University of Oxford

The Christian Challenge: The Druids, The Templars and The Woman Pope

by W H Uffington

Ten years ago I began a story based on the historical King Arthur. I wanted to start the book with Joseph of Arimathea bringing the young Jesus to Britain, so that I could show how Celtic beliefs might have influenced Jesus, whose in turn eventually influenced Arthur. I immersed myself in Celtic history and mythology but once I looked at early Christianity I found something that shook me to the core. I came across a book called The Jesus Mysteries, which told me that Jesus was a myth and the Christianity I grew up with was a lie.

These revelations hit me hard, I was shocked and stunned and felt betrayed. I felt a rage at the Church’s deliberate lies, for someone must have known the truth, and even worse, I felt fury at the way unscrupulous people had used religion to control — frightening children with threats of eternal torture by demons in hell for committing sins is just another form of abuse. The Christian Church had built a religion on its greed for wealth and power. It had deliberately tried to eliminate the truth.

The Celts, on the other hand had developed their Christianity on the foundations laid by the Druids. I found links with the Druids in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the Book of Enoch and the Essenes. As the Celtic Christian monks battled with Rome, it became apparent that they communed with fairies too and knew much of astrology, astronomy and mathematics as the earlier priests of Egypt and the Gnostic Mysteries had done.

The Druid link to both the Egyptians and Greeks is recorded in stories of Pythagoras. Some of the reports even insist that much of Pythagoras’s philosophical knowledge was not learned in Egypt but came from the Druids. Pythagoras stated that ‘the Druids were the wisest men in the world.’ Pythagoras’ successors also made mention of the Druids: Aristotle said, ‘philosophy began with the Druids’ whilst Herodotus said that, “the Druids had a knowledge of the heavens which was proof of the depth of their scientific thinking.”

When one thinks of Druids, the image that springs to mind is bearded, long–haired men in floor–length robes, standing amidst the vast pillars of Stonehenge, one of them raising a dagger over a terrified sacrificial virgin lying on a altar slab, awaiting her hideous fate. There is even the extreme thought of a burning giant wicker–man filled with its screaming victims. The dreadful portrait painted of the Druids is totally unjust and without foundation. The Druids were anything but the bloodthirsty savage priests, depicted by Julius Cæsar.

Too many historians support this view. Too often, their tunnel vision does not permit them to consider real evidence. This is evident when, with no proof, they link almost everything in the ancient world to religious worship of the sun/nature spirits/mother goddess and wherever possible, animal or human sacrifice. This odd guessing game seems to stem from a desire, even fear, that causes modern man to dismiss and demean his ancient predecessors as foolishly superstitious and primitive. The possibility that they were our equal, or worse, that they were superior in some ways, is viewed with abhorrence as such an elevation would be a slur upon our achievements and ascent.

In the same manner, when they encounter a priest, cult practice or ritual sacrifice within the Celtic world, they assume it is a Druidic one and indicate their ignorance. There is no single piece of conclusive evidence to link the Druids to bloodshed. That there were other religious cults about appears not to trouble the thoughts of historians, who jump to unsubstantiated conclusions whenever the remains of a ‘ritual killing’ are unearthed. To call the Druids priests is not even correct, but rather one should think of them as sages, in the manner of the Greeks. The Druids would have taught about the One God, but probably only to their students. They would have officiated at certain ceremonies because of their position as lawgivers and judges. Blood sacrifices would not have been part of any Druid ceremony. If priests had been involved in sacrifices, they would not have been Druids, since Druidic philosophy was opposed to blood–letting and violence.

Within Celtic Christianity, we find the footprints of the Druids. What seems almost certain, is that the ancient Druidic centres of learning, the colleges, were transformed almost overnight into Christian monasteries. Causing the Church of Rome to complain that British monks had their heads shaved in the manner of the tonsure of the Druids. They also found the role of women in the Celtic Christian Church unacceptable: St Brigit was leader of a Christian community in Ireland and her monastery was mixed, with both sexes having equal rôles. Within the Druidic world, this was quite normal and these practices were transposed into the new Celtic Christianity. Unlike the rest of the Christian world, in Britain females were practising priests who conducted the Mass and gave Baptism — much to the wrath of Rome. Celtic Christianity had a humanistic doctrine that was in opposition to that of Rome; it retained many elements of Druidism and this was because Druids shared the same fundamental philosophical beliefs as the Gnostics.

In the fourth and fifth centuries, Celtic Christianity became known as Pelagianism, taking its name from a British priest who argued against the belief that man was born ‘sinful’, a notion that probably started when Christians still believed in reincarnation. Pelagius stated that it was man’s duty to accept responsibility for his actions in this life in order to achieve salvation. There were certainly other profound matters over which the two churches clashed, foremost amongst these was the disagreement over the Apostolic Succession. The Celts rejected the right to of the Roman Popes to rule just on the claim that they had a direct line going back to Peter. The Celts of Britain and Gaul thought that there was an alternative line of succession. Unfortunately, there is no documented record, so we can’t be sure with whom this alternative line starts, but it seems likely that it must refer to Paul as Gnostics elsewhere believed that he was the only true apostle.

In 380 CE Pelagius set out for Rome to put forward his religious viewpoint but, not surprisingly, he was unsuccessful. He was allowed to put his argument and in spite of dangerous theological differences Pelagius seems to have been treated with great respect. By 416 CE, however, the Church had proclaimed Pelagius’ teaching a heresy. This had little effect in Britain and Gaul where the Celtic Church continued to ignore the papal decree. In 425 CE the Emperor Honorius, persuaded by the Pope, ordered the Pelagian bishops of Gaul to renounce their heresy or face severe consequences; this finally forced their capitulation. Since the Romans had now left Britain, the British leader Vortigern gave no heed to its decrees — in Britain it was Celtic Christianity as usual.

So in western Gaul and the British Isles — the old lands of the Celts and Druids — a form of Christianity had developed which was unacceptable to the Church of Rome. The religion became known as Celtic Christianity but it has far more in common with Gnosticism than what we know as Christianity. How it became established in Britain is unclear, but the likelihood is that once Rome started its forceful promotion of Christianity, the Druids chose to support the intellectual Gnostic version, whose spirituality they could readily accept. Roman Christianity, with its inability to develop spiritually, would have been abhorrent to the educated Celts.

Celtic Christianity certainly did not start with Joseph of Arimathea — the myth was invented by much later monks of Glastonbury with an eye to profiting from the fame it brought. William of Malmesbury wrote a history of Glastonbury in the early 12 century and made no mention of Joseph, nor of any of the Arthurian legends associated with the place. Glastonbury acquired its legend at the end of the 12 century when the monks sought to raise funds to rebuild the burnt–down abbey: attracting pilgrims meant making money. Another obvious indication of the myth is that in the time when Jesus was supposed to have lived, there was no place known as Arimathea and none has been found since.

The Celtic Church was almost entirely monastic and had inherited its base from the Druidic colleges. So without the large churches and the worldly, ambitious, power–seeking bishops and priests that infested them, the isolated and self–contained monastic system suffered from a lack of the centralisation necessary to mount an effective defence against the Church of Rome’s continuing pressure. The former Druids were, after all, interested in spiritual development not political progress.

Over the next three centuries, up to around 800 CE, western Europe was broken into small kingdoms ruled over mainly by Celts and the Germanic and Scandinavian tribes. The Church in Rome saw a potentially dangerous fusion of Druidism and Gnostic Christianity and even worse, one that questioned and denied papal authority. The Celtic monks were unworldly creatures with no interest in such things as wealth or status, nor of following strict religious doctrines. They were, like the Druids, given to living in remote retreats away from the cares of life and even worse, they were footloose and given to wandering without plan to wherever the mood took them. This was coupled with the Celtic disposition to being wilful and no great respecter of authority. That Irish missionaries were sailing eastwards into Europe and founding their own monastic centres would have been of particular concern to Rome, fearing that from these new outposts, the Irish might spread their own version of Christianity.

Columbanus (543–615 CE) is a good example of how the Irish monks expanded their influence into Europe and why they persisted in the defence of their beliefs. He set up monasteries in France, Switzerland and northern Italy. In letters written by a monk thought to be Columbanus, the author refers often to philosophy and the need to avoid confrontation. He uses quotes from Paul’s Epistles and even explains to Pope Gregory that he could come to Rome to discuss his differences of opinion with him, but would not do so in case it led to disagreement. In all of his letters he refers frequently to Christ, but rarely to Jesus. His polite and tactful letter sets out his argument with the Pope, which is not theological, but philosophical. His first two letters mysteriously did not reach Gregory, but in the third Columbanus insists that the Celtic Church’s calculation of Easter, which he argued from a philosophical and astronomical view in the previous letters, derives from generations of previous teaching. As this was not the Roman teaching, in order to go back a long way, it could only have come from the Druids. What really shows that he is following an older teaching comes at the end of the letter. He reminds Pope Gregory of a decision made at the first synod called by Emperor Theodosius in 381 CE.
“Farewell, Pope most dear in Christ, mindful of us both in your holy prayers beside the ashes of the saints, and in your most godly decisions following the hundred and fifty authorities of the Council of Constantinople, who decreed that churches of God planted in pagan nations should live by their own laws as they had been instructed by their fathers.”

The scientific teachings transmitted by these Irishmen posed another major concern to the Roman Church. Some of the knowledge they possessed could only have been learnt from the Druids. An Irish missionary named Fergal, later known as Virgil, arrived in Salzburg Austria, around 746 CE on the death of the local bishop. He became Abbot of the monastery there and Bishop three years later. Virgil was well educated, interested in the arts and had a strong knowledge of geometry, mathematics and astronomy. He knew so much geography that the monks at his abbey in Ireland had named him ‘The Geometer.’

For the Church of Rome, Virgil’s knowledge and personality formed a dangerous combination. Outspoken and in a position to influence, before he arrived in Salzburg he had frequently crossed intellectual swords with Boniface the papal legate of Bavaria, the state in which, at that time, Salzburg was. Boniface asked the Pope to tell Virgil that he must re–baptise a lot of converts as a poorly–educated priest had been overheard baptising them with incorrect Latin: “Baptiso te in nomine patria et filia et spiritu sancta.” Virgil argued that God would know that the priest did not really mean, ‘I baptise you in the name of the fatherland and daughter and Holy Spirit’ and therefore the baptisms were valid. When the Pope heard Boniface’s complaint he sided with Virgil. Some time later Boniface found a more outrageous reason to tell on Virgil. He was shocked to overhear Virgil teaching of ‘other men’ who lived in ‘other lands, under the earth.’ The charge he made to Pope Zachary was one of heresy as these ‘men’ were not descended from Adam. He also charged Virgil with teaching a heresy that the Earth was a globe that circled round the sun. Virgil was duly summoned to Rome to answer the charges, which Zachary duly discounted; he sent him back to Salzburg, later awarding him the rank of bishop.

Virgil continued to flourish, opening schools for priests throughout Bavaria and sending missionaries out into the surrounding lands. After his death in 784 a new bishop was appointed and a new wave of Catholicism replaced his. But Virgil’s words about the men from the ‘other lands beneath the earth’ will strike a familiar chord to those familiar with Celtic religion, for the residents of the Otherworld are the Fair–Folk, as Celtic legend tells: the angels who were known as the Nephilim.

Virgil’s story shows us that the Celtic Church still continued to spread its teaching far and wide. The final battle for supremacy had already been lost, shortly after the time of Columbanus. It took place in 664 CE, at the Synod of Whitby in Yorkshire, where the clergy of Britain met supposedly to agree on the dating of Easter, yet in reality to fight to retain independence from Rome. The truth was that the matter had little to do with religion at all. The most powerful ruler in Britain, Oswy, King of Northumbria, had called the synod. Oswy knew that if the independent Celtic monasteries had to comply with the Church of Rome the people around them would have to accept his rule. Oswy came to favour the Catholic Church over the Celtic Church for pragmatic not spiritual reasons.

To the Celts, the matter was far from done and dusted. The influential monks moved away from Oswy’s control and continued to ignore Rome. Cadwaladr, the king of Gwynedd, who upon the death of his wife had become a monk was another of the Synod of Whitby delegates who argued against unification with Rome. Infuriated by the decision, he left for Rome, to continue the protest. His objection was against the claimed authority of Roman Popes. He died mysteriously on arrival, no doubt murdered on the orders of Pope Vitalian. Cadwaladr was not to be the last king from Britain who was to meet his end in Rome.

Some two hundred years later, King Cyngen of Powys undertook a mission to Rome. Cyngen considered himself to be a direct descendant of Magnus Maximus, Emperor of the western Roman empire, who had left Britain for Rome in 383 CE. Magnus Maximus had the ambitious intention to take the eastern throne as well but was defeated and killed. Back in Britain, the family of Maximus had not given up their claim to the throne of Rome. It was around 854 CE, when King Cyngen and his entourage went to Rome to dispute the right of Charlemagne’s successors to the Imperial throne. To validate his claim, he took with him the Imperial sceptre of Maximus. Cyngen failed and was executed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis II and the imperial sceptre of Maximus disappeared. Linked to Cyngen’s mission to Rome, is the story of Pope Joan. There are numerous accounts of this and there is some discrepancy over dates, but it seems that Joan was Pope John VIII, who reigned from around 872 CE but the exact dating of Popes around this period is uncertain. There is an account by Marianus Scotus, a Benedictine monk who when writing about the year 854 CE says “Pope Leo died, on the Kalends of August. He was succeeded by Joanna, a woman, who reigned for two years, five months and four days.”

There is much dispute about its authenticity and the date is far too early for the papal coronation, but coincides with Cyngen’s arrival, so it might be the date when Joan arrived in Rome. The dates of Popes in the lists vary and at times there are two at once, so we can’t say there was never a Pope Joan and need to consider who she might have been and how she might have been elected to the rôle. Only males were allowed to be priests and thus Pope in the Roman Catholic tradition, though females had equal roles in the Celtic Church. Naturally Vatican records will not show a female Pope, but the few stories that survive, do tend to be consistent.

The story of Joan says that she left Britain accompanied by her father. Joan arrives in Rome, though her father is no longer given a mention. The common thread in the tales, tells that she had strong religious inclinations, but being frustrated by the restrictions imposed against females, she disguised herself as a monk. Once in Rome, she set up a school and acquired such a great reputation that she was elected Pope. Allegedly, she became pregnant and the inopportune birth led to her discovery. It seems that shortly afterwards, she died under mysterious circumstances, so is assumed murdered.

The Catholic Church naturally denies that the events ever occurred, however after the death of Pope John VIII, the papal electoral process was reformed. It is not known when the specific procedure started, but up to the death of Pope Leo X in 1521, the elected pope had his genitals examined to ensure he was male. The chair on which he sat until the inspecting Cardinal declared, “Testiculos habet et bene pendentes,” was donated to King Louis XVIII by Pope Pius VII and is now in the Louvre Museum. This leaves many people to deduce that the practice was introduced in response to such an extreme incident that it must never be repeated. Clearly this specific rule change was to ensure that a female passing herself off as a man could never be elected as Pope, but why would you think it was something you needed to monitor, unless it had happened once before!

Though this is not proof, it would be an exceedingly strange coincidence that King Cyngen and his daughter and Joan and her father all left Britain and arrived in Rome in the same year: one pair to claim the throne and the other the papacy. These two recorded sets of a father and daughter arriving from Britain at the same time have surely to be the same two family members who believed themselves the true claimants of both the Imperial and Apostolic lines. Although the Catholics deny there was ever a female Pope, Pope Joan was much mentioned around the time of the crusade against the Cathars in the 13th century. The founder of the Dominican order, Dominic Guzman attacked the Cathars’ female priests and specifically mentions that they claimed their spiritual ancestor to be the female pope, whom Guzman calls Joanna Aquila or Joan the Eagle.

The subject of the Templars is complex and cannot be debated fully in one essay, but it is important to mention the various pieces of evidence which indicate that the Templars inherited some far older Celtic Christian traditions. The Templars were founded by the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux. The major cathedrals built by the Cistercians are on former Druidic sites. Whilst the Roman Church was systematically eliminating the Cathars, who received protection from the Templars and Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cistercians built 88 monasteries built on Druidic sites in Britain that was more than two a year. It seems that Cathar Gnostic beliefs could feel safe in Celtic Britain.

The Pelagians, those Celtic Christians who were active in Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries, culminating with the infamous Pope Joan/John VIII in the 9th century incorporated more ancient Celtic traditions, such as the symbolic honouring of the severed head. For the Templars the severed head of John the Baptist had particular symbolism too. This connection with the ancient tradition is apparent in the day chosen by the Christian Church to commemorate St John the Baptist. June 24th is also the day that the Celts celebrated their Queen of Heaven, Danu the Celtic Isis. How many coincidences does it take to form a fact?

The image we have of a Christian Church whose word was spread by the Church of Rome is certainly not the one that was familiar to the Celts. They were monks not priests, they had Abbots not Bishops and most of all a prominent place for women. The biggest difference of all was their interest in spirituality not power. Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Literal Approach to Christianity is that unlike Gnosticism or Celtic Christianity, it leaves no room for independent thought and therefore limits the spiritual development of its followers. Had we had a Druid Celtic Priestess on the Papal throne a thousand years ago, who knows what wonderful things the world might have learned. It would certainly have been a less miserable place than it is right now.

The full account of this research can be found in The Greatest Lie Ever Told, Workhorse Publishing, 2011. www.thegreatestlieevertold.co.uk

Sources

Diogenes Laertius, trans. Yonge, C.D., The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,
Henry G Bohn, 1853
Ellis, P B., A Brief History of The Druids., Robinson, 2002
Evans–Wentz, W Y., The Fairy–Faith in Celtic Countries, Oxford University Press, 1911
Freke, T and Gandy, P., The Jesus Mysteries, Thorsons, 1999
Herodotus, Marincola, J M ed. De Selincourt, A trans., Herodotus: The Histories, Penguin
Classics, 1996
Knight, C and Lomas, R., Uriel’s Machine, Century Books, 1999
Massey, G A., Book of the Beginnings, Part 1, Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2002
Phillips, G., The Search for the Grail, Century, 1995
Rolleston, T W., Myths And Legends Of The Celtic Race, George G Harrap, 1911
Walker, G S M., Letters of Columbanus, CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts, 2008

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