Posts Tagged With: Ireland

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.


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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


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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


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The Derwydd or Philosophers of the Druids


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



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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





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The BARDS proper occupied a high position in Ireland. The Ollamhs had colleges at Clogher, Armagh, Lismore, and Tamar. On this, Walker’s Historical Memoirs, 1786, observes that “all the eminent schools, delectably situated, which were established by the Christian clergy in the fifth century, were erected on the ruins of those colleges.” They studied for twelve years to gain the barred cap and title of Ollamh or teacher. They were Ollamhain Re-dan, or Filidhe, poets. They acted as heralds, knowing the genealogy of their chiefs. With white robe, harp in hand, they encouraged warriors in battle Their power of satire was dreaded; and their praise, desired.

There is a story of the Ard Ollamh, or Archdruid, sending to Italy after a book Of skins, containing various chosen compositions, as the Cuilmeun, &c. As heralds they were called Seanachies. As Bards they sang in a hundred different kinds of verse. One Ollamh Fodhla was the Solon of Ireland; Amergin, the singer, lived 500 B.C.; Torna Egeas, was last of the paean bards. Long after, they were patriots of the tribes–

“With uncouth harps, in many-colour’d vest,
Their matted hair With boughs fantastic crown’d”

The Statutes of Kilkenny (Edward III.) made it penal to entertain any Irish Bard; but Munster Bards continued to hold their annual Sessions to the early part of last century. Carolan, the old blind harper, called last of the Bards, died in 1738.

Bards sang in the Hall of Shells: shells being then the cups. There were hereditary bards, as the O’Shiels, the O’Canvans, &c., paid to sing the deeds of family heroes. A lament for Dallan ran–

“A fine host and brave was he, master of and Governor,
Ulla! Ullalu
We, thrice fifty Bards, we confessed him chief in song and war–
Ulla! Ullalu!”

In the far-famed Trinity College Library is The Dialogue of the Two Sages, in the Irish Fenian dialect, giving the qualifications of a true Ollamh. Among the famous bards were, Lughar, “acute poet, Druid of Meidhbh”; Olioll, King of Munster; Oisin, son of Cormac, King of Tara, now nearly unintelligible to Irish readers; Fergus finbel of the Dinn Senchus; Oisin, the Fenian singer; Larghaire, whose poem to the sun was famous; Lughaidh, whose poem of the death of his wife Fail is of great antiquity; Adhna, once chief poet of Ireland; Corothruadh, Fingin, &c. Fergus Finbheoil, fair lips, was a Fenian Bard.

Ireland’s Mirror, 1804, speaks of Henessey, a living seer, as the Orpheus of his country. Amergin, brother of Heber, was the earliest of Milesian poets. Sir Philip Sydney praised the Irish Bards three centuries ago. One, in Munster, stopped by his power the corn’s growth; and the satire of another caused a shortness of life. Such rhymes were not to be patronized by the Anglo-Normans, in the Statute of 1367. One Bard directed his harp, a shell of wine, and his ancestor’s shield to be buried with him. In rhapsody, some would see the images of coming events pass before them, and so declare them in song. He was surely useful who rhymed susceptible rats to death.

The Irish war odes were called Rosg-catha, the Eye of Battle. Was it for such songs that Irish-Danes were cruel to Bards? O’Reilly had a chronological account of 400 Irish writers. As Froude truly remarks, “Each celebrated minstrel sang his stories in his own way, adding to them, shaping them, colouring them, as suited his peculiar genius.” It was Heeren who said of the early Greek bards, “The gift of song came to them from the gods.” Villemarque held that Irish Bards were “really the historians of the race.”

Walker’s Irish Bards affirms that the “Order of the Bards continued for many succeeding ages invariably the same.” Even Buchanan found “many of their ancient customs yet remain; yea, there is almost nothing changed of them in Ireland, but only ceremonies and rites of religion.” Borlase wrote, “The last place we read of them in the British dominions is Ireland.” Blair added, “Long after the Order of the Druids was extinct, and the national religion changed, the Bards continued to flourish, exercising the same functions as of old in Ireland.” But Walker claimed the Fingalians as originally Irish. Sir I. Ferguson, in his Lays of the Western Gael, says, “The exactions of the Bards were so intolerable that the early Irish more than once endeavoured to rid themselves of the Order.” Their arrogance had procured their occasional banishment. Higgins, in Celtic Druids, had no exalted opinion of them, saying, “The Irish histories have been most of them filled with lies and nonsense by their bards.” Assuredly a great proportion of their works were destroyed by the priests, as they had been in England, Germany, France, &c.

The harp, according to Bede, was common in the seventh century. St. Columba played upon the harp. Meagor says of the first James of Scotland, “On the harp he excelled the Irish or the Highland Scots, who are esteemed the best performers on that instrument.” Ireland was the school of music for Welsh and Scotch. Irish harpers were the most celebrated up to the last century. Ledwich thought the harp came in from Saxons and Danes. The Britons, some say, had it from the Romans. The old German harp had eighteen strings; the old Irish, twenty-eight; the modern Irish, thirty-three. Henry VIII. gave Ireland the harp for an armorial bearing, being a great admirer of Irish music; but James I. quartered it with the arms of France and England. St. Bernard gives Archbishop Malachy, 1134, the credit of introducing music into the Church service of Ireland.

The Irish cruit was the Welsh crwdd or crwth. Hugh Rose relates, that “a certain string was selected as the most suitable for each song.” Diodorus Siculus recorded that “the bards of Gaul sang to instruments like lyres.” The cymbals were not Bardic, but bell cymbals of the Church. They were hollow spheres, holding loose bits of metal for rattling, and connected by a flexible shank. The corn was a metallic horn; the drum, or tiompan, was a tabor; the piob-mela, or bagpipes, were borrowed from the far East; the bellows to the bag thereof were not seen till the sixteenth century. The Irish used foghair, or whole tones, and foghair-beg, or semi-tones. The cor, or harmony, was chruisich, treble, and cronan, base. The names of clefs were from the Latin. In most ancient languages the same word is used for Bard and Sage. Lönnrot found not a parish among the Karelians without several Bards. Quatrefages speaks of Bardic contests thus: “The two bards start strophe after strophe, each repeating at first that which the other had said. The song only stops with the learning of one of the two.”

Walker ungallantly wrote, “We cannot find that the Irish had female Bards,” while admitting that females cried the Caoine over the dead. Yet in Cathluina we read, “The daughter of Moran seized the harp, and her voice of music praised the strangers. Their souls melted at the song, like the wreath of snow before the eye of the sun.”

The Court Bards were required, says Dr. O’Donovan, to have ready seven times fifty chief stories, and twice fifty sub-stories, to repeat before the Irish King and his chiefs. Conor Mac Neasa, King of Ulster, had three thousand Bards, gathered from persecuting neighbouring chiefs.

“Musician, herald, bard, thrice may’st thou be renowned,
And with three several wreaths immortally be crowned.”

Brehons.–Breitheamhain – were legislative Bards; and, said Walker, in 1786, they “promulgated the laws in a kind of recitative, or monotonous chant, seated on an eminence in the open air.” According to McCurtin, the Irish Bards of the sixth century wore long, flowing garments, fringed and Ornamented with needlework. in a Life of Columba, 1827, it is written, “The Bards and Sennachees retained their office, and some degree of their former estimation among the nobility of Caledonia and Ireland, till the accession of the House of Hanover.”

“Nothing can prove,” says O’Beirne Crowe, “the late introduction of Druidism into our country more satisfactorily than the utter contempt in which the name bard is held in all our records.–After the introduction of our irregular system of Druidism, which must have been about the second century of the Christian era, the Filis (bard) had to fall into something like the position of the British Bards– hence we see them, down to a late period–practising incantations like the Magi of the continent, and in religious matters holding extensive sway.”

Ossianic literature had a higher opinion of the Bards; as, “Such were the words of the Bards in the days of the Song; when the King heard the music of harps and the tales of other times. The chiefs gathered from all their hills, and heard the lovely sound.. They praised the voice of Cona, the first among a thousand bards.” Again, “Sit thou on the heath, O Bard! and let us hear thy voice. It is pleasant as the gale of the spring, that sighs on the hunter’s ear, when he wakens from dreams of joy, and has heard the music of the spirits of the hill.–The music of Cardil was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant, and mournful to the soul. The ghosts of departed Bards heard it.” “My life,” exclaimed Fingal, “shall be one stream of light to Bards of other times.” Cathmor cried, “Loose the Bards. Their voice shall be heard in other ages, when the Kings of Temora have failed.”

Keating, amusingly credulous as an Irish historian records with gravity the story of an ancient militia numbering nine thousand in time of peace, who had both sergeants and colonels. Into the ranks of these Fine Eirion no one was admitted unless proved to be a poetical genius, well acquainted with the twelve books of poetry.

The Dinn Seanchas has poems by the Irish Bard of the second century, Finin Mac Luchna; and it asserts that “the people deemed each other’s voices sweeter than the warblings of the melodious harp.” On Toland’s authority we learn that, for a long time after the English Conquest, the judges, Bards, physicians, and harpers held land tenures in Ireland. The O’Duvegans were hereditary Bards of the O’Kellies; the O’Shiels were hereditary doctors; the O’Brodins, hereditary antiquaries; the Maglanchys, hereditary judges. The Bards were Strabo’s hymn-makers.

Mrs. Bryant felt that “The Isle of Song was soon to become the Isle of Saints;” and considered “Ireland of the Bards knew its Druids simply as men skilled in all magical arts, having no marked relation either to a system of theology, or to a scheme of ceremonial practice.”

The Brehon Law gives little information respecting Druids, though the Brehons were assumed to have been Originally Druid judges. St. Patrick has the credit of compiling this record.

These Brehons had a high reputation for justice; and yet it is confessed that when one was tempted to pass a false sentence, his chain of office would immediately tighten round his neck most uncomfortably as a warning. Of the Brehons, it is said by the editors–O’Mahony and Richey –“The learning of the Brehons became as useless to the public as the most fantastic discussions of the Schoolmen, and the whole system crystallized into a form which rendered social progress impossible.” Though those old Irish laws were so oppressive to the common people, and so favourable to the hereditary chiefs, it was hard indeed to get the people to relinquish them for English laws.

In 1522, English law existed in only four of the Irish counties; and Brehons and Ollamhs (teachers) were known to the end of the seventeenth century. The founding of the book of Brehon Law is thus explained:–“And when the men of Erin heard–all the power of Patrick since his arrival in Erin–they bowed themselves down in obedience to the will of God and Patrick. It was then that all the professors of the sciences (Druids) in Erin were assembled, and each of them exhibited his art before Patrick, in the presence of every chief in Erin.–What did not clash with the Word of God in the written law, and in the New Testament, and with the consciences of the believers, was confirmed in the laws of the Brehons by Patrick, and by the ecclesiastics and the chieftains of Erin.”


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Leflocq wrote his Études de Mythologie Celtique in 1869, observing, “Some represented the Druids as the successors of the Hebrew patriarchs, the masters of Greek philosophy, the forerunners of Christian teaching. They have credited them with the honours of a religious system founded upon primitive monotheism, and crowned by a spiritualism more elevated than that of Plato and St. Augustine.” One might perceive little of this in Irish tales, like the preceding. Leflocq is justified in adding, “One will be at first confounded by the extreme disproportion which exists between the rare documents left by the past, and the large developments presented by modern historians.”

Pliny speaks thus of the Druids, “A man would think the Persians learned all their magic from them;” and Pomponius Mela affirmed, “They profess to have great knowledge of the motions of the heavens and the stars.” Others write in the same strain. Who, then, were the Druids of Greeks and Romans? Why did Cæsar recognize such as living in Gaul? Why did Jamblichus make Pythagoras a disciple of Gaulish priests? Why did St. Clement say the Druids had a religion of philosophy; and St. Cyril, that they held but one God? Why should Origen, like the foe of early Christianity, Celsus, believe that the Druids of Gaul had the same doctrines as the Jews?

Himerius speaks of Abaris, the sage, from Scythia, but well acquainted with Greek, with this description:–“Abaris came to Athens, holding a bow, having a quiver hanging from his shoulders, his body wrapt up in a plaid, and wearing trousers reaching from the soles of his feet to his waist.” Cicero knew Divitiacus, who professed the knowledge of Nature’s secrets, though regarded as a Hyperborean.

Could these have been the Scythians from Tartary, the descendants of the wise men who gave their religion and the arrow-headed letters to Assyrian-Semitic conquerors, who had come down as Turanian roamers to the Plains of Babylon, and whose Chaldæan faith spread even to Egypt and Europe?

It would seem more probable–with respectful consideration of the learned Morien, who makes Wales the teacher of the world–that wisdom should emanate from a people cultured long before Abrahamic days, though subsequently regarded as rude shepherd Scythians, than proceed from a western land preserving no monuments of learning.

Then, the dress, the staff, the egg, and other things associated with Druids, had their counterpart In the East, from, perhaps, five thousand years before our Christian era.

As to so-called Druidical monuments, no argument can be drawn thence, as to the primary seat of this mysticism, since they are to be seen nearly all over the world. An instance of the absurd ideas prevalent among the ancients respecting Druids is given in Dion Chrysostom:–“For, without the Druids, the Kings may neither do nor consult anything; so that in reality they are the Druids who reign, while the Kings, though they sit on golden thrones, dwell in spacious palaces, and feed on costly dishes, are only their ministers.” Fancy this relating to either rude Irish or Welsh. Toland makes out that Lucan spoke to one; but Lucan said it not. The Edinburgh Review of 1863 may well come to the conclusion that “the place they really fill in history is indefinite and obscure.”

Madame Blavatsky has her way of looking at them. They were “the descendants of the last Atlanteans, and what is known of them is sufficient to allow the inference that they were Eastern priests akin to the Chaldæans and Indians.” She takes, therefore, an opposite view to that held by Morien. She beheld their god in the Great Serpent, and their faith in a succession of worlds. Their likeness to the Persian creed is noticed thus:–“The Druids understood the morning of the Sun in Taurus; therefore, while all the fires were extinguished on the first of November, their sacred and inextinguishable fires alone remained to illumine the horizon, like those of the Magi and the modern Zoroastrians.”

Poppo, a Dutchman of the eighth century, wrote De officiis Druidum; and Occo, styled the last of the Frisian Druids, was the author of a similar work. Worth, in 1620, and Frickius of 1744 were engaged on the same subject. It is curious to notice St. Columba addressing God as “My Druid,” and elsewhere saying, “My Druid is Christ the Son of God.” The Vates were an order known in Irish as Faidh. Some derive Druid from Druthin, the old German for God. The word Druith is applied to a Druidess.

While many treat the Druids as religious, O’Curry asserts, “There is no ground whatever for believing the Druids to have been the priests of any special positive worship.” Then Vallencey declares that “Druidism was not the established religion of the Pagan Irish, but Buddhism.” Yet Lake Killarney was formerly Lock Lene, the Lake of Learning.

The mystical, but accomplished, Massey tell us, “An Irish name for Druidism is Maithis, and that includes the Egyptian dual Thoth called Mati, which, applied to time, is the Terin or two Times at the base of all reckoning”–“likely that the Druidic name is a modified form of Tru-Hut.”–“In Egypt Terut signifies the two times and before,. so the Druidic science included the knowledge of the times beforehand, the coming times.”

Toland, one of the earliest and most philosophical Irish writers on this subject, thus spoke of them in his History of the Druids–“who were so prevalent in Ireland, that to this hour their ordinary word for magician is Druid (Drai), the art magic is called Druidity (Druidheacht), and the wand, which was one of the badges of the profession, the rod of Druidism (Slatnan Druidheacht).”

Windele, in Kilkenny records, expressed this view:–“Druidism was an artfully contrived system of elaborate fraud and imposture. To them was entrusted the charge of religion, jurisprudence, and medicine. They certainly well studied the book of Nature, were acquainted with the marvels of natural magic, the proportions of plants and herbs, and what of astronomy was then known; they may even have been skilled in mesmerism and biology.” He thought that to the Druid “exclusively were known all the occult virtues of the whole materia medica, and to him belonged the carefully elaborated machinery of oracles, omens, auguries, aëromancy, fascinations, exorcisms, dream interpretations and visions, astrology, palmistry, &c”

As this may demand too much from our faith, we may remember, as Canon Bourke says, that “the youth of these countries have been taught to regard the Pagan Druids as educated savages, whereas they had the same opportunity of acquiring knowledge, and had really possessed as much as the Pagans of the Peloponnesus.” We should further

bear in mind the assurance of the Irish historian, O’Curry, that “there are vast numbers of allusions to the Druids, and of specific instances of the exercise of their vocation-be it magical, religious, philosophical, or educational–to be found in our old MSS.”

Has not much misapprehension been caused, by authors concluding that all varieties of religion in Ireland proceeded from a class of men who, while popularly called Druids, may not have been connected with them? We know very far more about these varieties of faith in Ireland, before Christianity, than we do about any description of religion in Wales; and yet the Druidism of one country is reported as so different from that in the other immediately contiguous. Such are the difficulties meeting the student of History.

The Irish Druidical religion, like that of Britain and Gaul, has given rise to much discussion, whether it began, as some say, when Suetonius drove Druids from Wales, or began in Ireland before known in either Britain or Gaul, direct from the East.

“The Druidical religion,” says Kenealy in the Book of God, “prevailed not only in Britain, but likewise all over the East.” Pictet writes, “There existed very anciently in Ireland a particular worship which, by the nature of its doctrines, by the character of its symbols, by the names even of its gods, lies near to that religion of the Cabirs of Samothrace, emanated probably from Phœnicia.” Mrs. Sophie Bryant thinks that “to understand the Irish non Christian tradition and worship, we should understand the Corresponding tradition and worship, and their history, for all the peoples that issued from the same Aryan home.” Ledwich is content with saying, that “the Druids possessed no internal or external doctrine, either veiled by Symbols, or clouded in enigmas, or any religious tenets but the charlatanerie of barbarian priests and the grossest Gentile superstition.”

While Professor O’Curry had “no ground whatever for believing the Druids to have been the priests of any special positive worship,”–and Vallencey could say,” From all I could collect from Irish documents, relative to the religion of the heathen Irish, it appears that the Druidical religion never made a part of it,”–popular opinion has always been in the other direction. Yet Vallencey would credit Druids with some religion, when he mentions the Druidical oracular stone,–in Irish Logh-oun, in Cornish Logan,–“into which the Druids pretend that the Logh, or divine affluence, descended when they consulted it.”

Dr. Richey depreciates the Druid, when writing of the early Irish missionaries: “They did not encounter any Archdruid as the representative or head of a national religion,–they found no priesthood occupying a definite political position which the ministers of the new religion could appropriate.” The Welsh Archdruid Myfyr took higher ground, when saying, “This Gorsedd has survived the bardic chairs of Greece and Rome–it has survived the institutions of Egypt, Chaldæa, and Palestine.” He declared, “Druidism is a religious system of positive philosophy, teaching truth and reason, peace and justice.” He believed of Druids what Burnouf thought of the Hindoo Rishis, that their metaphysics and religion “were founded on a thorough grasp of physical facts.”

Morien, his favourite disciple, boldly avows that Druidism, like Freemasonry, was a philosophy, founded on natural law, and not religion in the ordinary sense of that term. So L. Maclean regarded Ossian’s heroes “for the greater part cabalistic, and indicative of the solar worship. Phion (Fingal) bespeaks the Phœnician; Cual, the Syrian or Dog-star worshipper, of which Conchulain with his crios or belt is but a variation.” In Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, the religion of the Phœnicians is described in the way Morien has done that of the Druids;–“a personification of the forces of nature, which, in its more philosophical shadowing forth of the Supreme powers, may be said to have represented the male and female principles of production.”

The Sabbath–a Babylonian word–was, it is said, kept on the 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th of months, as with the Magi of the East. Philo says all nations of antiquity kept the seventh day holy. Porphyry mentions the same thing of the heathen. Professor Sayce finds it was a day of rest with ancient Assyrians, as Dr. Schmidt of temple pagan worship. Eusebius asserted that almost all philosophers acknowledged it. The Roman Pontiffs regulated the Sabbath, and Roman school-boys had then a holiday. The Persian word Shabet is clearly of Assyrian origin. The authoress of Mazzaroth says, “The Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and the natives of India were acquainted with the seven days division of time, as were the Druids.” The sun, moon, and five planets were the guardians of the days.


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Turning to Irish Druidism, we may discern a meaning, when reading between the lines in Irish MSS., but the mystery is either not understood by the narrators, or is purposely beclouded so as to be unintelligible to the vulgar, and remove the writers (more or less ecclesiastics) from the censure of superiors in the Church. Elsewhere, in the chapter upon “Gods,” History, as seen in lives of Irish heroes and founders of tribes, is made the medium for the communication, in some way, of esoteric intelligence. If the Druids of Erin were in any degree associated with that assumed mythology, they come much nearer the wisdom of British Druids than is generally supposed, and were not the common jugglers and fortune-tellers of Irish authorities.

As the popular Professor O’Curry may be safely taken as one leading exponent of Irish opinion upon Irish Druids, a quotation from his able Lectures will indicate his view:–

“Our traditions,” says he, “of the Scottish and Irish Druids are evidently derived from a time when Christianity had long been established. These insular Druids are represented as being little better than conjurers, and their dignity is as much diminished as the power of the King is exaggerated. He is hedged with a royal majesty which never existed in fact. He is a Pharaoh or Belshazzar with a troop of wizards at command; his Druids are sorcerers and rain-doctors, who pretend to call down the storms and the snow, and frighten the people with the fluttering wisp, and other childish charms. They divined by the observation of sneezing and omens, by their dreams after holding a bull-feast, or chewing raw horseflesh in front of their idols, by the croaking of their ravens and chirping of tame wrens, or by the ceremony of licking the hot edge of bronze taken out of the rowan-tree faggot. They are like the Red Indian medicine men, or the Angekoks of the Eskimo, dressed up in bull’s-hide coats and bird-caps with waving wings. The chief or Arch-Druid of Tara is shown to us as a leaping juggler with ear clasps of gold, and a speckled cloak; he tosses swords and balls into the air, and like the buzzing of bees on a beautiful day is the motion of each passing the other.”

This, perhaps, the ordinary and most prosaic account of the Irish Druid, is to be gathered from the ecclesiastical annals of St. Patrick. The monkish writers had assuredly no high opinion of the Druid of tradition; and, doubtless, no respect for the memory of Taliesin or other members of the Craft.

Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that these same authorities took for granted all the stories floating about concerning transformations of men and women into beasts and birds, and all relations about gods of old.

O’Beirne Crowe has some doubt about Druid stories and primitive missionaries. He finds in the Hymn of St. Patrick the word Druid but once mentioned; and that it is absent alike in Brocan’s Life of St. Brigit, and in Colman’s Hymn. “Though Irish Druidism,” says he, “never attained to anything like organization, still its forms and practices, so far as they attained to order, were in the main the same as those of Gaul.”

Those Christian writers admitted that the Druids had a literature. The author of the Lecan declared that St. Patrick, at one time, burnt one hundred and eighty books of the Druids. “Such an example,” he said, “set the converted Christians to work in all parts, until, in the end, all the remains of the Druidic superstition were utterly destroyed.” Other writers mention the same fact as to this burning of heathen MSS. Certainly no such documents had, even in copies, any existence in historic times, though no one can deny the possibility of such a literature. The Welsh, however, claim the possession of Druidic works. But the earliest of these date from Christian times, bearing in their composition biblical references, and, by experts, are supposed to be of any period between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Villemarque dates the earliest Breton Bards from the sixth century; other French writers have them later.

At the same time, it must be allowed that early Irish MSS., which all date since Christianity came to the island, contain references of a mystical character, which might be styled Druidical. Most of the Irish literature, professedly treating of historical events, has been regarded as having covert allusions to ancient superstitions, the individuals mentioned being of a mythical character.

A considerable number of such references are associated with Druids, whatever these were thought then to be. Miracles were abundant, as they have been in all periods of Irish history. The Deity, the angels, the spirits of the air or elsewhere, are ever at hand to work a marvel, though often for little apparent occasion. As the performances of Saints are precisely similar to those attributed to Druids, one is naturally puzzled to know where one party quits the field and the other comes on.

A large number of these references belong to the Fenian days, when the Tuatha Druids practised their reported unholy rites. Thus, Teige was the father of the wife of the celebrated Fenian leader, Fionn MacCurnhaill, or Fionn B’Baoisgne, slain at Ath-Brea, on the Boyne. But Matha MacUmoir was a Druid who confronted St. Patrick. St. Brigid was the daughter of the Druid Dubhthach. The Druid Caicher foretold that the race he loved would one day migrate to the West.

In Ninine’s Prayer it is written–

“We put trust in Saint Patrick, chief apostle of Ireland;
He fought against hard-hearted Druids.”

As told by T. O’Flanagan, 1808, King Thaddy, father of Ossian, was a Druid. Ierne was called the Isle of learned Druids. Plutarch relates that Claudius, exploring, “found on an island near Britain an order of Magi, reputed holy by the people.” Tradition says that Parthalon, from Greece, brought three Druids with him. These were Fios, Eolus, and Fochmarc; that is, observes O’Curry, “if we seek the etymological meaning of the words, Intelligence, Knowledge, and Inquiry.”

The Nemidians reached Ireland from Scythia, but were accompanied by Druids; who, however, were confounded by the Fomorian Druids. At first the Nemidians were victorious, but the Fomorian leader brought forward his most powerful spells, and forced the others into exile. Beothach, Nemid’s grandson, retired with his clan to northern Europe, or Scandinavia; where “they made themselves perfect in all the arts of divination, Druidism, and philosophy, and returned, after some generations, to Erinn under the name of the Tuatha de Danaan.” The last were most formidable Druids, though overcome in their turn by the Druids of invading Milesians from Spain.

There were Druids’ Hills at Uisneath, Westmeath, and Clogher of Tyrone. The Draoithe were wise men from the East. Dubhtach Mac Ui’ Lugair, Archdruid of King Mac Niall, became a Christian convert. The Battle of Moyrath, asserted by monkish writers to have taken place in 637, decided the fate of the Druids. And yet, the Four Masters relate that as early as 927 B.C., there existed Mur Ollavan, the City of the Learned, or Druidic seminary.

Bacrach, a Leinster Druid, told Conchobar, King of Ulster, something which is thus narrated:–“There was a great convulsion. ‘What is this?’ said Conchobar to his Druid. ‘What great evil is it that is perpetrated this day? ‘It is true indeed,’ said the Druid, ‘Christ, the Son of God is crucified this day by the Jews. It was in the same night He was born that you were born; that is, in the 8th of the Calends of January, though the year was not the same. It was then that Conchobar believed; and he was one of the two men that believed in God in Erinn before the coming of the faith.”

Among the names of Druids we have, in Cormac’s Glossary, Serb, daughter of Scath, a Druid of the Connaught men; Munnu, son of Taulchan the Druid; and Druien, a Druid prophesying bird. D. O. Murrim belonged to Creag-a-Vanny hill; Aibhne, or Oibhne, to Londonderry. We read of Trosdan, Tages, Cadadius, Dader, Dill, Mogruth, Dubcomar, Firchisus, Ida, Ono, Fathan, Lomderg the bloody hand, and Bacrach, or Lagicinus Barchedius, Arch-druid to King Niall.

Druidesses were not necessarily wives of Druids, but females possessed of Druidical powers, being often young and fair.

Some names of Druidesses have been preserved; as Geal Chossach, or Cossa, white-legged, of Inisoven, Donegal, where her grave is still pointed out to visitors. There was Milucradh, Hag of the Waters, reported to be still living, who turned King Fionn into an old man by water from Lake Sliabh Gullin. Eithne and Ban Draoi were famous sorcerers. Tradition talks of Women’s Isles of Ireland, as of Scotland, where Druidesses, at certain festivals, lived apart from their husbands, as did afterwards Culdee wives at church orders. On St. Michael, on Sena Isle of Brittany, and elsewhere, such religious ladies were known. Scotch witches in their reputed powers of transformation were successors of Druidesses.

Several ancient nunneries are conjectured to have been Druidesses’ retreats, or as being established at such hallowed sites. At Kildare, the retreat of St. Brigid and her nuns, having charge of the sacred fire, there used to be before her time a community of Irish Druidesses, virgins, who were called, from their office, Ingheaw Andagha, Daughters of Fire. The well-known Tuam, with its nine score nuns, may be an instance, since the word Cailtach means either nun or Druidess. On this, Hackett remarks, “The probability is that they were pagan Druidesses.” Dr. O’Connor notes the Cluan-Feart, or sacred Retreat for Druidical nuns. It was decidedly dangerous for any one to meddle with those ladies, since they could raise storms, cause diseases, or strike with death. But how came Pliny to say that wives of Druids attended certain religious rites naked, but with blackened bodies? Enchantresses, possessed of evil spirits, like as in ancient Babylon, or as in China now, were very unpleasant company, and a source of unhappiness in a family.

The Rev. J. F. Shearman declared that Lochra and Luchadmoel were the heads of the Druids’ College, prophesying the coming of the Talcend (St. Patrick), that the first was lifted up and dashed against a stone by the Saint, the other was burnt in the ordeal of fire at Tara, that the Druid Mautes was he who upset the Saint’s chalice, and that Ida and Ona were two converted Druids.

The Synod of Drumceat, in 590, laid restrictions on Druids, but the Druids were officially abolished after the decisive Battle of Moyrath, 637. The bilingual inscription of Killeen, Cormac–IV VERE DRVVIDES, or “Four True Druids,” was said to refer to Dubhtach Macnlugil as one of the four, he having been baptized by Patrick.

Dr. Richey may be right, when he says in his History of the Irish People:–“Attempts have been made to describe the civilization of the Irish in pre-Christian periods, by the use of the numerous heroic tales and romances which still survive to us; but the Celtic epic is not more historically credible or useful than the Hellenic,–the Tam Bo than the Iliad.” It is probable that the readers of the foregoing tales, or those hereafter to be produced, may be of the same opinion Not even the prophecy of St Patrick’s advent can be exempted, though the Fiacc Hymn runs —

“For thus had their prophets foretold then the coming
Of a new time of peace would endure after Tara
Lay desert and silent, the Druids of Laery
Had told of his coming, had told of the Kingdom.”

Ireland had a supply of the so-called Druidical appendages and adornments. There have been found golden torques, gorgets, armillæ and rods, of various sorts and sizes. Some were twisted. There were thin laminae of gold with rounded plates at the ends. Others had penannular and bulbous terminations. Twisted wire served for lumbers or girdle-torques. A twisted one of gold, picked up at Ballycastle, weighed 22 oz. Gorgets are seen only in Ireland and Cornwall. The Dying Gladiator, in Rome, has a twisted torque about his neck.

The gold mines of Wicklow doubtless furnished the precious metal, as noted in Senchus Mor. Pliny refers to the golden torques of Druids. One, from Tara, was 5 ft. 7 in. long, weighing 27 ozs. A Todh, found twelve feet in a Limerick bog, was of thin chased gold, with concave hemispherical ornaments. The Iodhan Moran, or breastplate, would contract on the neck if the judges gave a false judgment. The crescent ornament was the Irish Cead-rai-re, or sacred ship, answering to Taliesin’s Cwrwg Gwydrin, or glass boat. An armilla of 15 ozs. was recovered in Galway. The glass beads, cylindrical in shape. found at Dunworley Bay, Cork, had, said Lord Londesborough, quite a Coptic character. The Druid glass is Gleini na Droedh in Welsh, Glaine nan Druidhe in Irish.

The Dublin Museum–Irish Academy collection–contains over three hundred gold specimens. Many precious articles had been melted down for their gold. The treasure trove regulations have only existed since 1861. Lunettes are common The Druids’ tiaras were semi-oval, in thin plates, highly embossed. The golden breast-pins, Dealg Oir, are rare. Some armillæ are solid, others hollow. Fibulr bear cups. Torques are often spiral. Bullæ are amulets of lead covered with thin gold. Circular gold plates are very thin and rude. Pastoral staffs, like pagan ones, have serpents twisted round them, as seen on the Cashel pastoral staff.

Prof. O’Curry says–“Some of our old glossarists explain the name Druid by doctus, learned; and Fili, a poet, as a lover of learning.” But Cormac MacCullinan, in his glossary, derives the word Fili from Fi, venom, and Li, brightness; meaning, that the poet’s satire was venomous, and his praise bright or beautiful. The Druid, in his simple character, does not appear to have been ambulatory, but Stationary. He is not entitled to any privileges or immunities such as the poets and Brehons or judges enjoyed. He considers the Druids’ wand was of yew, and that they made use of ogham writing. He names Tuath Druids; as, Brian, Tuchar Tucharba, Bodhbh, Macha and Mor Rigan; Cesarn Gnathach and Ingnathach, among Firbolgs; Uar, Eithear and Amergin, as Milesians.

For an illustration of Irish Druidism, reference may be made to the translation, by Hancock and O’Mahoney, Of the Senchus Mor. Some of the ideas developed in that Christian work were supposed traditional notions of earlier and Druidical times.

Thus, we learn that there were eight Winds: the colours of which were white and purple, pale grey and green, yellow and red, black and grey, speckled and dark, the dark brown and the pale. From the east blows the purple Wind; from the south, the white; from the north, the black; from the west, the pale; the red and the yellow are between the white wind and the purple, &c. The thickness of the earth is measured by the space from the earth to the firmament. The seven divisions from the firmament to the earth are Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Sol, Luna, Venus, From the moon to the sun is 244 miles; but, from the firmament to the earth, 3024 miles. As the shell is about the egg, so is the firmament around the earth. The firmament is a mighty sheet of crystal. The twelve constellations represent the year, as the sun runs through one each month.

We are also in formed that “Brigh Ambui was a female author of wisdom and prudence among the men of Erin–after her came Connla Cainbhrethach, chief doctor of Connaught. He excelled the men of Erin in wisdom, for he was filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost; he used to contend with the Druids, who said that it was they that made heaven and the earth and the sea–and the sun and moon.” This Senchus Mor further stated that “when the judges deviated from the truth of Nature, there appeared blotches upon their cheeks.”

It is not surprising that Dr. Richey, in his Short History of the Irish People, should write:–“As to what Druidism was, either in speculation or practice, we have very little information.–As far as we can conjecture, their religion must have consisted of tribal divinities and local rites. As to the Druids themselves, we have no distinct information.” He is not astonished that “authors (from the reaction) are now found to deny the existence of Druids altogether.” He admits that, at the reputed time of St. Patrick, the Druids “seem to be nothing more than the local priests or magicians attached to the several tribal chiefs,–perhaps not better than the medicine-men of the North-American Indians.”

As that period was prior to the earliest assumed for the Welsh Taliesin, one is at a loss to account for the great difference between the two peoples, then so closely associated in intercourse.

The opinion of the able O’Beirne Crowe is thus expressed:–“After the introduction of our (Irish) irregular system of Druidism, which must have been about the second century of the Christian era, the filis (Bards) had to fall into something like the position of the British bards.–But let us examine our older compositions–pieces which have about them intrinsic marks of authenticity–and we shall be astonished to see what a delicate figure the Druid makes in them.” On the supposition that Druidism had not time for development before the arrival of the Saint, he accounts for the easy conversion of Ireland to Christianity.

It is singular that Taliesin should mention the sun as being sent in a coracle from Cardigan Bay to Arkle, or Arklow, in Ireland. This leads Morien to note the “solar drama performed in the neighbourhood of Borth, Wales, and Arklow, Ireland.”

Arthur Clive thought it not improbable that Ireland, and not Britain, as Cæsar supposed, was the source of Gaulish Druidism. “Anglesey,” says he,” would be the most natural site for the British Druidical College. This suspicion once raised, the parallel case of St. Colum Kille occupying Iona with his Irish monks and priests, when he went upon his missionary expedition to the Picts, occurs to the mind.” Assuredly, Iona was a sacred place of the Druids, and hence the likeness of the Culdees to the older tenants of the Isle.

Clive believed the civilization of Ireland was not due to the Celt, but to the darker race before them. In Druidism he saw little of a Celtic character, “and that all of what was noble and good contained in the institution was in some way derived from Southern and Euskarian sources.” May not the same be said of Wales? There, the true Welsh–those of the south and south-east–are certainly not the light Celt, but the dark Iberian, like to the darker Bretons and northern Spaniards.

Martin, who wrote his Western Islands in 1703, tells us that in his day every great family of the Western Islands kept a Druid priest, whose duty it was to foretell future events, and decide all causes, civil and ecclesiastical. Dr. Wise says, “In the Book of Deer we meet with Matadan, ‘The Brehon,’ as a witness in a particular case. The laws found in the legal code of the Irish people were administered by these Brehons. They were hereditary judges of the tribes, and had certain lands which were attached to the office. The successors of this important class are the Sheriffs of counties.”

The learned John Toland, born in Londonderry, 1670, who was a genuine patriot in his day, believed in his country’s Druids. In the Hebrides, also, he found harpers by profession, and evidence of ancient Greek visitants. In Dublin he observed the confidence in augury by ravens. He contended that when the Ancients spoke of Britain as Druidical, they included Ireland; for Ptolemy knew Erin as Little Britain. He recognized Druids’ houses still standing, and the heathen practices remaining in his country.

“In Ireland,” said he of the Druids, “they had the privilege of wearing six colours in their Breacans or robes, which are the striped Braceæ of the Gauls, still worn by the Highlanders, whereas the king and queen might have in theirs but seven, lords and ladies five,” &c. He had no doubts of their sun-worship, and of Abaris, the Druid friend of Pythagoras, being from his own quarters. While he thought the Greeks borrowed from the northern Druids, he admitted that both may have learned from the older Egyptians.

Rhys, as a wise and prudent man, is not willing to abandon the Druids because of the absurd and most Positive announcements of enthusiastic advocates; since he says, “I for one am quite prepared to believe in a Druidic residue, after you have stripped all that is mediæval and Biblical from the poems of Taliesin. The same with Merlin.” And others will echo that sentiment in relation to Irish Druidism, notwithstanding the wild assumptions of some writers, and the cynical unbelief of others. After all eliminations, there is still a substantial residue.

One may learn a lesson from the story told of Tom Moore. When first shown old Irish MSS., he was much moved, and exclaimed, “These could not have been written by fools. I never knew anything about them before, and I had no right to have undertaken the History of Ireland.”

An old Irish poem runs:–

“Seven years your right, under a flagstone in a quagmire,
Without food, without taste, but the thirst you ever torturing,
The law of the judges your lesson, and prayer your language;
And if you like to return
You will be, for a time, a Druid, perhaps.”

Druid Houses, like those of St. Kilda, Borera Isle, &c., have become in more modern days Oratories of Christian hermits. They are arched, conical, stone structures, with a hole at the top for smoke escape. Toland calls them “little arch’d, round, stone buildings, capable only of holding one person.” They were known as Tighthe nan Druidhneach. There is generally in many no cement. The so-called Oratory of St. Kevin, 23 ft. by 10 and 16 high, has its door to the west. The writer was supported by the Guide at Glendalough, in the opinion of the great antiquity of St. Kevin’s Kitchen. The house at Dundalk is still a place of pilgrimage.

The one at Gallerus, Kerry, has a semi-circular window. Of these oratories, so called, Wise observes, “They were not Christian, but were erected in connection with this early, let us call it, Celtic religion. If they had been Christian, they would have had an altar and other Christian emblems, of which, however, they show no trace. If they had been Christian, they would have stood east and west, and have had openings in those directions.–The walls always converged as they rose in height.”

Irish Druids lived before the advent of Socialism. They appear to have had the adjudication of the law, but, as ecclesiastics, they delivered the offenders to the secular arm for punishment. Their holy hands were not to be defiled with blood. The law, known as the Brehon Law, then administered, was not socialistic. Irish law was by no means democratic, and was, for that reason, ever preferred to English law by the Norman and English chieftains going to Ireland. The old contests between the Irish and the Crown lay between those gentlemen-rulers and their nominal sovereign. So, in ancient times, the Druids supported that Law which favoured the rich at the expense of the poor. They were not Socialists.

They were, however, what we should call Spiritualists, though that term may now embrace people of varied types. They could do no less wonderful things than those claimed to have been done by Mahatmas or modern Mediums. They could see ghosts, if not raise them. They could listen to them, and talk with them; though unable to take photos of spirits, or utilize them for commercial intelligence.

It would be interesting to know if these seers of Ireland regarded the ghosts with an imaginative or a scientific eye. Could they have investigated the phenomena, with a view to gain a solution of the mysteries around them? It is as easy to call a Druid a deceiver, as a politician a traitor, a scientist a charlatan, a saint a hypocrite.

As the early days of Irish Christianity were by no means either cultured or philosophical, and almost all our knowledge of Druids comes from men who accepted what would now only excite our derision or pity, particularly indulging the miraculous, we are not likely to know to what class of modern Spiritualists we can assign the Druids of Erin.

Our sources of knowledge concerning the Druids are from tradition and records. The first is dim, unreliable, and capable of varied interpretation. Of the last, Froude rightly remarks–“Confused and marvellous stories come down to us from the early periods of what is called History, but we look for the explanation of them in the mind or imagination of ignorant persons.–The early records of all nations are full of portents and marvels; but we no longer believe those portents to have taken place in actual fact.–Legends grew as nursery tales grow now.”

There is yet another source of information–the preservation of ancient symbols, by the Church and by Freemasons. The scholar is well assured that both these parties, thus retaining the insignia of the past, are utterly ignorant of the original meaning, or attach a significance of their own invention.

Judging from Irish literature–most of which may date from the twelfth century, though assuming to be the eighth, or even fifth–the Druids were, like the Tuatha, nothing better than spiritualistic conjurers, dealers with bad spirits, and always opposing the Gospel. We need be careful of such reports, originating, as they did, in the most superstitious era of Europe, and reflecting the ideas of the period. It was easy to credit Druids and Tuaths with miraculous powers, when the Lives of Irish Saints abounded with narratives of the most childish wonders, and the most needless and senseless display of the miraculous. The destruction of Druids through the invocation of Heaven by the Saints, though nominally in judgment for a league with evil spirits, was not on a much higher plane than the powers for mischief exercised by the magicians.

Such tales fittingly represented a period, when demoniacal possession accounted for diseases or vagaries of human action, and when faith in our Heavenly Father was weighed down by the cruel oppression of witchcraft.

Still, in the many credulous and inventive stories of the Middle Ages, may there not be read, between the lines, something which throws light upon the Druids? Traditional lore was in that way perpetuated. Popular notions were expressed in the haze of words. Lingering superstitions were preserved under the shield of another faith.

Then, again, admitting the common practice of rival controversialists destroying each other’s manuscripts, would not some be copied, with such glosses as would show the absurdities of the former creeds, or as warnings to converts against the revival of error?

Moreover,–as the philosophers, in early Christian days of the East, managed to import into the plain and simple teaching of Jesus a mass of their own symbolism, and the esoteric learning of heathenism,–was it unlikely that a body of Druids, having secrets of their own, should, upon their real or assumed reception of Christianity, import some of their own opinions and practices, adapted to the promulgation of the newer faith? No one can doubt that the Druids, to retain their influence in the tribe, would be among the first and most influential of converts; and history confirms that fact. As the more intelligent, and reverenced from habit, with skill in divination and heraldic lore, they would command the respect of chiefs, while their training as orators or reciters would be easily utilized by the stranger priests in the service of the Church.

But if, as is likely, the transition from Druidism to Christianity was gradual, possibly through the medium of Culdeeism, the intrusion of pagan ideas in the early religious literature can be more readily comprehended. As so much of old paganism was mixed up in the Patristic works of Oriental Christendom, it cannot surprise one that a similar exhibition of the ancient heathenism should be observed in the West. O’Brien, in Round Towers, writes–“The Church Festivals themselves in our Christian Calendar are but the direct transfers from the Tuath de Danaan Ritual. Their very names in Irish are identically the same as those by which they were distinguished by that earlier race.” Gomme said, “Druidism must be identified as a non-Aryan cult.”

Elsewhere reference is made to the Culdees. They were certainly more pronounced in Ireland, and the part of Scotland contiguous to Ireland, than in either England or Wales.

Ireland differs from its neighbours in the number of allusions to Druids in national stories. Tradition is much stronger in Ireland than in Wales, and often relates to Druids. On the other hand, it differs from that of its neighbours in the absence of allusions to King Arthur, the hero of England, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. Rome, too, was strongly represented in Britain, north and south, but not in Ireland.

it is not a little remarkable that Irish Druids should seem ignorant alike of Round Towers and Stone Circles, while so much should have been written and believed concerning Druidism as associated with circles and cromlechs, in Britain and Brittany. Modern Druidism, whether of Christian or heathen colour, claims connection with Stonehenge, Abury, and the stones of Brittany. Why should not the same claim be made for Irish Druids, earlier and better known than those of Wales?

As megalithic remains, in the shape of graves and circles, are found all over Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, why were Druids without association with these, from Japan to Gibraltar, and confined to the monuments of Britain? Why, also, in Ossian, are the Stones of Power referred to the Norsemen only?

In the Irish Epic, The carrying off of the Bull of Cuâlnge, the Druid Cathbad is given a certain honourable precedence before the sovereign. That the Druids exercised the healing art is certain. Jubainville refers to a MS. in the Library of St. Gall, dating from the end of the fourteenth century, which has on the back of it some incantations written by Irish seers of the eighth or ninth century. In one of them are these words–“I admire the remedy which Dian-Cecht left,”

Though a mysterious halo hangs about the Irish Druids, though they may have been long after the Serpent-worshippers, and even later than the Round Tower builders, tradition confidently asserts their existence in the Island, but, doubtless, credits them with powers beyond those ever exercised. The love for a romantic Past is not, however, confined to Ireland, and a lively, imagination will often close the ear to reason in a cultured and philosophical age.


From the book




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