This chapter starts out with the tired old debate about the meaning of the word ‘Druid’. I know this is actually important, for words have great power, and the meaning behind them drives our very experience of reality, but, in truth, I’m tired of this particular endless debate. Ellis’ conclusion seems to be the common one – that ‘Dru-wid’ means a version of ‘oak-wise’ or ‘oak knowledge’. Well, enough of that. Tha mi seach sgith e!
Now we get to something that actually had a deep impact on me – the cultural evolving of the term, and why the Druids’ name continued long after the literal meaning was obsolete; this actually helped me see WHY the tree – an craobh, as I learned it – is one of our Hallows on the Altar. It seems that in the distant past, thousands of years ago, Europe was covered with forests, and the Oak was a source of food, fuel and shelter. To have knowledge of how to utilise such a vast and important resource would have ensured the survival of the group – and such a person would be incredibly valuable. Over time, as humans evolved from the hunter-gatherer, began to rely more and more upon agriculture and cultivation of the land, and wiped out the forests in the process, such knowledge was no longer necessary – or even, in the same sense, useful – but, the term, ‘Oak wise’, still meant the same thing – one who is knowledgeable about things that really matter. Thus, the term ‘Druid’ was preserved for the learned classes, and was retained as their official title.
Ellis spends wearying pages on how it wasn’t just Northern Europe, but everywhere the Indo-Europeans were; he speaks of this as an ‘Oak-Cult’ and how the Oak was masculine, the very first phallic symbol, and that the Goddess was probably the water that nurtured and fed these trees and groves.
This caste of people within the Celtic society weren’t really noticed by those outside the culture, apparently, until around the second century BC; this is where Ellis begins the introduction of the debate that ‘Druids’ were a foreign, assimilated priest-class vs. an indigenous caste, found in all of Celtic society. Ellis’ own conclusions are that they are indigenous to Celtic society, found all over the Celtic world, and just not written about, because our source material is very weak with regard to the Celts to begin with.
Well, I think that about covers it.