John Toland.

A new edition of Toland's History of the druids : with an Abstract of his life and writings; and a copious appendix, containing notes critical, philological, and explanatory online

. (page 9 of 31)
Online LibraryJohn TolandA new edition of Toland's History of the druids : with an Abstract of his life and writings; and a copious appendix, containing notes critical, philological, and explanatory → online text (page 9 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

These tern pies are circles qf Obelises or erect stones,
some larger, some narrower, (as in all other edifi-

* fn hoc medio cursu [inter Hihemiam scilictt Sf Britaniam']
es! insula, qu^e appellatur Mono. Complures praeterea miao.
les objectae iosulae existimantur, de quibus insults nonnalli
scripserunt, dies contiauos SO sub bruma esse noctem. De
Bella GuUkOf lib. &.

or THE DRUIDS. 135

ces) some more and some less maghificettt. They
are for the greatest pavt perfectly circular, but
some of them s^micii-cular : in others the obelises
stand close together, but in most separate and
equidistant. I am not ignorant that several, with
Dr. Charlton in his StoM-kenge restored to the
jyanes, believe those'circles to be Danish tvorks ;
a notion I shall easily confete in due time, and
6V^ now as I go along. But few have imagin'd
'em to be Roman, as the famous architect Inigo
JoheS wdU'd iieeds have thi« same Stom-hei^e
(according to me one of the Druid cathedrals) to
be the temple of Celtim or Terminus, in his StoM-
henge restor'd to the Romans. Nevertheless, my
lord, I promise you no lets than demonstration,
that those circles were Druids temples^ agaiiist
which assertion their frequenting of oaks, and per-
forming no religious rites without oak-bfanches
of leaves, will prove no valid exception ; no more
tiian such circlefs being found in the Gothic coun-
trieis, tho' without aUm-s, whereof we shall speak
aftfer the temples. The outside of the churches
m Spain and Holland is much the same, but their
insid'C differs extremely. As for Inigo Jones, he
cannot be too much commended for his generous
efforts (which shows an unxrommon getiius) to in-
troduce a 'b<?tter taste of architecture into England,
where 'tis ^till so difficult a thing to get rid of Go-
thic oddnesses ; and therefore 'tis no wonder he
shou'd continue famous, when so few endeavow


to excede him: but we must beg his pardon, if,
as he was unacquainted with history, and wanted
certain other qualifications, we take the freedom
in our book to correct his mistakes.

XI. In the iland of Lewis before-mention'd, at
the village of Classerniss, there is one of those
temples extremely remarkable. The circle con.
sists of 12 obelises, about 7 foot high each, and
distant from each other six foot. In the center
.stands a stone 13 foot high, in the perfect shape
of the rudder of a ship. Directly south from the
circle, there stands four obelises running out in a
line; as another such line due east, and a third to
the Avest, the number and distances of the stones
being in these wings the same: so that this temple,
the most intire that can be, is at the same time
both round and wing'd. But to the north there
reach by way of avenue) two straight ranges of
obelises, of the same bigness and distances with
those of the circle; yet the ranges themselves are
8 foot distant, and each consisting of 19 stones,
the 39th being in the entrance of the avenue.
This temple stands astronomically, denoting tlie
12 signs of the Zodiac and the four principal
winds, subdivided each into four others ; by which,
and the 19 stones on each side of the avenue beto-
kening the cycle of 19 years, I can prove it to have
been dedicated principally to the sun ; but subor-
dinately to the seasons and the elements, particu-
larly to the sea and the winds, as appears by tlie


rudder in the middle. The sea, consider'd as a
divinity, was by the ancient Gauls call'd Anvana
or Onvana, as the raging sea is still call'd Anafa
in so many letters by the Irish*; and both of 'em,
besides that they were very good astronomers, are
known to have paid honor not only to the sea, but
also to the winds and the tempests, as the Ro-
mans f were wont to do. But of this in the ac-
count of their worship. I forgot to tell you, that
there is another temple about a quarter of a mile
from the former; and that commonly two temples
stand near each other, for reasons you will see in
our history. East of Drumcruy in the Scottish
He of Aran, is a circular temple, whose area is
about 30 paces over: and south of the same vil-
lage is such another temple, in the center of which
still remains the altar; being a broad thin stone,
supported by three other such stones. This is
very extraordinary, tho' (as you may see in my last
letter) not the onely example; since the zeal of the
chi'istians sometimes apt to be over-heated, us'd
to leave no altars standing but their own. In the

* They vulgarly call the sea mor or muir^ mam, cuan,fairge,

+ Sic fatus, meritos aris mactaTit honores :
Tai^rum Neptuno, taurum tibi, pulcher Apollo ;
Nigram Hyemi pecudem, Zephyris felicibus albam.

Aen. lib. 3,
Videatur etiam Horatius, Epod. 10. ver. ult. Cic. de nat,
Deor. lib. 3. £t Aristoph. in Ranis cum suo Sc.holiayte.



greatest Hand of Orkney * commonly call'd the
Mainland, there are likewise two temples, where
the natives believe by tradition, that the sun and
moon were worshipt: which belief of theirs is very
right, since the lesser temple is semicircular. The
greater is 110 paces diameter. They know not
what to make of two green mounts erected at the
east and west end of it : a matter nevertheless for
which it is not difficult to account. There's a
trench or ditch round each of these temples, like
that about Stonehenge; and, in short, every such
temple had the like inclosure. Many of the stones
are above 20 or 24 foot in height above the ground,
about 5 foot in breadth, and a foot or two in thick-
ness. Some of- 'em are fallen do\\Ti ; and the
temples are one on the east and the other on the
west side of the lake of Stennis, where it is shal-
low and fordable, there being a passage over by
large stepping stones. Near the lesser temple
(which is on the east side of the lake, as the great-
er on the west) there stand two stones of the same
bigness with the restf; thro' the middle of one of
which there is a large hole, by which criminals

* The lies of Orkney are denominated from Orcas or Orca.
which, in Diodorus Siculus and Ptolemy, is the ancient name of
Caithness ; and this from Ore, not a salmon (as by some inter.
preted)buta whale: so that in old Irish Orci is the Whale
Islands. The words of Diodorus are, to ie i.7ro\w.,u£>,» [t,s BftT«n«]

«ywsi» ^6v ifopousiv CIS TO WfXayB*, ovc/^djwfiai it OfMt, Lib. 4,

+ Brand; pag. 44.


and victims were ty'd. Likewise in the iland of
Papa-Westra, another of the Orkneys, there stand,
near a lake (now call'd St. Tredwell's loch*) two
such obelises, in one of which there is the like
hole: and behind them lying on the ground a
third stone, being hollow like a trough.

XII. These few I only give for examples out of
great numbers, as I likewise take the liberty to ac-
quaint you (my lord) that at a place call'd Biscau-
woon, near Saint Burien's in Cornwall, there is a
circular temple consisting of 19 stones, the dis-
tance between each 12 foot; and a twentieth in
the center, much higher than the rest. But I am
not yet inform'd, whether this middle stone has
any peculiar figure, or whether inscrib'd with any
characters; for such characters are found in Scot-
land, and some have been observ'd in Wales ; but
(except the Roman and Christian inscriptions)
unintelligible to such as have hitherto seen them.
Yet they ought to have been fairly represented >
for the use of such as might have been able per-
haps to explain them. They would at least ex-
ercise our antiquaries. The circle of Rollrich-
stones in Oxfordshire, and the Hurlers in Corn-
wall, are two of those Druid templeSi There is
one at Aubury in Wiltshire, and some left in other
places in England. In Gregory of Tours time
there was remaining, and for ought I know may
still be so, one of those temples on the top of Be-

* Brand, pag. 58.



lerCs mount between Arton and Riom in Au-
vergne. It was within this inclosure that Martin,
the sainted bishop, stood taking a view* of the
country, as before-mention'd. Now of such tem-
ples I shall mention here no more, but precede to
the Druids altars, which, as I said before, do or-
dinarily consist of four stones; three being hard
flags, or large tho' thin stones set up edgewise,
two making the sides, and a shorter one the end,
with a fourth stone of the same kind on the top:
for the.other end was commonly left open, and the
■altars were all oblong. Many of 'em are not in-
tire. From some the upper stone is taken away,
from others one of the side-stones or the end.
And, besides the alterations that men have caus'd
in all these kinds of monuments, time itself has
chang'd 'em much more. Mr. Brand, speaking
of the obelises in Orkney, " many of 'em (says he)
appear to be much worn, by the washing of the
wind and rain, which shows they are of a long
standing: and it is very strange to think, how, in
those places and times, they got such large stones
carry'd and erected f." 'Tis naturally impossible,
but that, in the course of so many ages, several
stones must have lost tlieir fisjure; their an^-les
being expos'd to all weathers, and no care taken
to repair any disorder, nor to prevent any abuse

* Extat nunc in hoc loco cancellus, in quo Sanctus dicitur
Stetisse. Gregor. Turon. de Gloria Confessor, cap. 5,
+ Pag. 46.


0f them. Thus some are become lower, or jagged,
or otherwise irregular and diminish'd : many are
quite wasted, and moss or scurf hides the inscrip-
tions or sculptures of others; for such sculptures
there are in several places, particularly in Wales
and the Scottish ile of Aran. That one sort of
stone lasts longer than another is true : but that
all will have their period, no less than parchment
and paper, is as true.

XIII. There are a great many of the altars to
be seen yet intire in Wales, particularly two in
Kerig Y Drudion parish mention'd in my other
letter, and one in Lhan-Hammulch parish in
Brecknockshire ; with abundance elsewhere, dili-
gently observ'd by one I mention'd in my first let-
ter, Mr, Edward. Lhuyd, who yet was not certain
to what use they were destin'd. Here I beg the
favor of your lordship to take it for granted, that
I have sufficient authorities for every thing I al-
ledge: and tho' I do not always give them in this
brief specimen, yet in the history itself, they shall
be produc'd on every proper occasion. The Druids
altars were commonly in the middle of the tem-
ples, near the great colossus, of which presently;
as there is now such a one at Carn-Lhechart, in
the parish of Lhan-Gyvelach, in Glamorganshire,
besides that which I mention'd before in Scotland.
They are by the Welsh in the singular number
call'd Kist-vden, that is a stone-chest, and in the
plural Kistieu-vaen, stone-chests. These names,


with a small variation, are good Irish: but the
things quite different from those real stone-chests
or coffins (commonly of one block and the lid) that
are in many places found under ground. The
vulgar Irish call these altars Dermot and Gra-
nia's bed*. This last was the daughter of King
Cormac Ulfhada, and wife to Fin mac Cuilf;
from whom, as invincible a general and champion
as he's reported to have been, she took it in her
head (as women will sometimes have such fancies)
to run away with a nobleman, call'd Dermot
O Duvny:|;: but being pursu'd fvery where, the
ignorant country people say, they were intertain'd
a night in every quarter-land ^, or village of Ireland ;
where the inhabitants sympathizing with their af-
fections, and doing to others what they wou'd be
done unto, made these beds both for their resting
and hiding place. The poets, you may imagine,
have not been wanting to imbellish this story: and
hence it appears, that the Druids were planted as
thick as parish priests, nay much thicker. Wher-
ever there's a circle without an altar, 'tis certain
there was one formerly; as altars are found where
the circular obelises are mostly or all taken away
for other uses, or out of aversion to this supersti-
tion, or that time has consumed them. They, who,
from the bones, which are often found near those
altars and circles (tho' seldom witliin them) will

* Leaba Dhiarmait agus Ghraine. + Finn mbac Cubhaill.
1^ Diarmalt Duibhne. § Seisreach ^ Ccathramhach.


needs infer, that they were burying places; forget
what Cesar, Pliny, Tacitus, and other authors,
write of the human sacrifices offer'd by the Druids :
and, in mistaking the ashes found in the earns,
they show themselves ignorant of those several an-
niversary fires and sacrifices, for which they were
rear'd, as we have shown above. The huge cop-
ing stones of these earns were in the nature of al-
tars, and altars of the lesser form are frequently
found near them; as now in the great Latin and
Greec churches, there are, besides the high altar,
several smaller ones.

XIV. There's another kind of altar much big-
ger than either of these, consisting of a greater
number of stones ; some of 'em serving to support
the others, by reason of their enormous bulk.,
These the Britons term Cromlech in the singular,
Cromlechu in the plural number; and the Iri&h
Cr&mleach or Cromleac, in the plural Cromleacha
or Cromleacca. By these altars, as in the center
of the circular temples, there commonly stainds
(or by accident lyes) a prodigious stone, which
was to serve as a pedestal to some deity: for all
these Cromleachs were places of worship, and so
call'd from bowing, the word signifying the bow-
ing-stone*. The original designation of the idol
Crui^-cruach (whereof in the next section) may
■syell be from Cruim, an equivalent word to Tair-

* From crom or crum, which, in Armoric, Irish, and Welsh,
«ignifies.Jc«?/ aod Lech or Leac, a broad s(one.


■neafih Taran or Tarman, all signifying thunder;
whence the Romans call'd the Gallic Jupiter Ta-
ramis or Taranis, the thunderer: and from these
Cromleachs it is, that in the oldest Irish a priest
is call'd Cruimthear, and priesthood Cruimtheacd,
Avhich are so many evident vestiges of the Druidi-
cal religion*. There's a Cromlech in Nevern-pa-
rish in Pembrokeshire, where the middle stone is
still 18 foot high, and 9 broad towards the base,
growing narrower upwards. There lyes by it a
piece broken of 10 foot long, which seems more
than 20 oxen can draw: and therefore they were
not void of all skill in the mechanics, who could
set up the whole. But one remaining at Poitiers
in France, supported by five lesser stones, excedes
all in the British ilands, as being sixty foot in cir-
cumferencef . 1 fancy, however, that this was a
roching-stone : There's also a noble Cromleach at
Bod-ouyr in Anglesey. Many of them, by a mo-
dest computation, are 30 tun weight: but they
differ in bigness, as all pillars do, and their altai'S
are ever bigger than the ordinary Kistiew-vaen.
In some places of Wales these stones are call'd

* Of the same nature is Caimeach, of which before : for So-
gttrt, the ordinary word for a priest, is manifestly formed from

f La pierre levee de Poitiers a soisante pieds de tour, & elle
rst posee sur cinq autres pierres, sans qu'on sache non plus nl
pourquoi, ni comment. Chevrcau, Memoires d'Atighteire,
page 380.


Meineu-guyr, which is of the same import witli
Cromlechu. In Caithness and other remote parts
of Scotland, these Cromleacs are very nume-
rous, some pretty entire ; and others, not so much
consum'd by time or thrown down by storms, as
disorder'd and demolish'd by the hands of men.
But no such altars were ever found by Olaus
Wormius, the great northern antiquary (which I
desire the abettors of Dr. Charlton to note) nor
by any others in the temples of the Gothic nations ;
as I term all who speak the several dialects of
Gothic original, from Izeland to Switzerland, and
from the Bril in Holland to Presburg in Hungary,
the Bohemians and Polanders excepted. The
Druids were onely co-extended with the Celtic
dialects : besides that Cesar says expresly, there
were no Druids among the Germans* with whom
he says as expresly that seeing- and feeling was be'
lieving (honoring onely the sun, the fire, and the
moon, hy which they were manifestly benefited) and
that they made no sacrifices at all: which, of
course, made altars as useless there (tho' after-
wards grown fashionable) as they were necessary
in the Druids temples, and which they show
more than probably to have been temples indeed ;

* German! neque Druides habeat, qui lebus diTiDis prse-

sint, neque sacrificits student. Deorum numero eos solos du.
Cunt, qttos cernunt, et quorum operibus aperte juvantur ; Solem,
et Vulcanum, et Lunam: reliquos ne fam^ quidem acceperunt.
Be Bella GelUeo, lib. S.



nor are they call'd by any other name, or thought
to have been any other thing, by the Highlanders
or their Irish progenitors. In Jersey likewise, as
well as in the other neighbouring ilands, formerly
part of the dutchy of Normandy, there are raafiy
altars and Cromleclis. " There are yet remaining
in this iland" (says Dr. Falle in the 115th page of
his account of Jersey) " some old monuments of
Paganism. We call them Pouqueleys. They are
great flat stones, of vast bigness and weight; some
oval, some quadrangular, rais'd 3 or 4 foot from
the ground, and supported by others of a les» size.
'Tis evident both from their figure, and great quan-
tities of ashes found in the ground thereabouts,
that they were us'd for altars in those times of
superstition: and their standing on eminences
near the sea, inclines me also to think, that they
were dedicated to tlie divinities of the ocean. At
ten or twelve foot distance there is a smaller stone
set up at an end, in manner of a desk ; where 'tis
suppos'dthe priest kneel'd, and perform'd some ce-
remonies, while the sacrifice was burning on the
altar." Part of this account is mistakeii, for the
culture of the inland parts is the reason that few
Pouqueleys are left, besides those on the barren
rocks and hills on the sea side: nor is that situa-
tion alone suflicient for entitling them to the ma-
rine powers, there being proper marks to distin-
guish such wheresoever situated.

XV. But to return to our Croii^achs, the chief-


est in all Ireland was Cruvi-cruach, which stood
in the midst of a circle of twelve obelises on a hill
in Brefin, a district of the county of Cavan, for-
merly belonging to Letrim. It was all over co-
ver'd with gold and silver, the lesser figures on the
twelve stones about it being onely of brass; which
mettals, both of the stones and the statues that
they bore, became every where the prey of the
christian priests, upon the conversion of that king-
dom. The legendary writers of Patricks life tell
many things no less ridiculous than incredible,
about !&e destruction of this temple of 3Iot/slect*%
or the field of adoration, in Brefin; where the
stumps of the circular obelises are yet to be seen,
and where they were ixoted by writers to have
stood long before any Danish invasion, which
shows how groundless Dr. Charlton's notion is.
The bishop's see of Clogher had its name from
one of those stones, all cover 'd with gold (Clochoir
signifying the golden stone) on which stood Ker-
raand Kelstach, the chief idol of Ulster |. Thia^
stone is still in being. To note it here by tlie way.
Sir James Ware was mistaken, when, in his Anti-
quities of Ireland, he said Arcklow and Wicklow
were foren names : whereas they arc mere Irish,
the first being Ard-cloch, and the second Buidhe-
cloch, from high and yellow stones of this conse-
crated kind. 'Tis not to vindicate either the Celtic
nations in general, or my own countrymen in

* Mash-tUuehu f Mercurius Celticus.


particular, for honoring of such stones, or for
having stony symbols of the Deity ; but to show
they were neither more ig-norant nor barbarous
in this respect than the politest of nations, the
Greecs and the Romans, that here I must make
a short literary excursion. Wherefore, I beg your
lordship to remember, that Kermand Kelstach
was not the onely Mercury of rude stone, since
the Mercury of the Greecs was not portray'd an-
tiently in the shape of a youth, with wings to his
heels and a caduceus in his hand; but without
hands or feet, being a square stone*, says Phumu-
tus, and I say without any sculpture. The rea-
son given for it by the divines of those days, was.
" that as the square figure betoken'd his solidity
and stability; so he wanted neither hands nor
feet to execute what he was commanded by Jove.
Thus their merry-making Bacchus was figur'd
among the Thebans by a pillar oaelyf". So the
Arabians worship I know not what God (says
Maximus Tyrius:j;) and t^e statue that I saw of
him, was a square stone." I shall say nothing
here of the oath of the Romans per Jovetn JLapi-
dem. But nobody pretends that the Gauls were
more subtil theologues or philosophers, tlian the

* nXaTTETttt ti Hat *X^'P» *"' *'^'"^5| X** TETpaywvo; T« r^^nfjirttrtf J'Epjtt>:f : tetm-
j'ajve? jMEV, TO iifam ts itai air<{>aXcc SX^tf — ''X^'P ^^ **' a^ouj, ettej ovtl -jTiiSiuv nil ysj,
fiov hnm, 5rptc to avuEtv to ^rpoxEijUEvov aurw. De Tfat. Dear, cap, 16.
t iTi/Xoc ©E^'aioto-i AiwTOff-roc ffoXyyflSt)?, Clem. Ahx, Stromat, lib, 1,
J ApaCisi ffl^tairi /wEvoiTiva J'lun tiJa : a« Je oj-aXjxa o ttJtv Xi8o« nt n-rfayifti-.
Strm. 33.


Arabians, Greecs, or Romans ; at least many are
apt not to believe it of their Irish ofspring: yet
'tis certain, that all those nations meant by these
stones without statues, the eternal stability and
power of the Deity*; and that he cou'd not be re-
presented by any similitude, nor under any figure
whatsoever. For the numberless figures, which,
notwithstanding this doctrine, they had (some of
'em very ingenious, and some very fantastical) were
onely emblematical or enigmatical symbols of the
divine attributes and operations, but not of the
divine essence. Now as such symbols in differ-
ent places were different, so they were often con-
founded together, and mistaken for each other.
Nor do I doubt, but in this manner the numerous
earns in Gaule and Britain induc'd the Romans
to believe, that Mercury was their chief Godf,
because among themselves he had such heaps, as
I show'd above; whereas the Celtic heaps were
all dedicated to Belenus, or the sun. The Roman
historians in particular are often misled by like-
nesses, as has been already, and will not seldom
again, be shown in our history; especially with
regard to the Gods, said to have been worship'd
by the Gauls. Thus some modern critics have
forg'd new Gods, out of the sepulchral inscriptions
of Gallic heroes. I shall say no more of such

* To «»eixwis-ov Tou fleov xai f«0Hjt»ov. Id, Ibid,

+ Deum tnazime Mercurium colunt. Hujus sunt pluriraa
simulacra, &c. Cas, de bdlo Gallko, lib, 6.


pillars, feut that many oi theiB have a cavity on
tlie top, capable to hold a pint, and sometimes
more; with a channel or groove, about an inch
dicep, reaching from this hollow place to tlie
ground, of the use whereof in due time.

XVI. Nor will I dwell longer here, than our
subject requires, on the Fatal Stone so cail'd, on
which the supreme kings of Ireland us'd to be
inaugurated in times of heathenism on the hillurf*
Farahl; and which, being inclos'd in a woodea

* Temnhuir, or in the oblique cases Teamhra^ whence cor.
roptly Taragh, or Tarah.

•h The true names of this stone are Lioig -fail, or the fetal stone,
aii«l {Jlech na cineamhma, or the stone ^JbrtMne : both of them
£rem a per&uasien the antient Irish lia4, that, in what country
soever this stone remaio'd, there one of their blood was to reign.
But this proT'd as false as such other protphesies for 300 y«ars,
from Edward the First to the reign of James the First in England.
The Druidical oracle is in verse, and in tiiese original words :
Cioniodh scnit saor an €ae,
Man ba breag an Faisdioe,
Mar a bhfuighid an Lia-fail,
'Dligbid flaitbeas do gbabbail.
Which may be <read thus trnely, but mouki^ly translated, in
Hector Boeilmts :

Ni fallat fatum, Scoti, qaocun^ne locatuin
Invenicnt lapidem hnoc, regnare tenentiu- ibidem.
The iLowland Scots hare rhym'd it thus :
•Except old Saws do feign.
And wizards wits be blind.
The Scots in place must reign.
Where they this stone shall ftud.
And some English poet has thns render'd it :

Consider Scot, wher'e'er yon find this stone.

Online LibraryJohn TolandA new edition of Toland's History of the druids : with an Abstract of his life and writings; and a copious appendix, containing notes critical, philological, and explanatory → online text (page 9 of 31)