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Julius Caesar the Druids had learned or invented a totally
different doctrine. They endeavoured to persuade their
followers that death was but an interlude in a succession
of lives. In this or in some other world the soul would
find a new body, and lead another human life, and so
onwards in an infinite cycle of lives ; and their people, they
thought, could hardly fail in courage, when the fear of
death was removed. "One would have laughed," said a
Roman, " at these long-trousered philosophers, if we had
not found their doctrine under the cloak of Pythagoras."^

The continuance of the Druidical hierarchy would have
been plainly inconsistent with the government of a Roman
province. But we do not find that the order was abolished
by any process of law either in Gaul or Britain. We are
told indeed by Pliny, that the " swarm of prophesying
quacks " was suppressed in the reign of Claudius ; but the
statement seems only to relate to the abolition of the
human sacrifices on which their principal authority had
depended. They long maintained the pretence of dragging
a victim to the altar, and of symbolising the desire of the
gods by the infliction of a ceremonial wound. But the
gods themselves went out of fashion. They were either

1 Valer. Max. ii. c. 6- Diod. v. c. 285 Caesar, De Bell. Gall. vi. 13, 18;
Mela, iii. 2. Compare Lucan's phrase: —

" regit idem spiritus artus
Orbe alio : longae, canitis si cognita, vitae
Mors media est." — Pharsal. i. 451.

Origins of English History. 267

merged in the greater splendour of the Roman deities, or
fell into obscurity as the objects of a rustic superstition.
The servants of Belenus might call themselves Druids to
their Gaulish congregation; but in the view of the State
they were ordinary priests of Apollo. A few Druids of
the old school took refuge in the forests of Armorica, but
their religion as a system became extinct, and at last we
find its titles assumed by every old witch in the country-
side. A "female Druid" warned Alexander Severus,
crying out in Gaulish as the Emperor passed, " Go your
ways to be beaten and never trust your soldiers "; and
Diocletian used to tell how his future glory was discerned
by a " Druidess," at whose inn he was billeted as a private

It is clear that the class of Druids remained in Ireland
and Scotland until the people were converted by the
Christian missionaries. The lives of St. Patrick and St.
Columba are full of their contests with the royal magicians,
who are called "Druids" in the native chronicles. St.
Patrick's hymn contains a prayer for help " against black
laws of the heathen, and against the spells of women, smiths,
and Druids." The saint lights the Paschal flame, when
' the king and his Druids ' were beginning their sacrifices
at the Beltain Feast in Tara ; and he is tried for a breach
of the law that every light in the kingdom must be
rekindled bv a flame from the sacred bonfire. At another
time he preaches at a fountain which the Druids wor-
shipped as a god. The Chief-Druid, with nine subordi-

^ Lampridius, "Alexander," 60 ; Yopiscus, " Carinus," 14. Sec also
Mela, iii. 1 ; Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxx. 43 Suetonius, "Claudius," 1^; and
the article, " Comment le Druidisme a disparu," by M. De Coulanges, Revue

Celtigiic, iv. 37.

268 Origins of English History.

nates robed in white, comes out *' with a magical host "
against him. The Druid of a Pictish king threatens to
impede Columba's voyage ; " I can make the winds un-
favourable, and cause a great darkness to envelope thee ";
and the Picts of Ireland had magicians of the same kind
^'to scorch them with incarnations."^

After the conversion of Ireland was accomplished the
Druids disappear from history. Their authority may have
been transferred, ^without much alteration, to the abbots
and bishops who ruled the '' families of the saints." Their
pre-eminence in matters of law may have passed in
Ireland to the "Brehons," or hereditary lawyers, though
there is no positive evidence that such a succession took

Apart from the traditions of Druidism the remains of
the British religions must be investigated by the same
methods as those which have been used to restore the
knowledge of the gods of Gaul. We shall find relics of
the old creed in heroic poems and in the nursery tales :
the ritual of ancient sacrifices has sometimes survived
among the usages of the peasantry, and even the lives of
the saints will be found to contain incidents which are
obviously of a pagan origin.

The names and attributes of mythological beings appear
in the pedigrees of the " holy tribes " of Wales, and in
the romance of Irish hagiology. We are told how one
saint created a miraculous spring on the " Hill of the

^ Skene, Celtic Scotland, ii. iii, 114 5 Usher, Trias Thaumat. 12^5
Confess. S. Patric. apud Bolland. (March), i. ^'^'i, ^l() ; Betham, Antiqu.
Restit. ii. app. v. ; Adamnan's Life of St. Columba, i. 21, ii. 21. 23.

- See Sir Henry Maine's observations on this theory. Hist. Early
Instit. 28, 31, 32, 0^^ J Gaidoz, Esquisse de la Religion ties Gaulois, 17.

Origins of English History. 269

Sun," which became St. Michael's Mount : others were
the owners of wandering bells and flying rocks, and of
trees and animals which could never be hurt or destroyed ;
and some of them were accused of being fierce and
gloomy beings, ever ready to smite their enemies with
monstrous kinds of vengeance/ The heads of the saintly
families have ancestors and descendants who bear the
names of Celtic gods and heroes. The saints Brychan
and Dubricius were ascribed to the kindred of the
" maniac kings," whose flocks were the stars in the
firmament, and who seem in reality to have been the
figures of a constellation or a sign in some ancient
zodiac : they were the two oxen of Hugh the Mighty,
transformed into beasts for their pride, " a yoke of horned
cattle in the plough, one on either side of the high-
peaked mountain."^ The goddess of love was turned
into St. Brychan's daughter : and as late as the 14th
century lovers are said to have come from all parts to
pray at her shrine in Anglesea, and to cure their sorrows
at her miraculous well.^

A god of fire appears in mediaeval romance as " blessed
Kai," the seneschal of King Arthur's court. "Very subtle
was Kai : when it pleased him he could make himself as
tall as the highest tree in the forest, and so great was the
heat of his nature that when it rained hardest w^hatever he
carried became dry, and when his companions were coldest
it was as fuel to them for lighting their fire."

A more singular example of this kind is found in the

^ See the lives of Cadoc and Carannog, Rees, Brit. Saints, 358, 397, and
Girald. Cambr. Topogr. Hibern. ii. 55)-
' Guest's Mabinogion, 229, 236, 281.
^ Sikes, British GobHns, 350.

270 Origins of English History.

confusion between St. Bridget and an Irish goddess whose
gifts were poetry, fire, and medicine. The saint became
the Queen of Heaven, and was adored as " the Mary of
the Gael ": but almost all the incidents in her legend can
be referred to the pagan ritual. Her worship was like
that which Pytheas discovered in the " Celtic Island," or
that described by Solinus in his picture of Minerva's temple
at Bath, where the goddess " ruled over the boiling springs,
and at her altar there flamed a perpetual fire which never
whitened into ashes, but hardened into a stony mass."^
The symbol of St. Bridget is a flame, representing the
column of fire which shone above her when she took the
veil. The house where she dwelt was said to have blazed
with a flame which reached to heaven. The sacred fire
was maintained for ages in her shrine at Kildare ; it was
extinguished in the 13th century, but was soon renew^ed :
and it remained alight until the suppression of the mon-
asteries. Each of her nineteen nuns had charge of it for a
single night, and on the twentieth evening the nun in
attendance said " Brigit ! take care of your own fire, for
this night belongs to you." The women might take the
bellows or a fan to increase the flame, but might not use
their breath. The shrine was surrounded by a brushwood
fence, within which no male might enter on pain of a
miraculous vengeance. The saint was called "the greatest
of eaters" and the "woman of the mighty roarings": her

^ Solinus, c. 24; Geoff. Monm. Hist. Brit. ii. c. 10. A full account of
the temple will be found in Lyson's ReViquice, and in Collinson's History of
Somerset. The titles of the goddess were " Sulivia," " Sulina/' and " Suli-
Minerva." She is thought to have been connected with the " Sulfae " or
sylphs, " une fuule de Sulcvcs, la petite vwnncue de rancieime Su/ivia," who
were worshipped in the district of Chamonix. De Belloguet, Ethnog.
Gaul. 240.

Origins of English History. 271

sacred animals were an undying falcon and goats which
never brought forth young,^

We shall examine the general character of the religion
before proceeding to the description of particular gods,
and shall close the subject with such an account of its
ritual and ceremonies as can be gathered from actual
tradition, or from a comparison of the pagan observances
which have been noticed in Scotland Wales and Ire-

When the Britons became civilised they built temples,
and set up statues of their gods : but when we first hear of
them their religion seems to have been free from this kind
of display. Gildas speaks of the grim-faced idols which
stood in his day on the mouldering city-walls, and it is not
long since the statues of gods might be seen built up into
the masonry of the gateways at Bath." These figures
were apparently of Roman workmanship, but the costume
and the mode of dressing the hair, and some of the emblems
in their hands, show that they must have been intended
as representations of the native deities. St. Patrick
found the Irish worshipping an idol called " Black Crom,"
whose festival about the beginning of August is even now
called '' Cromduff Sunday." ''There were twelve idols
of stone around him, and himself of gold ": and by another
account his statue was covered with gold and silver, and

^ Girald. Camb. Topogr. Hibern. ii. 34, 35; Whitley Stokes, "Three
Middle-Irish Homilies." See the notes in Todd's Irish Nennius, and the
description in Cormac's Glossary of the " Three Brighits " who were the
goddesses of poetry, smith- work, and medicine. For Bridget's sacred oak-
tree at Kildare, see the Revue Celtique, iv. 193, and as to the connection of
her name with the superstition of the " Cursing-stones," ibid. 120.

2 Gildas, Hist. s. 4. For a description of these statues see Hearne's
Leland, Itin. ii. 6$, 64, 65, and Camden's Britannia (Gibson), 88.


Origins of English History.

the twelve subordinate deities were ornamented with plates
of bronze.^

Before the Celts used images a tall spear-oak was a
sufficient emblem of the Thunderer r they recognized the
presence of a god in the brightness of the sky, the stirring
of the bubbles in the spring, or the loneliness which
oppressed them in the forest. They easily transformed
natural objects into deities. The brimming rivers were
" Mothers " bringing food and abundance of riches. The
■whirling eddy concealed a demon, the lake was ruled by
a lonely queen, and every well and grotto in the forest
was haunted by its fairy or nymph. They saw the palaces
of Morgan la Faye in the mirage and the coloured clouds
at sunset, and believed that on the "blue verge of the sea"
were the shores of the Land of Youth, of O'Brasil the
Island of the Blest, and of the " green isles of the flood"
which vanished at the fishermen's approach. The earthly
paradise was always on the sea-horizon ; it was set by
different tribes in Somerset, in the Isle of Man, and in
fabulous countries off the Irish Coast. The inhabitants
of these homes of summer were a divine race of the pure
Celtic type, "long-faced yellow-haired hunters" and
goddesses with hair like s^old or the flower of the broom.'^

1 The " Crom-cruach " is described in the " Dinn-Senchus " and in
Jocelyn's Life of St. Patrick. See also the Revue Celtujuc, i. 260.

" 'AyoA^m ce Aioe kiK-lkov v-d/r]\}) SpvQ. Max. Tyr. Dissert. 383 Pliny,
Hist. Nat. xvi. c. 95.

^ Glueen " Medb," who ruled all the "spirits of the glens," is described
in the Irish legends as " a beautiful pale long-faced woman with flowing
golden hair upon her." The Princess Edain had hair "like red gold
or the flowers of the bog-fir in summer." O' Curry, IManners and Customs
of the Ancient Irish, iii. 190 3 Sullivan's Introd. Ixxiv. The Irish O'Brasil
*' the isle of the blest "was drawn in some of the mediaeval maps as a

Origins of English History. 273

To a childish people the wrath or favour of Heaven is
seen in every strange appearance of nature. The rough-
bearded comet is the sword of God, the meteors are stars
fighting in the heavens. "There is some divine trouble
in earth or in air." A mist creeps about the weed-beds of
the lake and is taken for an aerial city set round with
gardens and pastures. When the holy well becomes
turbid, or its waters streaked with red from a vein of ore,
the credulous worshippers are convinced that it runs with
milk or wine, or is turned into a river of blood. The flat
shores of an estuary are covered with string-like sea-
weeds which glitter at sunset like the surface of broad
scarlet pools, a haze looms out at sea in a time of heat, or
the waves at night are lit with phosphoric flame : and
all these natural phenomena are accepted as miracles or
messages from the gods.^ The springs and intermittent
*' winter-bournes " which rise suddenly at certain seasons

country lying to the west of Ireland. (See Map X.) According to O'Curry,
its inhabitants were thus described by the fairy-messenger who carried away
an Irish queen :

" O Befinn ! wilt thou go with me
To a wonderful land which is mine ?
The hair there is as the blossom of waterflags,
Of the colour of snow is the fair body :
There will be neither grief nor care,
White the teeth, and black the brows.
Pleasant to the eye is the number of our hosts
With the hue of the fox-glove on every cheek."

^ St. Winifred's Well at Holyhead was supposed to have sprung from
the spot where the head of the saint was thrown down : " the stones are
covered with blood, the moss smells as frankincense, and the water cures
divers diseases." There are a great number of similar legends about wells
in Wales and Ireland. See Girald. Cambr. Topogr. Hibern. i. c. 7, and
Itin. Cambr. ii. c. 9 ; Sikes, British Goblins, 345 5 Farrer, Primitive
Manners, 306.


274 Origins of English History.

in the chalk-districts were thought to be harbingers of
pestilence and famine. In times of trouble every move-
ment of the elements was watched with wonder and
alarm. Even the Roman armies were infected by
these superstitions. Tacitus has recorded a long list of
omens which foreboded the rebellion of Boudicca : " a
murmur was heard in the council-house and a wailing
noise in the theatre; in the estuary of the Thames men
saw the likeness of a sunken town ; the high sea was
tinged with blood, and as the tide went down what seemed
to be human forms were left upon the shore ; and all these
things were of a nature to encourage the Britons, while
the veterans of the garrison were overwhelmed with

There are many mineral-springs which can be excited
to " laugh " or break into bubbles by throwing in some
little object of metal, and others which are troubled when
pieces of bread are cast on their surface.

This seems to be the origin of those practices of divina-
tion, by which the name of a thief was discovered by an
offering of bread at the fountain, and of all those super-
stitions about '' pin-wells " which prevail so extensively in
Wales and Scotland. There are also wells in England
which the country-girls never pass without making the
customary offering.^ There is often a "rag-bush" by

* Tac. Ann. xiv. c. 32. The description points to the occurrence of a
severe earthquake in the neighbourhood of Colchester.

^ Farrer, Primitive Manners, 3065 Hazhtt's Tenures of Land, 151.
Compare the account of the children's sport in Broceliande, by M. De
Villemarque, Revue de Paris (1837), ^l'- 47= " Ris done, Fontaine de
Berendon, et je te donnerai ime epingle." See Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 562,
and Guest's Mabinogion, 67. For an account of the " laughing-wells " in
Cornwall, see De la Beche, Geology of Cornwall, 517, and as to the Scottish

Origins of English History. 275

the well, on which bits of linen or worsted are tied as a
gift to the spirit of the waters. The present is always of
a symbolical kind and of small value, as an ^gg^ a coin,
or a crooked pin. The antiquity of the ceremony is
proved by the classical descriptions of the money glittering
in the clear pool of Clitumnus and the sacred tanks which
hid "the gold of Toulouse": and Gregory of Tours has
left us a picture of the villagers feasting by a Gaulish lake,
and throwing to the water-gods "scraps of cloth and linen,
and locks of wool," with little cakes of wax and figures of
loaves and cheeses/

The principal deities of the Britons' gods may be grouped
according to their connection with the elemental powers.
" A bhnd people," said Gildas, "paid divine honour to the
mountains, wells, and streams." Their altars were pillars
of stone, inscribed with emblems of the sun and moon, or
a beast or bird which symbolized some force of nature.
They bound themselves by vows to the heavens and the
earth, to day and night, to the rain, the dew, and the

The father of the Irish Olympus was the lord of the
heavens who ruled the air and the weather. He was
called " the Dagda," which is said to mean ' the good god.'
We are told that he was "greyer than the grey mist":

pin-wells, see Logan's Scott. Gael. ii. 345, and Mitchell, Past in the
Present, 151.

^ Pliny, Epist. viii. 8 ; Strabo, iv. 287 ; Diod. v, c. 9 ; Gregory of Tours,
Gloria Confess, c. 2.

^ Gildas, Hist. s. 4; Petrie's " Tara," 169. Cormac's Glossary explains
the word "" indella "as an altar carved with the sign of an element, " verli
gratia, figura soils." Gregory of Tours noticed the same practice among
the Gauls : " Sibi silvarum atque aquarum avium bestiarumque et aliorum
quoque elementorum finxere formas." — Hist. Franc, ii. c. 10.

18 *

276 Origins of English History.

his cauldron was the vault of the sky and his hammer was
the thunderbolt.^ He is attended by a company of divine
artificers, and by a physician who healed all disease. His
son "Lug," a personification of the Sun, was master of all
the sciences. Among his other children were ^ngus
Mac Oc and the fiery Brigit and " sun-faced Ogma " the
patron of writing and prophecy.^

The moon is said to have been worshipped as the queen
of heaven and mother of the gods. Her gloomy rites were
tainted with death and slaughter. Her sacrifices were
offered upon the hills at Midsummer, and at the winter-
Jeasts, when the spirits of the dead were propitiated.^ In
one form she was a battle-goddess and leader of the Furies
and Choosers of the Slain. Like Pallas at the slaying of
the suitors she sits in the form of a bird to watch the
rush of the battle. The fancy of the Irish transformed the
birds which fed on carrion into goddesses like grey-necked
crows ; and in the moon shining on the battle-field they

^ Rhys, Hibbert Lectures, 1886, 154, 644. Thor is considered to be his
" Norse equivalent," ihid. 645.

^ For the connection between Ogma and Ogmius, " the Gaulish Hercules,"
see Lucian's account of the latter god : " This old Hercules was drawing a
large number of people after him whom he seemed to have bound by the
ears with slender chains of gold and amber made like beautiful necklaces."
Lucian (Bekker), vii. 23. Rhys, Hibbert Lectures, j886, 14, 296.

^ Revue Celtique, iv. 189, 194. As to the worship of the Moon in
Brittany see the extracts from the life of Nobletz, ihid. ii. 484 : " Cestoit
dans ces mesmes lieux une coustume receile de se mettre a ge7ioux devant la
nouvelle lune et dedire F Oraison Dominicale en son hoiineur." Compare also
Camden's account of the Irish : " I cannot tell whether the wilder sort of
the Irishry yield divine honour unto the Moon ; for when they see her first
after the change commonly they bow the knee and say over the Lord's
prayer, and so soone as they have made an end they speake to the Moone
with a loud voice in this manner, * Leave us whole and sound as thou hast
found us.' " Camden, Britannia (Gibson), 1415.

Origins of English History. 277

saw both the Queen of the Night and a lean bird-like
demon gloating over the bodies of the slain. The "red-
mouthed, sharp-beaked crows " fluttered and screamed in
the confusion of the fight, and came at night "with satyrs
and sprites and devils of the air " to tear the dead and the

The gods of Britain suffered the common fate of their
kind, and were changed into kings and champions or
degraded into giants and enchanters. The great "Belinus"
shrinks to the form of a mortal conqueror. According to
the mythical histories he marched to the siege of Rome
when "Gabius andPorsena" were consuls ; he devastated
Gaul and Dacia ; he built Caerleon upon Usk, which in a
later age was to be known as the City of Legions; and "he
also made a gate of wonderful design in Trinovantum
upon the banks of the Thames which the citizens to this
day call Billings-gate, after his name, and over it he
built a prodigiously large tower, and under it a haven for
ships. "^ Most of the gods of war were converted into
heroes, who fought under Arthur's banner against the
heathen of the Northern Sea. They march with the hosts
of Urien and die on the field of Cattraeth. If we turn to
Aneurin's famous poem we see them fighting in the ranks

^ Revue Celtique, i. 325 ii. 489. The Dinn-Senchus contains a notice of
" Neid, the god of war among the pagan Gaidel, and Neraon his wife."
The Irish " Badb " or battle-fury seems to have been a personification of the
hooded crow. The other furies were Nemon, who " confounded her victims
with madness," Macha who revelled on the bodies of the slain, and the
moon-goddess or "Morrigu" who incited warriors to brave deeds, but
appeared sometimes in the form of a demon. " Over his head is shrieking,
A lean hag quickly hopping, Over the points of their weapons, and over their
shields." — Revue Celtujue, i. 39.

^ Geoffr. Monm. Hist. Brit. iii. c. 10.

278 Origins of English History.

like the Olympians round the body of Patroclus. They
are disguised as mortal warriors ; but we recognise a
divine form in Gwydion " the Eagle of the Air"; it is a
war-god who leads the herd of Beli '' the roaring Bull of
battle "; it is a goddess in the likeness of Aphrodite who
" leaves the foaming billows " and takes her share in the
ruin of Britain. The poet never mentions " Owain " or
his father, the Prince of Reged, w^ithout some allusion to
the army of ravens which rose as he waved his wand and
swept men into the air and dropped them piecemeal to
earth. A battle-goddess is adored before the fight begins:
"the reapers sang of war, war with the shining wing":
Pryderi leads his army from a land of shadows and
enchantments ; the ravens hover round the head of the
Giant Eidiol ; and "Peredur" with his magic spear,
Gwyn the fairy-king, Manannan the sea-god, and a host
of other divine beings, take part in the legendary conflict.^
There seem to have been three principal families, the
children of "Don" and "Nudd" and "Lir," whose wor-
ship was common to the British and Irish tribes. The
first group consisted of the heavenly powers whose homes
were set in the stars and constellations. Gwydion son of
Don is celebrated in the Welsh household tales and in the
poems ascribed to Taliessin. He is the great magician, the
" master of illusion and phantasy," who changed the forms

^ See Aneurin's " Gododin," in Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales.
Mr. Stephens took the subject of the poem to be an expedition of the
Ottadeni against the town of Cataracton in the Brigantian territoiy. Liter.
Kymry, 3. See also Nash, Tahesin, ch. 3. The poems seem not to be
earher than the twelfth century, though they contain numerous allusions to
legends as old as the age of paganism. It should be remembered that the
Welsh historians have found a date and a local habitation for every person
who is named in these romances.

Origins of English History. 279

of men trees and animals. His home was in the Milky
Way, which was known as the Castle of Gwydion. We

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