The old Druid looked out on the assembled people that he was sworn to take care of. He knew that this was his moment. He would be shining in the eyes of all the people.
He picked up his staff. Waving it over his head, he chanted in nonsense that he learned at the school “Boon kwoert franden… Sumanet frewknot potemn!” while he looked for the sure sign that the storm was about to start. To them, he knew it looked as though he were summoning the rain. But it was just mummery. He was actually doing nothing.
Many of you have read at one time or another about the supposed powers of the Druids. If you notice, in the RP threads, I limit myself to something less than what the old Druids were rumored to be able to do. This has many reasons. The primary among these is because I want my character Daven to be somewhat believable. The other reasons don’t matter now, only this one.
I do this in an attempt to portray the Druids as real people, not personages out of the Mabinogion or the Irish myth cycles. Gwydion may have been a wonder as a magician, but I believe that his powers, while not fake, were probably significantly less than what we are led to believe.
It is hard in this reasoning world to believe that a man could take flowers, and assemble them in such a way that when he and his “father” breathed on them, those same flowers became an ensouled woman. Unless he was a God. Or how throwing a bundle of sticks in one’s face could lead to their madness and eventual death. (1)
Many of these fantastical powers are remnants of tales and legends that are passed down to us over time. Many things could have happened to make these tales what they are. Garbled translations, mis-remembered stories, and even a belief in those powers, which were never demonstrated. It was common in a Pre-literate time that there was a stronger belief in the supernatural. As such, when a Druid told someone he could do something, the Druid tended to be believed.
But I do not think that simple mistranslation was responsible for all the supposed powers that have been illustrated in literature. I do think that there are other explanations.
(An aside here. I will make reference to many things from many different belief systems and religions. My goal is not to run any one down. And I do allow for beliefs differing. I am also not making fun of anyone; I am simply trying to illustrate a point. Please keep this in mind.)
With this in mind, let’s look at where these powers came from.
The first device to explain the Druidical powers, and the most common in my mind, is what I call the Placebo Effect. Simply put, this is the belief that when someone is told something enough times, and then he THINKS that it has happened to him, his mind will provide the effect that is necessitated by the action.
For instance, everyone has heard about zombies and voodoo dolls. Now, while zombieism has been proved by science to exist (2), there is no explanation, rationally, for voodoo dolls. This is one instance where I believe the placebo effect comes into play. Imagine…. You have grown up in a culture that is mystical anyhow. You hear stories about the Voodoo priests and priestesses and what they can do to you. You have a leader who openly claims Voodoun powers and says he is the current incarnation of the God of Death.
Now you have also been going to rituals and seen people being “ridden” by the Loas (the revered spirits of the Voodoo way). Imagine that for a while. Then someone tells you that a person you know has a problem with you has a doll that looks like you do, with several pins stuck in it. You begin feeling bad, hurting, sharp stabbing pains become commonplace in your life.
Nothing really has happened to you, except that your body is now providing symptoms that you know should be there because of the “curse”. It may be that there is truly some force doing this to you, but I think (In My Own Humble Opinion) that most of the cases you hear of being blamed on “Voodoo Curses” are just this. I know I would not want to do anything like this unless I didn’t care about any consequences.
Similarly, if a Druid claims that he can kill you with a few dozen sticks thrown in your face, and you have seen him do amazing things before, why would you doubt him? And if, Gods forbid, he did throw those sticks in your face, there is a good chance that you would die from the shock, if nothing else.
I think many of the modern “miracles” can be traced to this phenomenon. Such as seeing Elvis in your cornflakes, or even laying on of hands healing that many cultures and societies do now. I am not saying that ALL of these instances are Placebo effects, just many. The mind is providing the effect that is expected given a specific set of circumstances. Which, in the case of healings, makes the mind pretty darn powerful.
That said, then there is my theory of the Embellishment Effect. Let us take another example.
A Druid, walking around in long robes wearing linen leggings would naturally build up static electricity. If it is already a day where lightening is expected, and he touched someone, they might get a stronger shock than they were expecting. A bard (in this case, meaning a songster, not a Bard) might see that and embellish him to being knocked out, then someone else to being killed, then someone else to many getting killed by the lightening from the Druid’s hands… etc ad nauseum. Take any legend and you are probably close.
“And when one thinks about it, it is quite likely that Robin Hood robbed the rich to give to himself…” Karl Cullinane “The Sword and the Chain” by Joel Rosenberg.
So, given that many little things can be blown out of proportion, can many of the “powers” of the Druids be explained this way? Yes. Like the ability to summon storms. Simple observation of the weather patterns around them would enable them to pretend to summon the storm when it was imminent. Mind reading would be another. Looking at body language and reading the things not said in a conversation would give enough clues to allow for fairly accurate guesses as to what a person was thinking at any one point.
Which leads us to my third effect: The Showman or Shaman. This is a valid way of teaching. Many people just won’t understand something until it is tied up in bows and presented with a flash of gunpowder. They won’t think it’s genuine because it is presented simply. So, the olden Druids may have had to wrap everything into lots of stage effects to get the point across to some people.
So, in order to have the powers that others needed them to have, they did very complex things simply so that it would look impressive. Like doing a lot of chanting and waving the arms around just to get a good look at the entrails of a chicken and read what the future might hold.
My first encounter with this came, interestingly enough from some books of fiction. The first was “Another Fine Myth” by Robert Lynn Asprin. In there an apprentice mage learns that many things that seem complex are really just minor spells that are puffed up to make it showy. The other time I encountered this was in Mercedes Lackey’s book “Sacred Ground” . In there, frustrated with his lack of progress, one of the main characters asks a Medicine Man “Are you a Showman or a Shaman?” at which point the shaman in question laughed and said “Yes”.
I’ll let you read the book to find out his reasoning.
What makes this most interesting is the fact that in both cases, a simple concept is being purposefully distorted to give the observer what they expect to see. It is not an attempt to hide the way it is done, but to make it seem more mystical than it is.
Now, this begs the point of intentionally confusing the observer with mumbo-jumbo to hide “trade secrets”. I mean, if everyone knew how to tell a computer to do an action, then many thousands of people would be out of work, right? So we (the computer industry) wrap it up in confusing sayings and terms so that the common person THINKS that they can’t do it for themselves and MUST pay me outrageous sums to do it for them. The same principal here. If speaking to the Gods were easy as looking up into the sky and telling them your trouble, and then listening for the answer, then why have Priests to tell you what the Gods said?
Now, in defense of my industry and life calling, there are some people who are more in-tune with the profession they have chosen. They naturally are drawn to this kind of work, over and over. If they are lucky, they can then be paid for performing this task, but unless they get specific training, they will only be “gifted amateurs”. I could go out and find a pot-shard in my backyard, but to reliably find the final resting-place of King Akenaten, I would probably need to take a course in Archeology.
Finally, there is one other explanation of these powers that they are exactly what they say they are. You do have to go through the entire rigmarole in order to get a Goddess to bless a field and make it fertile.
This one, I am not going to refute. I have seen too many things in my life to have me say that Magick and the Spirit World are not real.
But my “gut” feeling is that this was not the case. Myth was written to illustrate points or to teach. Translations change with a word. People use razz-mi-tazz to cover the simplicity of what they do all the time. And stories do get inflated over time.
So, what do I think happened? A combination of things.
- The Druids did work and learn how to shatter the shackles of the body.
- Many of the things they are reputed doing were effects of this projection.
- They deliberately spread stories about what they could do as protective camouflage.
- Some of it was mis-understood and embellished upon.
- Translations of the documents we have (written centuries after the event took place) were in turn wrong.
- Superstitious people had hysterical reactions to what they thought was spells.
All of these things combined will cause the powers that have been written about in song and story.
For the record: I do believe in miracles. The simple, everyday ones of growing grass, to the insta-healings of Lourdes, to visions of the Virgin Mary. I know it can happen.
But reasonably speaking, it is very unlikely. Such powers have faded over time to small things, well disguised, in order to preserve the Mysteries of them. Lightening-from-the-fingertips is not normal or likely anymore, so it is probable that it was not normal or likely then either. It is possible that it happened, and I cannot disprove that, but I don’t think it was as the stories have written them. I believe that it was more in line with the abilities of the Druids here at Ancient Sites. Good people talking to others, spreading peace, and only using their powers in such ways as had to be done.
And what abilities are those, you might ask…? Well, that is another lesson.
1 See this site for more details http://www.alia.ie/tirnanog/sochis/va.html 
Originally posted 2015-01-22 21:17:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter