The Fall of the Druidesses

During the first half of the first century CE, the Roman emperors Tiberius and Claudius attempted to restrain the Druids. Although Druidic worship was generally unaffected during this period, Druids are mentioned less and less in textual sources.  Occasionally Druids and Druidesses are mentioned as "freelance seers," and an innkeeper Druidess is said to have prophesied the empowerment of Diocletian at this time.  As assimilation became a priority of the Roman soldiers during their occupation of southern Britain, the Druids were increasingly attacked since they were often the source of rebellion.  In In order to assimilate the Britons to a more Roman way of life, the Romans struck at the center of Celtic intellectualism.  "Both Claudius and Tiberius attempted to stamp out the ‘religion of the Druids,’ and the altars for the "savage superstition’ of human sacrifice were destroyed, but we do not hear details a general persecution" (Jones, p.85). The accusations of 'savage superstition' was a common charge against any enemy of the Roman way of life.    

In Ireland, worship of the Irish gods remained strong.  The Druids tolerated Christians and in 438 CE, the High King Laighaire, held a conference at Tara to discuss religion.  Three Behona, Pagan "law-speakers" as well as kings, along with three Christian missionaries drew up the Seanchus Mór, which mixed Christian and Pagan law.  This code of law lasted till the seventeenth century until English law took over (Jones, p.99).   However, the last Pagan king, Diarmat, died in 565 CE and official Celtic worship is mentioned no more (Jones, p.101).

The Roman’s view of "women as the bearers of children and objects of pleasure" changed Celtic society from a ‘mother goddess’ society into a patriarchal society during initial encounters with Roman society (Ellis, The Druids, p.95).  The Romans culture slowly impressed itself onto Celtic society.  Roman officials often refused to deal with women rulers and in the case of Boudica, they invaded her kingdom on this account.  Women rulers as well as Druidesses were seen as a target for extermination.  It is possible that this is because in many cases they were one and the same.   

The introduction of the Christian religion was the final blow that ended the equalitarianism of Celtic society.   "When the Celts began to accept Christianity, Celtic women, as they had been in Pagan times were equal with men in preaching religion" (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.142).   It is possible that although manu Druids and Druidesses were opposed to conversion to Christianity, some might have joined the Church.  As a result women had little problems obtaining high level positions since the old religion had clearly accepted women as equals.  In fact evidence shows that in the 5th century, the Irish Catholic Church ordained two women Bishops, Bridget of Kildare and Beoferlic of the Celtic Church in Northumbria and that they preformed mass and gave the sacrament.

The three Roman bishops at Tours objected profusely to them and wrote to two Breton priests between 515 to 520 CE objecting to their participation in the giving of the sacrament (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.142).   When communication with Rome increased and mainland European missionaries began to come to the British Isles, the Church began to reject women from entering its ranks.  Women were finally pushed out of the priestly order during the Middle Ages and diminished to the roles of nun and abbess.  "Female Druids [became] reduced in the [ancient] stories to witch-like figures" (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.221).  As a result by the High Middle Ages women could neither rule a kingdom or serve in a position of authority in the Church.  Women's high status had been effectively wiped out by the two 'invasions' and women became like ancient Roman women, possesions of their men.


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