Any modern student of Druidry will eventually hear that the ancients spent 20 years learning to become a full-fledged Druid.
It can be a daunting thought. All that studying and learning, just so one can talk to the Gods. Most of the time this number is simply accepted and then ignored. If one thinks about it at all, one may spend some time blessing a deity of choice that modern Druidism is not like that. With any diligence at all a student can expect to receive the title of Druid in just a couple years.
It occurred to me recently that some may question why no longer takes 20 years of study to achieve the honor, right and responsibility inherent in the title, Druid.
In order to closely examine why current Druidic schools (such as the ODU and OBOD) don’t require that amount of time, it would be helpful to understand what the Druids of old studied, and for how long, to comprehend why it took 20 years to achieve the degree of Druid.
Documents indicate the ancient Druidic candidate spent their time in the study of many different disciplines. They started at a young age, usually about 8, and until they were 28, they studied every aspect of druidism their teacher thought was important.
For the first 12 years, they studied history, poetry, songs and song crafting, instruments and how to make and play those instruments. They studied astronomy and astrology. They studied cultures and histories of nearby tribes. When the Romans came into contact with the Celts, they even spent time studying the Roman history and culture.
At the end of this 12-year period, they were considered a Fili, or a Bard. They had the right and obligation to go around, record history and literally “sing for their supper”. They could go to any home or Rath in the land and be treated as a member of the family, given food and shelter in return for passing on information and stories.
The next 3 years were intensive study in the Law so they could advise their local leaders in what to do when the same questions come up again. Brehons were expected to have memorized the entire codex of Irish laws, precedents and case studies, from the whole criminal code to all the judgments the local king handed down for given situations. This was a prodigious feat of scholarship, one that I don’t think modern lawyers could duplicate, even if restricted to their local communities.
The final 5 years were normally spent in study of the spirituality, the rituals, the lore and mythology. It is in this time they learned the skills that would prompt the Romans to label the Druids as “priests”. This is as inaccurate a statement as it would be for me to say that a United States Army General’s ONLY responsibility is to motivate his troops, or only strategic planning. There is so much more to the job that there can be no comparison, and to attempt to shoehorn someone into that limited a scope is totally disrespectful.
It is during this last 5 years that the Druid to be builds an understanding of the Gods, the Three Realms, the cosmology, how to sacrifice correctly, and how to serve the tribe(s). They learned how to interpret omens, how to listen to the Land and how to husband it despite the crafter’s desire to destroy everything in the area to be used in their projects.
Looked at from the outside, this is a daunting task to emulate. Who truly wants to start learning at 22 and spend the next 20 years of their life studying so s/he can express the spirituality s/he feels inside by the time s/he is 42? I know people who would feel too old to do much of anything at that point. Realistically, at 42 (or older) there are few people who would choose to begin studying about Druidry.
Stop and consider for a minute the idea that many people have already achieved much of the basic required learning needed to achieve the title of Druid.
At 8, what does a child of farmers truly know? They may know about the skills of the parent, how to plant and harvest a field, how to lug water, how to milk a cow. They understand what it means to work hard, to strive for a goal. They have learned that it takes time for a seed to grow into a plant, and they may have learned patience as well as weeding.
This is a far cry from what the Druids of old considered critical skills. For one thing, this child can’t read very well. They can’t write fluently, and they probably only have a fraction of the vocabulary they need. So the first 12 years were dedicated to giving them that as well as everything else.
Who sees what I’m driving at? Who sees the place I’m pointing to with this article?
We already do this in Western Society.
The public school system takes care of a lot of the classical instruction, without the Order having to teach a new student how to read again. Basic critical skills like history, music, art, reading and writing, critical thinking, science and math are already taught in our school system, possibly not to the degree that the Ancients required, but to a degree that gives the prospective student a basis to work from.
All the necessary basic skills, from public speaking, to spelling and grammar, should all ready be inculcated in the prospective Druid.
So, let’s knock off 12 years from the 20 year course of study. Yep, I would venture to bet that the Ancient Druids would be ready to call many graduating seniors “Fili”, except in the area of memory skills, and even then we have one great advantage that they didn’t, we can write it all down and research our answers. Ok, I know the argument about Druids and the written word but, let us dispense with that for the moment.
So, where do we start now? Should one start studying The Law and the codexes so we know what we are doing legally? What’s wrong with civics and various classes after school to learn those skills and that knowledge? Certainly if you feel drawn to the legal system, study law formally and begin a law practice, but normally the law is so complex that no one person can hope to memorize more that a layman’s understanding of what the law is and how it works.
For instance, I know it’s illegal to steal a cow. I know that it’s possible to understand famous cattle rustling precedent from the past, and what could happen to a cattle rustler. I could also tell you about over-branding and what that does, along with how the cattle economy is critical for some places and what impact it will have on the agrarian economy in an area. Does this mean that I have studied the Law on cattle rustling? Not at all, I picked that knowledge up from song, story and our culture. I have read about rustling in references I have read in depth, and I know some of the law in regards to stealing. I have a layman’s understanding.
I believe that the three years dedicated to learning the legal code of the Celts was dedicated to gaining a layman’s knowledge of the law. In addition, I can speculate that it included specializing in the local Righ’s (King’s) legal precedents and how he and his predecessors judged similar cases in the past. This did not give the student an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, but it allowed the Druid to function and advise the Righ on what is right.
The prospective Druid would have also had to study the sociological impact of various ruling on the society, as well as learning the more famous decisions, spending time learning with a Brehon, and find out what they knew.
Starting to sound like a two-year degree? Yeah, I thought so. I believe that it was possible that the Druids of old had a system similar to this, designed to build off each stage until the student reached a certain level of ability. Then, just like graduating from High School in America, they had to choose what they would do. Continue studying or learn a craft. From Roman sources as well as Irish, the sons of nobility were educated by the Druid. I doubt that the majority of them became Druids. I can see a time when the druid of a village was only a student in the over all order, but surely the most wise person in the area. I can also see how the study in the more esoteric aspects of Druidism could be considered an advanced study.
Thus we come to the last five years, the stage many are in now. Some may wish to fill in gaps of knowledge by studying instruments, with music, art or critical thinking.
We come to a time when all we are studying is the in-depth information in druidism, and learning the spirituality. We share the history of the Druids, both neo-Druids and ancient Druids, and we discover ways to express our spirituality to everyone. We become those who are looked up to by many as wise men (and women), Elders. Yet, it may be that we feel that the title, the honor is unearned because of a lack of 20 years. Don’t.
The next time someone asks you why you “only” spent 3 years learning what it took the Ancient Druids 20 years to learn, you can look him or her in the eye, unashamed, and tell them “because I already knew much of the information, and I don’t need to learn to walk again.”