Tuesday 20 January 2009
Quid es Veritas?
A few weeks ago, notably on the Isle of Man, I attended a public lecture by historian Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University quaintly entitled 'The Druids', in which the Professor articulated on the history of Druidry in Britain and its Isles. Perched afront a sea of bleary eyed, bearded, woolen garbed representatives from the modern Druid community, and members of the local intelligencia, Professor Hutton spoke about the historical evidence backing up the existence such a world-renowned ancient religion, or lack thereof, and its relevance today. Having pulled apart some of the myths perpetuated about ancient Druidism in Britain, he went on to suggest that despite historical sources, principly that of the Roman- Tacitus for which nearly all understanding of British Druidism is based, it seemed more than probable that no such religion or movement officially existed here. He even went on to say that the word Druid, from the word druidae was actually the name of a barbaric individual refered to by the ancient Greeks and that this had ultimately been misunderstood by chroniclers over time.
Once having swiftly dismantled the historical basis for such a religion, assumedly leaving many in the hall wondering how sure they were of themselves, he then went on to the revival of Druidism as a Germanic reaction to renaissance Italy, its subsequent spreading throughout Europe, and to the modern Druid movement and its early beginnings in C18th London. What astonished me most was that the heckles of "Rubbish!", and other such remarks from severely unkempt members of the audience upon hearing Prof Hutton suggest that modern Druidism was nothing more than a dressing-up club spurred on by remnants of the 60s hippy-generation, were evidence that his lecture was having little or no effect on the mindsets of those self-acclaimed 'Druids'.
Overall the lecture was highly insightful and extremely enjoyable, and I am glad to say was evidently appreciated by the majority of the audience, whom later rewarded Professor Hutton with great applause. Upon leaving the lecture theatre however I couldn't help but realise what this might actually have signified in the grander scheme of things. You see religion, it would seem, does not value the importance of evidence, fact or reason, and does not apparently care for the logic behind its practices or origins. The only obvious truth in religion is that it is community, a set of mutually benefitial tribes of likeminded people who deep down do not really care if what they believe is proved to be fabricated or forged. The overwhelming temptation for an instinctively tribal, naturally social animal to 'belong' to any social group is almost impossible to resist; and modern advancements in science, medicine, anthropology, philosophical growth and even the enlightenment period still (it would seem) cannot break the overpowering desires of those whom purport to be 'the religious', to be just that. But then again, as Jonathan Swift once said, it is useless to attempt to reason someone out of an attitude which they were never reasoned into.
(Picture 1: British Druids at Stonehenge.)