[RPG] Is the shapeshifting druid an original D&D invention


The Dungeons & Dragons druids have been largely defined by their ability to change into an animal form in every edition, e.g. through the Wild Shape ability in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.

Is the druid's role as a shapeshifter powered by nature an original creation of D&D, or is this trope borrowed from an earlier source?

Best Answer

Druids have been shapeshifters from the beginning

The D&D Druid ability to shapechange showed up originally in their first appearance in the game, as a monster in the Greyhawk supplement for original D&D. At that time, they were known as "priests of a neutral-type religion", had both cleric and magic-user spellcasting, and had "barbaric followers". "Powered by nature" does not appear to have been included at that time. They were later added as a class in Eldritch Wizardry, where the connection to nature was made more clear.

Gary Gygax himself has stated that the druid was based on Caesar's description of druids in Commentarii de Bello Gallico (at least, according to James Maliszewski of Grognardia). That description did not involve shapeshifting, but it does draw the connection between D&D druids and Gaulish priests of that era.

Near-contemporary to Caeser's work, Pomponius Mela, writing De situ orbis libri III in AD 43 or so describes a group of female priests of a Gaulish god. "They call them Gallizenae, and they believe them to be endowed with extraordinary gifts to rouse the sea and the wind by their incantations, to turn themselves into whatsoever animal form they may choose, to cure diseases which among others are incurable, to know what is to come and to foretell it." As those were likewise priests of Gaul, they'd also have qualified as druids.

We can't know for absolute certain that the D&D shapeshifting druid was inspired by any other source, but we can at least be quite sure that they weren't the first to come up with the idea.