Irish Druids And Old Irish Religions

ANIMAL WORSHIP

   That religion was early associated with animals admits of no question The Apis worship of Egypt prevailed several thousand years before Christ. Animals have served as Totems to the tribes of America and other parts, but have been certainly regarded as religious symbols in most lands. The four Evangelists are to this day symbolized by such creatures. How far this reverence, from association with an idea, degenerated into absolute worship of the living thing, is a well-recognized fact of history.
   Every one knows that the twelve signs of the Zodiac, to distinguish periods of time, were named after animals, and are so to this day The Chinese cycle is called after the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog, and pig. Abel Remusat notes "the cycle of twelve animals, imagined by the Kirghis, and now in use through nearly all eastern Asia."
   Irish literature is full of tales respecting animals, particularly in connection with sorcery Cats, dogs, bulls, cows, horses, and boars, figure largely therein. St. Kiaran frustrated the mischief intended by a cat, in the discharge of a red-hot bar from a blacksmith's forge. Because so many Irish stories are about the magical feats of lower animals, and such a number of places in Ireland are named after them, it has been supposed, said Patrick Kennedy, that the early Irish paid them the same divine honours as the Egyptians had done.
   Birds share in the veneration. The Dove, which was held sacred at Hierapolis, and the symbol of Mithras, was honoured in West Scotland and in Ireland; for Bollandus records that "a snow-white dove, with a golden bill, was wont to sit on the head of St. Kentigarn while occupied in sacred rites." The name of St. Columba also suggests the dove.
   The Wren is not yet forgotten in Ireland. It was thought to be the king of birds. It was hunted as the Cutty wren, and is still hunted on St. Stephen's Day, the 26th of December, the winter solstice. There, and in Western Scotland, it has been known as the Lady of Heaven's hen, with this refrain

"The wren! the wren! the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze;
Although he is little, his family's great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a trate."
   The French hunt and kill it, devotionally, on Twelfth Day. Contributions should then be collected in a stocking. After the bird has been solemnly buried in the churchyard, a feast and a dance terminate the ceremony.
   The wren in some way symbolized the sun, and was once sacrificed to Pluto. It perhaps represented the weak sun. Morien tells his readers--"The Druids, instead of a dove, employed a wren to symbolize the sun's divinity escaping into an Arkite shrine, to save himself from his murderous pursuers." "The worshipful animal," says J. G. Frazer, "is killed with special solemnity once a year; and before or immediately after death he is promenaded from door to door, that each of his worshippers may receive a portion of the divine virtues that are supposed to emanate from the dead or dying god."
   The Hare, in like manner, was hunted once a year, but that was on May-day. The modern Irishman fancied it robbed his milch cows of the sweet draught that belonged by right to himself. On the other hand, hares have been styled St. Monacella's Lambs--being placed under her special protection.
   The hare, however, was certainly reverenced in Egypt, and at Dendera was to be seen the hare-headed deity. Cæsar mentions that the Celts would not eat of the animal, any more than did the Pythagoreans. In Irish tales witch-hares are declared to be only caught by a black greyhound. Elsewhere it is stated, that in the Cashel cathedral an ornament figures a couple of hares complacently feeding upon some trilobed foliage, as the shamrock.
   Only a few months since a traveller gave an illustration of the persistence of some meaning being attached to the hare, even among the educated and Christian fishermen of Aberdeen. When out at sea, and in some danger from bad weather, it is thought unfortunate, and even calamitous, for any one in the boat to mention the name of this creature.
   That animal reverence, to say the least of it, continued not in Ireland alone, but even in Scotland, among those of the same race, to quite modern times, is manifest from the fierce denunciation of certain practices relating thereto. The Presbytery of Dingwall, Ross, on September 5, 1656, made special reference to the heathenish custom then prevalent in the North, of pouring out libations of milk upon hills, of adoring stones and wells, and above all, of sacrificing bulls!
   The Ossianic Transactions contain some references to the Irish Holy Bulls and Cows. The bull has been called the Deity of the Ark. In Owen Connelan's translation of Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, is an account of a magical cow which supplied milk to nine score nuns of Tuam-daghnalan. This is very like the tale of the Tuath smith's Glas Gaibhne, or Grey Cow, which nourished a large family and its numerous dependants. Though stolen by the General of the roving Fomorians, she contrived to lie on, and practise her benevolence until the fifth century. Her camping places, numerous as they were, are localities recognized by Irish country folk to this day. There is also the story of Diarmuid Mac Cearbhall, half Druid, half Christian, who killed his son, because he had caused the death of a Sacred Cow.
   As to the nine score nuns of Tuam, it must be noticed that the word cailach served alike for nun and druidess. This led W. Hackett, in the Transactions, to observe--"the probability is that they were pagan Druidesses, and that the cows were living idols like Apis, or in some sense considered sacred animals."
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   The Pig must be placed among the sacred animals of Ireland, as it was of various nations of antiquity. Was not the place known of old as Mucinis, or Hog Island? Did not Giraldus Cambrensis say in the twelfth century that he had never seen so many swine as in Ireland? And who would dispute the honour given still to "the gentleman who pays the rent"?
   The Boar was sacred to Diana, who sent forth the destroying Calydonian boar to ravage the country, but which was slain by Theseus. The Hindoo divine mother Varahi was the Earth Sow. The third Avatar of Vishnu, Varaha, had a boar's head. A Cyprus gem bears the image of a flying boar, believed to represent Adonis, who was killed by a boar. Sacrifices of black pigs were made to Mars Sylvanus. The sow was sacred to Isis, and sacrificed to Osiris. It was sacred to Demeter or Ceres, as representing the corn spirit. In Egypt, during later periods, the boar personated Typhon. In the picture of the Last Judgment, to be seen on the famous sarcophagus at the Sloane Museum of Lincoln's Inn Fields, the condemned soul is observed transformed into a pig. One of the Phœnician gods is beheld holding one by the tail.
   The Jews were not to keep, eat, or even touch the creature, which was held sacred, as devoted to evil. Certain passages, as Isa. lxv. 3 and 4, and lxvi. 3 and 17, are curious in relation to it. "Although swine and their herdsmen," says Gladstone, "were deemed unclean, there was a very particular and solemn injunction for the sacrifice of two swine to Osiris, and to the moon, by every Egyptian. The poor, who could not supply the animals, offered the figures of swine made of dough." The Phœnician priests, like those of Druidism, were called swine. A sow figure has been found in the ruins of the Mashonaland Zimbabwe, both on pottery and carved in soapstone. Mahomet was satisfied that so unclean an animal did not exist before the Ark days. The pig was once slain for divination purposes.
   The Prophet of old condemned those who sacrificed in gardens, and who ate swine's flesh. Was it because the neighbouring Syrians were accustomed, in fear, to do homage to the destroyer of Adonis? Or, did the Jews abstain from eating it, from the fear of offending an adverse power? The Norsemen offered the pig to their sun-god, killed at the winter solstice. The animal appears on Gaulish coins, under or over a horse and the fleur-de-lis. It was the national symbol of Gaul, as seen in their standards.
   The sow and its young are oddly associated with a search after a sacred spot Æneas, when in Italy, was said to have built his town where he met a sow with thirty sucklings. On the front of Croyland Abbey may still be seen the sculptured sow and pigs, under a tree, that led the founder of this monastery to fix his abode on the island of the fens.
   A Breton poem, Ar Rannock--(the Numbers) mentions a wild sow, with her five young ones, that called the 'children under an apple-tree, when the wild boar came to give them a lesson. A Welsh poem begins with--"Give ear, little pigs "--meaning disciples. One of the Triads speaks of three powerful swineherds. The priest of Ceridwen or Hwch was Turch, the boar. The animal is prominent on the Cross of Drosten, Forfarshire. Glastonbury is said to be derived from Glasteing, who, after a sow with eight legs, found her with her young ones under an apple-tree; upon which he was content to die on that spot. Both St. Germanus and St Patrick are associated with the animal. Down to the Middle Ages, says an author, some supernatural power is ascribed to it, as we read of a sow being tried for witchcraft, pronounced guilty, and duly executed. It may be presumed that no one, however much admiring pork, partook of her flesh.
   The Irish Brehon law had these two references to it--"The pig has a tripartite division: one-third for her body, one-third for her expectation, and one-third for her farrow." The "trespass of swine" is described as "the crimes of the pigs." All such creatures were ordered to be kept in the stye at night.
   The story of the boar of Beann Gulbain, which caused the death of Diarmuid, the captor of the beautiful Graine, after he had killed it, through his heel being pierced by its bristles, is very like the classical one of the death of Adonis.
   Heroes were accustomed to fight against wild boars and enchanters.
   Druids were rather fond of pigs, since these had a liking for acorns, the produce of the saintly oak. Yet they, as priests, were the Swine of Mon, and Swine of the Sacred Cord. Like the Cabin, they were Young Swine. The Druids were much given to transforming persons into what were known as Druidic pigs. When the Milesians sought for Ireland in their voyage, the Tuatha, by magic, caused a fog to rise so as to make the land assume the appearance of a large pig; whence it got the appellation of Inis na Muici, or Isle of Pig, or Muc Inis, Hog Island.
   A wonderful tale is told of a fabulous pig kept by a King of Leinster, Mesgegra mac Datho, who fed it daily from the milk of sixty cows Welsh stories are told of fighting swine. At the end of a Welsh bonfire, the people used to shout out, "The cropped black sow seize the hindermost!" when all would run in haste away. The pig--in Irish, muc, orc, and torc--when a possessed animal, was a decided danger as well as nuisance The hero Fionn had several notable adventures in pursuit of such, as the torc of Glen Torein, and the boar of Slieve Muck.
   According to an Ogham inscription at Ballyquin, the pig was sacred to the goddess Anar Aine. It is said, "A sacrifice of swine is the sovereign right of Ana." There still sacred pigs in some Buddhist temples. Tacitus speaks of the Aestii (of North Germany) worshipping the goddess Friga, after whom our Friday is called, in the form of a pig. As the Rev J. Rice-Byrne translates the passage "They worship the Mother of the gods. As the emblem of their superstition, they are used to bear the figures boars": i.e. in sacred processions to Friga.
   In the Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution (In there is a paper by W. Hackett, who writes--"In pagan times, the pig was held as sacred in Ireland as it is held at the present day in the religious systems of India and China." it was his expressed opinion that "all the legends of porcine animals, which abound in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, had reference to the suppression of a form of idolatry, analogous to, if not identical with, the existing worship of the Hindoo deity, Vishnu, in his Avatar as a Boar."
   Certainly, the Irish, like the Germans, are still admirers of the pig. Witches and Pigs are mixed up in stories; but, then, Gomme's Ethnology in Folklore tells us --"The connection between witches and the lower animals is a very close one." It has been affirmed that the footmarks of St. Manchan's cow can yet be distinguished upon the stones it walked over in Ireland.
   Animals were known to be offered by Irish and Scotch down to the last century, and it is recorded that a calf was publicly burnt in 1800 by Cornishmen to stop a murrain. A sheep was sometimes offered for the like purpose in some parts of England. In 1678 four men were tried "for sacrificing a bull in a heathenish manner in the Island of St. Ruffus--for the recovery of health of Cirstane Mackenzie." Animals were also killed in honour of St. Martin's day.
   A remarkable story is quoted by the President of the Folklore Society, from an old writer, of sheep being offered to a wooden image in times of sickness. The skin of the sheep was put round the sick person, and the neighbours devoutly ate the carcase. This occurred at Ballyvourney, County Cork. The story is related in the Folly of Pilgrimages.