The Forgotten Priestesses of the Celts

May 19, 2016

In medieval Irish legends they were called Banduri or Bandorai. Their existence was confirmed by ancient Greek and Roman writers. But who were the legendary female Druids?

The Druids were the ancient religious leaders, scientists and researchers of the Celtic society. For centuries, there was a common misconception that Druids were only male. However, numerous historical records attest to the fact that there were in fact women among their ranks.

The Wise Ones of Celtic society

The term ”Druid” comes from the Indo-European word ”deru”, which means ”the truth” or ”true”. This word has evolved into the Greek term ”drus”, meaning ”oak”.

The Druids were the intellectual elite. Being a Druid was a tribal function, but they were also poets, astronomers, magicians, and astrologers. It took them 19 years to gain the necessary knowledge and skills in alchemy, medicine, law, the sciences, and more. They organized intellectual life, judicial processes, had skills to heal people, and were involved in developing strategies for war. They were an oasis of wisdom and highly respected in their society

Roman Accounts of the Druidesses

Gaius Julius Caesar was fascinated with the Druids. He wrote that they were scientists, theologians, and philosophers, and acquired knowledge that was extraordinary. According to experts in Caesar’s writings, the great Roman leader was well aware of the female Druids. Unfortunately, most of the Roman writers ignored women in general, so it is not easy to find reference to them in historical texts. However, Strabo wrote about a group of religious women who lived on an island near the Loir River. In ‘Historia’, Augusta is a description of Diocletian, Alexander Severus and Aurelian, who discussed their problems with the female Druids.

Tacitus mentioned female Druids describing the slaughter of the Druids by Romans on the island of Mona in Wales. According to his description there were women known as Banduri (female Druids), who defended the island and cursed the black clad. Tacitus also observed that there was no distinction between the male and female rulers, and that the female Celts were very powerful.

According to Plutarch, female Celts were nothing like Roman or Greek women. They were active in negotiating treaties and wars, and they participated in assemblies and mediated quarrels. According to the ‘Pomponius Mela’, virgin priestesses who could predict the future lived on the island of Sena, in Brittany.

Cassius Dio mentioned a Druidess named Ganna. She went on an official trip to Rome and was received by Domitian, the son of Vespasian. According to the description of the Battle of Moytura, two Druidesses enchanted the rocks and the trees, in order to support the Celtic army.

Famous Druidesses

According to the Irish traditions, there were two main names of the Druid women: baduri and the banfilid, meaning female poets. Most of the names of the female Druids stay forgotten. The name Fedelma was recorded in ancient texts, as a woman in the court of Queen Medb of Connacht, who was a “banfili”. She lived in the 10th century AD in Ireland.

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