In the Daily Telegraph recently, Tristram Fane-Saunders used an old journalist’s trick to mock someone. He wrote: ‘Self-proclaimed “druids” have been getting their mistletoe in a twist’ about Jez Butterworth’s new TV Series Britannia. He goes on to refer to ‘Another would-be druid called Dennis Andrew’. It’s not hugely rude, but I guess he wouldn’t like having what he identified with put in inverted commas, or to be called a ‘self-proclaimed’ anything. But of course he’s doing it not just to poke fun, but because he doesn’t know enough about Druids. It’s a common mistake that many make, including would-be “writers” like Tristram. No-one would dream of talking about ‘would-be Muslims’ or ‘Self-proclaimed Freemasons’, but they do about Druids – and it’s simply because they are ignorant. They know a little history (Fane has checked out the classical authors) but they usually haven’t got further than the opinions of people like the archaeologist Stuart Piggott, which have been out of date for the last thirty years.
Their logic goes like this: the ancient Druids disappeared around the 5th century. A revival movement arose over a thousand years later, ergo anyone calling themselves a Druid from the 18th century onwards must be a fake, and therefore deserves the condemnation of the inverted comma. I thought I’d ask one of Britain’s foremost historians for his opinion on whether modern-day Druids or Druidry itself was unique in being singled out in this way for accusations of being inauthentic. Professor Ronald Hutton, Head of the School of Humanities and Professor of History at Bristol University, and a Commissioner for English Heritage, responded: “In religion and art, it is fairly common for movements of renewal and revival to appear which are inspired by the remote past. Thus, the Renaissance represented an attempt to revive the art and architecture of the ancient world, over a millennium after it had vanished, and the Pre-Raphaelites to recapture the spirit of medieval painting. In religion, the Reformation is the biggest European example of a convulsion produced by a wish to leap over many centuries to refashion belief and practice using ancient models. The difference here is merely one of familiarity. There were plenty of people around in the sixteenth century who sneered at ‘so-called Protestants’, and in the nineteenth at ‘so-called Pre-Raphaelites’. The inverted commas always depart if people hang around long enough.”
Three hundred years of recorded history of the modern Druid movement seems quite a long time, but I’m sure Prof. Hutton is right – we just have to be patient.