William Winwood Reade.

The veil of Isis, or, Mysteries of the Druids online

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Ill ill

Division l^L^IO
Section .K/O







By the bright circle of the golden sun,
By the bright courses of the errant moon,
By the dread potency of every star,
In the mysterious Zodiac's burning girth,
By each and all of these supernal signs,
We do adjure thee, with this trusty blade
To guard yon central oak, whose holy stem,
Involves the spirit of high Taranis:
Be this thy charge."— Mason.






TO EMILY * * *.

As those presents are always the most fashionable,
and sometimes the most valued, which cannot be
used, I give you this book, which you will not be
able to read, but which, perhaps, you will kindly
preserve in memory of its writer.

An author can pay no higher compliment to a
friend than to dedicate to her a work upon which he
has spent much labor and anxiety. This effort of a
young man to redeem a mistake, perhaps a fault, in
his literary life, deserves to be sealed with your
name, for it is you who have repeatedly urged him
to the task, and presided over it like a guardian
angel, with kind and consoling words.




I. — Albion ,
II.— Britain
III. — Analysis .
IV. — Description

2 7




I. — Origin .

II. — Power ....
III. — The Derwydd, or Philosophers
IV. — The Bardd, or Musicians
V. — The Ovades, or Noviciates
VI. — Rites and Ceremonies .
VII. — Priestesses ...











I. — In the Ceremonies of the Church of Rome . 135

II. — In the Emblems of Freemasonry . 172

III.— In Rustic Folk-Lore . .191







THERE is no study so saddening, and none so
sublime as that of the early religions of man-
kind. To trace back the worship of God to its simple
origin, and to mark the gradual process of those
degrading superstitions, and unhallowed rites which
darkened, and finally extinguished His presence in
the ancient world.

At first men enjoyed the blessings of nature as
children do, without inquiring into causes. It was
sufficient for them that the earth gave them herbs,
that the trees bore them fruit, that the stream quenched
their thirst. They were happy, and every moment
though unconsciously they offered a prayer of grati-
tude to Him whom as yet they did not know.

And then a system of theology arose amongst
them vague and indefinite, as the waters of the bound-
less sea. They taught each other that the sun, and


io Darkness,

the earth, the moon, and the stars were moved and
illumined by a Great Soul which was the source of
all life, which caused the birds to sing, the brooks to
murmur, and the sea to heave. It was a sacred Fire
which shone in the firmament, and in mighty flames.
It was a strange Being which animated the souls of
men, and which when the bodies died, returned to
itself again.

They silently adored this Great Soul in the be-
ginning, and spoke of Him with reverence, and
sometimes raised their eyes timidly to His glittering
dwelling-place on high.

And soon they learned to pray. When those
whom they loved lay dying, they uttered wild lamen-
tations, and flung their arms despairingly towards
the mysterious Soul; for in times of trouble the
human mind so imbecile, so helpless, clings to some-
thing that is stronger than itself.

As yet they worshipped only the sun, the moon,
and the stars — and not as Gods but as visions of that
Divine Essence, which alone ruled and pervaded the
earth, the sky, and the sea.

They adored Him kneeling, with their hands
clasped, and their eyes raised. They offered Him
no sacrifices, they built Him no temples; they were
content to offer Him their hearts which were full of
awe, in His own temple which was full of grandeur.

Bareness. n

And it is said that there are yet some barbarous
islands where men have no churches nor ceremonies,
and where they worship God, reflected in the work
of His thousand hands.

But they were not long content with this simple
service. Prayer which had first been an inspiration
fell into a system, and men already grown wicked
prayed the Deity to give them abundance of wild
beast's skins, and to destroy their enemies.

They ascended eminences, as if hoping that thus
being nearer God, He would prefer their prayers to
those of their rivals. Such is the origin of that
superstitious reverence for high places which was
universal throughout the whole of the heathen world.

Then Orpheus was born. And he invented instru -
ments which to his touch and to his lips, gave forth
notes of surpassing sweetness, and with these melo-
dies he enticed the wondering savages into the
recesses of the forest, and there taught them precepts
of obedience to the great Soul, and of loving-kind-
ness towards each other in harmonious words.

So they devoted groves and forests to the worship
of the Deity.

There were men who had watched Orpheus, and
who had seen and envied his power over the herd
who surrounded him. They resolved to imitate him,
and having studied these barbarians, they banded

12 E>arfeness.

together, and called themselves their priests. Re-
ligion *is divine, but its ministers are men. And
alas! sometimes they are demons with the faces and
wings of angels.

The simplicity of men, and the cunning of their
priests has destroyed or corrupted all the religions
of the world.

These priests taught the people to sacrifice the
choicest herbs and flowers. They taught them for-
mulas of prayer, and bade them make so many
obeisances to the sun, and to worship those flowers
which opened their leaves when he rose, and which
closed them as he set.

They composed a language of symbols which was
perhaps necessary, since letters had not been in-
vented, but which perplexed the people and perverted
them from the worship of the one God.

Thus the sun and moon were worshipped as
emblems of God, and fire as an emblem of the sun,
water as an emblem of the moon.

The serpent was to be worshipped also as an em-
blem of wisdom and eternal youth, since it renews
its skin every year, and thus periodically casts off
all symptoms of old age.

And the bull, most vigorous of animals, and whose
horns resemble those of the crescent moon.

The priests observed the avidity with which the

Darkness. 13

barbarians adored these symbols, and increased them.
To worship the visible is a disease of the soul inher-
ent to all mankind, and the disease which these
men could have healed they pandered to.

It is true that the first generation of men might
have looked upon these merely as the empty symbols
of a Divine Being, but it is also certain that in time
the vulgar forgot the God in the emblem, and wor-
shipped that which their fathers had only honored.
Egypt was the fountain-head of these idolatries, and
it was in Egypt that the priests first applied real
attributes to the sun, and to the moon whom they
called his wife.

It may perhaps interest you to listen to the first
fable of the world.

From the midst of chaos was born Osiris, and at
his birth a voice was heard proclaiming — " The ruler
of all the earth is born."

From the same dark and troubled womb were
born Isis the Queen of Light, and Typhon the Spirit
of Darkness.

This Osiris traveled over the whole world, and
civilized its inhabitants, and taught them the art of
agriculture. But on his return to Egypt the jealous
Typhon laid a stratagem for him, and in the midst of
a banquet had him shut up in a chest which exactly
fitted his body. He was nailed down in his prison,

14 Darftness.

which cast into the Nile floated down to the sea by
the Taitic mouth, which even in the time of Plutarch
was never mentioned by an Egyptian but with
marks of detestation.

When Isis learnt these sad new she cut off a lock
of her hair, and put on her mourning robes, and
wandered through the whole country in search of the
chest which contained the dead body of her husband.

At length she learnt that the chest had been car-
ried by the waves to the shore of Byblos, and had
there lodged in the branches of a tamarisk bush,
which quickly shot up and became a large and beau-
tiful tree, growing round the chest so that it could
not be seen.

The king of the country amazed at the vast size the
tree had so speedily acquired, ordered it to be cut
down to be hewn into a pillar to support the roof of
his palace — the chest being still concealed in the

The voice which had spoken from Heaven at the
birth of Osiris made known these things to poor Isis,
who went to the shore of Byblos and sat down silently
by a fountain to weep. The damsels of the queen
met her and accosted her, and the queen appointed
her to be nurse to her child. And Isis fed the infant
with her finger instead of with her breast, and put
him every night into tire to render him immortal,

Darftness. i 5

while transforming herself into a swallow she hov-
ered round the pillar which was her husband's tomb,
and bemoaned her unhappy fate,

It happened that the queen thus discovered her,
and shrieked when she saw her child surrounded by
flames. By that cry she broke the charm and de-
prived him of immortality.

By that cry Isis was summoned back to her god-
dess-form, and stood before the awe-struck queen shi-
ning with light and diffusing sweet fragrances around.

She cut open the pillar, and took the coffin with
her, and opened it in a desert. There she embraced
the cold corpse of Osiris, and wept bitterly.

She returned to Egypt and hid the coffin in a
remote place: but Typhon, hunting by moonlight,
chanced to find it, and divided the corpse into four-
teen pieces. Again Isis set out on her weary search
throughout the whole land, sailing over the fenny
parts in a boat made of papyrus. She recovered all
the fragments except one which had been thrown
into the sea. Each of these she buried in the place
where she found it, which explains why in Egypt
there are so many tombs of Osiris.

And instead of the limb which was lost, she gave
the phallus to the Egyptians — the disgusting wor-
ship of which was thence carried into Italy, into
Greece, and into all the countries of the East.

16 s>arfeness.

When Isis died, she was buried in a grove near
Memphis. Over her grave was raised a statue
covered from head to foot with a black veil. And
underneath was engraved these divine words :

/ am all that has been, that is, that shall be, and
none among mortals has yet dared to raise my veil.

Beneath this veil are concealed all the mysteries
and learning of the past. A young scholar, his
fingers covered with the dust of venerable folios, his
eyes weary and reddened by nightly toil will now
attempt to lift a corner of this mysterious and sacred

These two Deities, Isis and Osiris were the parents
of all the Gods and Godesses of the Heathens, or
were indeed those Gods themselves worshipped un-
der different names. The fable itself was received
into the mythologies of the Hindoos and the Ro-
mans. Sira is said to have mutilated Brahma as
Typhon did Osiris, and Venus to have lamented her
slain Adonis, as Isis wept for her husband-god.

As yet the sun and moon alone were worshipped
under these two names. And as we have seen,
besides these twin beneficial spirits, men who had
begun to recognize sin in their hearts had created
an Evil One who struggled with the power of light,
and fought with them for the souls of men.

It is natural for man to fabricate something that

2>arfeness. 17

is worse than himself. Even in the theology of the
American Indians which is the purest of the modern
world, there is found a Mahitou or dark Spirit.

Osiris or the sun was now worshipped throughout
the whole world, though under different names. He
was the Mithra of the Persians, the Brahma of India,
the Baal or Adonis of the Phoenicians, the Apollo of
the Greeks, the Odin of Scandinavia, the Hu of the
Britons, and the Baiwe of the Laplanders.

Isis also received the names of Islene, Ceres, Rhea,
Venus, Vesta, Cybele, Niobe, Melissa — Nehalennia
in the North; Isi with the Indians; Puzza among the
Chinese; and Ceridwen among the ancient Britons.

The Egyptians were sublime philosophers who had
dictated theology to the world. And in Chaldeea
arose the first astrologers who watched the heavenly
bodies with curiosity as well as with awe, and who
made divine discoveries, and who called themselves
The Interpreters of God.

To each star they gave a name, and to each day
in the year they gave a star.

And the Greeks and Romans who were poets,
wreathed these names into legends. Each name
was a person, each person was a god.

From these stories of the stars originated the
angels of the Jews, the genii of the Arabs, the heroes
of the Greeks, and the saints of the Romish Church.

18 Barfeness.

Now corruption grew upon corruption, and super-
stition flung a black and hideous veil over the doc-
trines of religion. A religion is lost as soon as it
loses its simplicity: truth has no mysteries: it is
deceit alone that lurks in obscurity.

Men multiplied God into a thousand names, and
created Him always in their own image. Him, too,
whom they had once deemed unworthy of any
temple less noble than the floor of the earth and the
vast dome of the sky, they worshipped in caves, and
then in temples which were made of the trunks of
trees rudely sculptured, and ranged in rows to imitate
groves, and with other trunks placed upon them

Such were the first buildings of worship erected
by man from no reverence for the Deity, but to
display that which they doubtless conceived to be a
stupendous effort in art.

It may not be needless to remind some of my
readers that a superior being must view the elegant
temples of the Romans, the gorgeous pagodas of
India, and our own Gothic cathedrals with feelings
similar to those with which we contemplate the rude
efforts of the early heathens, who deemed God un-
worthy of the fruits and flowers which he himself
had made, and offered to him the entrails of beasts,
and the hearts of human beings.

2>arfeness. 19

We may compare an ancient and fallen religion to
the ship of the Argonauts, which the Greeks desir-
ing to preserve to posterity, repairing in so many
different ways, that at length there did not remain a
fragment of that vessel which had born to Colchis
the conqueror of the Golden Fleece.

Let us pass over a lapse of years, and then con-
template the condition of these nations in whom
religion had been first born. We find the Egyptians
adoring the most common of plants, the most con-
temptible of beasts, the most hideous of reptiles.
The solemnity and pomp of their absurd ceremo-
nies held them up to the ridicule of the whole world.

Clemens of Alexandria describes one of their
temples: — (Pcedag. lib. iii). —

" The walls shine with gold and silver, and with
amber, and sparkle with the gems of India and
Ethiopia: and the recesses are concealed by splendid
curtains. But if you enter the penetralia, and inquire
for the image of God for whose sake the fane was
built; one of the Pastophori, or some other attendant
on the temple approaches with a solemn and mys-
terious face, and putting aside the veil suffers you
to obtain a glimpse of the divinity. There you
behold a snake, a crocodile, or a cat, or some other
beast, a fitter inhabitant of a cavern, or a bog than
of a temple."

20 Darfeness*

The priests of Egypt, always impostors, but once
so celebrated, had now degenerated into a race of

Also the Chaldceans lived upon the fame of their
fathers, and upon their own base trickeries.

The Brachmans or Brahmins, those priests of
India, once so virtuous and so wise — ah ! they too
had fallen. Once they had forbidden the shedding
of so much as an insects blood : one day in the year
alone, at the feast of Jagam, they were authorized to
sacrifice the flesh of a beast, and from this many had
refrained from attending, unable to conquer their
feelings of abhorrence.

But now they had learnt from the fierce Scythians
and from the Phoenicians who traded on their coasts
to sacrifice the wife upon her husbands pyre — to
appease the gentle Brahmah with the blood of men.

Now the angels who had presided over them
became savage demons, who scourged them on to
cruel penances, nay to life-times of suffering and

In the sacred groves where once the Brachman-
Fathers had taught their precepts of love, men ema-
ciated, careworn, dying, wandered sadly, waiting for
death as tortured prisoners wait for their liberty.

But worse still, these wicked priests sought through
the land for the most beautiful young women, and

SDarlmess. 21

trained them to dance in the temples, and to entice
the devotees to their arms with lustful attitudes and
languishing looks, and with their voices which
mingled harmoniously with the golden bells sus-
pended on their feet. They sang hymns to the Gods
in public, and in private enriched the treasuries of
the pagoda with their infamous earnings. Thus a
pure and simple religion was debased by the avarice
and lewdness of its priests: till the temples became
a den of thieves: till prostitution sat enthroned upon
the altars of the Gods.

Greece and Rome buried in sloth and luxury did
not escape the general contamination. The emblem
of generation which Isis had bestowed upon the
Egyptians, and which they had held in abstract
reverence, had now obtained a prominent place in
the festivals of these nations as did the Lingam in
those of the Hindoos. It was openly paraded in
processions in the streets: it was worn by Roman
nations in bracelets upon their arms.

The sacred festivals and mysteries which they had
received from the Egyptians, and for which the
women had been wont to prepare themselves by
continence, and the men by fasting, were now mere
vehicles for depravities of the lowest kind. Men
were permitted to join the women in their worship
of Bacchus, of Adonis, of the Bona Dea, and even

22 2>arKness.

of Priapus, and so dissolute did the Dionusia become,
that the civil powers were compelled to interfere with
those of religion, and the Bacchanalia were abolished
by a decree of the Roman senate.

And the Jews, the chosen people of God, had not
their religion changed? had not God, weary with
their sins, yielded them to captivity, scourged them
with sorrow, menaced them with curses ?

They worshipped Baal-peor, the Priapus of As-
syria, they sacrificed their children to Moloch: they
had dancing-girls in the holy temple.

I will not go deeper into particulars so degrading
to human nature. I will rather invite you to follow
me to a corner of the world where, at least for many
ages religion was preserved in its pristine purity, and
whose priests, through a barbarous soldiery, were
received as martyrs in heaven before they had
learned to be knaves upon earth.

It was an isolated spot unknown to the world in
the earlier ages of vice. It is now a kingdom re-
nowned for its power and for its luxuries from hemi-
sphere to hemisphere.

It was encircled by the blue waters of the German
and Atlantic Seas, and abounded in the choicest
gifts of nature.

It was called The White Island from those cliffs
which still frown so coldly upon Gaul, and The Land

Darfeness. 2 3

of Green Hills from its verdant mountains. Come
with me to its shores, and I will show you its
priests in their white robes, and its warriors in
the blue paint of war, and its virgins with their long
and glossy yellow hair.

But first I will lead you back into the past, and
relate to you why this land was called Albion, and
why Britain.





AS travelers, who have lost their way by night,
gaze ever towards the east for the first rays
of light and hope, so we who grope in the darkness
of antiquity must direct our eyes to the land of the
rising sun, whence learning and life itself first sprang.

Listen then to a romance of the East.

Danaus, King of Greece, had fifty sons, whom he
married to the fifty daughters of his brother ^gistus,
King of Egypt. But soon these women thirsted for
dominion, and conspired secretly to slay their hus-
bands and to rule in their steads. But the youngest
and the most beautiful had a tender heart, which
crept from her lips in words of warning to her father
and her spouse. Then they were all seized and set
adrift in ships upon the sea, which after many storms
bore them in safety to a large and uninhabited

Here they staid and named it Albion, after Albina

their eldest sister, and here they maintained them-


28 Hlbion.

selves by the chase, killing the deer and the boars,

and wild bulls, and large birds which they found in

the forests with arrows and bolts, and bowstrings,
and snares and pitfalls.

And while filled with meat and drink, and with
lustful thoughts, they lay sleeping on the ground
covered with the skins of wild beasts, dark brooding
spirits swept towards them from the sky, and en-
circled them with their shadowy arms, and intoxicated
them with their flaming breath

By these were born huge and hideous giants
which soon bore others, till they filled the whole land
with a strange and fierce crew.



MEANWHILE Troy had fallen: the wanderings
of Eneas were past: and Ascanius had died
leaving behind him his son Silvius.

The son of Silvius loved a maid, who became
pregnant. Then the wise men and women of the
land were sent for, and all those who knew songs of
magic art. They cast their lots and found sorrowful
spells: that a child would be born through whom
both his father and mother would suffer death: that
through their death he would be driven from the
land, and after a long time would be crowned with

His mother died as she gave him to the world,
and the child, whom they named Brutus, when he
had become a youth, shot his father through the
breast a-hunting the deer.

His kindred banished him from the land, and he

sailed sadly over the sea-streams into Greece where

he headed an insurrection against Pandrasus the


30 Britain.

king, and with such success that the king offered
him all his ships, and treasures, and Imogen his
only daughter if he would consent to seek another

So Brutus, with his followers, like Eneas of old,
sailed forth upon the waters in search of a new land.

After two days and two nights the sea became
blue: the wild waves were hushed: they came to a
desolate island: its inhabitants had been slain by the
pirates: the timid deer coursed over its wasted

But they found there a marble temple, and within
the fair and beautiful image of Diana.

Brutus with twelve wise men, and with Gerion,
his priest, entered the temple while his followers
remained without. He bore a vessel of red gold in
his hand: it was filled with wine and with the milk
of a white hind which he had killed. Having kindled
a fire by the altar, he walked around it nine times.
He called to the croddess beloved of his heart: he
kissed the altar and poured the wine and milk upon
the fire.

" Lady Diana! loved Diana! High Diana!" he
cried. " Help me in my need. Teach me whither
I may go and wherein I may dwell. And there I
will make thee a lofty dwelling and honor thee with
great worship.

Britain. 31

Then he spread the hide of the white hind upon
the altar, and kneeling upon it fell asleep. In his
dreams he beheld Diana floating towards him with
sweet smiles. She laid her hands like a wreath of
flowers upon his head, saying :

Beyond Gaul in the west thou shall find a winsome
land: therein thou shalt prosper. Therein is fowl:
there is fish: there dwell fair deer: there is wood:
there is water: there is much desert: grim giants
dwell in the land. It is called Albion.

For thirty days and thirty nights they sailed past
Africa and over the lake of Silvius, and over the
lake of Philisteus: by Ruscikadan they took the sea,
and by the mountain country of Azare. They fought
with the pirates, and gained from them such treasures
that there was not a man in the fleet who did not
wear gold and pall. And by the pillars of Hercules
they were encompassed by mermen who sing songs

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Online LibraryWilliam Winwood ReadeThe veil of Isis, or, Mysteries of the Druids → online text (page 1 of 13)