The Deroo of Brittany were more ancient, said Henri Martin, than those Druids known to Romans; being "primitive Druids, a sacerdotal caste of old Celts." Yet Forlong, who believed the Gallic coast tribes long traded and intermarried with the Phnicians, saw "abundant evidences for their worshipping Astarte and Herakles." They were Saronidæ, or judges. They were the builders, masons, or like Gobhan Saer, free smiths. Of Saer, O'Brien in his Round Towers says--"The first name ever given to this body (Freemasons) was Saer, which has three significations: firstly, free; secondly, mason; and thirdly, son of
God." Keane calls him "one of the Guabhres or Cabiri, such as you have ever seen him represented on the Tuath de Danaan Cross at Clonmacnoise."
A Breton poem, Ar Rannou, a dialogue between a Druid and his pupil, is still sung by villagers, as it may have been by their ancestors, the Venite of Cæsar's story. The seat of the Archdruid of Gaul was at Dreux.
French writers have interested themselves in the Druidic question. The common impression is that Druids were only to be found in Brittany; but other parts of France possessed those priests arid bards. Certainly the northwest corner, the region of megalithic remains, continued later to be their haunt, being less disturbed there. It was in Brittany, also, that the before-mentioned Oriental mysticism found so safe a home, and was nurtured so assiduously. But Druids were equally known in the south, centre, and north-east of France.
Dijon Druids, or the Vacies, were described in 1621 by Guenebauld of Dijon in Le Reveil de Chyndonax, Prince des Vacies Drvydes Celtiqves Düonois. Upon the tomb of the Archdruid Chyndonax was found an inscription in Greek, thus rendered by the Dijon author--
"En ce tombeau, dans le sacré boccage
Du Dieu Mithras, est contenu le corps
De Chyndonax grand Prestre; mechant hors,
Les Dieux Sanneurs le gardent de dommage."
Numbers of the learned went to view the inscription, and an urn found within the tomb. Mithras was a form of Apollo, or the Sun. There are other evidences of the southern Gaulish Druids using Greek characters, beyond Cæsar's assertions.
Guenebauld spoke of the prohibition of the Druidical religion by the Emperors Augustus, Tiberias, and Claudius; adding that the Druids "furent chassez du mont Drvys or
Drvyde proche d'ostum, a cause de leur trop cruel sacrifice d'hommes." He declared that after the general Edict of Claudius "il ne s'en treuva plus, parmy les Gaulois." When banished from Gaul, they retired to Britain, though Druidesses were mentioned as being at Dijon in the time of Aurelian.
Beaudeau, in 1777, published Memoire à consuilter pour les anciens Druides Gaulois, intended as a vindication of them against the strictures of Bailly in his letters to Voltaire. He had a great belief in the astronomical skill of the Druids, from their use of the thirty years cycle, the revolution period of the planet Saturn.
At the Congress of Arras, in 1853, the question debated was--"Up to what period Roman polytheism had penetrated into Belgic Gaul;--and up to what period continued the struggle between Polytheism and Christianity?" The French author remarks, "The Romans did but one thing--gave the names of their gods to the divinities of the people of Fleanderland. And these divinities--what were they? Evidently those of the country from which the people had been forced to flee."
Dezobry and Bachelets, in their Dictionnaire de Biographie, &c., affirm that "the Celtic word derouyd (from de or di, God, and rhoud or rhouid, speaking) signifies Interpreter of the gods, or one who speaks from the gods. According to others, the etymology should be, in the Gaelic language, druidheacht, divination, magic; or, better, dern, oak, and wydd, mistletoe." Acknowledging the ancient renown of their knowledge, it is admitted to be imperfectly known to us, though Pythagoreans pretended to be the founders thereof. The French authors had the following account of the Druids' great charm--
"They carried suspended from their neck, as a mark of dignity, a serpent's egg--a sort of oval ball of crystal,
that in the time of Pliny tradition pretended to be the product of the foam of a quantity of serpents, grouped and interlaced together. This egg has been the origin of a crowd of superstitions, which, up to a century ago, were in vogue in Cornwall, Wales, and the mountains of Scotland; they continued to carry these balls of glass, called serpent stones, to which they attributed particular virtues."
Druidesses of Gaul had a sanctuary on the Isle of Sena, Finisterre. Druidism in France was condemned as late as 658, by the Council of Nantes; and, later on, by the Capitularies of Charlemagne. Renan supposed that Druidism remained a form exclusively national. Justin's remark, that "the Greek colony of Marseilles civilized the Gauls," may help to explain how Gaulish Druids knew Greek, and how some French writers traced Druidism to the Phocians of Southern Gaul. Then, again, we have Ammianus Marcellinus saying, "The Druids were formed into fraternities as the authority of Pythagoras decreed." Cæsar, in his account of Gaulish Druids, had clearly in his mind his own country's faith. They were like his own augurs, and their Archdruid was his pontifex maximus.
D'Arbois de Jubainville, in his account of Irish Mythology, has, of course, references to the Druids. He lays emphasis on the difference between those of Gaul and those of our islands. The judicial authority was vested in the Filé. These need not, like the Druids proper celebrate sacrifices. He traces the word file, a seer, from the same root as the Breton givelout, to see.
The French author records that Polyhistor, Timagenus, Valerius Maximus, and others wrote of the north-western men holding Pythagorean doctrines; but he adds, that while a second birth was regarded by the Pythagoreans as a punishment of evil, it was esteemed by the others as a privilege of heroes.