom Croich) was an early golden idol who
was reported to have twelve stone gods to serve him and who was
worshipped by the king Tigernmas (Lord of Death) on Magh Slecht
(Plain of Cutting/Slaughter). To Cromm Cruach human sacrifices
were offered in the form of 'the firstlings of every issue, and
the chief scions of every clan.' This concept of the 'first born'
as sacrifices seems more in keeping with Hebrew Biblical
tradition, via Christianity, than Celtic custom. Importantly, as
already pointed out, the concept of primogeniture, which stresses
the importance of the first-born male, or, indeed, female, was
lacking in the Celtic social order. A foreign concept has been
introduced which places the whole validity of the Cromm Cruach
story under question. We are told that for Cromm Cruach 'they
would kill their piteous wretched offspring with much wailing and
peril, to pour their blood around Cromm Cruach. Milk and honey'
(again this seems more a Biblical analogy than a pre-Christian
Celtic one) 'they would ask from the idol in return for
sacrificing one third of their healthy issue. Great was the
horror and the fear of the idol. To him noble Gaels would
prostrate themselves. From the worship of the idol with many
slaughters, the plain is called Magh  Slecht.' (Slecht. cutting,
hewing, slaughter.)
But this story is, in fact, presented in the form that Tigernmos
and his idol were a social aberration and were soon overthrown by
the Druids.
In the 'Leabbar na Nuacbongbbala' (Book of Leinster), there is a
prose account of the idol and the death of Tigernmas with a
multitude of his people while in the act of frenzied worshipping,
an echo of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah which might have seized
the imagination of the Christian writers. But there is not a word
about human sacrifice in this particular account, neither was
it mentioned by the later writers such as Seathrun, Ceitinn,
Ruaraidh O Flaithbheartaigh (Roderick O'Flaherty) or in the
reference given in the 'Annales Riogbachta Eireann' (Annals of
the Four Masters). Also, earlier in the ninth century AD, when
the 'Tripartite Life o f St. Patrick' claimed it was Patrick who
overthrew the idol, rather than the Druids, no mention of human
sacrifice is made. In fact, in Patrick's own 'Confession,' his
biography, in which he strongly criticizes pagan practices, there
is no reference to human sacrifice. Nor does any of the early
Celtic saints 'Lives' mention such a rite. It seems obvious that
the prejudice of the Christians had NO GENUINE 'human sacrifice' 
material at all to seize upon.
There are a couple of other references which might well imply the
existence of human sacrifice but as a very ancient custom long
since abandoned by the end of the FIRST millennium BC. This
custom, however, is to be found in most early European societies.
These references are connected with the ancient superstition that
sprinkling the blood of some human victim on the foundations of a
building, about to be erected, provides for its safety and
stability. This custom has been found in Hindu culture, among the
Greeks, Slavs and Scandinavians. In a Life of Colmcille, it is
recorded that one of his disciples, Odran, a British Celt,
offered to die so that his sacrifice and burial would scare away
the demons that infested Iona. There are oral traditions relating
to this, to the effect that Odran was buried under the
foundations of Colmcille's church. According to Alexander
Carmichael's 'Carmina Gadelica' (1900), there are oral traditions
found throughout the Hebrides of persons killed and buried, or
even buried alive, under the foundations of newly erected
buildings to ensure stability. But is this a tradition from the
Celtic or the Scandinavian traditions, which were also prevalent
among the Western Islands?
This custom is certainly reflected in 'Historia Brittonum' by
Nenmus, the Welsh historian writing C.AD 829, which records that
when Vortigern decided to build Dinas Emrys he consulted his
Druids who told him that in order for the structure to last
forever, a child, who had no father, should be sacrificed and his
blood sprinkled on the foundations. Such a child was found. But
the boy had great wisdom and argued the morality of the sacrifice
with the Druids so successfully that he was released. The boy was
Merlin. This story actually corresponds closely with an ancient
Irish tale, 'The Courtship of Becuma', copied into the fifteenth
century AD 'Book of Fermoy' from an earlier source. In this story
a blight comes to the country because of a great crime committed
by a woman. The Druids say that the only way to remove the blight
is to sacrifice a child, the son of a couple who would have
certain characteristics. The child's blood should be sprinkled on
the doorposts of Tara. The child is found and about to be killed
when a wondrous cow appears and is slain instead. The doorposts
are sprinkled with its blood and the blight removed. There are
also certain similarities between this and the Greek story of
Iphigeneia, the sister of Orestes, whom Agamemnon was forced to
sacrifice on the order of the seer Calchas. Artemis substitutes a
deer for her on the sacrificial altar.
There is one other oblique Irish reference to this concept. In
the Sanas Cbormaic (Cormac's Glossary), written by Cormac Mac
Cuileannain of Cashel (d. AD 836), Emain Macha, the great palace
of the kings of Ulster, received part of its name due to the
sacrifice of a man at the time of its building. The fanciful
etymology gives 'em' or 'ema' (blood), 'ain' or 'uin' (one),
'because the blood of one man was shed at the time of its
Of all the Classical writers, it is Pomponius Mela who seems the
most accurate in recording that any tradition of human sacrifice
among the Celts had ended long before the time he was writing,
that is c. AD 46.Indeed, while there is much material on the
rites and superstitions of the pagan Irish there is hardly
anything, apart from the story of Cromm Cruach. This might be
argued as supporting a claim of a human sacrifice tradition but
the story actually shows Cromm Cruach as an aberration to the
norms of society.
Even Mrs Chadwick, in her study 'The Celts,' while inclined to
believe the Romans, has to admit: 
     'There is little direct archaeological evidence relevant to
     Celtic sacrifice ....' 
In her attempt to find something, she refers too the evidence of
bodies preserved in a bog in Denmark, but while she has to admit
that they are 'beyond the boundaries of the Celtic world proper'
she still tries to link them up with the motifs on the Gundestrup
cauldron. She has the scholastic grace to say that human
sacrifices are 'apparently represented on the bowl from
     The much more plentiful archaeological evidence,
     corroborated by classical literary references to various
     offerings of inanimate objects, often of considerable value,
     in rivers, lakes, sacred groves and the like, and the
     possibility of animal sacrifice, suggest hat human sacrifice
     among he Celts, although of great ritual significance,  may
     have been practised,appear commonly at time of communal
     danger or stress, rather than as part of regular ritual 
This comment by Mrs Chadwick makes many conceptual leaps. Why the
offering of inanimate objects should lead one to believe that the
people who made them also practised human sacrifice escapes one,
as does the reason why human sacrifice should be of great ritual
significance when there was no native literary or archaeological
evidence to support it. And how is it that it was commonly
practised at the time of communal danger when the only authority
for such a statement is the sole and questionable opinion of
Mrs Chadwick's comments rely on an acceptance that the enemies of
the Celts were accurate in their observations.
Indeed, as Jean Louis Brunaux states in 'The Celtic Gauls':
     Archaeological clues relating to the question of human
     sacrifice have for a long time been scarce and equivocal.
     The presence in graves of skeletons without a skull or the
     strange position of some burials with hands behind the back
     as though tied, have indeed been cited, but no formal proof
     of sacrifice as opposed to exceptional funereal customs has
     been identified.
The excavations at Gournay-sur-Aronde in France show some eighty
skeletons of bodies that had apparently been divided into
If the deaths were violent, no trace has been left on the
remains. Brunaux seems to imply that this was a funeral practice
after people had died naturally. Similarly, the excavation at
Ribemont-sur-Ancre in 1982, showed bones meticulously arranged
belonging to some 200 individuals. But these excavations, along
with those at Mirebeau and Saint-Maur, are more likely to be of
Celtic cemeteries rather than evidence of sacrifices.


Part Two
                    From Peter Ellis' book
                        "The Druids"
The argument that archaeology has finally produced evidence of
of human sacrifice is based on the discovery of 'Lindow Man' on
Friday 1 August 1984, workers engaged in peat cutting on Lindow
Moss, near Wilmslow, on the southern outskirts of Manchester,
found a well-preserved human leg. The police supervised the
search for further remains and a complete head and torso were
found. Radio carbon dating eventually placed the body to AD
50-100. The British Museum were called in and in 1986 produced a
preliminary study, 'The Body in the Bog.' In 1989, the leading
Celtic scholar, Dr Anne Ross, together with Dr Don Robins, of the
Institute of Archaeology at the University of London, published a
book, 'The Life and Death of a Druid Prince.'
The facts were that the body was that of a man of about 25/30
years who was in fairly good health apart from a mild
osteo-arthritis. He wore a fox-fur amulet on his arm. The skull
had been fractured at the crown and the jaw broken. The neck had
been dislocated, consistent with hanging. There were lacerations
on the preserved skin tissue. A post-mortem showed that the man
had been hit twice from behind with an instrument such as an axe
which probably rendered him unconscious. He was then garroted by
a knotted cord of animal sinew which had cut into the skin. At
the same time, a sharp blade had been plunged into his jugular
vein. Then he had been dropped into the bog.
Now how had these facts then led to the identification by Drs
Ross and Robins that this was a ritual human sacrifice? And
further, that the victim was a 'Druid Prince'? Indeed, the
conjectures get more imaginative. The fur amulet caused the
authors to suggest that the man's name was Lovernios, that is
'fox' from the Gaulish 'lovernios,' cognate with the Welsh
'llwynog,' Breton 'louarn' and Cornish 'lowarn.'
But what is the basis for such conjectures? The basis is that the
'human sacrifice' report of the Romans is accepted without
The authors argue:
     Their (the Celts) penchant for human sacrifice shocked even
     the Romans, inured as they were to the horrors and carnage
     of the amphitheatre. Surrender to an enemy never figured
     largely in the Celtic order of battle. Prisoners of war, as
     we learn from Julius Caesar, were usually sacrificed to the
     gods. Caesar reports how captives were burnt in giant wicker
     cages ...
Caesar, with due respect to him, says NOTHING OF THE KIND. On the
subject of sacrifices he says that criminals were chosen in
the first place. References to Celts not taking prisoners of
war, found in other Classical writings, could well have been
simply a warning to Greek or Roman soldiers not to contemplate
surrender and making them fight without quarter. But that's as
maybe And, as we have seen, the 'wicker man' report was not even
an original one by Caesar but a rehash of Poseidonios.
The authors, Ross and Robins, refer to the traditions found in
     'It is in Scotland that the clearest traces of human
     sacrifice in connection with Beltain have been noted. This
     evidence is supported by Welsh oral lore and there is more
     than a hint of it in Ireland. In all cases the victim was
     chosen by means of the burnt piece of festival bannock.'
Now this is departing a little from what the evidence ACTUALLY
shows, which I have cited above. 
The introduction of a burnt bannock into the proceedings is
simply to reinforce the authors' arguments, because traces of a
burnt bannock were found in the stomach of Lindow man. Indeed, at
no time do the authors present their exact sources or evidence
for the statement.
Also surprising is the statement:
     The Celts believed in capital punishment, but they turned it
     into a religious act, making an execution into a sacrifice
     .... Captives were vowed to the gods before battle, and for
     this reason could not be sold or given away. They had to be
     offered. Human beings were sacrificed in order to propitiate
     the god of blight and crop failure.
Presumably this is the authors' own imaginative interpretation of
Caesar's remark  that the sacrifices among the Gauls were usually
of criminals. 
Again, the authors are simply accepting the authority of the
Roman general and their own interpretations what he meant.
In contravention to this statement we find the Celtic law systems
are opposed to capital punishment and to slavery in the form
understood by Greece and Rome. Again one has to ask, what is the
evidence for the statement 'the Celts believed in capital
punishment', other than the throwaway line by Caesar? Laurence
Ginnell in is study 'The Brehon Laws (1894) comes to a contrary
     'There is ample evidence of various kinds that the whole
     public feeling of Ireland was opposed to capital punishment;
     and still more was it opposed to the taking of the law into
     one's own hands without the decision of a court.' 
This is not to say that there was no capital punishment at all.
     'At this day no one is put to death for his intentional
     crimes as long as eric-fine is obtained', says the
commentary on the 'Senchus Mor.' 
Dr Joyce explains:
     'the idea of awarding death as a judicial punishment for
     homicide, even when it amounted to murder, does not seem to
     have ever taken hold of the public mind in Ireland.' 
Indeed, Edmund Spenser and Sir John Davies, and other early
English settlers in sixteenth and seventeenth century Ireland,
commentating on the eric-fine for homicide instead of capital
punishment, denounced it as 'contrary to God's laws and man's'.
According to Dr Joyce: 
     'There is no record of any human sacrifice in connection
     with the Irish Druids; and there are good grounds
     for believing that direct human sacrifice was not practised
     at all in Ireland . . .'
'The Life and Death of a Druid Prince' is a polemic, but too
loaded with conceptual leaps of imagination to be acceptable as
proven fact. Although as Dr I.M.Stead of the British Museum
comments, 'The archaeologist would be hard put to produce a more
convincing example' (of human sacrifice), more convincing
examples do need to be found before we can truly come to the
conclusions drawn by the authors.
The deduction one is really drawn to is that the idea of
widespread  human sacrifice among the Celts was mere Roman
propaganda to support their imperial power in their invasion of
Celtic lands and destruction of the Druids.
Additionally we can argue that we have more evidence of human
sacrifice occurring widely both in Greek and Roman civilizations.
Unlike Celtic literary tradition, Greek literature is full of
traces of human sacrifice customs, particularly the slaughter of
young virgins before a battle.    
The best known historical example is the mass ritual sacrifice of
Persian prisoners before Salamis in 480 BC. Among the Romans
there are many specific references to human sacrifices,
notably in 228 BC an during the Second Punic War to propitiate
wrathful war deities. Livy himself records that the Romans made
human sacrifices after the defeat of Cannae in 216 BC. Among the
sacrifices to appease the gods, two Celts were buried alive under
the Forum Boarium. During the lifetime of Plutarc(AD 46-c.120)
human sacrifices were still being made. In the time of the late
Republic an early Empire, children were sacrificed in rites to
conjure the spirits of the dead. During the reign of Claudius,
foreign captives were being buried alive at Rome to ameliorate
the gods of war. Prisoners of war, like the Numidian king,
Jugartha, and the Celtic leader Vercingetorix, with  their
families, were held for long periods - six years in the case of
Vercingetorix - in the deep underground prison of Tullanium below
the Capitol before finally being ceremonially sacrificed in
honour of Mars. Even Roman patricians, such as the followers of
Lucius Sergius Catilina (d.62 BC) were ritually slaughtered
here. During the second and third centuries AD, Tatian,
Tertullian and Minucius Felix reported that human sacrifices were
being carried out during festival of Latini.
Above all, when examining Roman sensitivities, one has to
remember the violent and bloodthirsty culture of the Roman
'circus'. The spectacle of prisoners and slaves fighting to the
death before enthusiastic spectators had been recorded in Rome
from the third century BC. By the time of the emperor Marcus
Ulpius Traianus (Trajan AD 98-117), a time when it is recorded
that the Roman empire was at its 'greatest', Trajan himself could
put five thousand pairs of gladiators into the arena and force
them to fight to the death. As an 'interval' to the proceedings,
tens of thousands of criminals were led into the arena and
ritually slaughtered for the further entertainment of the masses.
It was Decimus Junius Juvenalis, the satirical poet Juvenal,
writing during this period, who wrote the famous statement: 'The
people who have conquered the world have only two interests -
bread and circuses.'
In the early empire, during the course of a single day in the
Circus Maximus, three hundred prisoners had to fight each other
to death; twelve hundred men and women, condemned by law, were
slaughtered, most of them killed by wild animals, and, as a
special feature, it was announced that twenty girls would be
forced to copulate with wild beasts. Slaughter of, and by, wild
animals was a particular feature of Roman 'entertainment'. When
Titus Flavius Vespasianus (AD 79-811), who became emperor on the
death of his father Vespasian, finished the Colosseum begun by
his father, a total of nine thousand wild animals were killed in
fights with men and women (venationes) to mark the 'grand
opening'. The number of men and women slaughtered is not
Even when Flavius Valerius Constantinus Augustus (C.AD 285-337)
became emperor and a Christian, allowing Christians total freedom
of rights within the empire, in AD 313, he allowed the
continuance of the bloodthirsty spectacles. Even Pope Dionysius
(AD 259-268) is recorded as owning gladiators and attending the
games. Ironically, it was not until the fifth century, when Rome
was invaded by those they called 'barbarians', that those 'bar-
barians' put an end to the bloody and violent spectacles.
Bearing this in mind one has to look at the Romans' expression
of profound disgust and distaste for human sacrifice, as applied 
to the Druids, as rather meaningless and an act of high political
Finally, we have to agree with the conclusion of Doctor  
     In the present state of research, knowledge of human
     sacrifice rests upon the texts that have a tendency to
     distort the reality of the facts and to exaggerate their
     frequency in order to make them more sensational. In this
     area, despite important discoveries, archaeology has nothing
     new to contribute. The absence of conclusive evidence,
     despite more and more numerous excavations, tends to
     confirm the hypothesis that the practice was rare. The
     ancient ethnographers had not actually witness any of these
     deeds with which they reproach the Celts. While exploring
     Gaul, like Poseidonios, they can only have seen skulls
     nailed above doors of houses and sanctuaries, for which
     there is some archaeological proof.