RITES AND CEREMONIES
A RELATION of the duties of the Ovades as sacrificers will naturally lead us into a description of the ceremonies of the priesthood, of their altars, their temples and their objects of worship or veneration.
The clachan, or stone temples of the Druids were round like those of the Chinese, the primitive Greeks, the Jews, and their copyists the Templars. This shape was adopted because it was typical of eternity, and also of the solar light–the word circus being derived from the Phœnician cir or cur, the Sun.
Like those of the Thracians they were open at the roof, for the Druids deemed it impious to attempt to enclose within a house that God, whose shrine was the universe.
There were two celebrated temples of the Druids, Abury in Wiltshire, and Carnac in Brittany, which were built in the form of a serpent.
There is scarcely a spot in the world in which the serpent has not received the prayers and praises of men. At first an emblem of the sun’s light and power, it is worshipped in lands where the sun is not recognized as a Deity, for instance on the coasts of Guinea where the negroes curse him every morning as he rises, because he scorches them at noon.
The winged serpent was a symbol of the Gods of Egypt, Phœnicia, China, Persia, and Hindostan. The Tartar princes still carry the image of a serpent upon a spear as their military standard. Almost all the Runic inscriptions found upon tombs are engraved upon the sculptured forms of serpents. In the temple of the Bona Dea, serpents were tamed and consecrated. In the mysteries of Bacchus, women used to carry serpents in their hands and twined around their brows, and with horrible screams cry, Eva! Eva! In the great temple of Mexico, the captives taken in war and sacrificed to the sun, had wooden collars in the shape of a serpent put round their necks. And water-snakes are to this day held sacred by the natives of the Friendly Isles.
It was not only worshipped as a symbol of light, of wisdom and of health, personified under the name of God, but also as an organ of divination. Serpents formed the instruments of the Egyptian enchanters, the fetich of the Hottentots, and the girdles of the medicine-men of the North American Indians. The Norwegians, too, of the present day, when hunting will often load their guns with serpents to make them fortunate.
The serpent must have obtained this world-wide worship from its beauty, and its wisdom. Subtle in heart beyond all the beasts of the field; rapid and mysterious in its wary footless movements, to which the ancients were wont to resemble the aerial progress of the Gods; above all its eyes so bright, so lovely, so weird in their powers of facinations, no wonder that it should excite the awe and admiration of superstitious barbarians.
And they believed it immortal, for every year they saw it cast its skin, wrinkled and withered with age, and when they tried to kill it they found that it retained life with miraculous pertinacity.
Finally it was the brazen serpent elevated upon a cross that Moses erected in the wilderness, and upon which all who gazes were saved from death; and it was this serpent which Jewish and Christian writers have agreed in asserting to be a type of the Messiah.
The cromleachs were the altars of the Druids, and were so called from a Hebrew word signifying, “to bow,” and from the bowing of the worshippers who believed them to be guarded by spirits.
They were constructed of a large flat stone placed upon two rough pillars. These stones were always unhewn, for by the Druidic law it was ordained that no axe should touch the sacred stones, a precept which very strangely coincides with the Mosaic law. “Thou shall not build an altar of hewn stones.” Exod. xx, 25.
These cromleachs were also sepulchres, as is testified by the number of urns and human bones that have been discovered beneath some few of them. It is probable that their clachan were used for the same purpose, as the Egyptian mummies were interred in the catacombs of the pyramids, and as we bury bodies in the vaults of our churches.
We generally find them situated on hills or mountains, which prove that the Druids entertained the same reverence for high places as the nations of the East, and even the Scandinavians, for we read in the Erybygga-Saga that when Thoralf established his colony in the promontory of Thorsness in Iceland he erected an eminence called Helgafels, the Holy Mount, upon which none might look till they had made their ablutions under pain of death.
And sometimes by the side of a lake or running stream, for water was held holy by the Druids, and they were even wont to propitiate its deities, by offering it presents.
There was a Druidic temple at Toulouse, on the borders of a lake into which the Druids threw large quantities of gold, and in which Capion, a Roman knight, and his followers miserably perished in an attempt to recover it. So, Aurum Tolosanum, “Gold from Toulouse,” became a bye-word among the Romans to express any accident or misfortune.
In the islands surrounding Britain and Gaul, especially in the Channel Islands where they are called Pouquelays, these altars are very common. Islands were held sacred for some reason by the ancients.
They were often erected within the recesses of the sacred grove beneath the shadow of an oak.
This, the fairest and strongest of trees has been revered as a symbol of God by almost all the nations of heathendom, and by the Jewish Patriarchs.
It was underneath the oaks of Mamre that Abraham dwelt a long time, and where he erected an altar to God, and where he received the three angels.
It was underneath an oak that Jacob hid the idols of his children, for oaks were held sacred and inviolable. (Judges II. 5. 6.)
From the Scriptures, too, we learn that it was worshipped by the Pagans who corrupted the Hebrews (Hosea. IV. v. 13. Ezekiah VI. 13. Isaiah I. v. 29.)
Homer mentions people entering into compacts under oaks as places of security. The Grecians had their vocal oaks at Dodona. The Arcadians believed that stirring the waters of a fountain with an oaken bough would bring rain. The Sclavonians worshipped oaks which they enclosed in a consecrated court.
The Romans consecrated the oak to Jupiter their Supreme God, as they consecrated the myrtle to Venus, the laurel to Apollo, the pine to Cybele, the poplar to Hercules, wheat-ears to Ceres, the olive to Minerva, fruits to Pomona, rose-trees to the river nymphs, and hay to poor Vertumnus whose power and merits could obtain him nothing better.
The Hindoos who had no oaks revered the Banian tree.
When an oak died, the Druids stripped off its bark, &c., shaped it reverently into the form of a pillar, a pyramid, or a cross, and still continued to worship it as an emblem of their God.
Besides the clanchan and cromleach there are many stone monuments remaining in various parts of Gaul and Britain, which bear the. Druid stamp in their rudeness and simplicity.
These were sometimes trophies of victory, sometimes memorials of gratitude, sometimes images of God.
When erected they were anointed with rose-oil, as Jacob anointed the first stone monument on record -that which he raised at Bethel in memory of his dream.
The custom of raising plain stone pillars for idolatrous purposes was afterwards adopted by the Pagans and forbidden by the Mosaic law (Lev. XXVI. 1.)
Mercury, Apollo, Neptune and Hercules were worshipped under the form of a square stone. A large black stone was the emblem of Buddha among the Hindoos, and of Manah Theus-Ceres in Arabia. The Paphians worshipped their Venus under the form of a white pyramid, the Thebans their Bacchus under that of a pillar, the Scandinavians their Odin under that of a cube, the Siamese their Sommonacodum under that of a black pyramid.
And in the temple of the Sun at Cuzco, in Peru, was a stone column in the shape of a cone, which was worshipped as an emblem of the Deity.
Every one has heard of the Stone of Memnon in Egypt, which was said to speak at sun-rise, and the remains of which are covered with inscriptions by Greek and Latin travelers bearing testimony to the fact.
There is a story in Giraldus Cambrensis which proves that the Druids had the same superstition. In his time, a large flat stone ten feet long, six feet wide, and one foot thick served as a bridge over the river Alun at St. David’s, in Pembrokeshire. It was called in British Lech Larar, “the speaking stone,” and it was a tradition that if a dead body was carried over the stone it would speak, and that with the struggle of the voice it would crack in the middle, and that then the chink would close.
Keysler informs us that the Northern nations believed their stone deities to be inhabited by fairies or demons, and adduces an instance from the Holmveria Saga of Norway.
“Indridus going out of his house lay in wait for his enemy Thorstenus, who was wont to go to the temple of his God at such a particular time. Thorstenus came and, entering the temple before sun-rise, prostrated himself before the stone-deity and offered his devotion. Indridus standing by heard the stone speak, and pronounce Thorstenus’ doom in these words:
Morti vicinis pedibus
Certè enim antequam
Odium tibi rependet.
Heedless of thy approaching fate
Thou treadst this holy ground;
Last step of life! thy guilty breast
Ere Phcebus gilds the ruddy East,
Thy murderous hate
Deep piere’d with crimson wound.
To fire, also, as an emblem of the sun, the Druids paid peculiar reverence.
Indeed fire would appear to have been the chosen element of God. In the form of a flaming bush He appeared to Moses. On Mount Sinai His presence was denoted by torrents of flame, and in the form of fire he preceded the little band of Israelites by night, through the dreary wilderness, which is perhaps the origin of the custom of the Arabians who always carry fire in front of their caravans.
All the great nations had their holy fires which were never suffered to die. In the temple of the Gaditanian Hercules at Tyre, in the Temple of Vesta at Rome, among the Brachmans, the Jews, and the Persians were these immortal fires which might not be desecrated by the breath of men, and which might be fed with peeled wood alone. So also the American savages when they have gained a victory, would light fires and dance round them.
The Druids thus conducted their worship of the holy element. Having stripped the bark off dry wood they poured oil of roses upon it, and lighted it by rubbing sticks together, which is said to have been an invention of the Phœnicians.
To this they prayed at certain times, and whoever dared to blow the fire with his mouth, or to throw dirt or dead beasts into it they punished with death.
They had circular temples consecrated to their never-dying fires; into these the priests entered every day, and reverently fed the fire and prayed to it for a whole hour, holding branches of vervain in their hands and crowned with tiaras which hung down in flaps on each side of their faces covering their cheeks and lips.
They also kindled the Beltein, or fire of the rock on May-eve to welcome the sun after his travels behind the clouds and tempests of the dark months. On that night all other fires were extinguished, and all repaired to the holy mount to pay their annual tribute to the Druids.
Then were held solemn rites, and men and beasts, and even goblets of wine were passed through the purifying flames. After which the fires were all relighted, (each from the sacred fire) and general festivity prevailed.
In Cornwall there are Karn-Gollowa, the Cairn of Lights, and Karn-Leskyz, the Cairn of Burnings which names proves that the fiendish rites of Moloch and Baal were really observed with all their impious cruelty in the island of Britain.
From these same blood-thirsty Phœnicians who had taught the Israelites to sin, the Druids learnt to pollute their altars with human blood, and to assert that nothing was so pleasing to God as the murder of a man.
In the golden age, men’s hearts softened and elevated by gratitude towards their Maker offered him the choicest herbs and the sweetest flowers of the soil.
But in the age of iron, when men had learnt to tremble at their own thoughts, to know that they were thieves, and liars, and murderers, they felt that there was need of expiation.
To appease the God whom they still believed to be merciful, they offered Him Blood.
They offered Him the blood of animals.
And then they offered Him the most innocent and beautiful of His creations–beautiful virgins and chaste youths–their eldest sons, their youngest daughters.
Do you disbelieve me? read as I have read all the great writers of the past, and then you will shudder as I have shuddered at such terrible wickedness in man.
Read Manetho, Sanchionatho, Herodotus, Pausanias, Josephus, Philo the Jew, Diodorus of Sicily, Strabo, Cicero, Cæsar, Macrobius, Pliny, Titus Livius, Lucan, and most of the Greek and Latin-poets.
Read the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, the judges, Kings, the 105th Psalm, the Prophesies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many of the old fathers, and there you will find that the Egyptians, the Israelites, the Arabs, the Cathaginians, the Athenians, Spartans and Ionians, the Romans, the Scythians, the Albanians, the Germans, Iberians and Gauls had adopted this cruel custom, which like the practice of magic had risen in Phœnicia, and had spread like a plague over the whole world.
The Egyptians sacrificed every year a young and beautiful virgin, whom arrayed in rich robes, they flung into the Nile. They also offered up men with red hair at the shrine of Osiris.
The Spartans whipped boys to death in sight of their parents before starting upon an expedition. The natives of the Tauric Chersonesus hospitably sacrificed to Diana all the strangers whom chance threw upon their coast. The Cimbri ripped their victims open, and divined from their smoking entrails. The Norwegians used to beat their brains out with an axe, the Icelanders by dashing them against a stone. The Scythians cut off the shoulder and arm, and flinging them in the air drew omens from the manner in which they fell upon the pile. The Romans and Persians buried them alive.
This mania for blood was universal. Even Themistocles, the deliverer of Greece, had once sacrificed three youths.
The ancient Peruvians, when one of their nation was dangerously ill, sacrificed his eldest son or youngest daughter to the solar deity, entreating him to spare the father’s life. And periodically at their religious festivals they murdered children and virgins, drowning them and then sacrificing them.
And the ancient Mexicans forced their victims to lie down upon a pyramidical stone, and tearing out their hearts, lifted them smoking towards the sun.
I might continue this long and disgusting catalogue of religious crimes, but let us return to the Druids, who at least only sacrificed human beings in some great and peculiar crisis.
The word sacrifice means an offering of the cake, and there can be no doubt that those thin broad cakes of the ancient Britons, which, with a libation of flour, milk, eggs, and herbs, or milk, dew and acorns are still superstitiously offered in the north of Britain, formed the usual sacrifice.
They also offered the boar, and it is not improbable that the hare, hen and goose which they were forbidden to eat, but which Cæsar informs us that they reared causa voluptatis, were used for sacrificial purposes.
The human victims were selected from criminals or prisoners of war. In lack of these they were chosen by lot, and it sometimes happened that Curtius-like they offered themselves up for their country.
Such a one was led into a sacred forest watered by running streams. In the centre, a circular space surrounded by grey and gigantic stones. Then the birds ceased to sing, the wind was hushed; and the trees around extended their spectral arms which were soon to be sprinkled with human blood.
Then the victim would sing the Song of Death.
The Druid would approach, arrayed in his judicial robes. He was dressed in white; the serpent’s egg encased in gold was on his bosom; round his neck was the collar of judgment which would strangle him who delivered an unjust sentence; on his finger was the ring of divination; in his hand was a glittering blade.
They would crown the victim with oak leaves in sombre mockery. They would scatter branches of the oak upon the altar.
The voices of the blue-robed Bards would chant a solemn dirge, their harps would tone forth sinister notes.
Pale and stern the Druid would approach, his knife uplifted in the air.
He would stab him in the back. With mournful music on his lips he would fall weltering in blood, and in the throes of death.
The diviners would draw round, and would calmly augur from his struggles.
After which, fresh oak-leaves would be cast upon the blood-polluted altar, and a death feast would be held near the corpse of the sacrificed.
From the Book
THE VEIL OF ISIS; OR, MYSTERIES OF THE DRUIDS
BY W. WINWOOD READE.