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Let me begin by telling you what this post is not.
This is not a list of the best books about modern druidry/druidism and druidic practices. Nor is it a list of the best novels and Celtic fantasy book series(es?) that feature druids.
Instead, this is a list of the best non-fiction books about druids—books that seek to understand what the ancient Celtic druids were like based on historical and archaeological evidence.
This is an important distinction. Because in popular culture, druids have been reimagined as wizards and warlocks, casters of spells and stickers-of-swords-in-stones. (That’s a thing, right? At least it was for Merlin.)
Neo-druidism, meanwhile, is a modern take on the ancient Celtic rituals and ceremonies of old. Its authenticity is widely debated, as there is only one historical account, provided by Pliny the Elder, of what an ancient druidic ceremony actually involved. (FYI: It involved cutting mistletoe off an oak tree with a golden sickle.)
But I digress.
I’m not here to debate. (I save that for other articles). I’m here to educate. By which I mean I’m here to let other people—people who are much smarter than me—educate you. Or rather, by reading these books on the history of the druids, which I am sharing with you via this list, you’ll be able to educate yourself.
Why am I still writing?
I think you get it.
Here it is.
The Top 10 Non-Fiction Books About Druids
1) The World of the Druids
by Miranda J. Green
Per the publisher: “In this authoritative account, Miranda Green unravels the truth about the Druids. Examining the archaeological evidence, Classical commentaries, and early Welsh and Irish myths, she shows that the Druids were fully integrated into Celtic society and fulfilled varied and necessary roles. The Roman writers reflected the double standards of an invading society: condemning the public sacrifice of enemies by the Druids while accepting their own practice of slaughter for sport as civilized. Yet the Classical sources can be used to help reveal the real Druids, and we learn of their multiple roles as judges, teachers, healers, magicians, philosophers, religious leaders, and fomenters of rebellion.” Learn more…
2) The Druids
by Peter Berresford Ellis
Per the publisher: “In this compelling and highly reliable study of the Druids, respected Celtic scholar Peter Berresford Ellis sifts through the historical evidence and, with reference to the latest archaeological and etymological findings, gives the first authentic account of who the mysterious Druids were and what role they played in Celtic society. The Druids emerge as the intellectual caste of ancient Celtic society. They were the doctors, the lawyers, the ambassadors, the advisers to kings. They also had a religious function. Ellis describes the special Druidic training, their philosophy, their belief in auguries, and their intriguing origins.” Learn more…
3) The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature
by Jean Markale
Per the publisher: “Druidism was one of the greatest and most exalting adventures of the human spirit, attempting to reconcile the unreconcilable, the individual and the collective, creator and created, good and evil, day and night, past and future, and life and death. Because of the oral nature of Celtic civilization our understanding of its spiritual truths and rituals is necessarily incomplete. Yet evidence exists that can provide the modern reader with a better understanding of the doctrine that took druidic apprentices 20 years to learn in the remote forests of the British Isles and Gaul.” Learn more…
4) Druids: A Very Short Introduction
by Barry Cunliffe
Per the publisher: “The Druids have been known and discussed for at least 2400 years, first by Greek writers and later by the Romans, who came in contact with them in Gaul and Britain. According to these sources, they were a learned caste who officiated in religious ceremonies, taught the ancient wisdoms, and were revered as philosophers. But few figures flit so elusively through history, and the Druids remain enigmatic and puzzling to this day. In this Very Short Introduction, one of the leading authorities on British archaeology, Barry Cunliffe, takes the reader on a fast-paced look at the ever-fascinating story of the Druids, as seen in the context of the times and places in which they practiced.” Learn more…
5) The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts
by Philip Freeman
Per the publisher: “Early in the first century B.C. a Greek philosopher named Posidonius began an ambitious and dangerous journey into the little-known lands of the Celts. A man of great intellectual curiosity and considerable daring, Posidonius traveled from his home on the island of Rhodes to Rome, the capital of the expanding empire that had begun to dominate the Mediterranean. From there Posidonius planned to investigate for himself the mysterious Celts, reputed to be cannibals and savages. His journey would be one of the great adventures of the ancient world.” Learn more…
6) A Complete History of the Druids: Their Origin, Manners, Customs, Powers, Temples, Rites and Superstitions
by Quentin James Reynolds
Per the publisher: “This special edition of ‘A Complete History of the Druids’ was written by T.G. Lomax, and first published in 1810, making it over two centuries old. The Druids are notoriously difficult to research due to their own supposed doctrine prohibiting them from keeping written records or accounts of themselves. Indeed, none exist, and they are known only through the writings of others, like the Romans, wrote of them extensively. Although this old book is a short, quick read, the history of the Druids is fairly comprehensive and the writer is extremely knowledgeable of his subject. The book is split into three main sections – an Introduction, History of the Druids, and Description of the Druidic Temples.” Learn more…
7) The Celtic Druids
by Roy Flechner
Per the publisher: “Called by the author “an attempt to shew, that the Druids were the priests of Oriental colonies who emigrated from India” and also that they were “the builders of Stonehenge, of Carnac, and of other Cyclopean works, in Asia and in Europe,” this delightful example of 19th-century esoterica explores the similarities between Irish and Hebrew letters, wonders whether Virgil was a Druid, examines the “surprising ignorance of the Greeks,” details the Druid origin of Christmas celebrations, and much more, including detailed looks at Stonehenge, New Grange, the Fire Towers of Scotland, and other sacred ancient places–complete with the beautiful original engravings.” Learn more…
8) War, Women, and Druids: Eyewitness Reports and Early Accounts of the Ancient Celts
by Philip Freeman
Per the publisher: “The ancient Celts capture the modern imagination as do few other people of classical times. Naked barbarians charging the Roman legions, Druids performing sacrifices of unspeakable horror, women fighting beside their men and even leading armies―these, along with stunning works of art, are the images most of us call to mind when we think of the Celts, observes Philip Freeman. ‘And for the most part, these images are firmly based in the descriptions handed down to us by the Greek and Roman writers.’ This book draws on the firsthand observations and early accounts of classical writers to piece together a detailed portrait of the ancient Celtic peoples of Europe and the British Isles.” Learn more…
9) Druids: A History
by Ronald Hutton
Per the publisher: “Most books written on the Druids hitherto have been by archaeologists specialising in the Iron Age, who have occupied a great deal of space trying to find things to say about the ‘original’ ancient priesthood. Most have then devoted a final section of their books to people who have called themselves Druids since 1700 – until recently with contemptuous dismissal. Hutton’s contention is that the sources for the ancient Druids are so few and unreliable that almost nothing certain can be said about them. Instead he reverses the traditional balance of interest to look at the many ways in which Druids have been imagined in Britain since 1500, and what this tells us about modern and early modern society.” Learn more…
10) The Druids and King Arthur: A New View of Early Britain
by Robin Melrose
Per the publisher: “An exploration into the beliefs and origins of the Druids, this book examines the role the Druids may have played in the story of King Arthur and the founding of Britain. It explains how the Druids originated in eastern Europe around 850 B.C., bringing to early Britain a cult of an underworld deity, a belief in reincarnation, and a keen interest in astronomy. The work concludes that Arthur was originally a Druid cult figure and that the descendants of the Druids may have founded the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. The research draws upon a number of sources, including medieval Welsh tales, the archaeology of Stonehenge’s Salisbury Plain, the legends surrounding the founding of Britain, the cult of the Thracian Horseman, the oracle of Dodona, popular Arthurian mythology, and the basic principles of prehistoric astronomy.” Learn more…
More the listenin’ type?
For a limited time you can use this link to get 3 free months of Audible Premium Plus. If you want to learn more about modern druidry/druidism, I recommend the audiobook The Path of Druidry: Walking the Ancient Green Way by Penny Billington (narrated by Jennifer M. Dixon).
Want to learn about the darker side of Irish mythology? Check out…
Samhain in Your Pocket (Celtic Pocket Guides 2)
Perhaps the most important holiday on the ancient Celtic calendar, Samhain marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new pastoral year. It is a liminal time—a time when the forces of light and darkness, warmth and cold, growth and blight, are in conflict. A time when the barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead is at its thinnest. A time when all manner of spirits and demons are wont to cross over from the Celtic Otherworld. Learn more…
Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy
“A thrilling romp through pubs, mythology, and alleyways. NEON DRUID is such a fun, pulpy anthology of stories that embody Celtic fantasy and myth,” (Pyles of Books). Cross over into a world where the mischievous gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes of Celtic mythology live among us, intermingling with unsuspecting mortals and stirring up mayhem in cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, from Limerick and Edinburgh to Montreal and Boston. Learn more…