The Druids

Now a dying order, druids were once among the most powerful individuals in Prydain. The word “druid” may have meant “knower of trees.” Used loosely, it meant any member of the Druidic Order. Used technically, it referred to the highest rank of that order, and is capitalized here. The Druidic Order was found everywhere in Celtic life. No king’s hall was without at least one druid, to prophesy, give judgments, and cast the occasional spell. Druids received a great deal of respect from everyone – in any company they had the right to speak first on any issue and were the equals of kings.

They lived simply, on hospitality, some living in one place while others roamed constantly. It was unusual for druids to settle down and rule kingdoms themselves, even when they were of the royal kin. Druids could be male or female, young or old, although the need for seven years of study before being initiated as a member of the order meant they couldn’t be very young.

Every Celt agreed that druids were wise, and that they were hard to understand. Most non-druids didn’t understand druids, and didn’t care to; druids meddled with things best left alone, most thought.

Druids acted as priests, poets, diviners, teachers, judges, and wizards, all as part of their duties to the community. Druids did not have the monopoly on poetry, magic, judgment, or learning law. There were many members of the filid, or learned class, who were not members of the Druidic Order.

Bard, Ollave, Druid

The three degrees of the Druidic Order were, from lowest to highest, Bard, Ollave, and Druid. Below them came initiates. Few people outside the Order realized that there were degrees: members were all simply considered druids by outsiders. What rank someone had attained was known or divulged only to other druids. There was a joke among initiates: “When you become hard to understand, they make you a Bard. When you become so hard to understand that only Druids can understand you, they make you an Ollave. And when you get to the point where nobody can understand you at all, they make you a Druid!”


Initiates were people chosen for training but not yet members of the Order. Training lasted seven years, and culminated in the Bard ordeal. Initiates learned from different members of the Order and also traveled with them, seeing different parts of the world.


A Bard must have undergone a seven-year course of learning and one ordeal to become a member of the Order. Bards knew a lot of poetry and some magic. They taught children, and could choose to act as judges if asked. Bards (and all other members of the Order) were entitled to wear seven colors in their clothing and to shave the tops of their heads in the “Celtic tonsure”: a broad swath back from the temples, allowing the sides to grow long.

Bards were considered capable of learning from the world. But they stood in need of occasional direction and secret teaching concerning divination, religious mysteries and magic from a mentor of higher rank, if they hoped to progress within the Order. Very few people, having undergone the ordeal to become Bards, were content to remain at that level.


The second rank, Ollave (Ollamdh, “priest”), was as high as most aspirants cared to rise in the Order. An Ollave had studied for a total of 14 years, and had passed through two ordeals. Ollaves had studied religious mysteries and were expected to act as priests, standing between the community and the divine. They were entitled to act as diviners, interpreting omens and detecting gesas. If asked, an Ollave told people for what the day or the hour would be lucky – more a matter of using their knowledge to predict weather and the like than actual prophecy. They knew more magic than Bards, although this might only be theoretical knowledge. They knew unbelievable amounts of poetry.

Ollaves often chose to specialize in one area of knowledge: religion, judging, divination, teaching, or learning about nature. No matter what specialty an Ollave chose, he approached his study as a search for answers to puzzles; a judge was interested in “the puzzle of guilt or innocence,” a doctor in “the puzzles of illness and injury,” and a mage in “the arcane puzzle of magic.”

Ollaves were not in training to become Druids, because they were considered to have absorbed all the general knowledge necessary. They might study for a while with a particular Druid who was extremely knowledgeable about a particular subject that interested them, but they didn’t have mentors.


At the end of every seven years, all Ollaves and Druids gathered at some holy place where they presented their new discoveries in the form of poems. Ollaves judged especially wise and worthy at these conclaves rose (without an ordeal) to the rank of full Druid. The minimum length of time it took to become a Druid was 21 years, but most weren’t granted the title until they were very old, and many died still at the rank of Ollave.

What druids wanted was knowledge, so striving to become a Bard or an Ollave was honorable; an honest thirst for more knowledge. It was considered reprehensible to seek to become a Druid; it should be an honor bestowed on an Ollave unexpectedly.

Druids didn’t have more duties or responsibilities than Ollaves, but they were more respected within the Order. Outside the Order the qualification was not known, and respect increased with age, so a Druid in his forties might be respected less than an Ollave in his sixties.

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The Druids

GURPS: Casus Belli RigilKent