Monday, May 13, 2019


Carnac Alignments

Carnac Alignments

Carnac Alignments

Carnac Alignments

Ancient legends record that the strange alignments to the north of the Breton town of Carnac were legionnaires, turned to stone by a local saint. Walking amongst the stones you can sense how such tales grew and each megalith seems to possess a definite anthropomorphic character.  

Around the alignments lie a host of cromlechs, burial chambers, long barrows and stone circles.  They fall into 3 main groups, Menec, Kermario and Kerlescan, covering 3km with over 3000 stones. Back in the nineteenth century archaeologists assumed that the alignments were a vast druidic temple. While druids may have used the sites, the megalithic landscape of the Morbihan region of Brittany is much older, belonging to a megalithic culture that existed for about 3000 years (from 4800BC to 2250BC). 

Menhir Du Champ-Dolent - with attendant film crew that I chanced upon.

Initially huge Dolmens were erected in the 5th millennia BC. These towering pillars of rock dominated the landscape and some were carved with flowing, linear motifs. They represent a staggering achievement, not only in terms of organisation and manpower (it is estimated that to lift the Grand Menhir Brisé would have taken up to 3,800 people - it was 20-30 meters high, 5 meters wide at its base -  and weighed a mere  350 tonnes). 

However, at the close of the 5th millennium some of these menhirs were pulled down and the decorated stones fell out of favour. Some turn up in fragments recycled in long barrows, and there is a theory that many of the long mounds were originally open sites. At some point they were covered and their interiors became private. Perhaps this meant only a select few were allowed into the sites, or during certain ceremonies. Whether this change reflects a cultural change, invasion or resettlement no one is sure. 

Photo of a sign at the site which gives you an
idea of the scale of the Grand Menhir.

The toppled Grand Menhir Brisé

The large cairn next to the Grande Menhir du Brisé know as  Table Des Marchand.

The Alignments appear in the early fourth Millenium. There are a number scattered around Carnac, some aligned east to west. Various theories have been put forward, from a vast calculus that could predict the lunar eclipse, a chariot race site, or a huge druidic temple. The truth is open to interpretation and speculation. Modern archaeologists are now of the viewpoint that the alignments were a boundary, marking the frontier between two realms, that of the living, and that of the dead;  a huge funerary landscape. 

It must be said that the alignments from Erdeven, to the west, and those of Carnac, cut off  the coastal area from the mainland. It was around this coastline, and the once low lying swampland which now forms the Gulf of Morbihan, that early peoples settled, farmed, fished and foraged. The coastal area would have been a veritable land of the living, while the wilder interior less so. The alignments may mark a boundary, that of civilisation against that of the wild, the latter associated with the dead. 

What reasons drove the ancients to erect thousands of menhirs in regimental rows? Whatever they were the process took a lot of time, energy and passion. The tribes raising these alignments did so because they believed in something very powerful, the epitome of which  is the physical manifestation of the megalithic remains of Brittany that astound us to this day.

Inside La Table Des Marchand a massive carved portal stone. 

Ref -

Statements In Stone, Monuments and Society in Neolithic Brittany - Mark Patton


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Wondrous Head

Stone Head dated between 500BC and 500AD  from Wentcliff Beck near Earby

The Celts had a well known and documented  reverence for the human head. The head, as the seat of the soul, was considered sacred. Ancient historians, such as Herodotus, described Celtic headhunters displaying their victims craniums with pride. To these iron-age tribesmen the  power of the slain was appropriated by the collecting of heads.  In this manner it is believed  that Celtic warriors honoured their victims. 

The idea of the head as the seat of the soul is reflected in many Celtic legends. The myth of Bran The Blessed is told in the Mabinogion, a collection of ancient tales in the Welsh language, and is just one example*. In this tale the seven survivors of the war between Matholwch and Bran bear the latter’s  severed head back to Wales from Ireland. There they lived in a fort on an island off the coast for four score years and were known as The Assembly of The Wondrous Head.  Bran’s severed head regaled them with tales, poems and songs,  until one of their number opened a forbidden door and reality rushed in. The myth  hints at the power assumed to reside within the head, even when it was no longer attached to the body. 

Indeed this idea isn’t restricted to bloody tales of head hunters and singing severed heads prophesying the fates of lands and peoples. Stylised  heads, carved in stone, were probably used as a focus for reverence. The symbolic head also appears on much metal work from the  iron-age period throughout Europe. Such images often portray stern countenances, with large eyes and pronounced brows. They are thought to have been magical devices and were used to protect against evil. 

Wells, springs and lakes are associated with severed heads, and lingering remnants of ancient traditions involving human skulls and curative springs were still in use during the last century in Scotland and Wales. Old traditions often continued, even after the conversion of most ‘pagan peoples,’  albeit under the thin veneer of Christianity. Thus the head of Saint Fergus, who died circa 730 AD, was said to possess curative powers. In the 1400’s James IV had a silver case made for the skull.   The head of another Saint, Marnoch,** also possessed healing powers and oaths were sworn by it, testament to the lingering notion that the head contained great power. 

Stone head from York Museum. 


* These texts relate the tales of the Brythonic speaking tribes who once inhabited Britain, up to the Forth Clyde isthmus
** He gave his name to Kilmarnock


Druids - Anne Ross
Folklore of Lochs - MacKinlay

The Head Cult Tradition and folklore surrounding the symbol of the severed head in The British Isles - David Clarke.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Mysterious Kelpie: A Vestige of Older Beliefs?

Manannan's Bride, By The Author

The side was steep, the bottom deep 
Frae bank to bank the water pouring; 
And the bonnie lass did quake for fear, 
She heard the water-kelpie roaring."* 

A page from my Sketchbook showing waves depicted as sea horses. 

White  horses racing across the ocean, white manes flaring.  Tolkien used the image in the Lord of The Rings, when the river sweeps away the Dark Riders at the Ford of Bruinen. The imagery has been used in art,  myths and poems for thousands of years. It is more than mere allegorical musing, as images from Greece testify. The sea horse, or hippocampus, was  a chimera that had the head of a horse and body of a scaled fish, it is seen accompanying Triton, a sea god, as well as sea monsters such as Scylla.

I have long been intrigued by this design and references to Sea horses and Kelpies in old tales. Much Scottish folklore was documented by various folklorists back in the 1800’s, such as J.F Campbell. He travelled around the country writing down oral traditions and  stories, which bear testament to an oral tradition sadly lost. Old tales that were  themselves are like beads of sea glass found on a beach, their worn surfaces clouded. These fragments once belonged to a clearer, fully formed piece. This is how I regard much folklore. Tales were added and amended through the generations, sometimes in line with the religious and political  needs of the community, thus adding, or subtracting  elements to each tale. However, key elements persist and they are vital to the telling. Some even appear to reference pre-Christian deities. This is what I believe the folklore of the Kelpie myth refers to. 

Many lochs and pools, rivers and streams had their Kelpie, or water horse. They were also known as Each Uisge, Voughans/Vaicghs and in the Shetlands as the less threatening appellation of Nuggles - these were said to look like Shetland ponies… so no threat there!  The Kelpie/Kelpy were equated also with the Norse Nikr (Nix/Nixie and where Ole Nick comes from).  

Some of the designs that the Picts left us that date from the  6-7th c. AD. Do these images relate to the Kelpie? Are there any references to these images in earlier Celtic art? Well yes, here are a few I’ve found over the years of collecting designs to carve. 

A page from my Sketchbook, including the 'elephant' 
design mentioned below. 

The  so-called ‘Pictish elephant’  I believe  is a representation of an early form of Kelpie. It appears to be much more benign, or passive. The positioning suggests this motif was  powerful, and it often hovers above scenes of hunts, wars, kings and queens. And yes, perhaps the symbol came to represent a certain leader or tribe or clan,  the same way  Capricorn was adopted by the Legio II Augusta. Yet in the myths of Kelpies and sea horses, creatures that inhabit lochs and rivers, there suggests a belief in this image as a deity/spirit of associated with bodies of water.  Christianity frowned upon such beliefs, so we have the all too familiar process of ‘demonisation,’ in which the original ‘genus locii,’ or spirit, becomes an evil thing that will only bring bad luck, a creature that would drag people into the depths, lurking in boggy lochs and fast flowing rivers, or ready to pounce on the unwary in the muddy banks. 

In many tales and legends the Kelpie was a creature to be feared and sometimes it appeared as a magnificent horse, saddled and bridled, but whoever tried to ride the beast would find themselves stuck fast to its flanks, crying in terror as the beast dove into the dark cold waters of the loch.

However there are glimmers of an older, less malign version of the Kelpie, for example there was once a tale told that the materials for the building of St Vigeans, Forfarshire were brought there by a Kelpie. And beneath the church, which rested on foundations of iron bars, was a deep lake. 

Another sketchbook page, this one depicting aquatic creatures, some a bit less friendly, others, the paired examples, possess an air of tranquility and affection about them.


Along with the tales of Kelpies there are also those of water bulls, mermaids off the coast, and the selkie. All these are associated with watery places. We know that pools and lochs were often revered by the Celts. In fact the beliefs of our ancestors, across the globe, infer that everything had its spirit or essence. The Romans named local spirits Genus Loci. In Scotland many of the major rivers were named after local spirits and worshipped, or honoured in some form or another. 

Could it be that in these images we are seeing the lingering refrains of a spirit form, something that the peoples refused to relinquish, even in the early days of Christianity? Perhaps this in itself reveals why the Kelpie became so often a thing of malevolence. As  Christianity became less tolerant of other beliefs, the church denounced the old ways the peasantry clung to. By changing their nature, warping the old deities, spirits and Genus loci wretched demonic beings best feared. 

The Rodney Stone depicts two types of Aquatic creature.

* From a Southern County Ballad (Quoted in Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs - James A. Mackinlay


Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs - James A. Mackinlay
Popular Tales of the Western Highlands - J.F Campbell

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Dunadd - seat of the Scots

Dunadd - Picture by the author

Dunadd rises from the Moine Mhor (Great Moss), like the gnarled knoll of a giant's brow,  heightening the sense that you are travelling amidst a sacred landscape. Little remains of the fortifications that once wound around the steep escarpments, yet  it is not difficult to imagine how it looked in its heyday.  The enclosing walls were massive, thick and stony, threading between the cliffs and banks. A circular citadel stood upon its crest, warriors watched from the battlements, flags blustered in strong winds. Once the mound of Dunadd was not so still, or silent.  Hunting hounds barked and whined, horses whinnied, people called to each other, the murmur of their voices drifted across the marsh. Once upon a time the hill was an island of habitation, rising above a treacherous marsh.   It was a mysterious place, and it still possesses an otherworldly quality.

Moine Mhor - Picture by the author

From the heights - Picture by the author
Remains of fortification walls - Picture by the author

Given the sacred nature of such landmarks in other areas, and Dunadd’s proximity to Kilmartin Glen (a site of religious importance from the Bronze Age), it is likely that Dunadd served  religious and secular functions and was not only a  military installation. Kilmartin is home to the highest concentration of cup and rings, barrows, cairns and standing stones in Scotland, with over 800 within six miles of the village itself. 

Cup marked standing stone near in Kilmartin Glen - Picture by the author

It was once assumed that the Scots invaded Pictland from Ireland but evidence, supported archaeologically,  suggests a gradual process of assimilation with strong economic ties already existing between the north of Ireland and western Scotland. As this culture mutated the peoples became a cohesive society, recognisable as the Dal Riata. The tribesmen of this growing kingdom would become known as the Scots. Their seat of power was Dunadd. Dun means fort, and -add (originally -att) is the nearby river.  

Battlements near the summit - Picture by the author

Legend has it that the fort was founded by Fergus Mór mac Eirc in 500 AD, but  archaeological finds from Dunadd predate the Roman invasion of Britain*. Obviously Dunadd existed as a site of importance long before Fergus showed up. However, by the turn of the 700 AD Dal Riata had two seats of power, Dunollie in the north and Dunadd to the south.   The fledgling kingdom of the Scots was growing!

The footprint! - Picture by the author

A carving of a Pictish boar is  located  at Dunadd near the summit. Parts of an indecipherable Ogham text can be traced running along cracks near the figure  and a footprint, carved into the stone, in which the kings of the Scots were said to place their feet when they took their oaths of kingship. It is interesting that the symbol of the boar may come from the fort’s seizure by the Picts in 736 AD, when Oengus I took the fortress.

Ogham script following the natural cracks in the stone - Picture by the author

Oengus moved against Dal Riata after his son, Prince Brude, was captured by a warband of Scots. His retaliation was ferocious: first he took Dunollie and then he moved on Dunadd. It must have been a difficult task, the hilltop was girthed by a series of thick stone walls, and to reach the citadel at its crest warriors would have had to fight their way through a series of courtyards and negotiate a narrow gully, all the while exposed to archers. Given the strong defences, it is more likely that they starved the defenders into submission… but I like the idea of a bloody slog best!  Oengus brought the kingdom of Dal Riata under Pictish dominion for a time, but of course the tide would eventually shift in favour of the Scots. 

A killing zone. A narrow defile is the only way to access the heights
 - Picture by the author

Looking back through the defile at the
lower portion, once a fortified courtyard
 - Picture by the author

The boar - I have darkened a portion because the original is so faint,
but here you can clearly see the head of the boar to the right
- Picture by the author

Were these carvings the result of a Pictish victory? Did they denote the house of Oengus? Or were they the creation of a peacetime treaty? There were silversmithing workshops within the castle walls, moulds and fragments have been found that hint at a Pictish influence in style. So was the carving created by an artist with a taste for designs he’d seen on Pictish stones to the East?  And what did such symbols mean to the people of Dal Riata? Was this a tribal motif? Did it hold religious significance? We do  know that by the tenth century AD the Pictish culture had been superseded by that of the Scots and these carvings bear a tantalising glimpse into the power such symbols once held, even if their purpose is obscure. 

* - A legend places the Stony of Destiny, upon which the Scot's kings were crowned, at Dunadd for a time too.


Find Pictish and Celtic designs at my Etsy shop


 1 - Strongholds of the Picts: The Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland - Angus Konstam

 2 - The Art of the Picts - George Henderson and Isabel Henderson

Friday, March 16, 2018

A wee bit of a break

Yup it has been some time since my last post. I have been in the process of moving (again) and also this meant finding a workspace (still searching but found a temporary solution  -though no big deal, in the past I have carved in bathrooms, abandoned warehouses, a forgotten kitchen, under a gazebo in the lashing rain etc etc). 

Anyway my work both writing, drawing and carving has been severely hampered by a really bad case of tendonitis. I am off to see an osteopath today so fingers crossed. In the meantime I have been experimenting with brass/ bronze and copper casting. This is resin casting with a large percentage of atomised metal powder thrown in the mix. 

Feedback on these creations is welcomed. And yes they are available for purchase.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Demise of the Druids?

One of my hand carved stones.
A wee druid!
The name druid conjures up images such as  shamanic priests contacting the otherworld, white garbed modern druids  gathering at Stonehenge, or even Getafix from the Asterix cartoons. Druids  are cited as being active between 400BC-400AD in Gaul, Britain and Ireland. However  druidic origins may lay hundreds of years earlier. 

The word comes from druidh in Scots gaelic, droaid in Irish gaelic, which refers to a 'cunning man' or magician. This possibly stems from the Celtic dru, Greek, drus, an oak -  and oak worship does feature in druidic lore.  Substantiating this further is that the Welsh name for druid, Derwyddon, means 'oak knowledge'. 

Ancient sources tell us that druids were astrologers and therefore some  link them with rituals associated with stone circles*.   It is likely that druids presided over sacrifices, some of which may have been those of prisoners set aside for rituals. This  practice  repelled the Romans, but accounts of the bloody practices of the druids may also be propaganda. Roman writers tended to exaggerate the barbarity of other nations. 

Julius Ceasar tells us that would-be practitioners crossed to Britain to learn their arts. This suggests that there might have been a centre where druidic wisdom was taught.  We know that there were orders of druids, bards and ovates (fili in ireland), but there were also seers, magi, soothsayers etc… but whether these can also called druids is uncertain. 

“The Druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. Induced by such great advantages, many embrace this profession of their own accord, and [many] are sent to it by their parents and relations. They are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. 

“Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek characters. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory. They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valour, the fear of death being disregarded. They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.” 

Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars

Druids were more than priests,  they were also statesmen who held the warrior caste in check. Some scholars view them as the Celtic intelligentsia or as philosophers. Druids were mystic philosophers whose minds brimmed with astronomy, astrology, laws and folklore. Exactly how far back this lore stretched we cannot tell. It is entirely possible that ideas, concepts - religious and proto-scientific - were conveyed over generations. This ‘transmission’ was achieved orally, by word-of-mouth, utilising the storehouse of memory. It is hard to imagine this,  in our technological era where mobile phones and computers are used as external hard drives for our minds. Hard to  imagine a culture in which there is no written word! In which every lore and ritual and religion has to be committed to memory.  

Druids were the glue that held Celtic society together. For the Celts were never a unified people, they were ethnically diverse  but held certain cultural commonalties.  Being a  warrior based, tribal culture, they were constantly fuelled by internecine rivalries - a fact the Romans exploited to their advantage. 

Druids presided over inter-tribal assemblies. In Ireland we know that such gatherings were held at sacred centres, on specific festival dates, such as Lughnasa and Beltaine. In Britain one such sacred centre may have been Mona,  now known as the isle of Angelsey  off the coast of North Wales.  

The sacred isle of Mona, Anglesey off the coast of north Wales

Before turning to the terrible events on Mona, it is interesting to understand Rome’s motives for invading Britian in the first place. In 55 BC  Julius Caesar attempted a foray onto mainland Britain after he had conquered the Gaulish tribes. This was more to pump up his status than an all-out invasion.  In the century that lay between Claudius' conquest, Rome traded  with Britons,  currying support for their future endeavours. 

Nearly a century had passed before Emperor Claudius took an interest in the island. Claudius was not a disliked statesman and didn’t need to invade. The Britons could hardly have posed a threat to Rome either, but they may have ceased trading, and that pissed Rome off! By invading, Rome meant to return  trade to normal…  and to own it. 

Emperor Claudius

In 43 AD Claudius landed on British shores with four legions. An estimated 40, 000 men including auxiliaries. And while much of the land was subdued the locals were not all happy. There were revolts and many tribes proved troublesome.  

Suetonius writes that Claudius had  "utterly abolished the cruel and inhuman religion of the druids among the Gauls”**. Surely this sentiment was still running high when his legions arrived on British shores - Zero tolerance for druids! Given the importance of the druid caste, such an intolerant policy could only instil a bitter hatred toward the Empire in those it conquered.

Nearly two decades later, in 60 AD, Suetonius Paullinus moved against the sacred island of  Mona. It was here that great assemblies were  most likely held and had also become home to refugees fleeing the devastation of their homelands at the hands of the Roman Empire. It was also known as a stronghold for  Druids. The islanders had also been sending rebellious tribes supplies. The Roman writer Tacitus tells us the rest. 

  “He (Suetonius) prepared accordingly to attack the island of Mona, which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for refugees; and, in view of the shallow and variable channel, constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms. By this method the infantry crossed; the cavalry, who followed, did so by fording or, in deeper water, by swimming at the side of their horses. 

"On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames. The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a duty to consult their deities by means of human entrails."

Pallinus was called away as the Iceni  rose in revolt.  The Iceni were powerful Celtic tribe,  their territory covered an area equatable with Norfolk, parts of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. They called themselves Eceni and they had previously courted the Romans, possibly accepting trade deals and money to placate their tribesmen to act more favourably to the Romans. 

Their Queen at the time was Boudicca. Her husband, Prasutagus, was pro-Roman, and upon his death cited the young emperor Nero as his heir, together with his two young daughters. Despite this, within days of his death, his kingdom was pillaged by centurions. Boudicca was whipped and her daughters raped.  The chief men of the Iceni were stripped of their estates and relatives of the king treated as slaves. A demand was then made by Rome that all the money lent by Claudius to the Iceni be paid in full right away. This was a loan of 40,000,000 sesterces that the Iceni had not wished for anyway.*** 

Boudicca is described by Cassius Dio: 

In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh;  a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. 

The Queen addressed her people thus:

"You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery. For what treatment is there of the most shameful or grievous sort that we have not suffered ever since these men made their appearance in Britain? Have we not been robbed entirely of most of our possessions, and those the greatest, while for those that remain we pay taxes? 

 "Besides pasturing and tilling for them   all our other possessions, do we not pay a yearly tribute for our very bodies? How much better it would be to have been sold to masters once for all than, possessing empty titles of freedom, to have to ransom ourselves every year! How much better to have been slain and to have perished than to go about with a tax on our heads! Yet why do I mention death?  For even dying is not free of cost with them; nay, you know what fees we deposit even for our dead. Among the rest of mankind death frees even those who are in slavery to others; only in the case of the Romans do the very dead remain alive for their profit.  Why is it that, though none of us has any money (how, indeed, could we, or where would we get it?), we are stripped and despoiled like a murderer's victims? And why should the Romans be expected to display moderation as time goes on, when they have behaved toward us in this fashion at the very outset, when all men show consideration even for the beasts they have newly captured?

"But, to speak the plain truth, it is we who have made ourselves responsible for all these evils, in that we allowed them to set foot on the island in the first place instead of expelling them at once as we did their famous Julius Caesar, — yes, and in that we did not deal with them while they were still far away as we dealt with Augustus and with Gaius Caligula and make even the attempt to sail hither a formidable thing. As a consequence, although we inhabit so large an island, or rather a continent, one might say, that is encircled by the sea, and although we possess a veritable world of our own and are so separated by the ocean from all the rest of mankind  that we have been believed to dwell on a different earth and under a different sky, and that some of the outside world, aye, even their wisest men, have not hitherto known for a certainty even by what name we are called, we have, notwithstanding all this, been despised and trampled underfoot by men who know nothing else than how to secure gain. However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen, — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name, — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?

"All this I say, not with the purpose of inspiring you with a hatred of present conditions, — that hatred you already have, — nor with fear for the future, — that fear you already have, — but of commending you because you now of our own accord choose the requisite course of action, and of thanking you for so readily co-operating with me and with each other. Have no fear whatever of the Romans; for they are superior to us neither in numbers nor in bravery. And here is the proof: they have protected themselves with helmets and breastplates and greaves and yet further provided themselves with palisades and walls and trenches to make sure of suffering no harm by an incursion of their enemies. For they are  influenced by their fears when they adopt this kind of fighting in preference to the plan we follow of rough and ready action. Indeed, we enjoy such a surplus of bravery, that we regard our tents as safer than their walls and our shields as affording greater protection than their whole suits of mail. As a consequence, we when victorious capture them, and when overpowered elude them; and if we ever choose to retreat anywhere, we conceal ourselves in swamps and mountains so inaccessible that we can be neither discovered or taken.  Our opponents, however, can neither pursue anybody, by reason of their heavy armour, nor yet flee; and if they ever do slip away from us, they take refuge in certain appointed spots, where they shut themselves up as in a trap. But these are not the only respects in which they are vastly inferior to us: there is also the fact that they cannot bear up under hunger, thirst, cold, or heat, as we can. They require shade and covering, they require kneaded bread and wine and oil, and if any of these things fails them, they perish; for us, on the other hand, any grass or root serves as bread, the juice of any plant as oil, any water as wine, any tree as a house. Furthermore, this region is familiar to us and is our ally, but to them it is unknown and hostile. As for the rivers, we swim them naked, whereas they do not across them easily even with boats. Let us, therefore, go against them trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves." ****

Cassius Dio - Roman History

Coin of the Iceni Tribe

However, I think there were numerous events that steered the temperament of the Britons along the path of destruction. Given the status of the druids, and the timing of the attack on Mona,  this must have played a part in the decision of the Iceni and their supporters to rise. 

The ensuing rebellion was a product of tribal grievances  harboured over decades. Their ranks swelling with sympathetic tribesmen, Boudicca's army  marched on Roman targets, razing them to the ground. No prisoners were taken, no mercy or quarter given.  The ferocity of the assault is evidenced  in  archaeology.    

However the uprising was crushed, in its wake some 80,000 people were slain. Sources disagree on Boudicca's fate, she might have perished through illness or claimed her own life. Over a decade after her death, in 77 AD,  a mandate was given by Emperor Vespian to bring all Britain to heel. Agricola was the general chosen for this task. Of course, the island of Mona was once again on the agenda and this time he finished the job. 

My notion is that after the massacre and subjugation of the Isle of Anglesey, in both 60 AD and 77 AD, the Druidic caste was very much reduced in power (Claudius had already been   purging the lands of their influence already). I think the events in 60/61AD  left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Britons.  It spelt the beginning of the end of Celtic culture. The druids were storehouses of Celtic lore, and they had been effectively crushed. Wholesale Romanisation began.

Suffice to say that druidry was percived as a threat. It reinforced tribal identity, and Celtic culture amongst the Britons. Their practices were viewed as repulsive by the Roman elite, (whether such stories were substantiated or not). Given the brutality of the Roman counter-insurgency, and the wiping out of hundreds of druidic practitioners, how much survived of pre-Roman druidic lore? In what form did it take? Did the slaughter, and the fact that the druids could do nothing to save their people from conquest,  weaken the caste’s position? 

After 77 AD Agricola embarked on a cultural conquest superimposed upon Rome's military success. As well as new towns, temples were built to honour Roman gods, while Celtic deities were fixed with Roman appellations.  Being brought into the domain of anthropomorphic Deities: in effect this was a degradation of form. People were encouraged to adopt Roman ways. Not that this was truly and utterly successful. The country people, the pagani, held to old traditions, some of which are still visible to this very day, even if further clouded by a veil of  Christianity. 

Roman policy was not to interfere with religious affairs that did not affect them directly. But the influx of Romanised settlers had a telling legacy. The thousands of centurions and auxiliaries that accompanied the conquests and later guarded the forts and walls to maintain control, were mainly from other  provinces, and with them they brought their own collection of deities. 

After the Iceni revolt, the process of Romanisation began. Changing the name of  deities, in effect superimposed a  divine hierarchy upon the genii loci or local gods. For the power of any god resides in its name, that is essentially its essence, and within the umberella of 'name' come a host of associations, stories, tales. The fixing of Roman apellations, such as Mars, Jupiter etc, restructured this thinking - assumed that these gods were the same as those of the conquerers, and worse,  offered a civilised version!  

Celtic religion was thus distilled into  Romano-Celtic religion. But not prehaps entirely. For the conquest of 77 did not complete its requisite of taming the entire island. And though many Caledonians were slaughtered  at the battle of Mons Graupius, the Romans were forced to retreat, little by little over the decades until they secured Hadrian's wall as a boundary between the civilised world and barbarian. 

Another of my carvings. A druid. Serpentine from Iona.

Perhaps in the North, beyond the great wall, refugees and Caledonians kept their culture alive. Perhaps  Druids did remain  and possibly thrived until the spiritual conquest of the Holy Roman Empire completed the job. But after the slaughter on Mona how could the order ever remain the same? The massacre was surely was as devastating to  Celtic culture, as the destruction of the library of Alexandria was to the ancient world. 

Unfortunately much that survives of bardic and druidic tradition is very much shaped and changed from its orignial form. The recorders of ancient traditions were fervent Christian scribes, and they couldn’t help Christianise - just as the Romans had Romanised.  It doesn't mean we should discount all they wrote, but we need to be selective. Nowadays there are heaps of books purporting to reveal the wisdom of druidic lore, rebranded and much of it fluffed up. Much of this is the continuation of seventeen century romanticism, part of the reaction to the changing world of agricultural and industrial progress that was sweeping the country at that time. Again, I don't see that there is so much wrong with this. You believe what appeals to you. In any doctrine or philosophy there may be elements you wish to adopt and incorporate into your worldview. And I am not wholly discounting that some essence may have survived in a water down form. I think those looking to faithfully reconstruct druidic traditions are aware of this problem. There is good work out there, amongst the 'feel-good philosophy/spiritually'. If you are interested in where this line of thought is at check out this site here: Celtic Reconstructionism.

Getafix the potion swigging Druid!

R4H - article about the attack on Mona.
BBC Blog - another article about Anglesey and druids, 


*Stone circles and megalithic sites date from 2 to 3 thousand BC and are found throughout Ireland and the British isles. Many of these sites have been proven to have astrological underpinnings and align to various solar, lunar and constellatory formations/events. The druids, being known for their astrological guile, may well have inherited such knowledge. 

Hypocritical really,  considering the hideous spectacle of the colosseum, the depravity of certain Roman emperors, and the brutality in which Roman soldiers dealt with conquered  tribes. 

"Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it."  Cassius Dio .

These are words placed in the mouth of an historical character long after the event. Treat with caution. However I do like the essence of the piece. The hatred of an empire and the imposition of its laws is tangible.


A Brief Introduction To Druids - Barry Cunliffe
Celtic Art Before The Romans - Ian Stead
History Of The Celts - Horace E. Winter
The Silver Bough - F. Marian McNeill
The Life And Death Of A Druid Prince - Anne Ross And Don Robbins
Agricola - Tacitus
The Histories - Tacitus
Religion In Roman Britian - Martin Henig
The Gallic Wars - Julius Caesar

Antiquæ Linguæ Britannicæ Thesaurus: A Welsh and English Dictionary