Friday, 28 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part ten

Based on the model given by
Fergus Kelly, Early Irish Law.
uploader: Deacon of Pndapetzim
The divisions of people within Irish early Gaelic society is shown to the right. Written down in the early Medieval period, these laws evolved as oral tradition within the Irish La Tène period. Yesterday, I quoted Caesar's description of the Gaulish two-faction system of government which was embedded in all levels of the society from families to kings. If we had any contemporary information of a Gaulish equivalent to the Irish hierarchy, it would likely foreshadow it to some degree. While we cannot know its details, its original existence  is typical for just about any primitive government. Such laws evolve according to need and give us strong clues about the structure of the society at the time of recording.

Whenever a law is mentioned, the first job of any researcher should be to ask why such a law should exist. In part eight of this series, I gave Caesar's description of a religious law concerning the fate of captured booty. The idea of setting up a trophy consisting of the spoils of war was not a new thing -- the Romans did it too. However, these trophies contained a "representative sample" of booty that represented the battle and it was taken down after what was considered to be a suitable period. The idea that war booty should never be reused is very strange and I think that this law was seen to be necessary as the Celtic armies brought back a huge amount of gold from their Mediterranean campaigns and, as gold was the currency of warfare, it would be most likely that the wealthiest commander would be in a position to become a tyrant. That the law was religious in its nature is also interesting -- we also discover that a common druidic penalty for a crime was the prohibition of sacrifice. It is clearly apparent that druid judges utilized religious belief in the making of their laws.

Yet, we have no definitive evidence from the ancient authors that the druids were priests. Instead, the authors speak of a supervisory role for the druids whenever the people were offering a sacrifice. Being a non-literate society, we can find no exact modern equivalent to this state of affairs. About the closest modern custom to this would be the marriage licence -- While a wedding can be a religious event, it can also be conducted, in many places, in a civil ceremony with no religious trappings at all. Usually, though, the same licence is required in both cases and the signing authority is a government official without any (official) religious affiliations. When laws include religious details we can be sure that religion and politics are both part of the ruling authority and there is no separation of "Church and State". In fact, any term meaning "church and state" would likely not even exist as any sort of consideration to the people of that society. So when we read that the Celts would not engage in a religious ceremony without a druid present, we can understand it better by realizing that no one could be married in a church without first obtaining a government licence to do so.

It would also seem to be true that religious concerns of the common people provided the means by which the druids could exert their control of the people. Today, it is only the threat of loss of freedom or the threat of fines which serve as a deterrent beyond the individual's own sense of ethics and morals. We see this also appearing in the early Irish laws as well with fines being calculated by the nature of the crime and the "honor price" bestowed on the victim by the society. As the society evolves, laws then get created to address the problems experienced through these changes and they, too, become part of the evolution of that society.

On Monday we will look at how druidic power became embedded in Gaulish society as part of the Celtic expansion of the La Tène culture.

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