You can watch my Youtube video about this subject here: [The Druids and the Moon]
The Druids are still a fascinating subject, and the unknown still brings mystery, and what is mysterious and almost mystical nowadays, gives us a certain delight in knowing that beyond our dull lives in a civilized world, there is still magic out there, somewhere.
It’s still extremely hard to understand what the Druids were up to. We know they studied a variety of arts for 20 years, maybe more, but left no written records of their doings. Fortunately, and unfortunately, we have written roman sources describing the religious, intellectual and social functions of the druids within their communities, but these are the points of view from a society with a different cultural, historical and traditional background, seeing from afar something they had never come in contact with; ancestral practices so deeply carved upon the Celtic tribes, impossible for outsiders to fully understand the true essence of Druidism.
Even so, during Caius Iulius Caesar wars on Gaul (the very same who played such an important role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire), we have really interesting accounts about the druids, especially duo to Caesar’s friendship with Diviciacus of the Aedui, of course a Romanised name for a person we may never know his true name. Now, there might be a certain confusion here, because there was another Diviciacus during Caesar’s time, and he was also a Gaul, a Gaulish King to be more precise, but we know this Caesar’s friend was a Druid, not by Caesar himself but by Marcus Tullius Cicero, a roman politician who had a very peculiar career before becoming an active figure in the political network of Rome. Cicero had been an Augur, a priest whose purpose was interpreting the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds. So Cicero met this Diviciacus in Rome and had long debates with him, because they were colleagues of some sort and both argued about the art of divination.
This is one of the most important sources we have about druidism. However, as you might have guessed, it’s only a tiny portion of what druidism is and was. We are talking about druidism practiced in Gaul, from a certain Celtic group within a Celtic group, and obviously other druids did things differently, with certain similarities, but we can’t possibly say that all druids were the same everywhere. Also, these are written roman sources with that beautiful roman political touch of the Roman Republic.
But the question is, what concrete knowledge did the Celts and the Druids had on the stars and how did they applied such knowledge on their societies? In truth, we aren’t certain (sorry), but we have a variety of studies which gives us a glimpse of such a knowledge which seems with each passing year we come to the conclusion that these societies knew much more than we realised the year before, and the year before that. We can count on the yearly celebrations, harvesting cycles, equinoxes and solstices, we can count on the traditional folklore written by Irish priests, and of course we can count on the studies made by Archaeologists and Astronomers about the orientations of the monuments of antiquity. However, this last one, unlike most people think, such megalithic monuments are not Celtic; they were raised during the Neolithic, so we are talking about roughly 5000-4000 years before the Celts, of course the chronology differs a lot from place to place, still, we know the Druids used such monuments during the Iron
Age, but did they really knew what that was all about? Were they really using such monuments for the astronomical purposes they had been built so long ago?
It’s possible that the Druids knew how to use such monuments. Oral tradition since immemorial times survived till nowadays, even though with a lot of changes along the way. But we know the knowledge of the druids was passed along, from generation to generation through the oral tradition, in the attempt to keep the secrets of their wisdom, and they did a damn good job because we are still trying to crack this business. And such a tradition partly survived in the Irish Astronomical Treatises of the Middle-Ages, written in Latin, the very same knowledge the Christians used to continue the studies on the stars.
But the key to this knowledge seems to be in the Moon. According to the roman sources, the knowledge about the Moon and the observation of its phases was one of the most important subjects for the Druids. The complexity of the knowledge of the Moon cycles is something our modern culture lost, at least the peculiarities of this knowledge.
First, it must be noted that there are two cycles in the motions and appearances of the moon. The first and best known is that of its phases, which are repeated every 29.5 days approximately. Secondly, is the position of the Moon on the horizon, in fact, if we look at what point of the horizon in which the moon appears, we will see that for about 27.5 days the Moon travels in an arc in the horizon, in a round “journey” between its north and south ends. It is important to note that since both cycles are different, the moon does not always leave in the same phase by the same site of the horizon.
Now, as the lunar orbit is inclined to that of the earth about 5 °, the points of the horizon where the Moon appears on the horizon does not coincide with the appearances of the sun across the sky. In addition the Moon appearances are not static. And then there is a variety of complex information of the cycles of the Moon which would make my statement too long and complex. What I mean with this is that the Moon cycles are much more complex and we need to be precise in our observations of the moon, because the positions are never the same each year. We had to observe the real cycle of the moon for at least 18 to 19 years, until the whole cycle comes to an end and starts again. 18 to 19 years is very close to the 20-year-study of the Druids. Coincidence? Caesar himself left us an account that it took a novice in Druidry nineteen years of preparations to become a Druid, which coincides with the complete observation of one Moon cycle
So the Druids had to have a real understanding of the natural world. According Caesar and also Gaius Plinius, a roman philosopher and sort of naturalist of the Roman Empire, the Druids only required to observe the Moon in order to understand the stars and the position of the earth in relation with the stars.
It’s interesting to see that the megalithic monuments are not only aligned to be possible to observe the solstices, but some monuments are actually aligned with certain starts. The starts which are much more visible to the human eye without requiring a tool to enhance the celestial “dome”. And these monuments I’m talking about, were not only for initiation rites, but also funerary monuments. Monuments with a variety of functions in prehistoric societies. And as I’ve said, these monuments are much older than the Celts, so it’s a wonder the knowledge these people had, and how this knowledge survived for thousands of years until the Iron Age, and the Druids made good use of such knowledge.
This may be one of the reasons the Moon has played such an important role in the pre-Christian societies, and why there were so many deities related with the Moon. For instance, since I’ve written about the Romans, we start to see in the Roman funerary stelae (stones slabs) a representation of the crescent moon with the propagation of Celtic tongues and certain customs and traditions mixed with local traditions.