Edward Davies.

The mythology and rites of the British druids, ascertained by national documents : and compared with the general traditions and customs of heathenism, as illustrated by the most eminent antiquaries of our age : with an appendix, containing ancient poems and extracts : with some remarks on ancient Br online

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Online LibraryEdward DaviesThe mythology and rites of the British druids, ascertained by national documents : and compared with the general traditions and customs of heathenism, as illustrated by the most eminent antiquaries of our age : with an appendix, containing ancient poems and extracts : with some remarks on ancient Br → online text (page 14 of 43)
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our El-phin; and whose symbol was the bow, which, as
well as the bow of Apollo, alluded to the Iris, -f-

I am not sure, however, that the character of Avagddu
had not a secondary allusion, in his forlorn state, to the
uninitiated, and in his renovation, to the adept in the mys-
teries of Druidism : as the former was regarded as living in

* Bryant's Analysis, V. II. p. 331.
r Ibid. p. 345.


darkness, whereas the latter was illuminated and endowed
with all knowledge.

Creirwy, the token, or sacred symbol of the egg, otherwise
called Llyr&y, tine manifestation, or putting forth of the egg,
is not the least remarkable of Ceridwen's children.

As it will appear presently, that the mother is described
as a hen, or female bird of some species, there seems to be
an analogous propriety in the names of the daughter, who,
though a Gwrvorwyn, or virago, was esteemed a paragon
of beauty : and, as such, she is classed with Arianrod merch
Don, the lady of the silver wheel, the daughter of Jove;
whom Ceridwen represents as conducting the rainbow, of
which she was, therefore, the appropriate genius; and with
Gwen, Venus, the daughter of Cy-wryd, Crydon, the man-
hood of Crodon, or Saturn.*

Creiwy, as daughter of Ceridwen, or Ceres, was the
Proserpine of the British Druids. The attributes of the
mother and daughter, in the Bardic mythology, as well as
in' that of other heathens, are so much confounded together,
as not to be easily distinguished. Mr. Bryant pronounces
them to have been the same mystical personage.f

All the difference which I can perceive in their character,

is this. Ceridwen was the genius of the ark throughout
its whole history ; hence she was viewed as a severe matron,

* Bryant's Analysis, V. II. p. 260.

The author observes from Schedius, de Diis Germ, that Saturn had the name
of Crodo. The parentage of the British Venus seems to have corresponded
with that of the Creek.

t Ibid. p. 41.


supposed to preside in those public sanctuaries, where th
Arkite rites were celebrated: whilst Creirvvy, on the other
hand, was regarded as the genius of the same sacred vessel,
only during its perilous conflict with the waters of the
deluge ; and therefore represented as a helpless virgin, ex-
posed to dreadful calamities, from which she was at length
delivered. She did not preside in the Arkite temples,
though she was occasionally associated with her mother;
but the private and portable tokens delivered to the initiated,
and the wand or branch, which was a badge of the Bardic
office, were regarded as her gift.

This mystical lady is also called Creirddylad, the token of
the flowing or floating, and described as the daughter of
Lludd Llaw Eramt, the chief who governed the vessel, or of
Llyr, the margin of the sea : and here she is an old ac-
quaintance of the English nation, being no less a personage
than Cordelia, the daughter of King Lear.

In an old poem, in which Gwyn ab Nudd, King of
Annwn, is introduced as a speaker, this potentate describes
himself a^

Gordderch Creirddylad merch Lludd,*
" The paramour of Creirddylad, the daughter of Lludd.' f

Here we have a hint of a British tradition upon the sub-
ject of the rape of Proserpine. Gwyn ab Nudd was the
Pluto of the Britons. Annwn, the kingdom of that god,
in its popular acceptation, is hell, or the infernal regions ;
but in the mystical poems and tales, Annwn seems to be no

* W. Archuiol. p. 166.


Other than that deep or abyss, the waters of which burst
forth at the deluge. Gvvyn, the King of Annvvn, was there-
fore the genius of the deluge; and the fable means nothing
more, than that the ark was forcibly carried away by the

But the more general name of the daughter of Ceridwen
was Creirwy, the token or symbol of the egg ; and under this
symbol, the ark was represented in the general mythology
of the heathens.

This assertion it may be necessary to support by the au-
thority of Mr. Bryant, who observes, that in many hiero-
glyphical descriptions, the dove, Oinas, was represented as
hovering over the mundane egg, which was exposed to the
fury of Typhon, or the deluge; and that this egg was,
doubtless, an emblem of the ark, whence proceeded that
benign person, the preacher of righteousness, who brought
mankind to a more mild kind of life. Having quoted, from.
Lucius Ampelius, a passage to this effect Dicitur et Eu-
phratis fluvio, Ovum piscis columbam assedisse dies pluri-
mos, et exclusisse Deam benignam, et misericordem homi-
nibus, ad vitam bonam ; he thus accounts for the topogra-
phy of the fable. The ark rested upon mount Baris, in
Armenia, the Ararat of Moses; and in this country are the.
fountains of the Euphrates.

An egg, adds our author, as it contained the elements of
life, was thought no improper emblem of the ark, in which
were preserved the rudiments of the future world. Hence
in the Dionusiaca, and in other mysteries, one part of the
nocturnal ceremony consisted in the consecration of an egg.
By this, we are informed by Porphyry, was signified the
world. This world, says Mr. Bryant, was Noah and his


family; even all mankind, inclosed and preserved 'in the
ark. This seems to have been a favourite symbol, very
ancient, and adopted among many nations. The Persians
said of Oromasdes, that he formed mankind, and inclosed
them in an egg. The Syrians used to speak of their ances-
tors, the gods, as the progeny of eggs.*

The same learned writer remarks, that in the the temple
of the Dioscouri, in Laconia, there was suspended a large
hieroglyphical egg, which was sometimes attributed to
Leda, and sometimes to Nemesis, the deity of justice. It
was sometimes described as surrounded by a serpent, either
as an emblem of that providence, by which mankind was
preserved, or else to signify a renewal of life, from a state
of death ; as the serpent, by casting his skin, seems to renew
his life. By the bursting of the egg, was denoted the
opening of the ark, and the disclosing to light whatever was
within contained. *f-

From the contemplation of this symbol of foreign super-
stition, we naturally turn to the celebrated Ovum Angui-
num, or serpent's egg, of the Celtic priesthood, as described
by Pliny.

This was, by way of eminence, regarded as Insigne Dru~
idisj the Insigne, or distinguishing mark of a Druid. Hav-
ing already seen so much of the Arkite superstition amongst
this order of men, we may easily conceive, that this sacred
egg had a reference to the same subject, and that, like
the mundane egg of other pagans, it was, in some sense,
an emblem of the ark. We are told by Pliny, Experimen-

* Bryant's Analysis, V. II. p. 319, &c.
t Ibid, p. 360.

torn gus esse, si contra aquas fluitet, vel auro vuici'ufo-*~ T Eha.t
the test of its genuineness, was its floating against the
water, even with its setting of gold. I suppose the author
tneans, that it would keep upon the surface, when drawn
against the stream ; and that, in this passage, he gives us a
hint of its mystical import and character> as an emblem of
a floating vessel.

It must also be procured, we are told, Certa Lund, at a
certain time of the moon. This information exhibits the
connexion of mythological ideas ; for the moon was a sym-
bol of Ceridwen, and of the ark.

The efficacy of the Anguinum, ad victorias litium, et
Regum aditus, may easily be conceived. The Druids, who
were the supreme judges in all litigated causes, may be sup-
posed to have lent a favourable ear to those who produced
this credential of their order; and even kings, who stood
in awe of their tribunal, would seldom close their gates
against them.

The natural historian recites at large the fabulous story
of the production of this trinket Angues innumeri, astate,
convoluti, 8cc.

The same mummery is repeated by the ancient Bards.
*' Lively was the aspect of him who, in his prowess, had
" snatched over the ford that involved ball, which casts its
" rays to a distance, the splendid product of the adder, shot
"forth by serpents"*

* Appendix, No. 14.


But this was merely so much dust thrown into the eyes of
the profane multitude.

The Druids themselves are called Nadredd, adders, by the
Welsh Bards. This title they owed, I suppose, to their
regenerative system of transmigration. The serpent, which
annually casts his skin, and seems to return to a second
youth, may have been regarded by them, as well as by other
heathens, as a symbol of renovation : and the renovation of
mankind was the great doctrine set forth by the Arkite mys~
teries, and by the symbolical egg.

The Druids, therefore, were the serpents which assem-
bled, at a stated time in the summer, to prepare these em-
blems of Creirwy, and to conceal within them certain dis-
criminative tokens, which probably were kept as a profound
secret from the persons who received them.

Pliny saw one of these eggs, but he had not the curiosity
to examine it any farther than its cartilaginous integument $
otherwise he would probably have discovered, that it con-
tained either a lunette of glass, or small ring of the same
material ; such as those which the Welsh call Gleiniau Na-
dredd. These were certainly insignia of a very sacred cha-
racter amongst our ancestors ; and they seenx to .have been
intimately connected with the Anguinum: for the annotator
upon Camden remarks, that in most parts of Wales, all
over Scotland, and in Cornwall, the vulgar still retain the
same superstitious notions respecting the origin and virtues
of the former, which Pliny records of the latter.* And
the Glain was viewed as an emblem of renovation : hence

* Gibson's Camden Col. 815. See also Owen's Diet. V. Clain.

Meilyr calls Bardsey " Tlie holy island of the Glain, in
" which there is a fair representation of a resurrection. v *

That these Glains were artificial, can hardly admit of a
doubt ; though some have hastily confounded them with
certain productions of nature. We find some of them blue,
some white, a third sort green, and a fourth regularly varie-
gated with all these sorts of colours ; but still preserving
the appearance of glass : whilst others again were composed
of earth, and only glazed over.-j-

It seems most likely, that the secret of manufacturing
these Glains was totally unknown in Britain, excepting to
the Druids : J and it may be collected from some passages,
that these priests carried about them certain trinkets of vi-
trified matter, and that this custom had a view to their
Arkite mysteries.

Thus, in the poem called the chair of Taliesin, we find the
stranger admitted to the ceremonies of lunar worship, upon

^m in " *

his exhibiting the Cwrwg Gtvydryn, or boat of glass, a sym-
bol which certainly commemorated the sacred vessel, and
probably displayed the figure of a small lunette ; as the ark
was sometimes described under that figure, and called Selene,
the rnoon.^

P 2

* W. Archaiol. p. 193.

f See Camden, as cited before.

$ " With similar reverence the Samothracians, whose devotion to the Cabiric
w rites is well known, regarded their magical rings. These were of the nature
' of amulets, and were believed to have a power of averting danger."

Faber'a Mjst. of the Cabin, V. I. p. 21".

$ Bryant's Analysis, V. II. p. 553.

( I suppose that it was from the material, of which this

") symbol was composed, that even the vessel, in which the

< patriarch and his family were preserved, was denominated

/ Caer Wydyr, the inclosure, or circle of glass.* And Merd-

din Emrys, and his nine Bards, are represented as having

put to sea in the Ty Gwydrinft or house of glass; which

, could have been no other than a ship or vessel consecrated

to Bardic mysteries.

The portable trinket which I have mentioned, whatever
its form may have been, was the Crair, or Insignd of the
Druids ; and when made or dressed up in the figure of an
egg, it became Creir-wy, the ' Insignti or token of the egg,
the sacred emblem of the British Proserpine. From the
pre-eminent estimation in which this emblem was held,
both in Gaul and in our own island, we may draw a reason-
able inference, that the Arkite mysteries were the most sa-
cred arcana of the Celtic priesthood.

In the short chapter which gave rise to these remarks,
our mythological narrator appears, with a master's hand,
to have directed our attention to the history of the deluge,
and to the -local notions of the Britons relative to that
event. We shall now observe his dexterity in delineating
the character and operations of Ceridwen herself.

Appendix, No. 3.

f W. Arehaiol. V. II. p. 59.


w Then she (Ccrichven) determined, agreeably to the mys-
*' tery of the books of Pheryllt, to prepare for her son a
" cauldron of Awen a Gwybodeu, water of inspiration and
*' sciences, that he might be more readily admitted into
* l honourable society, upon account of his knowledge, and
" his skill in regard to futurity.

" The cauldron began to boil, and it was requisite that
" the boiling should be continued, without interruption,
" for the period of a year and a day ; and till three blessed
" drops of the endowment of the spirit could be obtained.

" She had stationed Greion the Little, the son of Gwreang
" the Herald, of Llanvair, the fane of the lady, in Caer
" Einiawn, tin* .it if of the just, in Powys, the land of rest f
" to superintend the preparation of the cauldron : and she
" had appointed a blind man, pvm, named Morda, ruler of
" the sea, to kindle the fire under the cauldron, with a
1t strict injunction that he should not suffer the boiling to
" be interrupted, before the completion of the year and the
" day.

" In the mean time Ceridvven, with due attention to the
" books of astronomy, and to the hours of the planets, em-
" ployed herself daily in botanizing, and in collecting plants
" of every species, which possessed any rare virtues.

" On a certain day, about the completion of the year,
" whilst she was thus botanizing and muttering to herself,


" three drops of the efficacious water happened to fly out of
" the cauldron, and alight upon the finger of Gwion the
" Little. The heat of the water occasioned his putting his
" finger into his mouth.

" As soon as these precious drops had touched his lips,
" every event of futurity was opened to his view : and he
" clearly perceived, that his greatest concern was to beware
" of the stratagems of Ceridwen, whose knowledge was
" very great. With extreme terror he fled towards his na-
" tive country.

" As for the cauldron, it divided into two halves ; for the
tl whole of the water which it contained, excepting the
*' three efficacious drops, was poisonous ; so that it poisoned
" the horses of Gwyddno Garanb-ir, which drank out of the
" channel into which the cauldron had emptied itself.
" Hence that channel was afterwards called, The poison of
" Gwyddno's hones."

The most remarkable subject brought forward in this
chapter, is the preparation of the cauldron of inspiration
and science ; but before I consider the import of this mys-
tical vase, I must make a few short remarks.

Ceridwen employs a minister, who is described as the son
of a herald, and it may be implied that he himself held
that office. It is observed by antiquaries, that of four
priests who officiated in the celebration of the mysteries of
Ceres, one was distinguished by the title of Keryx the
Herald. Another was named Hydranus, from '2g, water :


and his title, though perhaps not his function, corresponded
with that of Morda in the present tale.

The keeping up of a continual fire, for the period of a
year and a day, in a ceremony which was repeated annually,
amounts to the same thing as maintaining a perpetual fire.
And this was a solemn rite in the temples of Ceres.

Ceridwen, like Ceres and Isis, appears to have been a
great botanist, and well skilled in the virtues of plants.
The Pheryllt, according to whose ritual she proceeds in her
selection, are often mentioned by the Bards, as well as by
the prose writers of Wales. The poet Virgil, whose sixth
JErieid treats so largely of the mysteries of heathenism, has
been dignified with this title ; and an old chronicle, quoted
by Dr. Thomas Williams, asserts that the Pheryllt had an
establishment at Oxford, prior to the founding of the uni-
versity by Alfred.

These Pheryllt are deemed to have been the first teachers
of all curious arts and sciences ; and, more particularly, are
thought to have been skilled in every thing that required
the operation of fire. Hence some have supposed, that the
term implies chymists or metallurgists. But chymistry and
metallurgy seem rather to have taken their British name
from these ancient priests, being called Celvyddydau Phe-
ryllt, the arts of the Pheryllt, or some of those mysteries
in which they were eminently conversant.

As primary instructors in the rites of Ceridwen, or Ceres,

( I regard the Pheryllt as priests of the Pharaon, or higher

powers, who had a city or temple amongst the mountains

of Snowdon, called also Dinas Emrys, or the ambrosial


city. And, therefore, they were the same, in effect, as the
priests of the Cabiri.

Mr. Bryant assures us, that the supposed genius of the
ark was worshipped under several titles, and that the prin-
cipal of her priests were the Cabin, whose office and rites
were esteemed particularly sacred, and of great antiquity,
They were the same as the Curetes, Corybantes, Telchines^
and Idaei Dactyli of Crete. In treating of these, continues
my author, much confusion has ensued, from not consider-
ing, that both the deity and the priests were comprehended
under the same title. The original Cabiritic divinity was
no other than the patriarch, who was of so great repute for
his piety and justice., Hence, the other Cabiri, bis im-
mediate offspring, are said to be the sons of Sadyc, by
which is signified the just man. This is the very title given
to Noah. All science, and every useful art, was attributed
to him, and through his sons transmitted to posterity.*

The Telchinian and Cabiritic rites, we are told by the
same author, consisted in arkite memorials. They passed
from Egypt and Syria into Phrygia and Pontus, from
thence into Thrace, and the cities of Greece. They were
carried into Hetruria, and into the regions of the

Whatever route these ancient priests may have pursued ;
and whether they belonged to the original establishment
of the nations here mentioned, or were imported from other
people ; their rites, as described by the learned author, are
clearly to be distinguished amongst the Celtae of Britain ;

* Analys. V. II, p. 461,
t Ibid, p, 471.


and with those PheryHt or Druids, who directed the mys-
teries of Ceridwen.

The tale before us also mentions, books of astronomy.
Whether the Druids actually had such books or not, it is
certain that Caesar enumerates astronomy amongst the
sciences which they professed ; and that they not only re-
marked the periodical return of their festivals, but also
mixed with their arkite superstition, an idolatrous venera-
tion of the heavenly bodies, and paid a religious regard to
their influence, *

I come now to the cauldron of Ceridwen, which makes
a very conspicuous figure in the works of the mystical
Bards, from the beginning of the sixth, to the close of the
twelfth century. In these authors, we find the term pair,
pr cauldron, used metaphorically to imply the whole mass
of doctrine and discipline, together with the confined circle
of art* and sciences, which pertained to the ancient priest-
hood of Britain. The preparation of this vase being a ne-
cessary preliminary, to the celebration of their most sacred
mysteries, it stands as a symbol of the mysteries themselves*
and of all the benefits, supposed to result from them.

Hence it becomes a subject of some importance in British
antiquities, to inquire into the meaning of this mystical
vessel, and to determine the question, whether the ancient
superstition of other heathens present us with any thing
analogous to it.

From the best information which I can collect upon the
subject, it does not appear that this cauldron implies one
identical vessel, or at least, that its contents were designed


for one simple purpose. In the tale before us it is described,
as used in the preparation of a decoction of various select
plants, which was to constitute the water of inspiration and
science. A few drops of this water fall upon the finger of
the attendant, he puts it into his mouth, and immediately
all futurity is open to his view. Such knowledge, however,
must not be regarded as the result of merely tasting the
water, or of any single ceremony whatever ; but of a com-
plete course of initiation, of which the tasting of this water
was an essential rite.

The poem called Taliesin's Chair, enumerates a multitude
of ingredients, which entered into the mystical decoction,
and seems to describe it as designed, for purification by
sprinkling, then, for the preparation of a bath, and again,
as used in the rite of libation, and lastly, as constituting a
particular kind of drink for the aspirants. The sacred vessel
is there called Pair Pumwydd, the cauldron of the five trees
or plants, alluding, I suppose, to five particular species of
plants, which were deemed essentially requisite in the pre-

Some of the mythological tales represent ihis pair, as
constituting a bath, which conferred immortality or restored
dead persons to life, but deprived them of utterance :* allud-
ing to the oath of secrecy, which was administered privious
to initiation.

In the poem called Preiddeu Annwnft Taliesin styles it

* See Mr. Turner's Vindication, p. 283
+ Appendix, No. 3.


the cauldron of the ruler of the deep, (the arkite god) which
Jftrst began to be warmed, hy the breath of nine damsels (the
Gwyllion, or Gallicena)* He describes it as having a ridge
of pearls round its border, and says, that it will not boil the
food of the coward, who is not bound by his oath.

Yet the author of Hanes Taliesin, speaks of the residue
of the water, after the efficacious drops had been separated,
as a deadly poison.

From these various accounts, it may be inferred, that the
pair, was a vessel employed by the Druids, in preparing a
decoction of potent herbs and other ingredients, to which
superstition attributed some extraordinary virtues ; that this
preparation was a preliminary to the mysteries of the arkite
goddess ; that in those mysteries, part of the decoction was
used for the purpose of purification by sprinkling; that
another part was applied to the consecration of the mystic
bath : that a small portion of the same decoction, was in-
fused into the vessels which contained the liquor, exhibited
in the great festival, for the purpose of libation, or for the
use of the priests and aspirants, which liquor, is described as
consisting of Gwin a Bragazvd, that is, wine with mead, and
wort, fermented together: that all the sacred vessels em-
ployed in the mysteries of Ceridwen, being thus purified
and consecrated by the pair, passed under its name ; and
that, in these appropriations, the water of the cauldron was
deemed the water of inspiration, science, and immortality, as
conducing to the due celebration of mysteries, which were
supposed to confer these benefits upon th6 votaries.

* See the preceding Section.

But it seems that the residue of the water, being now sup-
posed to have washed away the mental impurities of the ini-
tiated, with which impurities, of course it became impreg-
nated, was now deemed deleterious, and accursed. It was
therefore emptied into a deep pit or channel in the earth,
which swallowed it up, together with the sins of the rege-

If we look for something analogous to this in the ancient
mysteries of Ceres, we shall find, that the first ceremony
Was that of purification by water, that this rite was per-
formed, both by sprinkling and immersion; ami that the
water used for this purpose, underwent a certain degree of
preparation, similar to that of the cauldron of Ceridwen.

In the ceremony of purification, says M. De Gebelin,
they used laurel, salt, barley, sea-water, and crowns vf forcers.
They even passed through the fire, and were at last, plunged
into the water, whence the hierophant, who was charged
with this office, had the name of Hydranos, or the Bap^

The sacred vessel which contained this mixtnre of salt,
barley, sea-water, and other ingredients not specified, must
have corresponded with the mystical cauldron of the Britons,

Online LibraryEdward DaviesThe mythology and rites of the British druids, ascertained by national documents : and compared with the general traditions and customs of heathenism, as illustrated by the most eminent antiquaries of our age : with an appendix, containing ancient poems and extracts : with some remarks on ancient Br → online text (page 14 of 43)