The exact origin of the word “Druid” is unclear, but many scholars speculate that it comes from the Irish-Gaelic word “doire,” meaning “oak tree.” In Celtic lore the oak is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. There is also the Irish word “draoidh,” meaning “magician” or “sorcerer.” Another possibility is the combination of the words “druis,” and “wid” from the old Celtic “derwos,” meaning “true,” or “wise.” So from this viewpoint, the compound word “dru-wid” means “great knowledge.” If we combine the meanings of these two words, we get a picture of the Druids being people of great wisdom who were also magicians or sorcerers. Druids were and are concerned with the natural world and its powers and spirits. They considered trees to be sacred, and the king of trees, the oak, was the most sacred of all. So a Druid’s power derives from the natural world, and the wisdom to be gleaned there.

Interestingly, the proto-Indo-European word “wid” or “vid” is also where we get the English word, “wisdom.” The word “wicce” also comes from this word, as in “wicca.” And finally, the English word “vicar” also stems from this word, as does the Indo-European word “Veda.” The Vedas are a collection of “wise sayings” which are considered the most ancient scriptures of the Hindus.

All of these words speak of great learning and wisdom.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Druids were not just priests. They were also judges, teachers, physicians, poets, musicians, and scientists. The Druids were not just priests, but a class of people similar to the Brahmins in Hindu culture. Current scholarship indicates that the Druids and the Celts are descended from the same Indo-Europeans who gave rise to the Hindus, and there are many similarities between the cultures.

So what does all of this mean for contemporary Druids?

It simply means that Druidry, and Wicca, and Hinduism, and many other forms of learning all have their roots in seeking wisdom and knowledge. The Druids of ancient times were the educated class; always desiring to learn and to know more. They did not reject a teaching simply because it didn’t come from Celtic culture. Ancient writers tell us that the Druids were Pythagoreans. The Pythagoreans were a Greek school, so we know that the ancient Druids were at least open to learning from the Greeks.

We have a tendency sometimes to want to shoehorn and pigeonhole Druidry into a box of “what our Ancestors practiced is the only true Druidry.” While this is generally a good idea, it can sometimes go too far for two simple reasons. One is that due to Christian (and Roman) zeal in wiping out Druidry, we can never know for certain what our ancient Ancestors might have practiced. We can make educated guesses, but there can never be absolute certainty, so anyone telling you otherwise isn’t exactly being honest.

The other reason we can go too far in declaring what “true Druidry” is, is that I personally have a hard time picturing the learned classes of our Ancestors rejecting knowledge just because it wasn’t “traditional.” They learned from many sources, and not just from Celtic culture.

I prefer to walk a middle way…in that I choose to seek inspiration from what we know about how our Ancestors practiced Celtic spirituality, while also forging a new path that is more suitable for contemporary times. We are no longer an agrarian feudal society, and we could never totally capture Druidry as practiced by people who lived in such a culture. What we can do is to forge a new path while seeking wisdom and inspiration from the paths our Ancestors walked.

The way I see it, any path that insists on staying the same is stagnant, and I prefer a living, growing tradition that can change with the times as needed.