The Druids, we all know, were the priests of northern Europe before the rise of Christianity. But were they yogis? It seems like a silly question; we usually assume there’s no connection between these Celtic spiritual teachers and the Himalayan tradition. Surprisingly, according to historians, this seemingly ironclad assumption is completely wrong.
Two thousand years ago Julius Caesar wrote a report about the amazing culture he discovered in France and Britain. He called the people he met there Gauls, meaning “the white people,” because their skin was astonishingly pale. The people of Southern Europe, including Romans like Caesar himself, were darker colored then than they are today, so creamy white skin was a novelty to them. Interestingly, the Latin word gaul is directly related to the Sanskrit gaur, which also means “white.” Caesar’s “Gauls” actually called themselves “Celts.” This is related to the Sanskrit root kil, which also means “to be white.”
Amazingly, the word druvid corresponds to Sanskrit druh vid or druva vid meaning “knower of the tree” or “knower of the North Star” respectively. As priests and astronomers, the Druids were initiated in the mysteries of the “world tree,” the Earth’s axis projected up into the sky, culminating at the North Star. This tree is often mentioned in Vedic sacred literature, where it represented both the “spine” of the planet Earth, and the spinal axis or sushumna nadi of the yogi, culminating in the bindu or star-like point in the seventh chakra at the top of the brain.
In the first century C.E. Dion Chrysostom—an explorer from Asia Minor who lived with the Celts—explicitly wrote that the Druids were remarkably similar to India’s brahmans. Scholars today note that Celtic society was caste based, just like India. Celts even constructed their villages much like their counterparts in South Asia. They governed themselves according to the Brehon Laws which contain numerous parallels with India’s Lawbook of Manu. The heads of North Indian society were called aryas (“noblemen”); in Ireland they were called aire (also meaning “nobles”)—in fact, Ireland is named after them (aire land).
In India, the king (raja) ruled with the help of local brahmin judges who applied the law. In Ireland the king (ri) ruled with the assistance of brehon judges, the lawyers of that era. Scholars tell us the words brahmin and brehon are derived from the same root, brih, meaning “master of mantras.”
Historians have also noted the astonishing similarities between Druid art and some of the images archeologists have unearthed in the Indus Valley. For example, Celtic images of the deity Cernunnos are breathtakingly similar to ancient Indian images of Shiva, a deity famous for his mastery of deep meditative states. Perhaps most astonishingly of all, numerous images of Celtic sages seated in meditation—legs locked in padmasana (the lotus posture), hands resting on their laps, eyes closed—have been discovered. (See photograph).
The Druids were famous in antiquity as believers in reincarnation, in fact many ancient authorities mention this fact. Unlike the ancient Latins, who believed that bending the truth was completely permissible if it helped them attain their ends, the Druids refused to lie, even if it cost them their lives. Like the Vedic people of India, they believed that we align ourselves with the natural order of the universe when we tell the truth, but break our connection with the gods when we deceive others.
How on earth could two cultures so much alike have appeared practically at opposite ends of the planet? In reality, the people of North India are linguistically related not just to the Druids but also to the Persians, Russians, Lithuanians, Italians and even Swedes—and the rest of the world’s people who speak Indo-European languages (English as well as Sanskrit and Hindi also fall in this group). But the Celts seem to have retained their cultural links with India more closely than some of these other populations, such as the Greeks and Romans. How could this possibly have happened?
It’s one of the most puzzling mysteries of history. All we can say is that the Druids claimed their ancestors were the Tuatha de Danaan, “the children of Danu.” Danu was their name for the Milky Way. Cassiopeia, the W-shaped constellation at the very summit of the northern sky, represented the breasts of this great goddess. The Milky Way was the milk oozing from her celestial breasts.
Very old Indian texts refer to a people called Danavas, “the children of Danu.” You may have heard of recent extremely startling finds in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, north of Tibet. Archeologists there uncovered well-preserved human remains which look for all the world like Celts, complete with white skin, red hair, and clothing woven in characteristically Celtic designs. Some of these mummies have been carbon dated as far back as 2000 B.C.E. Could these be “the children of Danu”? Their DNA is not unambiguously linked with the Celts—these “white people” in China had definitely been intermarrying with other peoples. Yet this discovery remains provocative.
Much more research is needed to clarify the links between India and Europe. Still, what researchers have discovered so far suggests that the history of the Himalayan tradition may be far older and more complex than we could have imagined.