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plant. No metal might be used in taking it, but after
offerings of bread and wine it was snatched from the

^ " Tanta gentium in rebus frivolis plerumque religio est." Pliny, Hist.
Nat. xvi. c. 95 ; Keysler, "De visco Druidum," Antiqu. Septent. 304.

" Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxiv. c. 4 ; Villemarque, Barzas Breiz. 62, 76. The
club-moss or Lycopodium Selago is said to be still used in Cornwall in cases
of incipient blindness. Davies identified it with a plant which the Welsh
called "gras Duw " or "the grace of God." Brit. Myth. 274, 280.
Compare Grimm. Deutsch. Mythol. 1158.

2 54 Origins of English History.

ground with a thievish gesture, the right hand being
darted under the left arm. The Breton peasants are said
to retain their respect for the plant. They call it ^'Therhe
dor^' and the lucky finder still follows the fashion of his
ancestors; ^^ ponr le ciicillir il faiit etre nii-picds et en
chemise: il s arrache et ne se coupe pas!' The ^^ SamoUis^'^
or water-pimpernel, was a specific against murrain in
swine and cattle. The finder was required to go to the
place fasting and to pluck the stalk with his left hand, and
then without looking back to carry it at once to the
drinking-troughs ; and there were many other herbs
which were thought to be gifts from Belenus, as the
henbane or " insane root," which the Gauls used for their
poisoned arrows, and the " Beliocanda" which the Greek
physicians made up into poultices for wounds."

An obscure passage in the Pharsalia has preserved the
names of three gods who cannot be identified with
certainty. The poet speaks of the grim "Teutates," of
" Hesus," with his bloody sacrifices, and of '' Taranis"
whose altars were as cruel as those of the Scythian Diana.^

•^ The botanical name for this plant is Saviolus VaJerandi. It is akin to
the primrose.

2 Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxiv. c. 4. For an account of the henbane,
"Belinuntia" and " ApoUinaris Insana," see Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxv. c. 17;
Dioscorides, iv. 69, 115 ; or Hyoscyamus Niger, which was called " Belisa."

^ See Lucan, Pharsal. i. 445:

' Et quibus immitis placatur sanguine diro
Teutates, horrensque feris altaribus Hesus,
Et Taranis Scythicae non mitor ara Dianae.'

The Scholiast of Lucan took Hesus for Mercury, " since he is worshipped
by merchants," and Taranis for the Northern Jupiter. The recent
researches of M. Mowat, as pointed out by Prof. Rhys in his Hibbert
Lectures, 1886, appear to identify Hesus, or Esus, with Silvanus, or some
equivalent agricultural divinity. Taranis in the new theory becomes a god-
dess, perhaps the companion of Esus. The identity of Teutates appears to

Origins of English History. 255

Very little is known as to their attributes. Even Teutates
has been identified with several deities in turn. He was
probably the war-god, worshipped under many names,
for whom the piles of spoil were heaped in the market-
place and the altars ran with the blood of captives killed
as thank-offerings.^ Many ingenious attempts ihave been
made to connect the name of the god with the names of
places in England. It has been identified with those of
several British saints, as St. Tenth and St. Tydew ; the ill-
spelt vocabulary of the Ravenna Geographer has been
ransacked to find words which might in their original form
have been applied to the temples ; and every " toot-hill "
or " Tothill " has been imagined to represent the site of
a shrine or a statue of the martial god.^ The name
"Teutates" seems to have been seldom used in this
country, where the deity was better known as " Camulus,"
a word which appears on British coins in connection
with warlike emblems, and is used as a compound in the
names of several forts which were erected in the Roman

be proved by the inscription " Marti Toutati," found in Hertfordshire in the
year 1748. Hiibner, Corp. Lat. Inscr. vii. 84.

^ Caesar, De Bell. Gall. vi. t6.

"" For an account of these saints, see lolo MSS. 421 ; Rees, British
Saints, 515, 600 ; Pearson, Hist. Engl. i. 19. Mr. Pearson selects the
words " Corio-tiotav " and '•' Neme-totacio," from the Ravenna Geo-
grapher's list as probable sites of the temples of Teutates. " Toot-hill "
means nothing more than a hill, a lump, a curl. " In that medewe is a
litylle toothille with toures & pynacles all of gold." Mandeville, Travels,
c. 36. "Tutuli. ; . . capilli matronarum convoluti et in altum congest!."
Grupen, De Uxore Theotisca. 164.

^ As examples we may take the names of Camuloduimm, Camunlodunum
or Cavil: oduniim (Slack, in Yorkshire), and Camulosessa, a place which
is only mentioned by the Ravenna Geographer.

256 Oj'tgins of English History.

Taranis seems to have been worshipped by the Britons,^
under titles derived from words for fire and thunder, as
the smnmer-god who brought the rain and sunshine, and
dispensed the fruits of the earth. Taranis corresponds, in
power and attributes, to the Red-bearded Thor of Scandi-
navia and the Thunder-god to whom the Esthonians prayed
*' that their straw might be red as copper and the grain
as yellow as gold," and who was transformed by the
Slavonians into the Prophet Elijah, driving in the tempest
with a chariot and horses of fire, and able to withhold the
rain and dew or to blacken the heavens with clouds and

The names of a host of minor deities appear in the
inscriptions or are vaguely preserved in the country
legends. The greater powers had each his wife or help-
mate. The goddesses of the healing springs were honoured
as the companions of Apollo. "Rosmerta" shared the
altars of Mercury, and the war-god was attended by Furies
like those of the Irish mythology.^ Divine beings, or
half-divine, mediated everywhere between mankind and
heaven. The sea-nymph of the Breton shore is still
revered under the name of St. Anne. Melusina's fountain,
Sabrina's throne beneath the "translucent wave," and
" Bovinda " in her palace by the clear-running Boyne, are

^ The Irish Dinn-Senchus mentions "Etirun, an idol of the Britons."
The name Terra?! appears in the Welsh legendary tales, Guest's Mabinogion,
251. For a description of statueties found in France, supposed to be figures
of Taranis, see Gaidoz, Religion des Gaulois, 11, 22, where a reference to
the same name is found in the inscriptions "Deo Taranucno " and " lovi

^ " Nemetona," a Gaulish war-goddess, has been identified with
" Nemon," one of the battle-furies who appear so constantly in the Irish
mythological tales. Revue Celtique, i. 39.

Origins of English History. 257

figures showing the nature of the worship that was
paid to the streams. The mountains were dedicated to
airy powers : the Pennine Jove ruled on the Mont St.
Bernard, and "Arduinna" in the Forest of Ardennes.
Every village was protected by the " mothers," or guar-
dian spirits, who appear in mediaeval legends as the White
Ladies, the "three fairies," the "weird sisters," and wild
women of the woods. Their worship was common to the
Celts and Germans, and it is uncertain to which race we
should attribute the numerous inscriptions and images
which were set up in their honour by the soldiers of the
Roman regiments in Britain. It has been observed, how-
ever, that the inscriptions found in England are always to
"the mothers" in general terms, while the Continental
examples are usually distinguished by some local epithet ;
and so it is concluded that the soldiers who erected the
altars in Britain were worshipping the guardians of their
foreign birth-places.^

Some of the minor deities reappear as giants in nursery-
tales and legends ; and it seems probable that most of the
gigantic figures which adorned the mediaeval processions
were connected with the worship of some local god. The
festivals of Gargantua in Normandy and Poitou imply a
pagan origin for the giants " Gurgunt " and "Goemagot,"
who appear in the fabulous histories of Britain.^

^ Wright, " Roman Celt and Saxon," 347. The best British example is
that of the three figures found at Ancaster. The goddesses are seated on
chairs, and hold baskets of fruit and flowers. See as to the "mothers'"
in Gaul and Germany, Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 401, and Keysler's
elaborate discussion of the subject, Antiqu. Septent. 369. For similar
superstitions in Scandinavia, see Olaus Magnus, De Gent. Septent. iii. c. 9.

^ See the article " Sur le vrai nom de Gargantua," Revue Celt'ujue, i.
136, and the legends of the Cornish giants in Geoffr. Monm. Hist. Brit,
i. 16; Keysler, Antiqu. Septent. 209.


258 Origins of English History.

We have described the chief figures in the Gaulish
Pantheon, and we have now to attempt the more difficult
task of defininij the nature of Druidism. The svstem is
believed to have been invented in Britain, and its abnormal
character might make it easy to suppose that it was devised
by the wild Silurians/ We may infer that it existed among
the Belgian colonists from Caesar's statement, that the
Gauls in Kent differed but little in their way of living
from their kinsmen across the Channel. We know from
the words of Tacitus that a college of Druids served a
temple in Anglesea. The soldiers of Paulinus were
amazed at a wild procession ; the British ranks opened
and a band of women marched out, looking like stage-
furies wath their floating hair and the blazing torches in
their hands ; on their right and left stood the Druids
with hands uplifted and calling down vengeance from
heaven. But they were soon " rolled in their own fires : "
the sacred groves were destroyed, and the altars levelled
to the ground.'

Our traditions of the Scottish and Irish Druids are
evidently derived from a time when Christianity had long
been established. These insular Druids are represented
as being little better than conjurors, and their dignity is
as much diminished as the power of the king is exagger-
ated. He is hedged with a royal majesty which never
existed in fact. He is a Pharaoh or Belshazzar with a

1 " The doctrine is thought to have been invented in Britain and to
hav^e been carried over to Gaul ; and at the present time those who wish
to gain a more precise knowledge of the system travel to that country for
the purpose of studying it." Caesar, De Bell. Gall. vi. c. 12.

- Tac. Ann. xiv. 30. The allusion to the Furies is evidently a remi-
niscence of the Iberians described by Strabo, and of the Iberian origin
which Agricola had invented for the Silurians.

Origins of English History. 259

troop of wizards at command ; his Druids are sorcerers
and rain-doctors, who pretend to call down the storms and
the snow, and frighten the people with " the fluttering
wisp" and other childish charms. They divine by the
observation of "sneezing and omens," by their dreams
after holding a " bull-feast," or chewing raw flesh in front
of their idols, by the croaking of their ravens and chirping
of tame wrens, or by the ceremony of licking the hot adze
of bronze taken out of the rowan-tree faggot. They are
like the Red Indian medicine-men or the " Angekoks " of
the Eskimo, dressed up in bulls'-hide coats and bird-caps
with waving wings. The chief Druid of Tara is shown
to us as a leaping juggler with ear-clasps of gold and a
speckled cloak ; he tosses swords and balls in the air,
'* and like the buzzing of bees on a beautiful day is the
motion of each passing the other."^

We need not suppose that the Druids in Gaul were
exactly like their insular brethren. The latter seem to
have been more expert in magic. "Britannia to this day,"
said Plinv, " celebrates the art with such wondrous cere-
monies that it seems as if she might have taught the Magi
of Persia.""' The Gaulish Druids were more cultivated.
They knew the Greek modes of reckoning and were pro-
bably acquainted by hearsay with the doctrines of Pytha-
goras. They had gained a political supremacy ; their
judgments were taken as the voice of the gods, and they
were themselves exempt from all earthly service. They
were like ecclesiastics of the mediaeval type, and men of

^ O'Curry, Lect. 9, 10 ; Cormac's Glossary, 94; Revue Celt'ujuc, i. 261 ;
Skene, Celtic Scotland, ii. 114.

^ Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxxiii. c. 21 ; Ceesar, De Bell. Gall. vi. c. 13 3 Valer.
Max. ii. c. 6; Ammian. Marcell. xv. 9.

17 *

26o Origins of English History,

the highest rank were eager to belong to then- order.
According to Dion Chrysostome the Druids were
obeyed by the kings, who served them in the great
palaces where they sat on their golden thrones.^ The
Druids of Strabo's description walked in scarlet and
gold brocade and wore golden collars and bracelets ; but
their doctrines may have been much the same as those of
the soothsayers by the Severn, the Irish " medicine-men,"
or those rustic wizards by the Loire, whose oracle was a
sound in the oak-trees, and whose decisions were rudely
scratched upon the blade-bone of an ox or sheep.' These
men assumed to be interpreters of the designs of Heaven ;
and they even used a sacred jargon which passed for the
language of the gods. " They tamed the people as wild
beasts are tamed"; so runs the famous description, which
can only be ascribed to Posidonius. The Druids and
their subordinates foretold the future by the flight of birds
and the inspection of victims offered in sacrifice. The
Druids of Mona used to slay their captives, and tell
fortunes from the look of their bodies. The Druids would
devote a man to the gods and strike him down with a
sword ; and as he fell they would gather omens from his
mode of falling and convulsive movements, and from the
flow of blood which followed.^

^ Dion. Chrysost. Orat. 49 ; Strabo, iv. 275.

^ In the comedy of " Querolus," adapted in the 4th century from the
Aulularia of Plautus, the discontented hero, is bidden by the familiar spirit to
go to the banks of the Loire. " Vade, ad Ligerim vivito. Illic jure gentium
vivunt homines : ibi nullum est praestigium ; ibi sententiae capitales de
robore proferuntur et scribuntur in ossibus 5 illic etiam rustici perorant et
privati judicant ; ibi totum licet." The response is, " Nolo jura haec
silvestria." Querolus, ii. i. See Havet's edition of " Le Querolus/'
p. 317.

" Diod. V. c. 31 ; Strabo, iv. 277 ; Tac. Ann. xiv. 30.

Origins of English History. 261

The Romans were familiar with the idea of human
sacrifice. The State had often been saved by such means
in obedience to the sacred oracles. But they were aston-
ished at the recklessness of the Gaulish massacres. The
slaughter was continuous, though no Sibyl had spoken and
the nation had fallen into no universal danger. If any
person of importance were in peril from disease or the
chance of war, a criminal or a slave was killed or promised
as a substitute. The Druids held that by no other means
could a man's life be redeemed, or the wrath of the gods
appeased ; and they went so far as to teach that the crops
would be fertile in proportion to the richness of the harvest
of death. ^ It became a national institution to offer a
ghastly hecatomb at particular seasons of the year. In
some places the victims were crucified or shot to death
with arrows ; elsewhere they w^ould be stuffed into huge
figures of wicker-work, or a heap of hay would be laid out
in the human shape, where men, cattle, and wild beasts,
were burned in a general holocaust. The memory of the
public sacrifices seems to have been preserved by the Irish
proverb, in which a person in great danger was said to be
" between two Beltain fires." In the Highlands, even in
modern times, there were May-day bonfires at which the
spirits were implored to make the year productive; a feast
was set out upon the grass, and lots were drawn for the
semblance of a human sacrifice ; and whoever drew the
" black piece " of a cake dressed on the fire was made to
leap three times through the flame." In many parts of
France the sheriffs or the mayor of a town burned baskets

^ Strabo, iv. 275 5 Caesar, De Bell. Gall. vi. 15.

^ See Cormac's Glossary, under " Beltene." Revue CeU'ique, iv. 193 ;
Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 579.

262 Ori^'i/is of £ii£^/ts/t IJistory.

filled with wolves, foxes, and cats, in the bonfires at the
Feast of St. John ; and it is said that the Breton villagers
will sacrifice a snake when they burn the sacred boat in
honour of St. Anne.^

The Welsh and Irish traditions contain manv other
traces of the custom of human sacrifice. Some of the
penalties of the ancient laws seem to have originated in
an age when the criminal was olfered to the gods. The
thief and the seducer of women were burned on a pile
of logs or cast into a fierv furnace ; the maiden who
forgot her duty burned or drowned, or sent adrift
to sea.-

A human victim was offered in times of disaster and
pestilence. A sacrifice of this kind is mentioned in a
description of one of the fairs which were held at the
tombs of the Irish chieftains. A god is invoked at
sunrise to stay the plagues that afflict the land, and
afterwards the " hostages "' ai-e brought out and a captive
prince is immolated. It appears that prisoners were also

* " C'tltak en iemicoup iVeiidroils ei} France fusage de jeier dans le feu de
la Saint-^ean des maimes ou des paniers en osier amtenatit des ammaux,
ckals^ chienSi renards, hups, Au siede dernier m^me dans pluskurs vU/es
c'elait h maire ou les echevins

Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 22 of 38)