Tag Archives: Ireland

Beltane — Holiday Details and History

Author: Christina Aubin [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 30th. 2000
Times Viewed: 258,199

Beltane is the last of the three spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc and Ostara. Beltane is the second principal Celtic festival (the other being Samhain). Celebrated approximately halfway between Vernal (spring) equinox and the midsummer (Summer Solstice). Beltane traditionally marked the arrival if summer in ancient times.

At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, whereas winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades rises at sunset. The Pleiades is a cluster of seven closely placed stars, the seven sisters, in the constellation of Taurus, near his shoulder. When looking for the Pleiades with the naked eye, remember it looks like a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars (the seventh can be seen on very dark nights) in the constellation of Taurus. It stands very low in the east-northeast sky for just a few minutes before sunrise.

Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its counter part, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again.

Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of “no time” when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic abounds! It is the time when the Faeries return from their winter respite, carefree and full of faery mischief and faery delight. On the night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches at their windows and doors for protection, many otherworldly occurrences could transpire during this time of “no time”. Traditionally on the Isle of Man, the youngest member of the family gathers primroses on the eve before Beltane and throws the flowers at the door of the home for protection. In Ireland it is believed that food left over from May Eve must not be eaten, but rather buried or left as an offering to the faery instead. Much like the tradition of leaving of whatever is not harvested from the fields on Samhain, food on the time of no time is treated with great care.

When the veils are so thin it is an extremely magical time, it is said that the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white horse. Roving about on Beltane eve She will try to entice people away to the Faeryland. Legend has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may see the Faery Queen or hear the sound of Her horse’s bells as She rides through the night. Legend says if you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look at Her, She may choose you. There is a Scottish ballad of this called Thomas the Rhymer, in which Thomas chooses to go the Faeryland with the Queen and has not been seen since.

Beltane has been an auspicious time throughout Celtic lore, it is said that the Tuatha de Danaan landed in north-west Connacht on Beltane. The Tuatha de Danaan, it is said, came from the North through the air in a mist to Ireland. After the invasion by the Milesians, the Tuatha faded into the Otherworld, the Sidhe, Tir na nOg.

The beginning of summer heralds an important time, for the winter is a difficult journey and weariness and disheartenment set in, personally one is tired down to the soul. In times past the food stocks were low; variety was a distant memory. The drab non-color of winter’s end perfectly represents the dullness and fatigue that permeates on so many levels to this day. We need Beltane, as the earth needs the sun, for our very Spirit cries out for the renewal of summer jubilation.

Beltane marks that the winter’s journey has passed and summer has begun, it is a festival of rapturous gaiety as it joyfully heralds the arrival of summer in her full garb. Beltane, however, is still a precarious time, the crops are still very young and tender, susceptible to frost and blight. As was the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Sun and His light, for the Earth will not produce without the warm love of the strong Sun. Fires, celebration and rituals were an important part of the Beltane festivities, as to insure that the warmth of the Sun’s light would promote the fecundity of the earth.

Beltane marks the passage into the growing season, the immediate rousing of the earth from her gently awakening slumber, a time when the pleasures of the earth and self are fully awakened. It signals a time when the bounty of the earth will once again be had. May is a time when flowers bloom, trees are green and life has again returned from the barren landscape of winter, to the hope of bountiful harvests, not too far away, and the lighthearted bliss that only summer can bring.

Beltane translated means “fire of Bel” or “bright fire” – the “bale-fire”. (English – bale; Anglo-Saxon bael; Lithuanian baltas (white)) Bel (Bel, Bile, Beli, Belinus, Belenos) is the known as the bright and shinning one, a Celtic Sun God. Beli is the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess.

Beltane is the time of the yearly battle between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythur ap Greidawl for Creudylad in Welsh mythology. Gwyn ap Nudd the Wild Huntsman of Wales, he is a God of death and the Annwn. Creudylad is the daughter of Lludd (Nudd) of the Silver Hand (son of Beli). She is the most beautiful maiden of the Island of Mighty. A myth of the battle of winter and summer for the magnificent blossoming earth.

In the myth of Rhiannion and Pwyll, it is the evening of Beltane, that Rhiannon gives birth to their son. The midwives all fell asleep at the same time, as they were watching over Rhiannon and her new baby, during which he was taken. In order to protect themselves, they smeared blood (from a pup) all over Rhiannon, to which they claim she had eaten her son. The midwives were believed, and Rhiannon was forced to pay penance for seven years. She had to carrying people on her back from the outside of the gate to the palace, although rarely would any allow her to do so. The baby’s whereabouts were a mystery. Oddly, every Beltane night, one of Pwyll’s vassals, Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, had a mare that gave birth but the colt disappeared. One Beltane night Teirnyon Twryv Vliant awaited in the barn for the mare to foaled, when she did, he heard a tremendous noise and a clawed arm came through the window and grabbed the colt. Teirnyon cut off the arm with his sword, and then heard a wailing. He opened the door and found a baby, he brought it to his wife and they adopted Gwri Wallt Euryn (Gwri of the Golden Hair). As he grew he looked like Pwyll and they remembered they found him on the night Rhiannon’s baby became lost. Teirnyon brought Gwri of the Golden Hair to the castle, told the story, and he was adopted back to his parents, Rhiannon and Pwyll, and and named by the head druid, Pryderi (trouble) from the first word his mother had said when he was restored to her. “Trouble is, indeed, at an end for me, if this be true”.

This myth illustrates the precariousness of the Beltane season, at the threshold of Summer, the earth awakening, winter can still reach its long arm in and snatch the Sun away (Gwri of the Golden hair). “Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out” (clout: Old English for cloth/clothing). If indeed the return of summer is true than the trouble (winter) is certainly over, however one must be vigilant.

On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: “Eadar da theine Bhealltuinn” – “Between two Beltane fires”.

The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.

Celebration includes frolicking throughout the countryside, maypole dancing, leaping over fires to ensure fertility, circling the fire three times (sun-wise) for good luck in the coming year, athletic tournaments feasting, music, drinking, children collecting the May: gathering flowers. children gathering flowers, hobby horses, May birching and folks go a maying”. Flowers, flower wreaths and garlands are typical decorations for this holiday, as well as ribbons and streamers. Flowers are a crucial symbol of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring.

May birching or May boughing, began on Beltane Eve, it is said that young men fastened garland and boughs on the windows and doors of the young maidens upon which their sweet interest laid. Mountain ash leaves and Hawthorne branches meant indicated love whereas thorn meant disdain. This perhaps, is the forerunner of old May Day custom of hanging bouquets hooked on one’s doorknob?

Young men and women wandered into the woods before daybreak of May Day morning with garlands of flowers and/or branches of trees. They would arrive; most rumpled from joyous encounters, in many areas with the maypole for the Beltane celebrations. Pre-Christian society’s thoughts on human sexuality and fertility were not bound up in guilt and sin, but rather joyous in the less restraint expression of human passions. Life was not an exercise but rather a joyful dance, rich in all beauty it can afford.

In ancient Ireland there was a Sacred Tree named Bile, which was the center of the clan, or Tuatha. As the Irish Tree of Life, the Bile Pole, represents the connection between the people and the three worlds of Bith: The Skyworld (heavens), The Middleworld (our world), and The Otherworld. Although no longer the center life, the Bile pole has survived as the Beltane Maypole.

The Maypole is an important element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The circle of dancers should begin, as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allows, so the ribbons are taut. There should be an even number of boys & girls. Boys should be facing clockwise and girls counterclockwise. They each move in the direction that they are facing, weaving with the next, around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. Those passing on the inside will have to duck, those passing on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over. As the dances revolve around the pole the ribbons will weave creating a pattern, it is said that the pattern will indicate the abundance of harvest year.

In some areas there are permanent Maypoles, perhaps a recollection of ancient clan Bile Pole memory. In other areas a new Maypole is brought down on Beltane Eve out from the wood. Even the classical wood can vary according to the area tradition is pulled from, most frequently it seems to be birch as “the wood”, but others are mentioned in various historical documents.

Today in some towns and villages a mummer called Jack in the Green (drawing from the Green man), wears a costume made of green leaves as he dances around the May pole. Mumming is a dramatic performance of exaggerated characters and at Beltane the characters include Jack in the Green and the Fool. The Fool, and the Fool’s journey, symbolism can be understood in relation to Beltane as it is the beginning of beginnings, the emergence from the void of nothingness (winter), as one can also see the role of the green man as the re-greening of the world.

Traditionally in many areas Morris dancers can be found dancing around the Maypole. Morris dancing can be found in church records in Thame England going back to 1555. Morris dancing is thought to have originated many centuries ago as part of ancient religious ceremonies, however it seems that Morris dancing became associated with Mayday during the Tudor times, and its originating history is not all that easily traced, as is the way with many traditions.

The Maypole dance as an important aspect of encouraging the return of fertility to the earth. The pole itself is not only phallic in symbolism but also is the connector of the three worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth’s womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.

In Padstow, Cornwall, Beltane morning a procession is led by the “obby oss” a costumed horse figure, in a large circular banded frock and mask. The procession is full of song, drums and accordions. Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University points out that the first account of the Padstow May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss revelries was written in 1803. He offers evidence however that, like English Morris Dancing, its origins lie in English medieval times. This does not discount the possibility that its roots lay in the foundation of the fertility rites of Beltane, a more politically correct transmutation of fertility acts.

There is also a Queen of May. She is said in many areas to have worn a gold crown with a single, gold leaf at its front, in other areas her crown was made of fresh flowers. She was typically chosen at the start of the Beltane festival, which in time past was after sundown on the eve before Beltane day. Many accounts mention both a May Queen and King being chosen, whom would reign from sundown the eve before the Beltane day to sunset on Beltane. Among their duties would be to announce the Beltane games and award the prizes to the victors. The rudimentary base of this practice can be drawn back to the roots of Beltane festivities, the union of the Goddess and Her Consort, the joining of earth and sun, the endowment of summer. The Goddess has many guises: Danu – The Great Mother, Blodeuwedd (the Flower Bride), Isolt (Iseult, Isolde) and many, many others. The consort can also take many forms including the Green Man, Cernunnos or Tristan.

As Beltane marks this handfasting (wedding) of the Goddess and God, it too marks the reawakening of the earth’s fertility in its fullest. This is the union between the Great Mother and her Young Consort, this coupling brings new life on earth. It is on a Spiritual level, the unifying of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine to bring forth the third, consciousness. On the physical, it is the union of the Earth and Sun to bring about the fruitfulness of the growing season.

It is customary that trial unions, for a year and a day, occur at this time. More or less these were statements of intent between couples, which were not legally binding. The trial marriages (engagements) typically occurred between a couple before deciding to take a further step into a legally binding union. It seems ancient wisdom understood that one does not really know another until they have lived with them, and when you live together things change and we change, as well. With this understanding unions were entered upon, first as a test period, and then if desired, a further commitment could be taken. It through always knowing that it is only through the choice of both to remain, that the relationship exists favorably.

May, however, according to old folklore is not a favorable time for marriages in the legal and permanent sense. There is reference after reference in the old books of this belief, and according to my Irish grandmother, May is not the month to marry, woe is to had by those who do. I can understand the premise of this folklore, May is the Goddess and God’s handfasting month, all honor would be Hers and His.

Water is another important association of Beltane, water is refreshing and rejuvenating, it is also imperative to life. It is said that if you bathe in the dew gathered before dawn on Beltane morn, your beauty will flourish throughout the year. Those who are sprinkled with May dew are insured of health and happiness. There are other folk customs such as drinking from the well before sunrise on Beltane Morn to insure good health and fortune.

The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance, plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck. White is another color that is customary, white brings the energies of cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity. Another color is red who brings along the qualities of energy, strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane by the color yellow. Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies: expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks (Venus energies). Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind.

It is customary to bake a colorful fruit and spiced filled bread for festivals in the Celtic lands, traditionally this festival bread is sweet dough made with sweetmeat and spices. In Scotland they are the bannock – Bonnach Bealtain – for Beltane, in Wales – Bara Brith, Ireland it is Barm Brack and in Brittany Morlaix Brioche. For Beltane this bread was made the eve before Beltane day, is it said that the bread should not allow it to come into contact with steel during preparation (steel is harmful, deadly to the faery folk).

Bannocks are actually uncut scones originally cooked on a griddle. Wheat does not grow well in the Highlands, originally bannocks were made with oat or barley flour made into dough with little water and no leavening. Traditionally, a portion of the cake was burned or marked with ashes. The recipient of the burnt cake jumped over a small fire three times to purify and cleanse him or herself of any ill fortune. Offerings of bannocks and drink are traditionally left on doorsteps and roadways for the Faeries as an offering, in hope of faery blessings.

May is the month of sensuality and sexuality revitalized, the reawakening of the earth and Her Children. It is the time when we reawaken to the vivid colors, vibrant scents, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter. It is a time of extraordinary expression of earth, animal, and person a time of great enchantment and celebration.

The excitement and beauty of Beltane can not be better expressed than through the gaiety and joy of our children. There is not doubt “spring fever” hits at Beltane, and hits hard. Children are full of unbridled energy charged up and ready to go! Children always amplify the seasonal energies and the thrill of their change, they bring richness and merriment wherever they go.

It is the child’s unrestrained expression of bliss and delight that is what Beltane is all about. It is the sheer joy of running through fields, picking flowers, rapturing in the sunlight, delighting in the fragrance of spring, dancing in the fresh dew covered grass. Our children guide us through the natural abandonment of our adult sensibilities and show us how to take grand pleasure, warmth and bliss from the gift of Beltane.

Blessed Beltane to you and yours!

Christina Aubin
Beltaine 2000

Beltane — Holiday Details and History

Beltane — Holiday Details and History

Author: Christina Aubin 

Beltane is the last of the three spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc and Ostara. Beltane is the second principal Celtic festival (the other being Samhain). Celebrated approximately halfway between Vernal (spring) equinox and the midsummer (Summer Solstice). Beltane traditionally marked the arrival if summer in ancient times.

At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, whereas winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades rises at sunset. The Pleiades is a cluster of seven closely placed stars, the seven sisters, in the constellation of Taurus, near his shoulder. When looking for the Pleiades with the naked eye, remember it looks like a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars (the seventh can be seen on very dark nights) in the constellation of Taurus. It stands very low in the east-northeast sky for just a few minutes before sunrise.

Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its counter part, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again.

Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of “no time” when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic abounds! It is the time when the Faeries return from their winter respite, carefree and full of faery mischief and faery delight. On the night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches at their windows and doors for protection, many otherworldly occurrences could transpire during this time of “no time”. Traditionally on the Isle of Man, the youngest member of the family gathers primroses on the eve before Beltane and throws the flowers at the door of the home for protection. In Ireland it is believed that food left over from May Eve must not be eaten, but rather buried or left as an offering to the faery instead. Much like the tradition of leaving of whatever is not harvested from the fields on Samhain, food on the time of no time is treated with great care.

When the veils are so thin it is an extremely magical time, it is said that the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white horse. Roving about on Beltane eve She will try to entice people away to the Faeryland. Legend has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may see the Faery Queen or hear the sound of Her horse’s bells as She rides through the night. Legend says if you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look at Her, She may choose you. There is a Scottish ballad of this called Thomas the Rhymer, in which Thomas chooses to go the Faeryland with the Queen and has not been seen since.

Beltane has been an auspicious time throughout Celtic lore, it is said that the Tuatha de Danaan landed in north-west Connacht on Beltane. The Tuatha de Danaan, it is said, came from the North through the air in a mist to Ireland. After the invasion by the Milesians, the Tuatha faded into the Otherworld, the Sidhe, Tir na nOg.

The beginning of summer heralds an important time, for the winter is a difficult journey and weariness and disheartenment set in, personally one is tired down to the soul. In times past the food stocks were low; variety was a distant memory. The drab non-color of winter’s end perfectly represents the dullness and fatigue that permeates on so many levels to this day. We need Beltane, as the earth needs the sun, for our very Spirit cries out for the renewal of summer jubilation.

Beltane marks that the winter’s journey has passed and summer has begun, it is a festival of rapturous gaiety as it joyfully heralds the arrival of summer in her full garb. Beltane, however, is still a precarious time, the crops are still very young and tender, susceptible to frost and blight. As was the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Sun and His light, for the Earth will not produce without the warm love of the strong Sun. Fires, celebration and rituals were an important part of the Beltane festivities, as to insure that the warmth of the Sun’s light would promote the fecundity of the earth.

Beltane marks the passage into the growing season, the immediate rousing of the earth from her gently awakening slumber, a time when the pleasures of the earth and self are fully awakened. It signals a time when the bounty of the earth will once again be had. May is a time when flowers bloom, trees are green and life has again returned from the barren landscape of winter, to the hope of bountiful harvests, not too far away, and the lighthearted bliss that only summer can bring.

Beltane translated means “fire of Bel” or “bright fire” – the “bale-fire”. (English – bale; Anglo-Saxon bael; Lithuanian baltas (white)) Bel (Bel, Bile, Beli, Belinus, Belenos) is the known as the bright and shinning one, a Celtic Sun God. Beli is the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess.

Beltane is the time of the yearly battle between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythur ap Greidawl for Creudylad in Welsh mythology. Gwyn ap Nudd the Wild Huntsman of Wales, he is a God of death and the Annwn. Creudylad is the daughter of Lludd (Nudd) of the Silver Hand (son of Beli). She is the most beautiful maiden of the Island of Mighty. A myth of the battle of winter and summer for the magnificent blossoming earth.

In the myth of Rhiannion and Pwyll, it is the evening of Beltane, that Rhiannon gives birth to their son. The midwives all fell asleep at the same time, as they were watching over Rhiannon and her new baby, during which he was taken. In order to protect themselves, they smeared blood (from a pup) all over Rhiannon, to which they claim she had eaten her son. The midwives were believed, and Rhiannon was forced to pay penance for seven years. She had to carrying people on her back from the outside of the gate to the palace, although rarely would any allow her to do so. The baby’s whereabouts were a mystery. Oddly, every Beltane night, one of Pwyll’s vassals, Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, had a mare that gave birth but the colt disappeared. One Beltane night Teirnyon Twryv Vliant awaited in the barn for the mare to foaled, when she did, he heard a tremendous noise and a clawed arm came through the window and grabbed the colt. Teirnyon cut off the arm with his sword, and then heard a wailing. He opened the door and found a baby, he brought it to his wife and they adopted Gwri Wallt Euryn (Gwri of the Golden Hair). As he grew he looked like Pwyll and they remembered they found him on the night Rhiannon’s baby became lost. Teirnyon brought Gwri of the Golden Hair to the castle, told the story, and he was adopted back to his parents, Rhiannon and Pwyll, and and named by the head druid, Pryderi (trouble) from the first word his mother had said when he was restored to her. “Trouble is, indeed, at an end for me, if this be true”.

This myth illustrates the precariousness of the Beltane season, at the threshold of Summer, the earth awakening, winter can still reach its long arm in and snatch the Sun away (Gwri of the Golden hair). “Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out” (clout: Old English for cloth/clothing). If indeed the return of summer is true than the trouble (winter) is certainly over, however one must be vigilant.

On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: “Eadar da theine Bhealltuinn” – “Between two Beltane fires”.

The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.

Celebration includes frolicking throughout the countryside, maypole dancing, leaping over fires to ensure fertility, circling the fire three times (sun-wise) for good luck in the coming year, athletic tournaments feasting, music, drinking, children collecting the May: gathering flowers. children gathering flowers, hobby horses, May birching and folks go a maying”. Flowers, flower wreaths and garlands are typical decorations for this holiday, as well as ribbons and streamers. Flowers are a crucial symbol of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring.

May birching or May boughing, began on Beltane Eve, it is said that young men fastened garland and boughs on the windows and doors of the young maidens upon which their sweet interest laid. Mountain ash leaves and Hawthorne branches meant indicated love whereas thorn meant disdain. This perhaps, is the forerunner of old May Day custom of hanging bouquets hooked on one’s doorknob?

Young men and women wandered into the woods before daybreak of May Day morning with garlands of flowers and/or branches of trees. They would arrive; most rumpled from joyous encounters, in many areas with the maypole for the Beltane celebrations. Pre-Christian society’s thoughts on human sexuality and fertility were not bound up in guilt and sin, but rather joyous in the less restraint expression of human passions. Life was not an exercise but rather a joyful dance, rich in all beauty it can afford.

In ancient Ireland there was a Sacred Tree named Bile, which was the center of the clan, or Tuatha. As the Irish Tree of Life, the Bile Pole, represents the connection between the people and the three worlds of Bith: The Skyworld (heavens), The Middleworld (our world), and The Otherworld. Although no longer the center life, the Bile pole has survived as the Beltane Maypole.

The Maypole is an important element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The circle of dancers should begin, as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allows, so the ribbons are taut. There should be an even number of boys & girls. Boys should be facing clockwise and girls counterclockwise. They each move in the direction that they are facing, weaving with the next, around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. Those passing on the inside will have to duck, those passing on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over. As the dances revolve around the pole the ribbons will weave creating a pattern, it is said that the pattern will indicate the abundance of harvest year.

In some areas there are permanent Maypoles, perhaps a recollection of ancient clan Bile Pole memory. In other areas a new Maypole is brought down on Beltane Eve out from the wood. Even the classical wood can vary according to the area tradition is pulled from, most frequently it seems to be birch as “the wood”, but others are mentioned in various historical documents.

Today in some towns and villages a mummer called Jack in the Green (drawing from the Green man), wears a costume made of green leaves as he dances around the May pole. Mumming is a dramatic performance of exaggerated characters and at Beltane the characters include Jack in the Green and the Fool. The Fool, and the Fool’s journey, symbolism can be understood in relation to Beltane as it is the beginning of beginnings, the emergence from the void of nothingness (winter), as one can also see the role of the green man as the re-greening of the world.

Traditionally in many areas Morris dancers can be found dancing around the Maypole. Morris dancing can be found in church records in Thame England going back to 1555. Morris dancing is thought to have originated many centuries ago as part of ancient religious ceremonies, however it seems that Morris dancing became associated with Mayday during the Tudor times, and its originating history is not all that easily traced, as is the way with many traditions.

The Maypole dance as an important aspect of encouraging the return of fertility to the earth. The pole itself is not only phallic in symbolism but also is the connector of the three worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth’s womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.

In Padstow, Cornwall, Beltane morning a procession is led by the “obby oss” a costumed horse figure, in a large circular banded frock and mask. The procession is full of song, drums and accordions. Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University points out that the first account of the Padstow May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss revelries was written in 1803. He offers evidence however that, like English Morris Dancing, its origins lie in English medieval times. This does not discount the possibility that its roots lay in the foundation of the fertility rites of Beltane, a more politically correct transmutation of fertility acts.

There is also a Queen of May. She is said in many areas to have worn a gold crown with a single, gold leaf at its front, in other areas her crown was made of fresh flowers. She was typically chosen at the start of the Beltane festival, which in time past was after sundown on the eve before Beltane day. Many accounts mention both a May Queen and King being chosen, whom would reign from sundown the eve before the Beltane day to sunset on Beltane. Among their duties would be to announce the Beltane games and award the prizes to the victors. The rudimentary base of this practice can be drawn back to the roots of Beltane festivities, the union of the Goddess and Her Consort, the joining of earth and sun, the endowment of summer. The Goddess has many guises: Danu – The Great Mother, Blodeuwedd (the Flower Bride), Isolt (Iseult, Isolde) and many, many others. The consort can also take many forms including the Green Man, Cernunnos or Tristan.

As Beltane marks this handfasting (wedding) of the Goddess and God, it too marks the reawakening of the earth’s fertility in its fullest. This is the union between the Great Mother and her Young Consort, this coupling brings new life on earth. It is on a Spiritual level, the unifying of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine to bring forth the third, consciousness. On the physical, it is the union of the Earth and Sun to bring about the fruitfulness of the growing season.

It is customary that trial unions, for a year and a day, occur at this time. More or less these were statements of intent between couples, which were not legally binding. The trial marriages (engagements) typically occurred between a couple before deciding to take a further step into a legally binding union. It seems ancient wisdom understood that one does not really know another until they have lived with them, and when you live together things change and we change, as well. With this understanding unions were entered upon, first as a test period, and then if desired, a further commitment could be taken. It through always knowing that it is only through the choice of both to remain, that the relationship exists favorably.

May, however, according to old folklore is not a favorable time for marriages in the legal and permanent sense. There is reference after reference in the old books of this belief, and according to my Irish grandmother, May is not the month to marry, woe is to had by those who do. I can understand the premise of this folklore, May is the Goddess and God’s handfasting month, all honor would be Hers and His.

Water is another important association of Beltane, water is refreshing and rejuvenating, it is also imperative to life. It is said that if you bathe in the dew gathered before dawn on Beltane morn, your beauty will flourish throughout the year. Those who are sprinkled with May dew are insured of health and happiness. There are other folk customs such as drinking from the well before sunrise on Beltane Morn to insure good health and fortune.

The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance, plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck. White is another color that is customary, white brings the energies of cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity. Another color is red who brings along the qualities of energy, strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane by the color yellow. Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies: expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks (Venus energies). Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind.

It is customary to bake a colorful fruit and spiced filled bread for festivals in the Celtic lands, traditionally this festival bread is sweet dough made with sweetmeat and spices. In Scotland they are the bannock – Bonnach Bealtain – for Beltane, in Wales – Bara Brith, Ireland it is Barm Brack and in Brittany Morlaix Brioche. For Beltane this bread was made the eve before Beltane day, is it said that the bread should not allow it to come into contact with steel during preparation (steel is harmful, deadly to the faery folk).

Bannocks are actually uncut scones originally cooked on a griddle. Wheat does not grow well in the Highlands, originally bannocks were made with oat or barley flour made into dough with little water and no leavening. Traditionally, a portion of the cake was burned or marked with ashes. The recipient of the burnt cake jumped over a small fire three times to purify and cleanse him or herself of any ill fortune. Offerings of bannocks and drink are traditionally left on doorsteps and roadways for the Faeries as an offering, in hope of faery blessings.

May is the month of sensuality and sexuality revitalized, the reawakening of the earth and Her Children. It is the time when we reawaken to the vivid colors, vibrant scents, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter. It is a time of extraordinary expression of earth, animal, and person a time of great enchantment and celebration.

The excitement and beauty of Beltane can not be better expressed than through the gaiety and joy of our children. There is not doubt “spring fever” hits at Beltane, and hits hard. Children are full of unbridled energy charged up and ready to go! Children always amplify the seasonal energies and the thrill of their change, they bring richness and merriment wherever they go.

It is the child’s unrestrained expression of bliss and delight that is what Beltane is all about. It is the sheer joy of running through fields, picking flowers, rapturing in the sunlight, delighting in the fragrance of spring, dancing in the fresh dew covered grass. Our children guide us through the natural abandonment of our adult sensibilities and show us how to take grand pleasure, warmth and bliss from the gift of Beltane.

Blessed Beltane to you and yours!

Christina Aubin

Hawthorn Tree

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Over a century ago, the musical play H.M.S. Pinafore debuted on the London stage. On of the songs from the score insisted that “Things are seldom what they seem.” These words personify the hawthorn–a tree that in folklore, is much more than what it seems. Even in modern Ireland you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to move or harm one for fear of upsetting the capricious fairy sprites who call it home.

When you need to know what is what, call upon the spirit of the hawthorn to assist you:

Fairies of the hawthorn I ask,

A favor and simple task;

Show me what is false and true,

And I will give a gift to you.

When you’ve received a vision of your answer, tie a pretty ribbon on the bush or plant a coin near its base in thanks.

Copyright Edian McCOy Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2004 Page 67

Handfasting: An Ancient Irish Wedding Tradition

by Pat Friend

Handfasting is an ancient Celtic custom, especially common in Ireland and Scotland, in which a man and woman came together at the start of their marriage relationship. Their hands, or more accurately, their wrists, were literally tied together. This practice gave way to the expression “tying the knot” which has come to mean getting married or engaged.

The handfasting ritual recognized just one of many forms of marriages permitted under the ancient Irish (Brehon) law. The man and woman who came together for the handfasting agreed to stay together for a specific period of time, usually a year-and-a-day. At the end of the year the couple faced a choice. They could enter into a longer-term “permanent” marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.

The custom hails from the pre-Christian era but continued after Christianity was well established because it was not ordinary for either the Church or government to play a role in witnessing marriages during this period. (Even though Marriage was one of the seven sacraments, it wasn’t until the Council of Trent, which began in 1537, that the Church required that the Church witness marriages. Government registration of marriages in Ireland only began in the middle of the 19th century.)

It is important to understand the view of the Brehon Law on marriage to see the importance of handfasting. In an article entitled Marriage, Separation and Divorce in Ancient Gaelic Culture, Alix Morgan MacAnTsaior points out that marriage was seen as a contract intended to first protect the individual and property rights of the parties (and their families) and secondly to ensure that any children born of the union were properly recognized and cared for.

If the couple decided to separate at the end of the year (or at any other time) Brehon law specified how their property would be divided. More importantly, it established the recognition of the inheritance rights of any child conceived during the time of the handfasting union.

Lughnasadh, the August 1st Celtic festival, was one time of the year when handfastings often took place. These unions were known as “Teltown marriages” because men and women came together at the festival at Teltown, Co. Meath, often not knowing in advance who their partner would be. They remained together through the year and if necessary, parted company at the festival in following year.

Handfasting survives in several forms today. It is present in part in many Western religious and secular ceremonies as the celebrant asks, “Who gives this woman to be married?” The giving of the bride’s hand to the groom is reminiscent of the handfasting ceremony. Handfasting is also the marriage rite practiced by pagan and Wiccan groups.

 

Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – Rise of the Green Man

Celtic & British Isles Graphics
The Green Man

(Symbol of Rebirth)

 

The Green Man is represented in many cultures throughout the world as a head made of foliage. he is also known as the ‘Man in the Tree’, ‘Derg Corra, Viridios’ and ‘Jack o’the Green.

He relates to Celtic culture and can still be seen today on architecture around Ireland and Britain, usually on religious buildings.

A symbol of rebirth

The Green Man represents the lushness of flourishing vegetation and the coming of spring and summer and is a symbol of rebirth and possibly the co-dependence between nature and man.

He appears as many characters in different mythologies. Since plants and vegetation are vital to life on earth, it makes sense that nearly every culture would have a deity devoted to it. In Celtic mythology he could be related to both Cernunnos, the horned god and Viridios the male god of verdure.

Some historians believe that the human head was of particular importance to the Celts as it was container of the soul. In fact the Celts were known for taking heads as trophies in battle and heads appear frequently in Celtic art.

Source: Ireland Calling

 

So What Do You Think – Saint Patrick and the Snakes

Celtic & British Isles Graphics

St. Patrick and the Pagan Snakes of Ireland

St. Patrick is known as a symbol of Ireland, particularly around every March. One of the reasons he’s so famous is because he supposedly drove the snakes out of Ireland, and was even credited with a miracle for this. Some people believe that the serpent was actually a metaphor for the early Pagan faiths of Ireland. He did not physically drive the Pagans from Ireland, but instead St. Patrick helped to spread Christianity around the Emerald Isle. He did such a good job of it that he began the conversion of the entire country to the new religious beliefs, thus paving the way for the elimination of the old systems. Keep in mind that this was a process which took hundreds of years to complete.

Over the past few years, however, many people have worked to debunk the theory of Patrick driving early Paganism out of Ireland. Paganism was active and well in Ireland both before and after Patrick came along, according to scholar Ronald Hutton, who says in his book Blood & Mistletoe: A Pagan History of Britain, that “the importance of Druids in countering [Patrick’s] missionary work was inflated in later centuries under the influence of biblical parallels, and that Patrick’s visit to Tara was given a pivotal importance that it never possessed…

Pagan author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus says,St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE.” He goes on to add that Irish colonists in numerous areas around Cornwall and sub-Roman Britain had already come into encountered Christianity elsewhere, and brought bits and pieces of the religion back to their homelands.

And while it’s true that snakes are hard to find in Ireland, this may well be due to the fact that it’s an island, and so snakes aren’t exactly migrating there in packs.

The real St. Patrick was believed by historians to have been born around 370 c.e., probably in Wales or Scotland. Most likely, his birth name was Maewyn, and he was probably the son of a Roman Briton named Calpurnius. As a teen, Maewyn was captured during a raid and sold to an Irish landowner as a slave. During his time in Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd, Maewyn began to have religious visions and dreams — including one in which showed him how to escape captivity. Once back in Britain, Maewyn moved on to France, where he studied in a monastery. Eventually, he returned to Ireland to “care and labour for the salvation of others”, according to The Confession of St. Patrick, and changed his name to Patrick, which means “father of the people.”

Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many places on March 17, typically with a parade (an oddly American invention) and lots of other festivities. However, some modern Pagans refuse to observe a day which honors the elimination of an old religion in favor of a new one. It’s not uncommon to see Pagans wearing some sort of snake symbol on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of those green “Kiss Me I’m Irish” badges. If you’re not sure about wearing a snake on your lapel, you can always jazz up your front door with a Spring Snake Wreath instead!

 

 

By Patti Wigington, Pagan/Wicca Expert

Article found on & owned by About.com

 

The Derwydd or Philosophers of the Druids

THE DERWYDD, OR PHILOSOPHERS.

DRUIDISM was a religion of philosophy; its high-priests were men of learning and science.

Under the head of the Ovydd, I shall describe their initiatory and sacrificial rites, and shall now merely consider their acquirements, as instructors, as mathematicians, as law-givers and as physicians.

Ammianus Marcellinus informs us that the Druids dwelt together in fraternities, and indeed it is scarcely possible that they could have lectured in almost every kind of philosophy and preserved their arcana from the vulgar, unless they had been accustomed to live in some kind of convent or college.

They were too wise, however, to immure themselves wholly in one corner of the land, where they would have exercised no more influence upon the nation than the Heads and Fellows of our present universities. While some lived the lives of hermits in caves and in hollow oaks within the dark recesses of the holy forests; while others lived peaceably in their college-home, teaching the bardic verses to children, to the young nobles, and to the students who came to them from a strange country across the sea, there were others who led an active and turbulent existence at court in the councils of the state and in the halls of nobles.

In Gaul, the chief seminaries of the Druids was in the country of the Carnutes between Chartres and Dreux, to which at one time scholars resorted in such numbers that they were obliged to build other academies in various parts of the land, vestiges of which exist to this day, and of which the ancient College of Guienne is said to be one.

When their power began to totter in their own country, the young Druids resorted to Mona, now Anglesea, in which was the great British university, and in which there is a spot called Myrfyrion, the seat of studies.

The Druidic precepts were all in verses, which amounted to 20,000 in number, and which it was forbidden to write. Consequently a long course of preparatory study was required, and some spent so much as twenty years in a state of probation.

These verses were in rhyme, which the Druids invented to assist the memory, and in a triplet form from the veneration which was paid to the number three by all the nations of antiquity.

In this the Jews resembled the Druids, for although they had received the written law of Moses, there was a certain code of precept among them which was taught by mouth alone, and in which those who were the most learned were elevated to the Rabbi.

The mode of teaching by memory was also practised by the Egyptians and by Lycurgus, who esteemed it better to imprint his laws on the minds of the Spartan citizens than to engrave them upon tablets. So, too, were Numa’s sacred writing buried with him by his orders, in compliance perhaps with the opinions of his friend Pythagoras who, as well as Socrates, left nothing behind him committed to writing.

It was Socrates, in fact, who compared written doctrines to pictures of animals which resemble life, but which when you question them can give you no reply.

But we who love the past have to lament this system. When Cambyses destroyed the temples of Egypt, when the disciples of Pythagoras died in the Meta-pontine tumults, all their mysteries and all their learning died with them.

So also the secrets of the Magi, the Orpheans and the Cabiri perished with their institutions, and it is owing to this law of the Druids that we have only the meagre evidence of ancient authors and the obscure emblems of the Welsh Bards, and the faint vestiges of their mighty monuments to teach us concerning the powers and direction of their philosophy.

There can be no doubt that they were profoundly learned. For ordinary purposes of writing, and in the keeping of their accounts on the Alexandrian method, they used the ancient Greek character of which Cadmus, a Phœnician, and Timagines, a Druid, were said to have been the inventors and to have imported into Greece.

This is a fac-simile of their alphabet as preserved in the Thesaurus Muratori. Vol IV. 2093.

Both in the universities of the Hebrews, which existed from the earliest times, and in those of the Brachmans it was not permitted to study philosophy and the sciences, except so far as they might assist the student in the perusal and comprehension of the sacred writings. But a more liberal system existed among the Druids, who were skilled in all the arts and in foreign languages.

For instance, there was Abaris, a Druid and a native of the Shetland Isles who traveled into Greece, where he formed a friendship with Pythagoras and where his learning, his politeness, his shrewdness, and expedition in business, and above all, the ease and elegance with which he spoke the Athenian tongue, and which (so said the orator Himerius) would have made one believe that he had been brought up in the academy or the Lycceum, created for him as great a sensation as that which was afterwards made by the admirable Crichton among the learned doctors of Paris.

It can easily be proved that the science of astronomy was not unknown to the Druids. One of their temples in the island of Lewis in the Hebrides, bears evident signs of their skill in the science. Every stone in the temple is placed astronomically. The circle consists of twelve equistant obelisks denoting the twelve signs of the zodiac. The four cardinal points of the compass are marked by lines of obelisks running out from the circle, and at each point subdivided into four more. The range of obelisks from north, and exactly facing the south is double, being two parallel rows each consisting of nineteen stones. A large stone in the centre of the circle, thirteen feet high, and of the perfect shape of a ship’s rudder would seem as a symbol of their knowledge of astronomy being made subservient to navigation, and the Celtic word for star, ruth-iul, “a-guide-to-direct-the-course,” proves such to have been the case.

This is supposed to have been the winged temple which Erastosthenes says that Apollo had among the Hyperboreans–a name which the Greeks applied to all nations dwelling north of the Pillars of Hercules.

But what is still more extraordinary, Hecateus makes mention that the inhabitants of a certain Hyperborian island, little less than Sicily, and over against Celtiberia–a description answering exactly to that of Britain–could bring the moon so near them as to show the mountains and rocks, and other appearances upon its surface.

According to Strabo and Bochart, glass was a discovery of the Phoenicians and a staple commodity of their trade, but we have some ground for believing that our philosophers bestowed rather than borrowed this invention.

Pieces of glass and crystal have been found in the cairns, as if in honor to those who invented it; the process of vitrifying the very walls of their houses, which is still to be seen in the Highlands prove that they possessed the art in the gross; and the Gaelic name for glass is not of foreign but of Celtic extraction, being glasine and derived from glas-theine, glued or brightened by fire.

We have many wonderful proofs of the skill in mechanics. The clacha-brath, or rocking-stones, were spherical stones of an enormous size, and were raised upon other flat stones into which they inserted a small prominence fitting the cavity so exactly, and so concealed by loose stones lying around it, that nobody could discern the artifice. Thus these globes were balanced so that the slightest touch would make them vibrate, while anything of greater weight pressing against the side of the cavity rendered them immovable.

In Iona, the last asylum of the Caledonian Druids, many of these clacha-brath (one of which is mentioned in Ptolemy Hephestion’s History, Lib. iii. cap 3.) were to be found at the beginning of this century, and although the superstitious natives defaced them and turned them over into the sea, they considered it necessary to have something of the kind in their stead, and have substituted for them rough stone balls which they call by the same name.

In Stonehenge, too, we find an example of that oriental mechanism which is displayed so stupendously in the pyramids of Egypt. Here stones of thirty or forty tons that must have been a draught for a herd of oxen, have been carried the distance of sixteen computed miles and raised to a vast height, and placed in their beds with such ease that their very mortises were made to tally.

The temples of Abury in Wiltshire, and of Carnac in Brittany, though less perfect, are even more prodigious monuments of art.

It is scarcely to be wondered at that the Druids should be acquainted with the properties of gunpowder, since we know that it was used in the mysteries of Isis, in the temple of Delphi, and by the old Chinese philosophers.

Lucan in his description of a grove near Marseilles, writes:–“There is a report that the grove is often shaken and strangely moved, and that dreadful sounds are heard from its caverns; and that it is sometimes in a blaze without being consumed.”

In Ossian’s poem of Dargo the son of the Druid of Bet, similar phenomenon are mentioned, and while the Celtic word lightning is De’lanach, “the flash or flame of God,” they had another word which expresses a flash that is quick and sudden as lightning–Druilanach, “the flame of the Druids.”

It would have been fortunate for mankind had the monks of the middle ages displayed the wisdom of these ancient priests in concealing from fools and madmen so dangerous an art.

All such knowledge was carefully retained within the holy circle of their dark caves and forests and which the initiated were bound by a solemn oath never to reveal.

I will now consider the Druids of active life-the preachers, the law-givers, and the physicians.

On the seventh day, like the first patriarchs, they preached to the warriors and their wives from small round eminences, several of which yet remain in different parts of Britain.

Their doctrines were delivered with a surpassing eloquence and in triplet verses, many specimens which are to be found in the Welsh poetry but of which these two only have been preserved by the classical authors.

The first in Pomponius Mela.

“Ut forent ad bella meliores,
Æternas esse animas,
Vitamque alteram ad manes.”

“To act bravely in war,
That souls are immortal,
And there is another life after death.”

The second in Diogenes Laertius.

“To worship the Gods,
And to do no evil,
And to exercise fortitude.”

Once every year a public assembly of the nation was held in Mona at the residence of the Arch-Druid, and there silence was no less rigidly imposed than in the councils of the Rabbi and the Brachmans. If any one interrupted the orator, a large piece of his robe was cut off–if after that he offended, he was punished with death. To enforce Punctuality, like the Cigonii of Pliny, they had the cruel custom of cutting to pieces the one who came last. Their laws, like their religious precepts, were at first esteemed too sacred to be committed to writing-the first written laws being those of Dyrnwal Moelmud, King of Britain, about 440 B. c. and called the Moelmutian laws; for these were substituted the Mercian code or the laws of Martia, Queen of England, which was afterwards adopted by King Alfred and translated by him into Saxon.

The Manksmen also ascribe to the Druids those excellent laws by which the Isle of Man has always been governed.

The Magistrates of Britain were but tools of the Druids, appointed by them and educated by them also; for it was a law in Britain that no one might hold office who had not been educated by the Druids.

The Druids held annual assizes in different parts of Britain (for instance at the monument called Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumberland and at the Valley of Stones in Cornwall) as Samuel visited Bethel and Gilgal once a year to dispense justice.

There they heard appeals from the minor courts, and investigated the more intricate cases, which sometimes they were obliged to settle by ordeal. The rocking-stones which I have just described, and the walking barefoot through a fire which they lighted on the summit of some holy hill and called Samb’in, or the fire of peace, were their two chief methods of testing the innocence of the criminal, and in which they were imitated by the less ingenious and perhaps less conscientious judges of later days.

For previous to the ordeal which they named Gabha Bheil, or “the trial of Beil,” the Druids used every endeavor to discover the real merits of the case, in order that they might decide upon the verdict of Heaven–that is to say, which side of the stone they should press, or whether they should anoint his feet with that oil which the Hindoo priests use in their religious festivals, and which enables the barefoot to pass over the burning wood unscathed.

We may smile at another profanity of the Druids who constituted themselves judges not only of the body but of the soul.

But as Mohammed inspired his soldiers with sublime courage by promising Paradise to those who found a death-bed upon the corpses of their foes, so the very superstitions, the very frauds of these noble Druids tended to elevate the hearts of men towards their God, and to make them lead virtuous lives that they might merit the sweet fields of Fla’innis, the heaven of their tribe.

Never before since the world, has such vast power as the Druids possessed been wielded with such purity, such temperance, such discretion.

When a man died a platter of earth and salt was placed upon his breast, as is still the custom in Wales and in the North of Britain.

The earth an emblem of incorruptibility of the body–the salt an emblem of the incorruptibility of the soul.

A kind of court was then assembled round the corpse, and by the evidence of those with whom he had been best acquainted, it was decided with what funeral rites he should be honored.

If he had distinguished himself as a warrior, or as man of science, it was recorded in the death-song; a cairn or pile of sacred stones was raised over him, and his arms and tools or other symbols of his profession were buried with him.

If his life had been honorable, and if he had obeyed the three grand articles of religion, the bard sang his requiem on the harp, whose beautiful music alone was a pass-port to heaven.

It is a charming idea, is it not? The soul lingering for the first strain which might release it from the cold corpse, and mingle with its silent ascent to God.

Read how the heroes of Ossian longed for this funereal hymn without which their souls, pale and sad as those which haunted the banks of the Styx, were doomed to wander through the mists of some dreary fen.

When this hymn had been sung, the friends and relatives of the deceased made great rejoicings, and this it was that originated those sombre merry-makings so peculiar to the Scotch and Irish funerals.

In the philosophy of medicine, the Derwydd were no less skilled than in sciences and letters. They knew that by means of this divine art they would possess the hearts as well as the minds of men, and obtain not only the awe of the ignorant but also the love of those whose lives they had preserved.

Their sovereign remedy was the missoldine or mistletoe of the oak which, in Wales, still bears its ancient name of Oll-iach, or all-heal, with those of Pren-awr, the celestial tree, and Uchelwydd, the lofty shrub.

When the winter has come and the giant of the forest is deserted by its leaves and extends its withered arms to the sky, a divine hand sheds upon it from heaven a mysterious seed, and a delicate green plant sprouts from the bark, and thus is born while all around is dying and decayed.

We need not wonder that the mistletoe should be revered as a heaven-born plant, and as a type of God’s promise and consolation to those who were fainting on death’s threshold in the winter of old age.

When the new year approached, the Druids beset themselves to discover this plant upon an oak, on which tree it grows less frequently than upon the ash-crab or apple tree. Having succeeded, and as soon as the moon was six days old, they marched by night with great solemnity towards the spot, inviting all to join their procession with these words: The New Year is at hand: let us gather the mistletoe.

First marched the Ovades in their green sacrificial robes leading two milk-white bullocks. Next came the bards singing the praises of the Mighty Essence, in raiment blue as the heavens to which their hymn ascended. Then a herald clothed in white with two wings drooping down on each side of his head, and a branch of vervain in his hand encircled by two serpents. He was followed by three Derwydd–one of whom carried the sacrificial bread–another a vase of water-and the third a white wand. Lastly, the Arch-Druid, distinguished by the tuft or tassel to his cap, by the bands hanging from his throat, by the sceptre in his hand and by the golden crescent on his breast, surrounded by the whole body of the Derwydd and humbly followed by the noblest warriors of the land.

An altar of rough stones was erected under the oak, and the Arch-Druid, having sacramentally distributed the bread and wine, would climb the tree, cut the mistletoe with a golden knife, wrap it in a pure white cloth, slay and sacrifice the bullocks, and pray to God to remove his curse from barren women, and to permit their medicines to serve as antidotes for poisons and charms from all misfortunes.

They used the mistletoe as an ingredient in almost all their medicines, and a powder was made from the berries for cases of sterility.

It is a strong purgative well suited to the lusty constitutions of the ancient Britons, but, like bleeding, too powerful a remedy for modern ailments.

With all the herbs which they used for medicine, there were certain mummeries to be observed while they were gathered, which however were not without their object-first in enhancing the faith of the vulgar by exciting their superstitions-and also in case of failure that the patient might be reproached for blundering instead of a physician.

The vervain was to be gathered at the rise of the dog-star, neither sun nor moon shining at the time; it was to be dug tip with an iron instrument and to be waved aloft in the air, the left hand only being used.

The leaves, stalks and flowers were dried separately in the shade and were used for the bites of serpents, infused in wine.

The samulos which grew in damp places was to be gathered by a person fasting-without looking behind him-and with his left hand. It was laid into troughs and cisterns where cattle drank, and when bruised was a cure for various distempers.

The selago, a kind of hedge hyssop, was a charm as well as a medicine. He who gathered it was to be clothed in white-to bathe his feet in running water-to offer a sacrifice of bread and wine-and then with his right hand covered by the skirt of his robe, and with a brazen hook to dig it up by the roots and wrap it in a white cloth.

Prominent among the juggleries of the Druids, stands the serpent’s egg–the ovus anguinum of Pliny–the glein neidr of the ancient Britons-the adderstone of modern folk-lore.

It was supposed to have been formed by a multitude of serpents close entwined together, and by the frothy saliva that proceeded from their throats. When it was made, it was raised up in the air by their combined hissing, and to render it efficacious it was to be caught in a clean white cloth before it could fall to the ground-for in Druidism that which touched the ground was polluted. He who performed this ingenious task was obliged to mount a swift horse, and to ride away at full speed pursued by the serpents from whom he was not safe till he had crossed a river.

The Druids tested its virtue by encasing it in gold, and throwing it into a river. If it swam against the stream it would render it possessor superior to his adversaries in all disputes, and obtain for him the friendship of great men.

The implicit belief placed in this fable is curiously exemplified by the fact of a Roman Knight of the Vocontii, while pleading his own cause in a law suit was discovered with one of these charms in his breast and was put to death upon the spot.

Their reverence for the serpent’s egg has its origin in their mythology. Like the Phœnicians and Egyptians, they represented the creation by the figure of an egg coming out of a serpent’s mouth, and it was doubtless the excessive credulity of the barbarians which tempted them to invent the above fable that they might obtain high prices for these amulets, many of which have been discovered in Druidic barrows, and are still to be met with in the Highlands, where a belief in their power has not yet subsided; for it is no uncommon thing when a distemper rages among men or beasts, for the Glass-physician to be sent for from as great a distance as fifty miles.

These eggs are made of some kind of glass or earth glazed over, and are sometimes blue, green, or white, and sometimes variegated with all these colors intermixed.

For mental disorders and some physical complaints they used to prescribe pilgrimages to certain wells, always situated at a distance from the patient, and the waters of which were to be drunk and bathed in. With these ablutions, sacred as those of the Musselmen, were mingled religious ceremonies with a view to remind them of the presence of that God who alone could relieve them from their infirmities. After reaching the wells, they bathed thrice-that mysterious number-and walked three times round the well, deis’iul, in the same direction as the course of the sun, also turning and bowing from East to West.

These journeys were generally performed before harvest, at which time the modern Arabs go through a series of severe purgings, and when English laborers, twenty years ago, used systematically to go to the market town to be bled.

The season of the year–the exercise–the mineral in the water-above all the strong faith of the patients effected so many real cures that in time it became a custom (still observed in Scotland with the well of Strathfillan and in many parts of Ireland) for all who were afflicted with any disorder to perform an annual pilgrimage to these holy wells.

Caithbaid, an Irish historian, speaks of the Druid Trosdan who discovered an antidote for poisoned arrows, and there are many instances on record of the medicinal triumphs of the Druids.

They were more anxious to prevent disease than to cure them, and issued many maxims relating to the care of the body, as wise as those which appertained to the soul were divine.

Of these I will give you one which should be written in letters of Gold.

Bi gu sugach geanmnaidh mocher’ each.

“Cheerfulness, temperance and early rising.

 

From the Book

THE VEIL OF ISIS; OR, MYSTERIES OF THE DRUIDS

BY W. WINWOOD READE.

DRUIDICAL MAGIC

DRUIDICAL MAGIC.

As to magical arts, exercised by Druids and Druidesses, the ancient Irish MSS. are full of stories about them. Joyce has said, “The Gaelic word for Druidical is almost always applied where we should use the word magical–to spells, incantations, metamorphoses, &c” Not even China at the present day is more given to charms and spells than was Ireland of old. Constant application of Druidic arts upon the individual must have given a sadness and terror to life, continuing long after the Druid had been supplanted.

It was a comfort to know that magician could be pitted against magician, and that though one might turn a person into a swan or horse, another could turn him back again.

Yet, the chewing of one’s thumb was sometimes as effectual a disenchanter as the elevation or marking of the cross in subsequent centuries. Thus, when Fionn was once invited to take a seat beside a fair lady on her way to a palace, he, having some suspicion, put his thumb between his teeth, and she immediately changed into an ugly old hag with evil in her heart. That was a simple mode of detection, but may have been efficacious only in the case of such a hero as Fionn. Certainly, many a bad spirit would be expelled, in a rising quarrel, if one party were wise enough to put his thumb between his teeth.

Charm-mongers, who could take off a spell, must have been popular characters, and as useful as wart-removers. It is a pity, however, that the sacred salmon which used to frequent the Boyne is missing now, when examinations are so necessary, as he or she who bit a piece forgot nothing ever after. Balar, the Fomorian King, was a good-natured fellow, for, finding that a glance from his right eye caused death to a subject, he kept that eye constantly closed.

One way of calling spirits from the deep, to do one’s will, was to go to sleep with the palms of both hands upon the cheek. The magic cauldron was not in such requirement as with the Welsh. But it was a Druidic trick to take an idol to bed, lay the hands to the face, and discover the secret of a riddle in dreams. Another trick reminds one of the skill of modern spiritualistic mediums, who could discover the history of a man by a piece of his coat; for, Cormac read the whole life of a dog from the skull.

Healing powers were magical. Our forefathers fancied that a part of enjoyment in heaven was fighting by day and feasting at night, the head cut off in daylight conflict resuming its position when the evening table was spread. The rival forces of Fomorians and Danaans had Druids, whose special work was to heal the wounded at night, so as to be ready for the next morning’s battle.

In the Story of Deirdri it is written, “As Conor saw this, he went to Cathbad the Druid, and said to him, ‘Go, Cathbad, unto the sons of Usnach, and play Druidism upon them.'” This was done. “He had recourse to his intelligence and art to restrain the children of Usnach, so that he laid them under enchantment, that is, by putting around them a viscid sea of whelming waves.”

Nothing was more common than the raising of Druidic fogs. It would be easier to do that in Ireland or Scotland than in Australia. The Story of Cu speaks of a King Brudin who “made a black fog of Druidism” by his draoidheacht, or magic. Druidic winds were blasting, as they came from the East. The Children of Lir were made to wander on the Irish Sea till the land became Christian.

A wonderful story in an old MS. respecting Diarmuid is connected with the threatened divorce of the lovely Mughain, as no prince had appeared to her husband the King. “On this,” says the chronicler, “the Queen went to Finnen, a Magus (Druid) of Baal or Belus, and to Easbad, named Aedha, son of Beg, and told them she was barren. The Reataire (chief Druids) then consecrated some water, of which she drank, and conceived; and the produce of her womb was a white lamb. ‘Woe is me!’ said Mughain,’ to bring forth a four-footed beast.’ ‘Not so,’ replied Finnen, for your womb is thereby sanctified, and the lamb must be sacrificed as your first-born.’ The priests blessed the water for her, she drank, and conceived. Say the priests, ‘You shall now bring forth a son, and he shall be King over Ireland.’ Then Finnen and Easbad Aedha blessed the Queen and the seed of her loins, and giving her more consecrated water, she drank of it, and called his name Aedh Slaines, because he was saved from the sacrifice.”

Well might Vallencey exclaim, “The whole of this story is strong of Chaldæan Paganism, and could not have been invented by any Christian monks whatever.”

Cuchulainn of Ulster was much given to magic. He caught birds by it. He left his wife to be with a lady in fairy-land. Caught by spells, he was brought back home. He drank the draught of forgetfulness that he might not remember fairy-land, and she drank to forget her jealousy. All this is in Leabhar na-h-Uidhré.

When the Danaans raised a storm to drive off the invading hosts of Milesians, this was the spell used by Milesius, as told in the Book of Invasions:–“I pray that they reach the land of Erinn, these who are riding upon the great, productive, vast sea–that there may be a King for us in Tara,–that noble Erinn be a home for the ships and boats of the son of Milesius.”

By the 14th Canon of the Synod at Armagh, as asserted for the year 448, a penance was exacted for any soothsaying, or the foretelling of future events by an inspection of animals’ entrails, as was the practice with the Druids. It is curious to see how this magic was, by the early writers, associated with Simon Magus; so much so, that, as Rhys observes, “The Goidelic Druids appear at times under the name of the School of Simon Druid.”

Fionn was once coursing with his dog Bran, when the hare suddenly turned into a lady weeping for the loss of her ring in the lake. Like a gallant, the hero dived down and got it; but all he had for his trouble was to be turned by her into a white-haired old man. On another occasion he was changed into a grey fawn. But Fionn endured the metamorphoses of twenty years as a hog, one hundred a stag, one hundred an eagle, and thirty a fish, besides living one hundred as a man. The heroine Caer had to be alternate years a swan and a woman.

The Kilkenny Transactions refer to one Liban, transformed for three hundred years as a fish, or, rather a mermaid, with her lap-dog in the shape of an otter after her. Bevan, however, caught her in a net, had her baptized, and then she died. In the Fate of the Children of Lir, we read of Aoife, second wife of Lir, jealous of her husband’s children by his first mate, turning them into four swans till her spell could be broken. This happened under the Tuath rule, and lasted nine hundred years. They are reported to have said, “Thou shalt fall in revenge for it, for thy power for our destruction is not greater than the Druidic power of our friends to avenge it upon thee.” However, having musical qualities, they enjoyed themselves in chanting every night. At last they heard the bell of St. Patrick. This broke the spell. They sang to the High King of heaven, revealed their name, and cried out, “Come to baptize us, O cleric, for our death is near.”

An odd story of the Druid Mananan is preserved in the Ossian Transactions. It concerned a magical branch, bearing nine apples of gold. They who shook the tree were lulled to sleep by music, forgetting want or sorrow.

Through that, Cormac, grandson of Conn of the hundred fights, lost his wife Eithne, son Cairbre, and daughter Ailbhe. At the end of a year’s search, and passing through a dark, magical mist, he came to a hut, where a youth gave him a pork supper. The entertainer proved to be Mananan. The story runs, “After this Mananan came to him in his proper shape, and said thus: ‘lit was who bore these three away from thee; I it was who gave thee that branch, and it was in order to bring thee to this house. It was I that worked magic upon you, so that you might be with me tonight in friendship.” It may be doubted if this satisfied King Cormac.

A chessboard often served the purpose of divination. The laying on of hands has been from remote antiquity an effectual mode for the transmission of a charm. But a Magic Wand or Rod, in proper hands, has been the approved method of transformation, or any other miraculous interposition. Here is one Wand story relative to the romance of Grainne and Diarmuid:–“Then came the Reachtaire again, having a Magic Wand of sorcery, and struck his son with ‘that wand, so that he made of him a cropped pig, having neither ear nor tail, and he said, ‘I conjure thee that thou have the same length of life as Diarmuid O’Duibhne, and that it be by thee that he shall fall at last.'”

This was the boar that killed, not the Syrian Adonis, but a similar sun-deity, Diarmuid. When Fionn, the disappointed husband, in pursuit of the runaway, found the abductor dying, he was entreated by the beautiful solar hero to save him. “How can I do it?” asked the half-repentant Fionn. “Easily,” said the wounded one; “for when thou didst get the noble, precious gift of divining at the Boinn, it was given thee that to whomsoever thou shouldst give a drink from the palms of thy hands, he should after that be young and sound from every sickness.” Unhappily, Fionn was so long debating with himself as to this gift to his enemy, that, when he walked towards him with the water, life had departed from the boar-stricken Irish Adonis.

Dr. W. R. Sullivan has a translation of the Fair of Carman, concerning three magicians and their mother from Athens:–

“By charms, and spells, and incantations, the mother blighted every place, and it was through magical devastation and dishonesty that the men dealt out destruction. They came to Erin to bring evil upon the Tuatha de Danann, by blighting the fertility of this isle. The Tuatha were angry at this; and they sent against them Ai the son of Allamh, on the part of their poets, and Credenbel on the part of their satirists, and Lug Laeban, i. e. the son of Cacher, on the part of their Druids, and Becuille on the part of the witches, to pronounce incantations against them. And these never parted from them until they forced the three men over the sea, and they left a pledge behind them, i.e., Carman, their mother, that they would never return to Erin.”

A counter-charm is given in the Senchus Mor. When the Druids sought to poison St. Patrick, the latter wrote over the liquor:–

“Tubu fis fri ibu, fis ibu anfis,
Fris bru uatha, ibu lithu, Christi Jesus.”

He left it on record that whoever pronounced these words over poison or liquor should receive no injury from it. It might be useful with Irish whisky; only the translator adds that the words of the charm, like most of the charms of the Middle Ages, appear to have had no meaning.

Spiritualism, in all its forms, appears to have been practised by the Irish and Scotch Druids. Dr. Armstrong’s Gaelic Dictionary has an account of the Divination of the Toghairm, once a noted superstition among the Gaels, and evidently derived from Druid-serving ancestors. The so-called prophet “was wrapped in the warm, smoking robe of a newly slain ox or cow, and laid at full length in the wildest recess of some lonely waterfall. The question was then put to him, and the oracle was left in solitude to consider it.” The steaming body cultivated the frenzy for a reply, although “it was firmly believed to have been communicated by invisible beings.”

Similar traditions are related by Kennedy, in Fictions of the Irish Celts. One of the tales is of Sculloge, who spent his father’s gold. While out hunting he saw an old man betting his left hand against his right. At once he played with him for sixpence, but won of the ancient Druid a hundred guineas. The next game won, the old fellow was made to rebuild the Irishman’s mill. Another victory brought him as wife a princess from the far country. But Sabina, when married, besought him to have no more to do with old Lassa Buaicht of the glen.

Things went on well a good while, till the man wanted more gold, and he ventured upon a game. Losing, he was directed to bring the old Druid the Sword of Light. Sabina helped her husband to a Druidic horse, that carried him to her father’s castle. There he learned it was held by another brother, also a Druid, in an enchanted place. With a black steed he leaped the wall, but was driven out by the magic sword. At last, through Fiach the Druid, the sword was given to Lassa Buaicht. The cry came, “Take your Sword of Light, and off with his head.” Then the un-spelled wife reappeared, and the couple were happy ever after.

Conn of the Hundred Battles is often mentioned in connection with Druids. One of the Irish MSS. thus introduces the Magical Stone of Tara:–“One evening Conn repaired at sunrise to the battlements of the Ri Raith or Royal fortress at Tara, accompanied by his three Druids, Mael, Bloc, and Bluicné, and his three poets, Ethain, Corb, and Cesare; for he was accustomed every day to repair to this place with the same company, for the purpose of watching the firmament, that no hostile aerial beings should descend upon Erin unknown to him. While standing in the usual place this morning, Conn happened to tread on a stone, and immediately the stone shrieked under his feet so as to be heard all over Tara, and throughout all Bregia or East Meath. Conn then asked his Druids why the stone had shrieked, what its name was, and what it said. The Druids took fifty-three days to consider, and returned the following answer:–‘Fal is the name of the stone; it came from Inis Fal, or the Island of Fal. It has shrieked under your royal feet, and the number of the shrieks, which the stone has given forth, is the number of Kings that will succeed you.”

At the Battle of Magh Tuireadh with the Fomorians, it is said that the chief men of the Tuatha de Danann “called their smiths, their brass-workers, their sorcerers, their Druids, their poets &c. The Druids were engaged putting the wounded in a bath of herbs, and then returning them whole to the battle ranks.

Nash, who showed much scepticism respecting Druids in Britain, wrote:–“In the Irish tales, on the contrary, the magician under the name of Draoi and Drudh, magician or Druid, Draioideacht, Druidhieat, magic plays a considerable part.” The Cabinri play a great part according to some authors; one speaks of the “magic of Samhan, that is to say, Cabur.” A charm against evil spirits, found at Poitiers, is half Gallic, half Latin. Professor Lottner saw that “the Gallic words were identical with expressions still used in Irish.”

We are told of a rebel chief who was helped by a Druid against the King of Munster, to plague the Irish in the south-west by magically drying up all the water. The King succeeded in finding another Druid who brought forth an abundant supply. He did but cast his javelin, and a powerful spring burst forth at the spot where the weapon fell. Dill, the Druidical grandfather of another King of Munster, had a magical black horse, which won at every race.

Elsewhere is a chapter on the Tuatha de Danaans, concerning whom are so many stories of Druids. Attention is drawn by Rhys to “the tendency of higher races to ascribe magical powers to lower ones; or, rather, to the conquered.”

A Druid’s counsel was sometimes of service. A certain dwarf magician of Erregal, Co. Derry, had done a deal of mischief before he could be caught, killed, and buried. It was not long before he rose from the dead, and resumed his cruelties. Once more slain, he managed to appear again at his work. A Druid advised Finn Mac Cumhail to bury the fellow the next time head downward, which effectually stopped his magic and his resurrection powers.

Fintain was another hero of antiquity. When the Deluge occurred, he managed by Druidic arts to escape. Subsequently, through the ages, he manifested himself in various forms. This was, to O’Flaherty, an evidence that Irish Druids believed in the doctrine of metempsychosis. Fintain’s grave is still to be recognized, though he has made no appearance on earth since the days of King Dermot.

It is not safe to run counter to the Druids. When King Cormac turned against the Craft, Maelgenn incited the Siabhradh, an evil spirit, to take revenge. By turning himself into a salmon, he succeeded in choking the sovereign with one of his bones. It was Fraechan, Druid of King Diarmaid, who made the wonderful Airbhi Druadh, or Druidical charm, that caused the death of three thousand warriors.

A King was once plagued by a lot of birds wherever he went. He inquired of his Druid Becnia as to the place they came from. The answer was, “From the East.” Then came the order–“Bring me a tree from every wood in Ireland.” This was to get the right material to serve as a charm. Tree after tree failed to be of use. Only that from the wood of Frosmuine produced what was required for a charm. Upon the dichetal, or incantation, being uttered, the birds visited the King no more.

In the Book of Lecan is the story of a man who underwent some remarkable transformations. He was for 300 years a deer, for 300 a wild boar, for 300 a bird, and for the like age a salmon. In the latter state he was caught, and partly eaten by the Queen. The effect of this repast was the birth of Tuan Mac Coireall, who told the story of the antediluvian colonization of Ireland. One Druid, Trosdane, had a bath of the milk of thirty white-faced cows, which rendered his body invulnerable to poisoned arrows in battle.

A Druid once said to Dathi, “I have consulted the clouds of the man of Erin, and found that thou wilt soon return to Tara, and wilt invite all the provincial Kings and chiefs of Erin to the great feast of Tara, and there thou shalt decide with them upon making an expedition into Alba, Britain, and France, following the conquering footsteps of thy great-uncle Niall.” He succeeded in Alba, but died in Gaul. A brother of his became a convert to St. Patrick.

Grainne, the heroine of an elopement with the beautiful hero Diarmuid, or Dermot, fell into her trouble through Druid named Daire Duanach MacMorna. She was th daughter of King Cormac, whose grave is still shown at Tara, but she was betrothed to the aged, gigantic sovereign Fionn the Fenian. At the banquet in honour of the alliance, the Druid told the lady the names and qualities the chiefs assembled, particularly mentioning the graceful Diarmuid. She was smitten by his charms, particularly a love-mark on his shoulder, and readily agreed to break her promised vows in order to share his company. When she fled with him, Fionn and his son pursued the couple, who were aided in their flight by another Druid named Diorraing styled a skilful man of science.

A fine poem–The Fate of the Son of Usnach–relate the trials of Deirdri the Fair. Dr. Keating has this version “Caffa the Druid foreboded and prophesied for the daughter (Deirdri, just born), that numerous mischiefs and losses would happen the Province (Ulster) on her account. Upon hearing this, the nobles proposed to put her to death forth with. ‘Let it not be done so,’ cried Conor (King), ‘but I will take her with me, and send her to be reared, that she may become my own wife.” It was in her close retreat that she was seen and loved by Naisi, the son of Usnach and this brought on a fearful war between Ulster and Alba.

The Book of Leinster has the story of one that loved the Queen, who returned the compliment, but was watched too well to meet with him. He, however, and his foster brother, were turned, by a Druidic spell, into two beautiful birds, and so gained an entrance to the lady’s bower making their escape again by a bird transformation. The King had some suspicion, and asked his Druid to find out the secret. The next time the birds flew, the King had his watch; and, as soon as they resumed their human appearance, he set upon them and killed both.

The Book of Leinster records several cases of Druids taking opposite sides in battle. It was Greek meeting Greek. The northern Druids plagued the southern men by drying up the wells; but Mog Ruth, of the South, drove a silver tube into the ground, and a spring burst forth. Ciothrue made a fire, and said a charm with his mountain-ash stick, when a black cloud sent down a shower of blood. Nothing daunted, the other Druid,. Mog Ruth, transformed three noisy northern Druids into stones.

Spiritualism, as appears by the Banquet of Dun na n-Gedh, was used thus:–“This is the way it is to be done. The poet chews a piece of the flesh of a red pig, or of a dog or cat, and brings it afterwards on a flag behind the door, and chants an incantation upon it, and offers it to idol gods; and his idol gods are brought to him, but he finds them not on the morrow. And he pronounces incantations on his two palms; and his idol gods are also brought to him, in order that his sleep may not be interrupted. And he lays his two palms on his two cheeks, and thus falls asleep. And he is watched in order that no one may disturb or interrupt him, until everything about which he is engaged is revealed to him, which may be a minute, or two, or three, or as long as the ceremony requires–one palm over the other across his cheeks.”

The author of The Golden Bough, J. G. Frazer, judiciously reminds us that “the superstitious beliefs and practices, which have been handed down by word of mouth, are generally of a far more archaic type than the religions depicted in the most ancient literature of the Aryan race.” A careful reading of the chapter on the “Superstitions of the Irish” would be convincing on that point.

Among ancient superstitions of the Irish there was some relation to the Sacred Cow, reminding one of India, or even of the Egyptian worship of Apis. The Ossianic Transactions refer to this peculiarity.

There was the celebrated Glas Gaibhne, or Grey Cow of the Smith of the magical Tuaths. This serviceable animal supplied a large family and a host of servants. The Fomorians envied the possessor, and their leader stole her. The captive continued her beneficent gifts for many generations. Her ancient camps are still remembered by the peasantry. Another story is of King Diarmuid Mac Cearbhail, half a Druid and half a Christian, who killed his son for destroying a Sacred Cow. But Owen Connelan has a translation of the Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institute, which contains the narrative of a cow, which supplied at Tuaim-Daghualan the daily wants of nine score nuns; these ladies must have been Druidesses, the word Caillach meaning equally nuns and Druidesses. As W. Hackett remarks, “The probability is that they were pagan Druidesses, and that the cows were living idols like Apis, or in some sense considered sacred animals.”

One points out the usefulness of the Irish Druids in a day when enchantments prevailed. Etain, wife of Eochaid, was carried off by Mider through the roof, and two swans were seen in the air above Tara, joined together by a golden yoke. However, the husband managed to recover his stolen property by the aid of the mighty spell of his Druid.

 

From the Book

THE VEIL OF ISIS; OR, MYSTERIES OF THE DRUIDS

BY

W. WINWOOD READE.