Princess Elizabeth being led by “an acolyte to Archdruid Crwys Williams” for her initiation into the “Mystic Circle of Bards” in Wales on August 6, 1946. The Queen was being initiated as an “Honorary Ovate” the highest order of merit in the Gorsedd.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century British scholars were fascinated by everything Celtic. Druidmania flourished. One of the first to promote this interest was the antiquarian, John Aubrey, who suggested, in 1659, that the stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge had been built by the Celts as druidic temples. Furthermore the Irish author, J.J.Toland, held a meeting for druids at Primrose Hill, London in 1717 and established The Ancient Druid Order.
The Archdruid and Druids of the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain today do not trace their origins back to the world of the Celtic druids, but the fact that the Gorsedd of the Bards meets within a Stone Circle demonstrates the influence of eighteenth neo-druidism upon its founder, Iolo Morganwg, and his lively imagination.
Further information: Celts and human sacrifice, Threefold death, and Ritual of oak and mistletoeAn 18th century illustration of a wicker man, the form of execution that Caesar wrote the druids used for human sacrifice. From the “Duncan Caesar”, Tonson, Draper, and Dodsley edition of the Commentaries of Caesar translated by William Duncan published in 1753.
Greek and Roman writers frequently made reference to the druids as practitioners of human sacrifice. According to Caesar, those who had been found guilty of theft or other criminal offences were considered preferable for use as sacrificial victims, but when criminals were in short supply, innocents would be acceptable. A form of sacrifice recorded by Caesar was the burning alive of victims in a large wooden effigy, now often known as a wicker man. A differing account came from the 10th-century Commenta Bernensia, which stated that sacrifices to the deities Teutates, Esus and Taranis were by drowning, hanging and burning, respectively (see threefold death).
Diodorus Siculus asserts that a sacrifice acceptable to the Celtic gods had to be attended by a druid, for they were the intermediaries between the people and the divinities. He remarked upon the importance of prophets in druidic ritual:
These men predict the future by observing the flight and calls of birds and by the sacrifice of holy animals: all orders of society are in their power … and in very important matters they prepare a human victim, plunging a dagger into his chest; by observing the way his limbs convulse as he falls and the gushing of his blood, they are able to read the future.
Archaeological evidence from western Europe has been widely used to support the view that Iron Age Celts practiced human sacrifice. Mass graves found in a ritual context dating from this period have been unearthed in Gaul, at both Gournay-sur-Aronde and Ribemont-sur-Ancre in what was the region of the Belgae chiefdom. The excavator of these sites, Jean-Louis Brunaux, interpreted them as areas of human sacrifice in devotion to a war god, although this view was criticized by another archaeologist, Martin Brown, who believed that the corpses might be those of honoured warriors buried in the sanctuary rather than sacrifices. Some historians have questioned whether the Greco-Roman writers were accurate in their claims. J. Rives remarked that it was “ambiguous” whether the druids ever performed such sacrifices, for the Romans and Greeks were known to project what they saw as barbarian traits onto foreign peoples including not only druids but Jews and Christians as well, thereby confirming their own “cultural superiority” in their own minds.
Nora Chadwick, an expert in medieval Welsh and Irish literature who believed the druids to be great philosophers, has also supported the idea that they had not been involved in human sacrifice, and that such accusations were imperialist Roman propaganda.