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Yikes! Snakes!

Much is written by later writers about the Druids and serpent worship, but like most things written about the Druids, isn't true. Apparently this story arose due to the legend of St. Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland.

"That's right, get outta here snakes! And tell torch guy over there to put some pants on for crying out loud! Geeze!"

       People centuries later probably rationalized there had to be a reason Patrick drove the snakes out. But the story is just folklore, and shouldn't be taken seriously. Patrick never mentions driving the snakes out of Ireland in his surviving writings, and it's just simply a legend.

     Later writers who romanticized the Druids claimed that snakes were a symbol of the Druidic religion, and that the story arose symbolizing St. Patrick's triumph over Paganism. Oblong glass spheres supposedly worn by Druids were turned into "crystals shaped like serpent's eggs" by later writers. It's possible Druids in other countries knew about snakes, but not in Ireland.

    Besides, the Druids were associated with trees more than anything, not snakes. The Irish Druids probably had no idea what a snake even was! So neither the story about St. Patrick driving out the snakes, is true, nor the idea that the story was created as "Christian propaganda" to symbolize St. Patrick's defeat of Druid power true either.

Fire, Trees, and Severed Heads

     The Celtic headhunters venerated the image of the severed head as a continuing source of spiritual power. Severed heads were venerated by the Celts like an idol. The Druids believed the head was where the soul was located, so the head of an enemy killed in battle was even more lucky.

      Fire was considered sacred by the Druids, and on certain Druid holidays, only the Druids themselves, not the common folk, were allowed to make fire. The Druids charged the people money for fire on these "holy nights". Anyone caught making fire on their own was put to death. Some of these superstitions about fire carried over into modern times. Since having fire could sometimes literally mean the difference between life and death in ancient times, the people were at the Druid’s mercy.

     During the middle ages, it has been noted that superstitious people believed a person taking fire from someone’s house on the summer equinox would get power over the family inside. The belief grew out of this superstition that if someone requested fire from someone’s house on that night, they must have been a witch. So it was the carryover of this superstition from Pagan times that got people accused of witchcraft. There is no belief in the Christian faith about taking fire from someone’s house giving power over that household.

     Like many ancient cultures, the Celts practiced ritual murder as well. Methods of human sacrifice also include strangling and ritual drowning as well, and also burning the victims alive. The Romans were also guilty of this practice, but at the time they conquered the British Isles, the practice had been outlawed within the Empire. The Romans seem to have been genuinely horrified by the things they witness the Celts do. The ancient Celts seemed to treat life cheap. People could be executed in a most cruel manner just for the purpose of fortune telling! Their method involved the ritual murder of a victim chosen in advance. The death throes were interpreted by the superstitious Druids as omens of the future.

     Trees were thought to have certain magical powers. Druids are traditionally associated with oak trees, however some scholars to think the rowan tree may have been utilized more by Druids than the oak. A few historians think that the word Druid itself could be derived from "knowledge of the tree". Use of trees in magic is found in all cultures, and among all primitive peoples.

    Mistletoe growing on an oak tree seemed to be of particular importance to Druids. The superstitious Druids though mistletoe growing on oak trees sacred, because it seldom grows on them. A detailed account of a Druid ceremony involving harvesting mistletoe comes from the Roman historian Pliny. It seems the ceremony would take place after someone spotted mistletoe growing on the side of an oak tree, apparently determined to be a "magic" occurrence by the superstitious Druids. Then a time for the ritual would be chosen, six days after the new moon. A feast was made, and also the sacrifice of two white bulls.

    A Druid in a white robe then climbed up the oak tree and cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle (well, more likely, it was actually bronze). The mistletoe fell onto a white cloak. Neodruids and Wiccans are quick to claim the use of mistletoe and evergreens in decoration at Christmas time is a carryover from Druid times, and that kissing under the mistletoe is the remnants of an ancient Druid fertility custom.

    But the Druids harvested the mistletoe growing on oak whenever during the year they happened to find it. It wasn’t an annual thing. Also, the practice of decorating houses and churches with mistletoe at Christmas time didn’t come into vogue in England until the 17th century! The kissing part came a century later, and was not an ancient custom. Hopefully mouthwash was invented somewhere in between.

     Why did Christians use evergreens to decorate their houses and churches during the Christmas season? Ronald Hutton notes "Certainly there appears to have been no sense in this period that either plant [holly or mistletoe] was chosen for arcane properties. It was the custom to fill buildings with greenery for any celebrations.."and ivy, holly, mistletoe, and cedar happened to be the only thing green during the winter. So there you have it!. The real explanations for these things is not always so mystical. People just wanted a little greenery. It’s the same reason we have potted plants.

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