VESTIGES OF DRUIDISM
IN RUSTIC FOLK-LORE
THE LEGEND OF THE PIN.
In the West of France the pin is endowed with a fabulous power, which is not without a certain interest. One of its supposed attributes is the power of attracting lovers to her who possess it, after it has been used in the toilet of a bride. Consequently it is a curious sight in La Vendeé or Les Deux-Sèvres, to see all the peasant girls anxiously placing a pin in the bride’s dress: the number being often so considerable that she is forced to have a pin -cushion attached to her waist-band to receive all the prickly charms. At night, on the threshold of the bridal chamber, she is surrounded by her companions, each one easily seizing upon the charmed pin, which is kept as a sacred relic.
In Brittany the pin is regarded as the guardian of chastity, a mute witness which will one day stand forth to applaud or condemn in the following manner:–
Some days before the wedding, the betrothed leads his future bride to the edge of some mysterious current of water, and taking one of her pins drops it into the water. If it swims, the girl’s innocence is incontestable–if on the contrary it sinks to the bottom, it is considered the judgment of heaven; it is an accusation which no evidence can overcome. But as the peasant girls in Brittany never use any pins heavier than the long blackthorn, which they find in the hedges, the severity of the tribunal is not very formidable.
On the 7th of December, a young peasant mounted on a strong cob, full of hope and gaiety, was seen urging his way towards Morlaix with a handsome girl of twenty on a pillion behind him, her arm tenderly clasping his waist. It was easy to see in their happy faces that they were two lovers, and from the direction which they took, that they were going on a pilgrimage to try the charm of the pin at the fountain of St. Douet. Jean’s father was one of the richest land-holders in the neighborhood, but above all the young ladies round him, he had chosen Margaret, whose sole wealth consisted in her beauty and virtue.
Through all the glades of the wood with wild thyme and violets beneath their horses feet, they journeyed on till they came to a wild and deserted plain, whence they plunged once more into the dark forests of Finisterre filled with Druidical memories. It might have been those sombre shades which saddened them for a moment, but it was only for a moment. jean feared not the trial, for he loved Margaret, and believed her to be an angel. And Margaret feared it not, for she knew that she was innocent.
Now they were close to the sacred fountain, which burst through the crevices of a rock overgrown with moss into a natural bason, and thence like a thread of silver through the forest.
They dismounted, and Margaret, kneeling down, prayed fervently for some moments. Then rising, she gave her left hand to her lover, and full of confidence, advanced toward the well. Alas! she had too much faith in the virtue of the legend. Instead of a thorn pin, she took from a neckerchief one with a silver head which he had given her. He pressed her fingers affectionately as he took it from her hand and dropped it into the well. It disappeared instantaneously. Margaret sank to the ground with a heart-broken groan.
He raised her and placed her on his horse, but he did not speak to her, he did not caress her. In mournful silence he walked by her side. Her arm could no longer embrace him. She was not his Margaret now. She was a guilty wretch who had dared to tempt the judgment of God.
He placed her down at her father’s door, and stooping he kissed her on the forehead. It was a silent adieu he was bidding her; it was his last kiss -it was the kiss of death.
Next morning her corpse was found underneath his window. There were no marks of violence upon her body; the wound was in her heart; she had died a victim to a destestable superstition.
To the element of air we do not find our peasants pay any particular homage, unless the well-known practice of sailors of whistling for the wind in a dead calm, and of the Cornish laborers when engaged in winnowing may be regarded as such.
But the worship of the heavenly bodies has not yet died out among us’ The astrologists of the middle ages were but copyists of the ancient Chaldeans, and the lower classes to this day draw omens from meteors and falling stars. General Vallancey, by the way, records a curious instance in his Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis, of an Irish peasant who could neither read nor write but who could calculate eclipses.
When we consider how universal and how prominent was the worship of the sun in the world, it is almost surprising that we do not find more vestiges of this idolatry. There are some few however.
It was once a custom of the vulgar to rise early on Easter Day to see the sun dance, for they fancied that the reflection of its beams played or danced upon the waters of any spring or lake they might look into.
In the British Apollo, fol. Lond. 1708, vol. i. No. 40, we read:
Q. Old wives, Phœbus, say
That on Easter day,
To the music o’the spheres you do caper,
If the fact, sir, be true,
Pray let’s the cause know,
When you have any room in your paper.
A. The old wives get merry,
With spic’d ale or sherry,
On Easter, which makes them romance
And whilst in a rout,
Their brains whirl about,
They fancy we caper and dance.
The sun shining on the bride as she goes to church is a good omen. The cloudy rising of the sun is a presage of misfortune. The Highlanders, when they approach a well to drink, walk round it from east to west, sometimes thrice.
The Orkney fishermen, on going to sea, would think themselves in imminent peril, were they by accident to turn their boat in opposition to the sun’s course; and I have seen many well-educated people seriously discomfited if the cards from the pack, the balls from the pool-basket, or the decanters at the dining-table had not been sent round as the sun goes.
All the ancient dances were in imitation of the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, and were used in religious worship. Such were the circular dances of the Druids–the slower and statelier movements of the Greek strophe–the dances of the Cabiri or Phoenician priests, the devotional dances of the Turkish dervishes, the Hindoo Raas Jattra or dance-of-the-circle, and the war dances of the American and other savage nations round their camp-fires, lodges, or triumphal poles.
Such also is the Round About, or Cheshire Round, which is referred to by Goldsmith in his Vicar of Wakefield, and which is not yet extinct in England.
But the best instance of sun-worship is found in the fires lighted by the common Irish on Midsummer’s Eve, and which they tell you candidly are burnt “in honor of the sun.”
The fires which the Scotch Highlanders light on May Day are to welcome back the sun after his long pilgrimage in the frosts and darkness of winter.
Crantz in his History of Greenland, informs us that the natives of that country observe a similar festival to testify their joy at the re-appearance of the sun, and the consequent renewal of the hunting season.
In matters of divination, the moon is supposed by the vulgar to possess a peculiar power. She was supposed to exercise an influence not only over the tides of the sea, and over the minds of men, but also over the future, in weather, cookery, and physic.
When the moon is encircled by a halo, or is involved in a mist, when she is called “greasy,” it portends rain–when she is sharp horned, windy weather. It is also a general belief among all classes that as the weather is at the new moon, so it will continue during the whole month.
In many of the old almanacs and books of husbandry, it is directed to kill hogs when the moon is increasing, and the bacon will prove the better, in boiling; to shear sheep at the moon’s increase; to fell hand-timber from the full to the change; to fell frith, coppice, and fuel at the first quarter; to geld cattle when the moon is in Aries, Sagittarius, or Capricorn.
In The Husbandman’s Practice, or Prognostication for ever, the reader is advised “To purge with electuaries the moon in Cancer, with pills the moone in Pisces, with potions the moone in Virgo,” and in another place, “To set, sow seeds, graft, and plant, the moone being in Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn, and all kinds of corne in Cancer, to graft in March, at the moone’s increase, she being in Taurus or Capricorn.”
Werenfels in his Dissertation on Superstition, speaking of a superstitious man, writes, “He will have his hair cut either when the moon is in Leo, that his locks may stare like the lion’s shag, or in Aries that they may stare like a ram’s horn. Whatever he would have to grow he sets about when she is in the increase; for whatever he would have made less he chooses her wane. When the moon is in Taurus, he can never be persuaded to take physic, lest that animal which chews its cud should make him cast it up again; and if at any time he has a mind to be admitted to the presence of a prince, he will wait till the moon is in conjunction with the sun, for ’tis then the society of an inferior with a superior is salutary and successful.”
The islanders of Sky will not dig peats (which is their only fuel) in the increase of the moon, believing that they are less moist, and will burn more clearly if cut in the wane.
In the parishes of Kirkwall and St. Ola, Orkney, none marry or kill cattle in the wane.
In Angus it is believed that if a child be put from the breast during the waning of the moon, it will decay all the time that the moon continues to wane. I will mention two more instances of divination, one from Thomas Hodge’s Incarnate Divells, viz., “That when the moone appeareth in the springtime, the one horn spotted and hidden with a blacke and great cloude from the first day of her apparition to the fourth day after, it is some signe of tempests and troubles in the aire the summer after.”
When the new moon appears with the old moon in her arms, or in other words when that part of the moon which is covered by the shadow of the earth is seen through it, it is considered not only an omen of bad weather, but also of misfortune, as we learn from the following stanza in the ballad of Sir Patrick Spence:
Late, late yestreen
I saw the new moone
Wi’the auld moone in her arme;
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will come to harm.
One might enumerate examples of this kind to volumes, and I fear I have already passed the limits of human endurance; I must, however, write a few words upon the subject of moon-worship.
The feminine appellation is traditionally derived from the fable of Isis, who was entitled the wife of the sun. The superstition of the man-in-the-moon, is supposed to have originated in the account given in the Book of Numbers, XV. 32 et seq. of a man punished with death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day, though why, it is difficult to explain. In Ritson’s Ancient Songs we read, “The man-in-the-moon is represented leaning upon a fork, on which he carries a bush of thorn, because it was for ‘pycchynde stake’ on a Sunday that he is reported to have been thus confined.” And in Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the actors says, “All I have to say is to tell you that the lantern is the moon, I the man-in-the-moon, this thorn bush my thorn bush, and this dog my dog.” Vide also Tempest, act. ii. sc. 2.
The new moon still continues to be idolatrously worshipped by the vulgar of many countries.
On the night of the new moon, the Jews assemble to pray to God under the names of the Creator of the planets, and the restorer of the moon.
The Madingoe Tribe of African Indians whisper a short prayer with their hands held before their face; they then spit upon their hands and religiously anoint their faces with the same.
At the end of the Mahometan Feast of Rhamadan (which closely resembles the Romish Carnival) the priests await the reappearance of the moon, and salute her with clapping of hands, beating of drums and firing of muskets.
In the 65th Canon of the 6th council of Constantinople, A. D. 680, is the following interdiction: “Those bone-fires that are kindled by certaine people on new moones before their shops and houses, over which also they are most foolishly and ridiculously to leape by a certaine antient custom, we command them from henceforth to cease. Whoever therefore shall do any such thing, if he be a clergyman let him be deposed-if a layman let him be excommunicated.”
No bonfires are now lit in honor of the new moon, but the common Irish on beholding her for the first time cross themselves, saying:
May thou leave us as safe as thou hast found us.
English peasants often salute the new moon, saying: “There is the new moon, God bless her,” usually seating themselves on a stile as they do so.
They also believe that a new moon seen over the right shoulder is lucky, over the left shoulder unlucky, and straight before good luck to the end of the moon.
That if they look straight at the new moon (or a shooting star) when they first see it, and wish for something, their wish will be fulfilled before the end of the year.
The peasant girls, in some parts of England, when they see the new moon in the new year, take their stocking off from one foot and run to the next stile; when they get there, they look between the great toe and the next, and expect to find a hair which will be the color of their lover’s.
In Yorkshire, it is common enough for an inquisitive maid to go out into a field till she finds a stone fast in the earth, to kneel upon this with naked knees and looking up at the new moon to say:
All hail, new moon, all hail to thee,
I prithee, good moon, reveal to me
This night, who shall my true love be,
Who he is, and what he wears,
And what he does all months and years.
She then retires backwards till she comes to a stile, and goes to bed directly without speaking a word.
The Irish believe that eclipses of the moon are effected by witchcraft, and this occasions me to narrate a curious custom of the ancient Peruvians who were the Egyptians of the New World.
When the moon became eclipsed, they imagined that she was ill and would fall down and crush the world. Accordingly as soon as the eclipse commenced, they made a noise with cornets and drums, and tying dogs to trees beat them till they howled in order to awake the fainting moon who is said to love these animals, for Diana and Nehalenna are seldom represented without a dog by their side.
Since we find in a book, called Osborne’s Advice to his Son, p. 79, that “the Irish and Welch during eclipses ran about beating kettles and pans, thinking their clamor and vexations available to the assistance of the higher orbes,” it is probable that they made use of the same canine resources as the natives of Peru, and that such is the origin of the Irish proverb that “dogs will bark at the moon.”
Having thus considered the worship of the elements and of the heavenly bodies extant among us, let us pass on to those minor idolatries which are still retained among the lower orders.
There is no religious custom of the Russians so celebrated as that of presenting each other with eggs dyed and stained, saying, “Christ is risen.” To which the other replies “He is indeed,” and they exchange kisses.
An egg was the Egyptian emblem of the universe, and it was from the Egyptians that all the Pagan nations, and afterwards the Greek Christians derived this ceremony. They are used also by the Roman Catholics and by the Jews in their Paschal festival.
It is probable that it was also a Druidic ceremony, for it prevails in Cumberland and many other counties of England. On Easter Monday and Tuesday the inhabitants assemble in the meadows, the children provided with hard boiled eggs, colored or ornamented in various ways, some being dyed with logwood or cochineal; others tinged with the juice of herbs and broom-flowers; others stained by being boiled in shreds of parti-colored riband; and others covered with gilding. They roll them along the ground, or toss them in the air till they break when they eat them-a part of the ceremony which they probably understand the best. They are called pace-eggs or paste-eggs, probably corrupted from pasche.
This reminds us of the strange fable of the serpent’s egg. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter many of these eggs or adder-stones are preserved with great reverence in the Highlands. There are also some traditions upon this subject which are worth narrating.
Monsieur Chorier in his Histoire de Dauphiné informs us that in the divers parts of that county, especially near the mountain of Rochelle on the borders of Savoy, serpents congregate from the 15th of June to the 15th of August for purposes of generation. The place which they have occupied after they have gone, is covered with a sticky white foam which is indescribably disgusting to behold.
Camden relates that in most parts of Wales and throughout Scotland and Cornwall, it is an opinion of the vulgar that about Midsummer Eve the snakes meet together in companies, and that by joining heads together and hissing, a kind of bubble is formed which the rest by continual hissing blow on till it quite passes through the body, when it immediately hardens and resembles a glass ring which will make its finder prosperous in all his undertakings. The rings thus generated are called gleinu madroeth, or snake stones. They are small glass amulets commonly about half as wide as our finger rings, but much thicker, of a green color usually though sometimes blue and waved with red and white.
Careu in his Survey of Cornwall says that its inhabitants believe that snakes breathing upon a hazel wand produce a stone ring of a blue color, in which there appears the yellow figure of a snake, and that beasts which have been bit by a mad dog or poisoned, if given some water to drink wherein this stone has been infused, will perfectly recover.
The following custom is evidently a dramatic representation of the rape of the serpent’s egg à la Pliny:
On Easter Monday, in Normandy, the common people congregate à la motte de Pougard which they surround. They place at the foot a basket containing a hundred eggs, the number of the stones of the temple of Aubury. A man takes the eggs and places them singly on the top of the tumulus, and then descends in the same manner to return them to the basket. While this is doing, another man runs to a village half a league off, and if he can return before the last egg is restored to the basket, he gains a barrel of cider as a prize, which he empties with the co-operation of his friends, and a Bacchanalian dance round the tumulus ends the proceedings.
Serpent-worship is almost extinct, if not entirely so; . and the belief of the lower orders in Ireland that St. Patrick expelled all the snakes and other reptiles from the island is perhaps derived from his having extinguished their adorers.
However, it is considered unlucky in England to kill the harmless green snake; and there is a superstition almost universally present, that it will not die till the setting of that sun, of which it was an emblem.
Its tenacity of life is indeed something marvelous. Mr. Payne Knight, in his work on Phallic worship, (which I read at the British Museum, but which is somewhat absurdly excluded from the catalogue) states that he has seen the heart of an adder throb for some moments after it had been completely taken from the body, and even renew its beatings ten minutes afterwards when dipped in hot water.
Many of our ladies wear bracelets in the shape of a snake, as did the Egyptian dames of old. The lower orders believe that a serpent’s skin will extract thorns, and its fat is sold to London chemists at five shillings a pound for its medicinal properties.
Most curious of all, is the superstition that by eating snakes one may grow young, and of which the three following passages are illustrations.
“A gentlewoman told an ancient bachelor, who looked very young, that she thought he had eaten a snake. No mistress, (he said) it is because I never meddled with any snakes which maketh me look so young. “–Holy State, 1642, p. 36.
He hath left off o’ late to feed on snakes,
His beard’s turned white again.
Massinger, Old Law. Act V. Sc. 1.
He is your loving brother, sir, and will tell nobody
But all he meets, that you have eat a snake,
And are grown young, gamesome, and rampant.
Ibid, Elder Brother, Act IV., Sc- 4-
Of stone worship there are still many vestiges. In a little island near Skye is a chapel dedicated to St. Columbus; on an altar is a round blue stone which is always moist. Fishermen, detained by contrary winds, bathe this stone in water, expecting thereby to obtain favorable winds; it is likewise applied to the sides of people troubled with stitches, and it is held so holy, that decisive oaths are sworn upon it.
There is a stone in the parish of Madren, Cornwall, through which many persons are wont to creep for pains in the back and limbs, and through which children are drawn for the rickets. In the North, children are drawn through a hole cut in the Groaning Cheese, a huge stone, on the day they are christened.
To go into the cleft of a rock was an ancient method of penitence and purification. It may be remembered that in the tradition of Hiram Abiff, the assassins were found concealed in a hollow rock, in which they were lamenting their crime.
To sleep on stones on particular nights is a cure for lameness with our peasants, though perhaps a hazardous one, especially if the disease originated from rheumatism.
A Druidic monument of great historical interest is to be seen under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. Originally called Liag-fial, the Fatal Stone, by others Cloch na cineamhna or the Stone of Fortune, it was that upon which the Kings of Ireland used to be inaugurated, and which, being enclosed in a wooden chair, was, by the ingenuity of the Druids, made to emit a sound under the rightful candidate, and mute under a man of bad title. It was superstitiously sent to confirm the Irish colony in Scotland, and it continued at Scone as the coronation of the Scotch Kings, from the commencement of the Christian Era till 1300 A. D.,when Edward I. imported it into England. It is still a superstition in the Highlands that those who lay their hands against the Druids’ stones will not prosper.
Many of these monuments are approached with great reverence by the natives of Scotland and the Isles, especially the Tighe nan Druidhneach in the Isle of Skye, little arched, round stone buildings capable of holding one, where the contemplative Druid sat when his oak could not shelter him from the weather. The common people never pass these without walking round them three times from east to west.
In Chartres, which teems with Druidic vestiges, a curious specimen of stone worship remains. At the close of service in the cathedral, no one leaves the church without kneeling and saying a short prayer before a small pillar or stone–without polish, base or capital–placed in a niche, and much worn on one side by the kisses of the devout. This stone is rumored to be of high antiquity, even earlier than the establishment of Christianity–for many centuries to have remained in a crypt of the cathedral where lamps were constantly burning–but the stairs having been much worn on one side by the great resort of pilgrims to the spot, the stone had been removed from its original site, to avoid the expenses of repairs. It was said to be a miraculous stone, and that its miracles were performed at the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
There is a certain reverence paid by the peasantry to those caves in which the Druids held their initiatory rites. Many of them are said to be inhabited by spirits, and there is one in the neighborhood of Dunskey, Scotland, which is held in peculiar veneration. At the change of the moon it is usual to bring even from a great distance infirm persons, and particularly rickety children whom they supposed bewitched, to bathe in a stream which flows from the hill, and then to dry them in the cave.
As among the Druids it is still customary to place a platter of salt and earth upon the breast of the corpse in many parts of Britain. Salt was held in great reverence by the Eastern nations as an emblem of incorruptibility. So among us to spill salt is considered unlucky; it was only the other day that I saw a talented and well educated lady overwhelmed with consternation at this mishap, but with admirable presence of mind she flung a pinch over her left shoulder and so recovered her self-possession.
Hare was forbidden to the ancient Britons by their religion, and to this day the Cornish eat it with reluctance. Boadicea also augured from the running of a hare; and a hare that runs across a path (to any one but a sportsman, or rather a pot-hunter) is an omen of ill-luck.
The onion was an emblem of the deity among the Egyptians, perhaps also among the Druids, for it is a custom in some parts of England for girls to divine by it, as Barnaby Googe in his translation of Naogeorgus’ Popish Kingdome informs us.
In these same days young wanton gyrles that meete for marriage be,
Doe search to know the names of them that shall their husbands bee;
Four onyons, five, or eight, they take, and make in every one
Such names as they do fancie most, and best to think upon,
Thus nere the chimney them they set, and that same Onyon then
That firste doth sproute, doth surely bear the name of their good man.
In matters of dress, there are not many traces of the Druids and the ancient Britons to be found.
The caps of rushes, however, which they wore tied at the top and twisted into a band at the bottom, may still be seen upon the heads of children in Wales and some parts of England. In Shetland, the ancient sandals of untanned skins are worn, and also, by fishermen in cold weather, the Druidic wooden shoes. I could not discover their real origin during my visit there: some said they had been imported by the Dutch, others that the Dutch had borrowed the idea from them; but in any case these wooden shoes, the sabots of the lower orders of France, are derived from the Druids.
The best instance of dress however, is the Highland plaid, which was the very garment worn by the Druid Abaris, on his visit to Athens, and which is an extraordinary example of savage conservatism. From the breachan of the Gauls and Britons, is derived our word breeches and also that inelegant but necessary article of clothing.
Upon the subject of words I will also remark that our word fortnight or fourteen nights, is derived from the Druidic habit of counting time by nights instead of days; and the word dizzy from their deisul, or circular dance, (in Hebrew dizzel). I could give a multitude more, but ohe! jam satis est.
A very curious memorial of Druidism in the very bosom of victorious Christianity was discovered a few years ago by the well-known French Antiquary, M. Hersart de la Villemarqué. It is a fragment of Latin poetry which all the children in the parish of Nizon, Canton de Pont-Aven, are taught to sing at school and in church. The original poetry is almost the same as its Latin adaptation, except that in the latter various biblical allusions have been slipped in.
I will give the first strophe of the original, then its translation in the French of M. Villemarqué which is too good for me to meddle with, and then the Latin hymn as sung by the children
Daik mab gwerm Drouiz; ore;
Daik petra fell d’id-dei
Petra ganinn-me d’id-de.
Kan d’in euz a eur raun,
Ken a ouffenn breman.
Tout beau enfant blanc du Druide, tout beau réponds-moi; que veux-tu? te chanterai-je?
Chante-moi la division du nombre un jusqu’à ce que je l’apprenne aujourd’hui.
Pas de division pour le nombre un, la nécessitéuni que; la mort père de la douleur; rien avant, rien après. Tout beau, &c.
Chante-moi la division du nombre deux, &c.
Deux bœufs attelés à une coque; ils tirent, ils vont expirer–Voyez la merveille!
Pas de division, &c.
Chante-moi la division du nombre trois, &c.
Il y a trois parties dans le monde; trois commencements et trois fins pour l’homme, comme pour le chêne; trois cêlestes, royaumes de Merlin; fruits d’or, fleurs brillantes, petits enfants qui rient.
Deux bœufs, &c.
Pas de division, &c.
The christianized version in Latin is as follows:
Dic mihi quid unus,
Dic mihi quid unus.
Unus est Deus,
Qui regnat in Cœlis.
Dic mihi quid duo.
Dic mihi quid duo.
Unus est Deus,
Qui regnat in Cœlis.
Dic mihi qui sunt tres
Dic mihi que sunt tres.
Tres sunt patriarchæ,
Duo sunt testamenta;
Unus est deus,
Qui regnat in Cœlis.
Both of these dialogues are continued to the number twelve. In the Druidic version containing precepts on theology, cosmogony, chronology, astronomy, geography, magic, medicine and history. The Latin version teaching that there is one God, two testaments, three prophets, four evangelists, five books of Moses, six pitchers at the marriage of Cana, seven sacraments, eight beatitudes, nine choirs of angels, ten commandments, eleven stars which appeared to Joseph, and twelve apostles.
The resemblance of style and precept throughout is very striking, and a discovery which I have made of the same nature renders it still more surprising.
There is a peculiar song of the Oxfordshire peasants, the meaning of which had often perplexed me and which of course those who sung it were the least able to explain.
It is sung in this manner. One of them begins:–
I will sing you my one O!
To which the rest sing in chorus.
What is your one O!
And he sings.
One is all alone,
And ever doth remam so.
The song continues to the number twelve, each verse repeated after each as in the original versions above. Most of these verses are local corruptions, and it is probable that in some parts of England a purer version is retained. However, since the first refers to the One Deity, the second to “two white boys clothed in green,” the fourth to “four gospel preachers,” the seventh to the “seven stars,” &c., there can be no doubt as to its origin.
There is so superstitious a reverence paid by the lower orders in many parts of Britain to bees, that one is almost inclined to suppose that they also were held sacred by the Druids.
The Cornishmen consider bees too sacred to be bought. In other counties, on the death of their proprietor, a ceremonious announcement of the fact is made to them and a piece of funeral cake presented to them. It is believed that were this omitted they would fly away. In Lithuania a similar practice prevails.
There is no clue to this, except in the circumstance that the bee-hive is one of the emblems of Freemasonry, and like many other Druidic and Masonic symbols, e.g. the seven stars, the cross-keys, &c., a favorite tavern sign. For instance the one at Abingdon, under which is written the following jocose distich:
Within this hive were all alive,
Good liquor makes us funny,
So if your dry, come in and try,
The flavor of our honey.
From the apple-tree the Druids were wont to cut their divining rods. And to this tree at Christmas, in Devon, Cornwall and other counties a curious ceremony is paid. The farmer and his laborers soak cakes in cider, and place them on the trenches of an apple tree, and sprinkling the tree repeat the following incantation :
Here’s to thee, old apple tree!
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayest blow.
Hats full! Caps full?
Bushel, bushel, sacks full!
And my pockets full too! Huzza!
After which they dance round the tree and get drunk on the cider which remains. They believe that if they did not do this the tree would not bear.
I have now to consider the vestiges of mistletoe-worship extant among the descendants of the Druids.
On Christmas Eve it was lately the custom at York to carry mistletoe to the high altar of the Cathedral, and to proclaim a public and universal liberty, pardon and freedom to all sorts of inferior and even wicked people at the gates of the city towards the four quarters of heaven.
The mistletoe was considered of great medicinal virtue by Sir John Coldbatch for epilepsy and other convulsive disorders. The mistletoe of the oak is used by the common people for wind ruptures in children.
Like the houzza! of the East, the mistletoe would seem to have a religious exclamation, as I judge from finding it so often the refrain to old French songs, especially this one :
O gué la bonne adventure, O gué.
And in one celebrated English ballad:
O the mistletoe bough! and O the mistletoe bough!
It is still a custom in many parts of France for children to run down the street on New Year’s Day, and to rap the doors crying “Au gui l’an né, or Au gui, l’an neuf.”
In the island of Sein, there is a mistletoe feast which it is believed has been perpetuated by the Bas Breton tailors who, strange to say, have been formed from time immemorial into a fine association. They are poets, musicians and wizards who never contract marriages with strangers, and who have a language of their own, called lueache which they will not speak in the presence of foreigners.
At this feast there is a procession. An altar covered with green boughs is erected in the centre of a circular space of ground. Thence they start, and thither marching round the island return. Two fiddlers form the vanguard; they are followed by children carrying bill-hooks and oak-branches, and leading an ox and a horse covered with flowers. After them a huge crowd which stops at intervals crying Gui-na-né voilà le Gui.
There is one more mistletoe custom which I had almost forgotten. Let us imagine ourselves in the hall of some old-fashioned country mansion. Let it be Christmas- night, and at that hour when merriment and wine has flushed every face, and glowed into every heart.
And now I will paint to you a young maiden who embraced in the arms of her lover is whirled round the hall, her eyes sparkling, her white bosom heaving and her little feet scarce seeming to touch the floor. They pause for a moment. An old lady with an arch twinkle in her eye whispers something to her partner, he nods and smiles; she blushes and turns her eyes, pretending not to hear.
They join the dance again, when suddenly he stays her in the centre of the hall. Above their heads droops down a beautiful plant with pale white berries and leaves of a delicate green. He stoops and gives her the kiss-under-the-mistletoe. All laugh and follow his example till the scene vies the revels of the ancient Bacchanals.
It is this picture which awakes me from a reverie into which I have long been buried. Reader! you have sought with me for the first germs of religion in the chaos of youthful Time; you have dived with me into those mysteries which the Veil of Isis held secret from our sight; you have sojourned with me among the tombs of the past, and trod upon the dust of a fallen World.
Let us now return from these caverns of learning to the glorious day-light of the Present, and to the enjoyments, of a real existence.
From the Book
THE VEIL OF ISIS; OR, MYSTERIES OF THE DRUIDS
BY W. WINWOOD READE.