Ireland and the Celtic Religion
The Popular Religion of the Celts
The Religion of Magic
Traces of Magic in Megalithic Monuments
The Tumulus at New Grange
The Ship Symbol in Egypt
Egyptian and "Celtic" Ideas of Immortality
The Doctrine of Transmigration
Caesar on the Druidic Culture
The Names of Celtic Deities
The God of Light
The Five Factors in Ancient Celtic Culture
The Celts of Today
The Mythical Literature
Return to:Cover of Book 5
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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 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.
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 these 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 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 BC, and about two hundred years earlier Hecataeus 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". TWR] 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 occuped 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 Belgae 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.
"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 doubtless, 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 pharmacon = medicine, poison, or charm; and I am informed that the Central African word for magic or charm is mankwala, which also means medicine. TWR] 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 phenomenon, 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.
"In the East, doubtless, it was invested 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 antiquity. TWR]. 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 BC. Livy entitles them "the fountain of all public and private right". They stood in the Forum till the third century AD, but have now perished, except for fragments preserved in various commentaries. TWR] and other monuments, as I have said in a former book. In fact, it was not until the year 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, for 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?"
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 has taught it to the Persians, not the Persians to them.
In connexion with the great sepulchral monument of Gavr'inis a very curious observation was made by M. Albert Maitre, an inspector of the Mus้ des Antiquit้s 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 emblem, upon the meaning of which no light has yet been thrown, occurs frequently in connexion with megalithic monuments. 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 mahad้os. [See Sir J Simpson's Archaic Sculpturings, 1867. TWR] 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 the meaning is remains yet a puzzle to antiquarians. The guess may perhaps be hazarded that they are diagrams of 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 shown, 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.
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. TWR] 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. TWR] It appears from outside like a large mound, or knoll, now overgrown 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 be 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.
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. TWR] 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 Su่de, read at the Prehistoric Congress, Stockholm, 1874; and see G Coffey, op. cit. p. 60. TWR] we find reproductions (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 a sepulchral monument, the very focus of religious ideas, would hardly have 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 can doubt that the two objects are intentionally combined in one design.
Now this symbol for 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 BC. 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, Rใ, is sometimes represented by a disk, sometimes 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 Rใ pouring down upon the boat and its occupants. Now, in one of the Swedish rock-carvings of ships at Backa, Buhuslใn, 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 souls, and sometimes the figure of a single corpse on a bier. The megalithic carvings also sometimes show the solar emblem and sometimes 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 foregoing 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 the 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 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 Ferguson) is given by Bertrand, Rel. des G., p. 389. TWR] it is found sculptured on dolmens in Brittany, [Sergi, The Mediterranean Race, p. 313. TWR] and it occurs in rock-carvings in Scandinavia. [At L๖kerberget, Bohuslไn; see Montelius, op. cit. TWR] 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 printing (reproduced in Churchward's Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man) TWR]. Tyler, in his Primitive Culture (ii. p. 197) 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 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. TWR]
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 AD 30) and other classical writers mention this practice. TWR] 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. TWR]
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 AD 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. TWR]
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 might 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, etc. Thurneysen has now shown that this root in combination with the intensive particle dru would yield the word dru-vid, represented in Gaelic by draoi, a Druid, just as another intensive, su, with vids yields the Gaelic saoi, a sage. TWR] 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, as far as we know, wherever there was a Celtic race amid the 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 be 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. TWR] 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 always will 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, le็on xx. TWR] 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. TWR]
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 otherwise 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.
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 Aesus has been discovered in Paris. TWR] and it is noteworthy that in these names we seem to be in the presence of a true Celtic, i.e. Aryan, tradition. Thus Aesus is derived by Belloget 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 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 trible 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.
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 the Druidic order. TWR] 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.
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 thereafter 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 the 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 traveller", 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. TWR] Modern investigators have traced their footprints 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.