Friday, 17 August 2012

If you Meet William Stukeley on the Road, Kill Him.

On the side of this website, about halfway down, we have a picture of William Stukeley. And we describe him as the "First Christian Druid".

Stukeley it was who popularised the idea of Druids at Stonehenge. A reasonable enough supposition, in itself, at the time. After all - someone must have built it. The idea that it was the Romans had been common enough - after all, who else had the skills to do such a thing? The total lack of inscriptions gave the lie to that. Others have been suggested - the Phoenicians, for example - of whom there is no evidence at all in these islands. Or the Egyptians. All these ideas seeming to suggest that the natives of these islands were unable to erect their own apparently pointless monuments.

But Stukeley - rightly - recognised that these were British builders. It's just that, before the 3-Age categorisation of Prehistory, and before anyone ever dreamed of Beaker Folk, they didn't know about anyone earlier than the Celts. So it must have been the Celts. And since the Celts had Druids, the Druids must have led the services. That the Celtic Druids were famous for worshipping in woods, not in stone circles on open downland, was not a problem - as after all, who else could ir have been?

So his historical reasoning wasn't that bad. It's where he went next that caused the trouble - casting the Celtic Druids in the form of basically being hairy, woad-covered Church of England clergymen; assuming they were basically gentlemen; inspiring a quasi-Masonic organisation to spring up (Stukeley was, among other things, a Freemason): the whole Noble Druid concept was invented, and away they went. Basically, this was Christianity before and just after Christ, with the odd bit of human sacrifice in a Wicker Man - but only because they didn't know better.

In these days, of course, we know better. The Ancient Celts were a bunch of total warfare bunnies, and one of the last nations to have been beaten by an Italian army. Their spells didn't work, their poetry was ghastly and their main aim in life was to sit around getting drunk and eating rubbish poetry.

The Beaker Folk, however, are totally different. A peace-loving bunch of proto-Methodists, interested in lighting candles and thinking about kittens, they never did anyone any harm. Their Druids lived in peace with Nature, planted a tree to replace every one that had - regretfully - to chop down and issued sage advice in solemn tones. They only indulged in human sacrifice when they really had to - for example because they had a glut of prisoners, or had had a bad harvest.

I hope that's quite clear, and I have managed to separate wishful thinking from hard historical fact.


  1. Don't forget, the Ancient Celts also enjoyed playing ball games with vanquished enemies heads. Come to think of it, the Welsh were still doing that sort of thing in the early 1060s.

  2. I've always wondered about the historical myths of our shared history - but Beaker Folk being peaceful and blameless is hardly the truth. How many slaves did they take and use to build the various Henge's about the place?

    Still, they had a good line in Cup Cakes to rival the WI, so something good came from them. :)


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