Witches:  The Legacy of the Druidesses

After the downfall of traditional Druidism, the myth of the witch became even more popular.  The myth of witch cults had existed during the time of Celtic Paganism, but its source lied more with the Pagan rituals and traditions of sorcery.  After Christianity became the main religion on the British Isles witches became synonymous with the work of the devil.  Ellis, a Celtic Scholar believes that "female druids have become reduced in [old Celtic] stories to witch-like figures" (Ellis, Celtic Women, p.221) since the onset of Christianity.

Archeological evidence that "female magicians or witches" existed in on the outskirts of Pagan Celtic religion are strong.  The Larzac stone which dates to about 100 AD shows the existence of rival bands of witches while graves excavated in a Romano-British cemetery show that the treatment of these women was very different from that of female Druids.  Lankhills and Winchester cemeteries contain burials of old women dating to about the 4th c. AD (Green, p.98).  Before being placed in their graves, these women’s heads were decapitated and their heads were placed by their legs (Green, p.98).  One could speculate many things about this occurrence.  The Celtic people may have wished to separate their spirits from their bodies or to celebrate the significance of the severed head which in battle meant victory, but in this case could have shown victory over their evil magic. However, this ritual also might have been preformed in order to ease their way to the underworld.

In some cases these "witches" not only had their heads decapitated, but their lower jaws were removed completely.  Green speculates that the jaws might have been removed in order to keep them from casting spells on the living after death (Green, p.99).  Some graves also contained a spinal whorl, a woven string of threads and a symbol of fate and destiny in both Classical and Celtic religions.  They refer to the Gaulish and Roman Mother-Goddess who could predict life and death and end it simply by snapping a tread  (Green, p.99).  These symbols might have signified that these women held such a power in the eyes of their contemporary people as the Celtic Saga of Conaran which tells of three sorceress daughters who ensnared people by spinning a magical web shows that spinning held special significance and various elements at the time.

With the spread of Christianity, Christians dubbed female Druids as witches in order to make their power seem evil such as the witches of ancient times to the native Celtic people.  The Christians feared the Druids and Druidesses not only because they were a source of great religious power and the center of knowledge for their people, but also many of them preached strongly against conversion to Christianity (Ellis, The Druids, p.72).  Consequently, the Christians began to write down information, which put Druids and Druidesses in a bad light and helped perpetuate their ultimate downfall.

In Medieval times Christians altered stories Druidess heroines to evil witches.  In this manner, the Christians effectively began to sway the opinion of the clergy and the people that knowledgeable women and the Druid order itself were wicked.  Such stories such as Dahud-Ahes, daughter of the six century king Kernev, whom Ellis says was "undoubtedly a Druidess adhering to the old religion, [and] who [was] then transformed into a sorceress by Christian scribes" (Ellis, The Druids, p.104).  She was strongly opposed to Christianity, and therefore her city of Ker-Ys was destroyed by a flood and she was turned into a mermaid "as she sinks beneath the waves, proving that [St. Guénolé's] magic is just as good as any Druid['s]" (Ellis, The Druids, p.104).  Professor Markle states:

Apart from representing paganism in opposition to Christianity, however, she [Dahud-Ahes] also symbolizes the rebellion against masculine authority...The full significance of this act becomes clear when one considers her dissolute life as contrary to the teachings of the Christian Church, here represented by St Gwénnolé, himself the very symbol of masculine authority (Ellis, The Druids, p.104).

However, it is interesting to note that in Ker-Ys today, the myth places Duhad-Ahes] as a "good witch"  (Ellis, The Druids, p.104).

The manipulation of literature, which made powerful women into evil creatures only, furthered the fall of Druidism and the place of women in Celtic society.

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