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
W. WINWOOD READE.