Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
by Thomas Rolleston
Chapter II: The Religion of the Celts
Ireland and the Celtic Religion
WE have said that the Irish among the Celtic peoples possess the unique interest of having carried into the light of modern historical research many of the features of a native Celtic civilisation. There is, however, one thing which they did not carry across the gulf which divides us from the ancient world - and this was their religion.
Thomas The Rhymer slipping into the Otherworld to draw inspiration for his poetry
It was not merely that they changed it; they left it behind them so entirely that all record of it is lost. St. Patrick, himself a Celt, who apostolised Ireland during the fifth century, has left us an autobiographical narrative of his mission, a document of intense interest, and the earliest extant record of British Christianity; but in it he tells us nothing of the doctrines he came to supplant. We learn far more of Celtic religious beliefs from Julius Caesar, who approached them from quite another side.
The copious legendary literature which took its present form in Ireland between the seventh and the twelfth centuries, though often manifestly going back to pre-Christian sources, shows us, beyond a belief in magic and a devotion to certain ceremonial or chivalric observances, practically nothing resembling a religious or even an ethical system. We know that certain chiefs and bards offered a long resistance to the new faith, and that this resistance came to the arbitrament of battle at Moyrath in the sixth century, but no echo of any intellectual controversy, no matching of one doctrine against another, such as we find, for instance, in the records of the controversy of Celsus with Origen, has reached us from this period of change and strife.
The literature of ancient Ireland, as we shall see, embodied many ancient myths; and traces appear in it of beings who must, at one time, have been gods or elemental powers; but all has been emptied of religious significance and turned to romance and beauty. Yet not only was there, as Caesar tells us, a very well developed religious system among the Gauls, but we learn on the same authority that the British Islands were the authoritative centre of this system ; they were, so to speak, the Rome of the Celtic religion.
What this religion was like we have now to consider, as an introduction to the myths and tales which more or less remotely sprang from it.
The Popular Religion of the Celts
But first we must point out that the Celtic religion was by no means a simple affair, and cannot be summed up as what we call "Druidism." Beside the official religion there was a body of popular superstitions and observances which came from a deeper and older source than Druidism, and was destined long to outlive it-indeed, it is far from dead even yet.
The Megalithic People
A dolmen at Essay in France
The religions of primitive peoples mostly centre on, or take their rise from, rites and practices connected with the burial of the dead. The earliest people inhabiting Celtic territory in the West of Europe of whom we have any distinct knowledge are a race without name or known history, but by their sepulchral monuments, of which so many still exist, we can learn a great deal about them.
They were the so-called Megalithic People, [from Greek megas, great and lithos, a stone] the builders of dolmens, cromlechs, and chambered tumuli, of which more than three thousand have been counted in France alone. Dolmens are found from Scandinavia southwards, all down the western lands of Europe to the Straits of Gibraltar, and round by the Mediterranean coast of Spain. They occur in some of the western islands of the Mediterranean, and are found in Greece, where, in Mycenae, an ancient dolmen yet stands beside the magnificent burial-chamber of the Atreidae.
Roughly, if we draw a line from the mouth of the Rhone northward to Varanger Fiord, one may say that, except for a few Mediterranean examples, all the dolmens in Europe lie to the west of that line. To the east none are found till we come into Asia. But they cross the Straits of Gibraltar, and are found all along the North African littoral, and thence eastwards through Arabia, India, and as far as Japan.
Dolmens, Cromlechs, and Tumuli
A dolmen, it may be here explained, is a kind of chamber composed of upright unhewn stones, and roofed generally with a single huge stone. They are usually wedge-shaped in plan, and traces of a porch or vestibule can often be noticed. The primary intention of the dolmen was to represent a house or dwelling-place for the dead. A cromlech (often confused in popular language the dolmen) is properly a circular arrangement of standing stones, often with a dolmen in their midst.
It is believed that most if not all of the now exposed dolmens were originally covered with a great mound of earth or of smaller stones.
Ranked in rows that strech for 900 yards (822 metres) between two ancient stone circles, Carnac's 3000 menhirs gradually deminish in height from 20 to 2 feet (610 to 60 cms).
Sometimes, as in the illustration we give from Carnac, in Brittany, great avenues or alignments are formed of single upright Stones, and these, no doubt, had some purpose connected with the ritual of worship carried on in the locality. The later megalithic monuments, as at Stonehenge, may be of dressed stone, but in all cases their rudeness of construction, the absence of any sculpturing (except for patterns or symbols incised on the surface), the evident aim at creating a powerful impression by the brute strength of huge monolithic masses, as well as certain subsidiary features in their design which shall be described later on, give these megalithic monuments a curious family likeness and mark them out from the chambered tombs of the early Greeks, of the Egyptians, and of other more advanced races. The dolmens proper gave place in the end to great chambered mounds or tumuli, as at New Grange, which we also reckon as belonging to the Megalithic People. They are a natural development of the dolmen. The early dolmen-builders were in the Neolithic stage of culture, their weapons were of polished stone. But in the tumuli not only Stone, but also bronze, and even iron, instruments are found-at first evidently importations, but afterwards of local manufacture.
Origin of the Megalithic People
The language originally spoken by this people can only be conjectured by the traces of it left in that of their conquerors, the Celts. But a map of the distribution of their monuments irresistibly suggests the idea that their builders were of North African origin; that they were not at first accustomed to traverse the sea for any great distance; that they migrated west wards along North Africa, crossed into Europe where the Mediterranean at Gibraltar narrows to a strait of a few miles in width, and thence spread over the western regions of Europe, including the British Islands, while on the eastward they penetrated by Arabia into Asia. It must, however, be borne in mind that while originally, no doubt, a distinct race, the Megalithic People came in the end to represent, not a race, but a culture.
The human remains found in these sepulchres, with their wide divergence in the shape of the skull, &c., clearly prove this. [See Borlase's "Dolmens of Ireland," pp. 605, 606, for a discussion of this question.] These and other relics testify to the dolmen-builders in general as representing a superior and well-developed type, acquainted with agriculture, pasturage, and to some extent with seafaring. The monuments themselves, which are often of imposing size and imply much thought and organised effort in their construction, show unquestionably the existence, at this period, of a priesthood charged with the care of funeral rites and capable of controlling large bodies of men. Their dead were, as a rule, not burned, but buried whole - the greater monuments marking, no doubt, the sepulchres of important personages, while the common people were buried in tombs of which no traces now exist.
The Celts of the Plains
De Jubainville, in his account of the early history of the Celts, takes account of two main groups only-the Celts and the Megalithic People. But A. Bertrand, in his very valuable work '"La Religion des Gaulois," distinguishes two elements among the Celts themselves. There are, besides the Megalithic People, the two groups of lowland Celts and mountain Celts. The lowland Celts, according to his view, started from the Danube and entered Gaul probably about 1200 B.C. They were the founders of the lake-dwellings in Switzerland, in the Danube valley, and in Ireland. They knew the use of metals, and worked in gold, in tin, in bronze) and towards the end of their period in iron. Unlike the Megalithic People, they spoke a Celtic tongue, [Professor Ridgeway (see Report of the Brit. Assoc. for 1908) has contended that the Megalithic People spoke an Aryan language; otherwise he thinks more traces of its influence must have survived in the Celtic which supplanted it. The weight of authority, as well as such direct evidence as we possess, seems to be against his view.] though Bertrand seems to doubt their genuine racial affinity with the true Celts. They were perhaps Celticised rather than actually Celtic. They were not warlike; a quiet folk of herdsmen, tillers, and artificers. They did not bury, but burned their dead. At a great settlement of theirs, Golasecca, in Cisalpine Gaul, 6000 interments were found. In each case the body had been burned; there was not a single burial without previous burning.
This people entered Gaul not (according to Bertrand), for the most part, as conquerors, but by gradual infiltration, occupying vacant spaces wherever they found them along the valleys and plains. They came by the passes of the Alps, and their starting-point was the country of the Upper Danube, which Herodotus says "rises among the Celts." They blended peacefully with the Megalithic People among whom they settled, and did not evolve any of those advanced political institutions which are only nursed in war, but probably they contributed powerfully to the development of the Druidical system of religion and to the bardic poetry.
The Celts of the Mountains
Finally, we have a third group, the true Celtic group, which followed closely on the track of the second. It was at the beginning of the sixth century that it first made its appearance on the left bank of the Rhine. While Bertrand calls the second group Celtic, these he styles Galatic, and identifies them with the Galatae of the Greeks and the Galli and Belgae of the Romans.
The second group, as we have said, were Celts of the plains. The third were Celts of the mountains. The earliest home in which we know them was the ranges of the Balkans and Carpathians. Their organisation was that of a military aristocracy - they lorded it over the subject populations on whom they lived by tribute or pillage.
They are the warlike Celts of ancient history - the sackers of Rome and Delphi, the mercenary warriors who fought for pay and for the love of warfare in the ranks of Carthage and afterwards of Rome. Agriculture and industry were despised by them, their women tilled the ground, and under their rule the common population became reduced almost to servitude; "plebs poene servorum habetur loco," as Caesar tells us. Ireland alone escaped in some degree from the oppression of this military aristocracy, and from the sharp dividing line which it drew between the classes, yet even there a reflexion of the state of things in Gaul is found, even there we find free and unfree tribes and oppressive and dishonouring exactions on the part of the ruling order.
Yet, if this ruling race had some of the vices of untamed strength, they had also many noble and humane qualities. They were dauntlessly brave, fantastically chivalrous, keenly sensitive to the appeal of poetry, of music, and of speculative thought. Posidonius found the bardic institution flourishing among them about 100 B.C. and about two hundred years earlier Hecateus of Abdera describes the elaborate musical services held by the Celts in a Western island-probably Great Britain-in honour of their god Apollo (Lugh). [See Holder, "Altceltischer Sprachschatz" sub voce "Hyperboreoi"] Aryan of the Aryans, they had in them the making of a great and progressive nation; but the Druidic system - not on the side of its philosophy and science, but on that of its ecclesiastico-political organisation - was their bane, and their submission to it was their fatal weakness.
The culture of these mountain Celts differed markedly from that of the lowlanders. Their age was the age of iron, not of bronze; their dead were not burned (which they considered a disgrace) but buried.
The territories occupied by them in force were Switzerland, Burgundy, the Palatinate, and Northern France; parts of Britain to the west, and Illyria and Galatia to the east, but smaller groups of them must have penetrated far and wide through all Celtic territory, and taken up a ruling position wherever they went.
There were three peoples, said Caesar, inhabiting Gaul when his conquest began; "they differ from each other in language, in customs, and in laws." These people he named respectively the Belgae, the Celtae and the Aquitani. He locates them roughly, the Belgae in the north and east, the Celtae in the middle, and the Aquitani in the west and south. The BeIgae are the Galatae of Bertrand, the Celtae are the Celts, and the Aquitani are the Megalithic People. They had, of course, all been more or less brought under Celtic influences, and the differences of language which Caesar noticed need not have been great; still it is noteworthy, and quite in accordance with Bertrand's views, that Strabo speaks of the Aquitani as differing markedly from the rest of the inhabitants, and as resembling the Iberians. The language of the other Gaulish peoples, he expressly adds, were merely dialects of the same tongue.
The Religion of Magic
This triple division is reflected more or less in all the Celtic countries, and must always be borne in mind when we speak of Celtic ideas and Celtic religion, and try to estimate the contribution of the Celtic peoples to European culture. The mythical literature and the art of the Celt have probably sprung mainly from the section represented by the Lowland Celts of Bertrand. But this literature of song and saga was produced by a bardic class for the pleasure and instruction of a proud, chivalrous, and warlike aristocracy, and would thus inevitably be moulded by the ideas of this aristocracy. But it would also have been coloured by the profound influence of the religious beliefs and observances entertained by the Megalithic People - beliefs which are only now fading slowly away in the spreading day-light of science. These beliefs may be summed up in the one term Magic. The nature of this religion of magic must now be briefly discussed, for it was a potent element in the formation of the body of myths and legends with which we have afterwards to deal. And, as Professor Bury remarked in his Inaugural Lecture at Cambridge, in 1903 :
"For the purpose of prosecuting that most difficult of all inquiries, the ethnical problem, the part played by race in the development of peoples and the effects of race-blendings, it must be remembered that the Celtic world commands one of the chief portals of ingress into that mysterious pre-Aryan foreworld, from which it may well be that we modern Europeans have inherited far more than we dream."
The ultimate root of the word Magic is unknown, but proximately it is derived from the Magi, or priests of Chaldea and Media in pre-Aryan and pre-Semitic times, who were the great exponents of this system of thought, so strangely mingled of superstition, philosophy, and scientific observation. The fundamental conception of magic is that of the spiritual vitality of all nature. This spiritual vitality was not, as in polytheism, conceived as separated from nature in distinct divine personalities. It was implicit and immanent in nature; obscure, undefined, invested with all the awfulness of a power whose limits and nature are enveloped in impenetrable mystery. In its remote origin it was doubt-less, as many facts appear to show, associated with the cult of the dead, for death was looked upon as the resumption into nature, and as the investment with vague and uncontrollable powers, of a spiritual force formerly embodied in the concrete, limited, manageable, and therefore less awful form of a living human personality. Yet these powers were not altogether uncontrollable. The desire for control, as well as the suggestion of the means for achieving it, probably arose from the first rude practices of the art of healing. Medicine of some sort was one of the earliest necessities of man. And the power of certain natural substances, mineral or vegetable, to produce bodily and mental effects often of a most startling character would naturally be taken as signal evidence of what we may call the "magical" conception of the universe.[Thus the Greek pharmakon = medicine, poison, or charm; and I am informed that the Central African word for magic or charm is mankwala which also means medicine.] The first magicians were those who attained a special knowledge of healing or poisonous herbs; but "virtue" of some sort being attributed to every natural object and phenmenon, a kind of magical science, partly the child of true research, partly of poetic imagination, partly of priestcraft, would in time spring up, would be codified into rites and formulas, attached to special places and objects, and represented by symbols. The whole subject has been treated by Pliny in a remarkable passage which deserves quotation at length
Pliny on the Religion of Magic
"Magic is one of the few things which it is important to discuss at some length, were it only because, being the most delusive of all the arts, it has everywhere and at all times been most powerfully credited. Nor need it surprise us that it has obtained so vast an influence, for it has united in itself the three arts which have wielded the most powerful sway over the spirit of man. Springing in the first instance from Medicine - a fact which no one can doubt-and under cover of a solicitude for our health, it has glided into the mind, and taken the form of another medicine, more holy and more profound. In the second place, bearing the most seductive and flattering promises, it has enlisted the motive of Religion, the subject on which, even at this day, mankind is most in the dark. To crown all it has had recourse to the art of Astrology; and every man is eager to know the future and convinced that this knowledge is most certainly to be obtained from the heavens. Thus, holding the minds of men enchained in this triple bond, it has extended its sway over many nations, and the Kings of Kings obey it in the East.
"In the East, doubtless, it was invented - in Persia and by Zoroaster. [If Pliny meant that it was here first codified and organised he may be right, but the conceptions on which magic rest are practically universal, and of immemorial antquity.] All the authorities agree in this.
But has there not been more than one Zoroaster? ·
I have noticed that in ancient times, and indeed almost always, one finds men seeking in this science the climax of literary glory - at least Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato crossed the seas, exiles, in truth, rather than travellers, to instruct themselves in this. Returning to their native land, they vaunted the claims of magic and maintained its secret doctrine · In the Latin nations there are early traces of it, as, for instance, in our Laws of the Twelve Tables'[Adopted 451 B.C. Livy entitles them "the fountain of all public and private right" They stood in the Forum till the third century A.D., but have now perished, except for fragments preserved in various commentaries] and other monuments, as I have said in a former book. In fact, it was not until the yeay 657 after the foundation of Rome, under the consulate of Cornelius Lentulus Crassus, that it was forbidden by a senatus consultum to sacrifice human beings; a fact which proves that up to this date these horrible sacrifices were made. The Gauls have been captivated by it, and that even down to our own times, or it was the Emperor Tiberius who suppressed the Druids and all the herd of prophets and medicine-men. But what is the use of launching prohibitions against an art which has thus traversed the ocean and penetrated even to the confines of Nature?" (Hist. Nat. xxx.)
Pliny adds that the first person whom he can ascertain to have written on this subject was Osthanes, who accompanied Xerxes in his war against the Greeks, and who propagated the "germs of his monstrous art" wherever he went in Europe.
Magic was not - so Pliny believed - indigenous either in Greece or in Italy, but was so much at home in Britain and conducted with such elaborate ritual that Pliny says it would almost seem as if it was they who had taught it to the Persians, not the Persians to them.
Traces of Magic in Megalithic Monuments
The imposing relics of their cult which the Megalithic People have left us are full of indications of their religion. Take, for instance, the remarkable tumulus of ManŽ-er-H'oeck, in Brittany. This monument was explored in 1864 by M. RenŽ Galles, who describes it as absolutely intact-the surface of the earth unbroken, and everything as the builders left it. [See "Revue ArchŽologique," t. xii., 1865, "Fouilles de RenŽ Galles."]
At the entrance to the rectangular chamber was a sculptured slab, on which was graven a mysterious sign, perhaps the totem of a chief. Immediately on entering the chamber was found a beautiful pendant in green jasper about the size of an egg. On the floor in the centre of the chamber was a most singular arrangement, consisting of a large ring of jadite, slightly oval in shape, with a magnificent axe-head, also of jadite, its point resting on the ring. The axe was a well-known symbol of power or godhead, and is frequently found in rock-carvings of the Bronze Age, as well as in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Minoan carvings, &c. At a little distance from these there lay two large pendants of jasper, then an axe-head in white jade, [Jade is not found in the native state in Europe, nor nearer than China.] then another jasper pendant. All these objects were ranged with evident intention en suite, forming a straight line which coincided exactly with one of the diagonals of the chamber, running from north-west to south-east. In one of the corners of the chamber were found 101 axe-heads in jade, jadite, and fibrolite. There were no traces of bones or cinders, no funerary urn ; the structure was a cenotaph. "Are we not here," asks Bertrand, "in presence of some ceremony relating to the practices of magic?"
Chiromancy at Gavr'inis
In connexion with the great sepulchral monument of Gavr'inis a very curious observation was made by M. Albert Maitre, an inspector of the MusŽe des AntiquitŽs Nationales. There were found here - as commonly in other megalithic monuments in Ireland and Scotland - a number of stones sculptured with a singular and characteristic design in waving and concentric lines. Now if the curious lines traced upon the human hand at the roots and tips of the fingers be examined under a lens, it will be found that they bear an exact resemblance to these designs of megalithic sculpture. One seems almost like a cast of the other. These lines on the human hand are so distinct and peculiar that, as is well known, they have been adopted as a method of identification of criminals. Can this resemblance be the result of chance ? Nothing like these peculiar assemblages of sculptured lines has ever been found except in connexion with these monuments. Have we not here a reference to chiromancy - a magical art much practised in ancient and even in modern times? The hand as a symbol of power was a well-known magical emblem, and has entered largely even into Christian symbolism - note, for instance, the great hand sculptured on the under side of one of the arms of the Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice.
Another singular and as yet unexplained feature which appears in many of these monuments, from Western Europe to India, is the presence of a small hole bored through one of the stones composing the chamber.
Was it an aperture intended for the spirit of the dead? or for offerings to them ? or the channel through which revelations from the spirit-world were supposed to come to a priest or magician? or did it partake of all these characters?
Holed stones, not forming part of a dolmen, are, of course, among the commonest relics of the ancient cult, and are still venerated and used in practices connected with child-bearing, etc. Here we are doubtless to interpret the emblem as a symbol of sex.
Besides the heavenly bodies, we find that rivers, trees, mountains, and stones were all objects of veneration among this primitive people. Stone-worship was particularly common, and is not so easily explained as the worship directed toward objects possessing movement and vitality. Possibly an explanation of the veneration attaching to great and isolated masses of unhewn stone may be found in their resemblance to the artificial dolmens and cromlechs. [Small stones, crystals, and gems were, however, also venerated. The celebrated Black Stone of Pergamos was the subject of an embassy from Rome to that city in the time of the Second Punic War, the Sibylline Rooks having predicted victory to its possessors. It was brought to Rome with great rejoicings in the year 205.
It is stated to have been about the site of a man's fist, and was probably a meteorite. Compare the myth in Hesiod which relates how Kronos devoured a stone in the belief that it was his offspring, Zeus It was then possible to mistake a stone for a god.] No superstition has proved more enduring. In A.D. 452 we find the Synod of Aries denouncing those who "venerate trees and wells and stones," and the denunciation was repeated by Charlemagne, and by numerous Synods and Councils down to recent times. Yet a drawing, here reproduced, which was lately made on the spot by Mr. Arthur Bell, shows this very act of worship still in full force in Brittany, and shows the symbols and the sacerdotal organisation of Christianity actually pressed into the service of this immemorial paganism.
According to Mr. Bell, the clergy take part in these performances with much reluctance; but are compelled to do so by the force of local opinion. Holy wells, the water of which is supposed to cure diseases, are still very common in Ireland, and the cult of the waters of Lourdes may, in spite of its adoption by the Church, be mentioned as a notable case in point on the Continent.
Another singular emblem, upon the meaning of which no light has yet been thrown, occurs frequently in connexion with megalithic monuments.
Cup-and-ring markings on the entrance stone at Newgrange in Ireland, similar to the motifs found on many British megaliths
The accompanying illustrations show examples of it. Cup-shaped hollows are made in the surface of the stone, these are often surrounded with concentric rings, and from the cup one or more radial lines are drawn to a point outside the circumference of the rings. Occasionally a system of cups are joined by these lines, but more frequently they end a little way outside the widest of the rings. These strange markings are found in Great Britain and Ireland, in Brittany, and at various places in India, where they are called mahadeos. [See Sir J. Simpson', "Archaic Sculpturings" 1867] I have also found a curious example - for such it appears to be - in Dupaix' "Monuments of New Spain."
It is reproduced in Lord Kingsborough's "Antiquities of Mexico," vol. iv. On the circular top of a cylindrical stone, known as the "Triumphal Stone," is carved a central cup, with nine concentric circles round it, and a duct or channel cut straight from the cup through all the circles to the rim. Except that the design here is richly decorated and accurately drawn, it closely resembles a typical European cup-and-ring marking. That these markings mean something, and that, wherever they are found, they mean the same thing, can hardly be doubted, but what that meaning is remains yet a puzzle to antiquarians. The guess may perhaps be hazarded that they are diagrams or plans of a megalithic sepulchre. The central hollow represents the actual burial-place. The circles are the standing Stones, fosses, and ramparts which often surrounded it; and the line or duct drawn from the centre outwards represents the subterranean approach to the sepulchre. The apparent "avenue" intention of the duct is clearly brought out in the varieties given below, which I take from Simpson.
As the sepulchre was also a holy place or shrine, the occurrence of a representation of it among other carvings of a sacred character is natural enough ; it would seem symbolically to indicate that the place was holy ground. How far this suggestion might apply to the Mexican example I am unable to say.
The Tumulus at New Grange
One of the most important and richly sculptured of European megalithic monuments is the great chambered tumulus of New Grange, on the northern bank of the Boyne, in Ireland. This tumulus, and the others which occur in its neighbourhood, appear in ancient Irish mythical literature in two different characters, the union of which is significant. They are regarded on the one hand as the dwelling-places of the Sidhe (pronounced Shee), or Fairy Folk, who represent, probably, the deities of the ancient Irish, and they are also, traditionally, the burial-places of the Celtic High Kings of. pagan Ireland.
The story of the burial of King Cormac, who was supposed to have heard of the Christian faith long before it was actually preached in Ireland by St. Patrick and who ordered that he should not be buried at the royal cemetery by the Boyne, on account of its pagan associations, points to the view that this place was the centre of a pagan cult involving more than merely the interment of royal personages in its precincts. Unfortunately these monuments are not intact; they were opened and plundered by the Danes in the ninth century, [The fact is recorded in the "Annals of the Four Masters" under the date 861 and in the "Annals of Ulster" under 862] but enough evidence remains to show that they were sepulchral in their origin, and were also associated with the cult of a primitive religion. The most important of them, the tumulus of New Grange, has been thoroughly explored and described by Mr. George Coffey, keeper of the collection of Celtic antiquities in the National Museum, Dublin.[See "Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy," vol. xxx. Pt. i, 1892, and "New Grange," by G. Coffey, 1912] It appears from the outside like a large mound, or knoll, now over-grown with bushes. It measures about 280 feet across, at its greatest diameter, and is about 44 feet in height. Outside it there runs a wide circle of standing stones originally, it would seem, thirty-five in number. Inside this circle is a ditch and rampart, and on top of this rampart was laid a circular curb of great stones 8 to 10 feet long, laid on edge, and confining what has proved to he a huge mound of loose stones, now overgrown, as we have said, with grass and bushes. It is in the interior of this mound that the interest of the monument lies. Towards the end of the seventeenth century some workmen who were getting road-material from the mound came across the entrance to a passage which led into the interior, and was marked by the fact that the boundary stone below it is richly carved with spirals and lozenges. This entrance faces exactly south-east.
The passage is formed of upright slabs of unhewn stone roofed with similar slabs, and varies from nearly 5 feet to 7 feet 10 inches in height ; it is about 3 feet wide, and runs for 62 feet straight into the heart of the mound. Here it ends in a cruciform chamber, 20 feet high, the roof, a kind of dome, being formed of large flat stones, overlapping inwards till they almost meet at the top, where a large flat stone covers all. In each of the three recesses of the cruciform chamber there stands a large stone basin, or rude sarcophagus, but no traces of any burial now remain.
Symbolic Carvings at New Grange
The stones are all raw and undressed, and were selected for their purpose from the river-bed and elsewhere close by. On their flat surfaces, obtained by splitting slabs from the original quarries, are found the carvings which form the unique interest of this strange monument. Except for the large stone with spiral carvings and one other at the entrance to the mound, the intention of these Sculptures does not appear to have been decorative, except in a very rude and primitive sense. There is no attempt to cover a given surface with a system of ornament appropriate to its size and shape. The designs are, as it were, scribbled upon the walls anyhow and anywhere. [It must be observed, however, that the decoration was, certainly in some, and perhaps in all cases, carried out before the stones were placed in position. This is also the case at Gavr'inis.] Among them everywhere the spiral is prominent.
Symbolic Carvings at New Grange
The resemblance of some of these carvings to the supposed finger-markings of the stones at Gavr'inis is very remarkable. Triple and double spiral are also found, as well as lozenges and zigzags. A singular carving representing what looks like a palm-branch or fern-leaf is found in the west recess. The drawing of this object is naturalistic, and it is hard to interpret it, as Mr. Coffey is inclined to do, as merely a piece of so-called "herring~bone" pattern. [He has modified this view in his latest work, "New Grange," 1912] A similar palm-leaf design, but with the ribs arranged at right angles to the central axis, is found in the neighbouring tumulus of Dowth, at Loughcrew, and in combination with a solar emblem, the swastika, on a small altar in the Pyrenees, figured by Bertrand.
The Ship Symbol at New Grange
Another remarkable and, as far as Ireland goes, unusual figure is found sculptured in the west recess at New Grange. It has been interpreted by various critics as a mason's mark, a piece of Phoenician writing, a group of numerals, and finally (and no doubt correctly) by Mr. George Coffey as a rude representation of a ship with men on board and uplifted sail. lt is noticeable that just above it is a small circle, forming, apparently, part of the design. Another example occurs at Dowth.
The significance of this marking, as we shall see, is possibly very great.
It has been discovered that on certain stones in the tumulus of Locmariaker, in Brittany, ["Proc. Royal Irish Acad.," vol. viii. 1863, p. 400, and G. Coffey, op. cit. p. 30] there occur a number of very similar figures) one of them showing the circle in much the same relative position as at New Grange. The axe, an Egyptian hieroglyph for godhead and a well-known magical emblem, is also represented on this stone. Again, in a brochure by Dr. Oscar Montelius on the rock-sculptures of Sweden ["Les Sculptures de Rochers de la Sude," read at the Prehistoric Congress, Stockholm, 1874; and see G. Coffey, op. cit. p. 60] we find a reproduction (also given in Du Chaillu's " Viking Age") of a rude rock-carving showing a number of ships with men on board, and the circle quartered by a cross-unmistakably a solar emblem-just above one of them.
That these ships (which, like the Irish example) are often so summarily represented as to be mere symbols which no one could identify as a ship were the clue not given by other and more elaborate representations) were drawn so frequently in conjunction with the solar disk merely for amusement or for a purely decorative object seems to me most improbable.
In the days of the megalithic folk sepulchral monument, the very focus of religious ideas, would hardly nave been covered with idle and meaningless scrawls. "Man," as Sir J. Simpson has well said, "has ever conjoined together things sacred and things sepulchral." Nor do these scrawls, in the majority of instances, show any glimmering of a decorative intention.
But if they had a symbolic intention, what is it that they symbolise?
We have here come, I believe, into a higher order of Ideas than that of magic. The suggestion I have to make may seem a daring one ; yet, as we shall see, it is quite in line with the results of certain other investigations as to the origin and character of the megalithic culture.
If accepted, it will certainly give much greater definiteness to our views of the relations of the Megalithic People with North Africa, as well as of the true origin of Druidism and of the doctrines associated with that system. I think it may be taken as established that the frequent conjunction of the ship with the solar disk on rock-sculptures in Sweden, Ireland, and Brittany cannot be fortuitous. No one, for instance, looking at the example from Hallande given above, can doubt that the two objects are intentionally combined in one design.
The Ship Symbol in Egypt
Now this symbol of the ship, with or without the actual portrayal of the solar emblem, is of very ancient and very common occurrence in the sepulchral art of Egypt. It is connected with the worship of Ra which came in fully 4000 years B.C. Its meaning as an Egyptian symbol is well known. The ship was called the Boat of the Sun. It was the vessel in which the Sun-god performed his journeys; in particular, the journey which he made nightly to the shores of the Other-world, bearing with him in his bark the souls of the beatified dead.
The Sun-god, Ra, is sometimes represented by a disk, some-times by other emblems, hovering above the vessel or contained within it. Any one who will look over the painted or sculptured sarcophagi in the British Museum will find a host of examples. Sometimes he will find representations of the life-giving rays of Ra pouring down upon the boat and its occupants. Now, in one of the Swedish rock-carvings of ships at Backa, Bohuslan, given by Montelius, a ship crowded with figures is shown beneath a disk with three descending rays, and again another ship with a two-rayed sun above it. It may be added that in the tumulus of Dowth, which is close to that of New Grange and is entirely of the same character and period, rayed figures and quartered circles, obviously solar emblems, occur abundantly, as also at Loughcrew and other places in Ireland, and one other ship figure has been identified at Dowth.
In Egypt the solar boat is sometimes represented as containing the solar emblem alone, sometimes it contains the figure of a god with attendant deities, sometimes it contains a crowd of passengers representing human soul; and sometimes the figure of a single corpse on a bier.
Vignette and text of the Theban Book of the Dead showing the Sun-Boat of Ra. From the Papyrus of Nu.
The megalithic carvings also sometimes show the solar emblem and some-times not; the boats are sometimes filled with figures and are sometimes empty. When a symbol has once been accepted and understood, any conventional or summary representation of it is sufficient. I take it that the complete form of the megalithic symbol is that of a boat with figures in it and with the solar emblem overhead. These figures, assuming the fore-going interpretation of the design to be correct, must clearly be taken for representations of the dead on their way to the Other-world.
They cannot be deities, for representations of the divine powers under human aspect were quite unknown to the Megalithic People, even after the coming of the Celts - they first occur in Gaul under Roman influence. But if these figures represent the dead, then we have clearly before us the origin of the so-called "Celtic" doctrine of immortality. The carvings in question are pre-Celtic. They are found where no Celts ever penetrated. Yet they point to the existence of just that Other-world doctrine which, from the time of Caesar downwards, has been associated with Celtic Druidism, and this doctrine was distinctively Egyptian.
In connexion with this subject I may draw attention to the theory of Mr. W. C. Borlase that the typical design of an Irish dolmen was intended to represent a ship. In Minorca there are analogous structures, there popularly called navetas (ships), so distinct is the resemblance. But, he adds, "long before the caves and navetas of Minorca were known to me I had formed the opinion that what I have so frequently spoken of as the 'wedge-shape' observable so universally in the ground-plans of dolmens was due to an original conception of a ship. From sepulchral tumuli in Scandinavia we know actual vessels have on several occasions been disinterred. In cemeteries of the Iron Age, in the same country, as well as on the more southern Baltic coasts, the ship was a recognised form of sepulchral enclosure."["Dolmens of Ireland," pp. 701-704] If Mr. Borlase's view is correct, we have here a very strong corroboration of the symbolic intention which I attribute to the solar ship-carvings of the Megalithic People.
The Ship Symbol in Babylonia
The ship symbol, it may be remarked, can be traced to about 4000 B.C. in Babylonia, where every deity had his own special ship (that of the god Sin was called the Ship of Light, his image being carried in procession on a litter formed like a ship. This is thought by Jastrow ["The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria"] to have originated at a time when the sacred cities of Babylonia were situated on the Persian Gulf, and when religious processions were often carried out by water.
The Symbol of the Feet
Yet there is reason to think that some of these symbols were earlier than any known mythology, and were, so to say, mythologised differently by different peoples, who got hold of them from this now unknown source. A remarkable instance is that of the symbol of the Two Feet. In Egypt the Feet of Osiris formed one of the portions into which his body was cut up. In the well-known myth.
They were a symbol of possession or of visitation. "I have come upon earth," says the "Book of the Dead" (ch. xvii.), "and with my two feet have taken possession. I am Tmu." Now this symbol of the feet or footprint is very widespread. It is found in India, as the print of the foot of Buddha, [A good example from Amaravati (after Fergusson) is given by Bertrand, "Rel. des G.," p. 389.] it is found sculptured on dolmens in Brittany, [Sergi, "The Mediterranean Race," p.313.] and it occurs in rock-carvings in Scandinavia. [At Lškeberget, BohuslŠn; see Montelius, op. cit.] In Ireland it passes for the footprints of St. Patrick or St. Columba. Strangest of all, it is found unmistakably in Mexico. [See Lord Kingsborough's "Antiquities of Mexico," passim, and the Humboldt fragment of Mexican painting (reproduced in Churchward's "Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man',).] Tyler, in his "Primitive Culture" (ii. p. '97) refers to "the Aztec ceremony at the Second Festival of the Sun God, Tezcatlipoca, when they sprinkled maize flour before his sanctuary, and his high priest watched till he beheld the divine footprints, and then shouted to announce, 'Our Great God is come.' "
The Ankh on Megalithic Carvings
There is very strong evidence of the connexion of the Megalithic People with North Africa. Thus, as Sergi points out, many signs (probably numerical) found on ivory tablets in the cemetery at Naqada discovered by Flinders Petrie are to be met with on European dolmens.
Several later Egyptian hieroglyphic signs, including the famous Ankh, or crux ansata, the symbol of vitality or resurrection, are also found in megalithic carvings. [See Sergi, op. cit. p.190, for the Ankh on a French doImen.] From these correspondences Letourneau drew the conclusion "that the builders of our megalithic monuments came from the South, and were related to the races of North Africa." ["Bulletin de Ia Soc. d'Anthropologie," Paris, April 1893.]
Evidence from Language
Approaching the subject from the linguistic side, Rhys and Brynmor Jones find that the African origin - at least proximately - of the primitive population of Great Britain and Ireland is strongly suggested. It is here shown that the Celtic languages preserve in their syntax the Hamitic, and especially the Egyptian type. ["The Welsh People," pp. 616-664, where the subject is fully discussed in an appendix by Professor J. Morris Jones. "The pre-Aryan idioms which still live in Welsh and Irish were derived from a language allied to Egyptian and the Berber tongues."]
Egyptian and "Celtic" Ideas of Immortality
The facts at present known do not, I think, justify us in framing any theory as to the actual historical relation of the dolmen-builders of Western Europe with the people who created the wonderful religion and civilisation of ancient Egypt. But when we consider all the lines of evidence that converge in this direction it seems clear that there was such a relation. Egypt was the classic land of religious symbolism. It gave to Europe the most beautiful and most popular of all its religious symbols, that of the divine mother and child. [Flinders Petrie, "Egypt and Israel," pp.137, 899.] I believe that it also gave to the primitive inhabitants of Western Europe the profound symbol of the voyaging spirits guided to the world of the dead by by the God of Light.
The religion of Egypt, above that of any people whose ideas we know to have been developed in times so ancient, centred on the doctrine of a future life. The palatial and stupendous tombs, the elaborate ritual, the imposing mythology, the immense exaltation of the priestly caste, all these features of Egyptian culture were intimately connected with their doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
To the Egyptian the disembodied soul was no shadowy simulacrum, as the classical nations believed-the future life was a mere prolongation of the present; the just man, when he had won his place in it, found himself among his relatives, his friends, his workpeople, with tasks and enjoyments very much like those of earth. The doom of the wicked was annihilation; he fell a victim to the invisible monster called the Eater of the Dead.
Now when the classical nations first began to take an interest in the ideas of the Celts the thing that principally struck them was the Celtic belief in immortality, which the Gauls said was "handed down by the Druids." The classical nations believed in immortality; but what a picture does Homer, the Bible of the Greeks, give of the lost, degraded, dehumanised creatures which represented the departed souls of men ! Take, as one example, the description of the spirits of the suitors slain by Odysseus as Hermes conducts them to the Underworld :
"Now were summoned the souls of the dead by Cyllenian Hermes
Touched by the wand they awoke, and obeyed him and followed him, squealing,
Even as bats in the dark, mysterious depths of a cavern
Squeal as they flutter around, should one from the cluster be fallen
Where from the rock suspended they hung, all clinging together;
So did the souls flock squealing behind him, as Hermes the Helper
Guided them down to the gloom through dank and mouldering pathways."
[I quote from Mr. H. B. Cotterill's beautiful hexameter version.]
The classical writers felt rightly that the Celtic idea of immortality was something altogether different from this. It was both loftier and more realistic; it implied a true persistence of the living man, as he was at present, in all his human relations. They noted with surprise that the Celt would lend money on a promissory note for repayment in the next world. [Valerius Maximus (about A.D. 30] ) and other classical writers mention this practice] That is an absolutely Egyptian conception. And this very analogy occurred to Diodorus in writing of the Celtic idea of immortality - it was like nothing that he knew of out of Egypt. [Book V].
The Doctrine of Transmigration
Many ancient writers assert that the Celtic idea of immortality embodied the Oriental conception of the transmigration of souls, and to account for this the hypothesis was invented that they had learned the doctrine from Pythagoras, who represented it in classical antiquity. Thus Caesar : "The principal point of their [the Druids'] teaching is that the soul does not perish, and that after death it passes from one body into another." And Diodorus: "Among them the doctrine of Pythagoras prevails, according to which the souls of men are immortal, and after a fixed term recommence to live, taking upon themselves a new body." Now traces of this doctrine certainly do appear in Irish legend. Thus the Irish chieftain, Mongan, who is an historical personage, and whose death is recorded about A.D. 625, is said to have made a wager as to the place of death of a king named Fothad, slain in a battle with the mythical hero Finn mac Cumhal in the third century. He proves his case by summoning to his aid a revenant from the Other-world, Keelta, who was the actual slayer of Fothad, and who describes correctly where the tomb is to be found and what were its contents.
He begins his tale by saying to Mongan, "We were with thee," and then, turning to the assembly, he continues: "We were with Finn, coming from Alba. . . ." "Hush," says Mongan, "it is wrong of thee to reveal a secret." The secret is, of course, that Mongan was a reincarnation of Finn. [De Jubainville, " Irish Mythological Cycle," p. 191 sqq.] But the evidence on the whole shows that the Celts did not hold this doctrine at all in the same way as Pythagoras and the Orientals did. Transmigration was not, with them, part of the order of things.
It might happen, but in general it did not; the new body assumed by the dead clothed them in another, not in this world, and so far as we can learn from any ancient authority, there does not appear to have been any idea of moral retribution connected with this form of the future life. It was not so much an article of faith as an idea which haunted the imagination, and which, as Mongan's caution indicates, ought not to be brought into clear light.
However it may have been conceived, it is certain that the belief in immortality was the basis of Celtic Druidism. [The etymology of the word "Druid " is no longer an unsolved problem. It had been suggested that the latter part of the word might be connected with the Aryan root VID, which appears in "Wisdom"' in the Latin videre , &c., Thurneysen has now shown that this root in combination with the intensiye particle dru would yield the word dru-vids, represented in Gaelic by draoi, a Druid, just as another intensive, su, with vids yields the Gaelic saoi, a sage.] Caesar affirms this distinctly, and declares the doctrine to have been fostered by the Druids rather for the promotion of courage than for purely religious reasons. An intense Other-world faith, such as that held by the Celts, is certainly one of the mightiest of agencies in the hands of a priesthood who hold the keys of that world.
Now Druidism existed in the British Islands, in Gaul, and, in fact, so far as we know, wherever there was a Celtic race amid a population of dolmen-builders. There were Celts in Cisalpine Gaul, but there were no dolmens there, and there were no Druids. [See Rice Holmes, "Caesar's Conquest," p. 15, and pp.532-536.
Rhys, it may he observed, believes that Druidism was the religion of the aboriginal inhabitants of Western Europe "from the Baltic to Gibraltar" ("Celtic Britain," p. 73). But we only know of it where Celts and dolmen-builders combined. Caesar remarks of the Germans that they had no Druids and cared little about sacrificial ceremonies.] What is quite clear is that when the Celts got to Western Europe they found there a people with a powerful priesthood, a ritual, and imposing religious monuments ;a people steeped in magic and mysticism and the cult of the Underworld.
The inferences, as I read the facts, seem to be that Druidism in its essential features was imposed upon the imaginative and sensitive nature of the Celt - the Celt with his "extraordinary aptitude" for picking up ideas - by the earlier population of Western Europe, the Megalithic People, while, as held by these, it stands in some historical relation, which I am not able to pursue in further detail, with the religious culture of ancient Egypt. Much obscurity still broods over the question, and perhaps will always do so, but if these suggestions have anything in them, then the Megalithic People have been brought a step or two out of the atmosphere of uncanny mystery which has surrounded them, and they are shown to have played a very important part in the religious development of Western Europe, and in preparing that part of the world for the rapid extension of the special type of Christianity which took place in it.
Bertrand, in his most interesting chapter on L'Irlande Celtique," ["Rel. des Gaulois," lecon xx.] points out that very soon after the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, we find the country covered with monasteries, whose complete organisation seems to indicate that they were really Druidic colleges transformed en masse. Caesar has told us what these colleges were like in Gaul. They were very numerous. In spite of the severe study and discipline involved, crowds flocked into them for the sake of the power wielded by the Druidic order, and the civil immunities which its members of all grades enjoyed. Arts and sciences were studied there, and thousands of verses enshrining the teachings of Druidism were committed to memory. All this is very like what we know of Irish Druidism.
Such an organisation would pass into Christianity of the type established in Ireland with very little difficulty. The belief in magical rites would survive-early Irish Christianity, as its copious hagiography plainly shows, was as steeped in magical ideas as ever was Druidic paganism. The belief in immortality would remain, as before, the cardinal doctrine of religion. Above all the supremacy of the sacerdotal order over the temporal power would remain unimpaired; it would still be true, as Dion Chrysostom said of the Druids, that "it is they who command, and kings on thrones of gold, dwelling in splendid palaces, are but their ministers, and the servants of their thought." [Quoted by Bertrand, op. cit. p. 279]
Caesar on the Druidic Culture
The religious, philosophic, and scientific culture superintended by the Druids is spoken of by Caesar with much respect. "They discuss and impart to the youth," he writes, "many things respecting the stars and their motions, respecting the extent of the universe and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods" (bk. vi. 14). We would give much to know some particulars of the teaching here described. But the Druids, though well acquainted with letters, strictly forbade the committal of their doctrines to writing; an extremely sagacious provision, for not only did they thus surround their teaching with that atmosphere of mystery which exercises so potent a spell over the human mind, but they ensured that it could never be effectively controverted.
Human Sacrifices in Gaul
In strange discord, however, with the lofty words of Caesar stands the abominable practice of human sacrifice whose prevalence he noted among the Celts. Prisoners and criminals, or if these failed even innocent victims, probably children, were encased, numbers at a time, in huge frames of wickerwork, and there burned alive to win the favour of the gods. The practice of human sacrifice is, of course, not specially Druidic - it is found in all parts both of the Old and of the New World at a certain stage of culture, and was doubtless a survival from the time of the Megalithic People. The fact that it should have continued in Celtic lands after an other-wise fairly high state of civilisation and religious culture had been attained can be paralleled from Mexico and Carthage, and in both cases is due, no doubt, to the uncontrolled dominance of a priestly caste.
Human Sacrifices in Ireland
Bertrand endeavours to dissociate the Druids from these practices, of which he says strangely there is "no trace" in Ireland, although there, as elsewhere in Celtica, Druidism was all-powerful. There is little doubt, however, that in Ireland also human sacrifices at one time prevailed. In a very ancient tract, the "Dinnsenchus," preserved in the " Book of Leinster," it is stated that on Moyslaught, "the Plain of Adoration," there stood a great gold idol, Crom Cruach (the Bloody Crescent). To it the Gaels used to sacrifice children when praying for fair weather and fertility - " it was milk and corn they asked from it in exchange for their children - how great was their horror and their moaning !" ["The Irish Mythological Cycle," by d'Arbois de Jubainville, p. 61. The" Dinnsenchus" in question is an early Christian document. No trace of a being like Crom Cruach has been found as yet in the pagan literature of Ireland, nor in the writing: of St. Patrick, and I think it is quite probable that even in the time of St. Patrick human sacrifices had become only a memory.]
And in Egypt
In Egypt, where the national character was markedly easy-going, pleasure-loving, and little capable of fanatical exaltation, we find no record of any such cruel rites in the monumental inscriptions and paintings, copious as is the information which they give us on all features of the national life and religion. [A representation of human sacrifice has, however, lately been discovered in a Temple of the Sun in the ancient Ethiopian capital, Meroe.] Manetho, indeed, the Egyptian historian who wrote in the third century B.C., tells us that human sacrifices were abolished by Amasis I. so late as the beginning of the XVIII Dynasty - about 1600 B.C. But the complete silence of the other records shows us that even if we are to believe Manetho, the practice must in historic times have been very rare, and must have been looked on with repugnance.
The Names of Celtic Deities
What were the names and the attributes of the Celtic deities? Here we are very much in the dark. The Megalithic People did not imagine their deities under concrete personal form. Stones, rivers, wells, trees, and other natural objects were to them the adequate symbols, or were half symbols, half actual embodiments, of the supernatural forces which they venerated.
But the imaginative mind of the Aryan Celt was not content with this. The existence of personal gods with distinct titles and attributes is reported to us by Caesar, who equates them with various figures in the Roman pantheon - Mercury, Apollo, Mars, and so forth. Lucan mentions a triad of deities, Aesus, Teutates, and Taranus ; ["You (Celts) who by cruel blood outpoured think to appease the pitiless Teutates, the horrid Aesus with his barbarous altars, and Taranus whose worship is no gentler than that of the Scythian Diana," to whom captives were offered up. (Lucan, "Pharsalia," i. 444) An altar dedicated to Aesua has been discovered in Paris.] and it is noteworthy that in these names we seem to be in presence of a true Celtic, i.e., Aryan, tradition Thus Aesus is derived by Belloguet from the Aryan root as, meaning "to be," which furnished the name of Asura-masda (l'Esprit Sage) to the Persians, Aesun to the Umbrians, Asa (Divine Being) to the Scandinavians.
Teutates comes from a Celtic root meaning " valiant," .' warlike," and indicates a deity equivalent to Mars. Taranus (?Thor), according to de Jubainville, is a god of the Lightning (taran in Welsh, Cornish, and Breton is the word for "thunderbolt"). Votive inscriptions to these gods have been found in Gaul and Britain.
Other inscriptions and sculptures bear testimony to the existence in Gaul of a host of minor and local deities who are mostly mere names, or not even names, to us now. In the form in which we have them these conceptions bear clear traces of Roman influence. The sculptures are rude copies of the Roman style of religious art. But we meet among them figures of much wilder and stranger aspect-gods with triple faces, gods with branching antlers on their brows, ram-headed serpents, and other now unintelligible symbols of the older faith. Very notable is the frequent occurrence of the cross-legged "Buddha" attitude so prevalent in the religious art of the East and of Mexico, and also the tendency, so well known in Egypt, to group the gods in triads.
Caesar on the Celtic Deities
Caesar, who tries to fit the Gallic religion into the framework of Roman mythology - which was exactly what the Gauls themselves did after the conquest - says they held Mercury to be the chief of the gods, and looked upon him as the inventor of all the arts, as the presiding deity of commerce, and as the guardian of roads and guide of travellers. One may conjecture that he was particularly, to the Gauls as to the Romans the guide of the dead, of travellers to the Other-world, Many bronze statues to Mercury, of Gaulish origin. still remain, the name being adopted by the Gauls, as many place-names still testify. [Mont Mercure, Mercoeur; Mercoirey, Montmartre Apollo was regarded as the deity of medicine and healing, Minerva was the initiator of arts and crafts, Jupiter governed the sky, and Mars presided over war. Caesar is here, no doubt, classifying under five types and by Roman names a large number of Gallic divinities.
The God of the Underworld
According to Caesar, a most notable deity of the Gauls was (in Roman nomenclature) Dis, or Pluto, the god of the Underworld inhabited by the dead. From him all the Gauls claimed to be descended, and on this account, says Caesar, they began their reckoning of the twenty-four hours of the day with the oncoming of night. [To this day in many parts of France the peasantry use terms like annuity, o'nŽ, anneue, &c., all meaning "to-night," for aujourd hui (Bertrand, "Rel. des G.," p. 356] The name of this deity is not given.
D'Arbois de Jubainville considers that, together with Aesus, Teutates, Taranus, and, in Irish mythology, Balor and the Fomorians, he represents the powers of darkness, death, and evil, and Celtic mythology is thus interpreted as a variant of the universal solar myth, embodying~ the conception of the eternal conflict between Day and Night.
The God of Light
Lugh by E. Wallcousins. 1912
Celtic sun god. Also known as Lleu in Wales and Lugos in France. Part Fomorii, his grandfather was the Irish one-eyed god Balor, the Formorii champion. The Formorii challenged the Tuatha De Danann for control of Ireland.
Because of a prophesy that Balor would be killed by his own grandson, he locked his daughter Eithne in a crystal tower on Tory Island. But Cian, son of the Tuatha De Danann healing god, Dian Cecht, managed to seduce the girl with the help of the druidess, Birog. Triplets were conceived but Lugh's two siblings were turned into seals.
The God of Light appears in Gaul and in Ireland as Lugh, or Lugus, who has left his traces in many place-names such as Lug-dunum (Leyden), Lyons, &c. Lugh appears in Irish legend with distinctly solar attributes. When he meets his army before the great conflict with the Fomorians, they feel, says the saga, as if they beheld the rising of the sun. Yet he is also, as we shall see, a god of the Underworld, belonging on the side of his mother Ethlinn, daughter of Balor, to the Powers of Darkness.
The Celtic Conception of Death
The fact is that the Celtic conception of the realm of death differed altogether from that of the Greeks and Romans, and, as I have already pointed out, resembled that of Egyptian religion. The Other-world was not a place of gloom and suffering, but of light and liberation. The Sun was as much the god of that world as he was or this. Evil, pain, and gloom there were, no doubt, and no doubt these principles were embodied by the Irish Celts in their myths of Balor and the Fomorians, of which we shall hear anon; but that they were particularly associated with the idea of death is, I think, a false supposition founded on misleading analogies drawn from the ideas of the classical nations. Here the Celts followed North African or Asiatic conceptions rather than those of the Aryans of Europe. It is only by realising that the Celts as we know them in history, from the break-up of the Mid- European Celtic empire Onwards) formed a singular blend of Aryan with non-Aryan characteristics, that we shall arrive at a true understanding of their contribution to European history and their influence in European culture.
The Five Factors in Ancient Celtic Culture
To sum up the conclusions indicated: we can, I think, distinguish five distinct factors in the religious and intellectual culture of Celtic lands as we find them prior to the influx of classical or of Christian influences.
First, we have before us a mass of popular superstitions and of magical observances, including human sacrifice. These varied more or less from place to place, centring as they did largely on local features which were regarded as embodiments or vehicles of divine or of diabolic power.
Secondly, there was certainly in existence a thoughtful and philosophic creed) having as its central object of worship the Sun, as an emblem of divine power and constancy, and as its central doctrine the immortality of the soul.
Thirdly, there was a worship of personified deities, Aesus, Teutates, Lugh, and others, conceived as representing natural forces, or as guardians of social laws.
Fourthly, the Romans were deeply impressed with the existence among the Druids of a body of teaching of a quasi-scientific nature about natural phenomena and the constitution of the universe, of the details of which we unfortunately know practically nothing.
Lastly, we have to note the prevalence of a sacerdotal organisation, which administered the whole system of religious and of secular learning and literature, [The fili, or professional poets it must be remembered, were a branch of thc Druidic order.] which carefully confined this learning to a privileged caste, and which, by virtue of its intellectual supremacy and of the atmosphere of religious awe with which it was surrounded, became the sovran power, social, political, and religious, in every Celtic country. I have spoken of these elements as distinct, and we can) indeed, distinguish them in thought, but in practice they were inextricably intertwined, and the Druidic organisation pervaded and ordered all. Can we now, it may be asked, distinguish among them what is of Celtic and what of pre-Celtic and probably non-Aryan origin?
This is a more difficult task; yet, looking at all the analogies and probabilities, I think we shall not be far wrong in assigning to the Megalithic People the special doctrines, the ritual, and the sacerdotal organisation of Druidism, and to the Celtic element the personified deities, with the zest for learning and for speculation; while the popular superstitions were merely the local form assumed by conceptions as widespread as the human race.
The Celts of Today
In view of the undeniably mixed character of the populations called "Celtic" at the present day, it is often urged that this designation has no real relation to any ethnological fact. The Celts who fought with Caesar in Gaul and with the English in Ireland are, it is said, no more-they have perished on a thousand battlefields from Alesia to the Boyne, and an older racial stratum has come to the surface in their race. The true Celts, according to this view, are only to be found in the tall, ruddy Highlanders of Perthshire and North-west Scotland, and in a few families of the old ruling race still surviving in Ireland and in Wales. In all this I think it must be admitted that there is a large measure of truth. Yet it must not be forgotten that the descendants of the Megalithic People at the present day are, on the physical side, deeply impregnated with Celtic blood, and on the spiritual with Celtic traditions and ideals. Nor, again, in discussing these questions of race-character and its origin must it ever be assumed that the character of a people can be analysed as one analyses a chemical compound, fixing once for all its constituent parts and determining its future behaviour and destiny. Race-character, potent and enduring though it be, is not a dead thing, cast in an iron mould, and there-after incapable of change and growth. It is part of the living forces of the world; it is plastic and vital; it has hidden potencies which a variety of causes, such as a felicitous cross with a different, but not too different, stock, or in another sphere-the adoption of a new religious or social ideal, may at any time unlock and bring into action.
Of one thing I personally feel convinced-that tho problem of the ethical, social, and intellectual development of the people constituting what is called the "Celtic Fringe" in Europe ought to be worked for on Celtic lines; by the maintenance of the Celtic tradition, Celtic literature, Celtic speech - the encouragement, in short, of all those Celtic affinities of which this mixed race is now the sole conscious inheritor and guardian. To these it will respond, by these it can be deeply moved; nor has the harvest ever failed those who with courage and faith have driven their plough into this rich field. On the other hand, if this work is to be done with success it must be done in no pedantic, narrow, intolerant spirit; there must be no clinging to the outward forms of the past simply because the Celtic spirit once found utterance in them. Let it be remembered that in the early Middle Ages Celts from Ireland were the most notable explorers, the most notable pioneers of religion, science, and speculative thought in Europe. [For instance, Pelagius in the fifth century ; Columba, Columbanus, and St. Gall in the sixth; Fridolin, named Viator, "the Trayeller," and Fursa in the seventh ; Virgilius (Feargal) of Salzburg, who had to answer at Rome for teaching the sphericity of the earth, in the eighth; Dicuil, "the Geographer;" and Johannes Scotus Erigena - the master mind of his epoch - in the ninth.] Modern investigators have traced their foot-prints of light over half the heathen continent, and the schools of Ireland were thronged with foreign pupils who could get learning nowhere else. The Celtic spirit was then playing its true part in the world-drama, and a greater it has never played. The legacy of these men should be cherished indeed, but not as a museum curiosity; nothing could be more opposed to their free, bold, adventurous spirit than to let that legacy petrify in the hands of those who claim the heirship of their name and fame.
The Mythical Literature
After the sketch contained in this and the foregoing chapter of the early history of the Celts, and of the forces which have moulded it, we shall flow turn to give an account of the mythical and legendary literature in which their spirit most truly lives and shines. We shall not here concern ourselves with any literature which is not Celtic. With all that other peoples have made - as in the Arthurian legends - of myths and tales originally Celtic, we have here nothing to do. No one can now tell how much is Celtic in them and how much is not. And in matters of this kind it is generally the final recasting that is of real importance and value. Whatever we give, then, we give without addition or reshaping. Stories, of course, have often to be summarised, but there shall be nothing in them that did not come direct from the Celtic mind, and that does not exist to-day in some variety, Gaelic or Cymric, of the Celtic tongue.