Irish Druids And Old Irish Religions
Some writers, from a jealous regard to the reputation of their ancestors,
have been unwilling to acknowledge the idolatry of ancient Erin. They reject the
testimony as to images, and decline to accept the record as to heathen deities.
Yet it is surely a satisfaction to know that the Highest and Unseen was
worshipped at all, though under rude and material symbolism, instead of being
unknown and unfelt.
NATURE WORSHIP has been regarded as the foundation of all religions. Aristotle left this remarkable saying, "When we try to reach the Infinite and the Divine by means of mere abstract terms, are we even now better than children trying to place a ladder against the sky?" Early man could not avoid anthropomorphizing the Deity. The god could show himself. He could walk, talk, come down, go up. Earlier still, man saw the reflection of the godhead in the sun, the storm, or the productive forces.
Boscawen writes--"The religion of Assyria was in constitution essentially a Nature worship; its Pantheon was composed of deifications of Nature powers. In this opinion I know I differ considerably from other Assyriologists, Mr. Sayce, M. Lenormant and others being of opinion that the system was one of solar worship." An author speaks of "one great surge of voluptuous Nature worship that swept into Europe."
According to Pliny--"The world and sky, in whose embrace all things are enclosed, must be deemed a god, eternal, immense, never begotten, and never to perish.
To seek things beyond this is of no profit to man, and they transcend the limits of his faculties." Not a few learned men of our day are satisfied with Pliny's principles.
That Nature worship is a natural impulse, has been well illustrated in a pretty story told of a little English girl, whose father was expected home from sea, and who was seen to take up some water from a basin near her, and say, "Beautiful water! send home my father here."
We have a right to assume that our island races, existing in the country long before the arrival of Celts in the west, did indulge in Nature worship, and continued to do so long after they came to these shores. Even Canute, at the end of a thousand years after Christ, found occasion to say, that "they worship heathen gods, and the sun or the moon, fire or rivers, water, wells or stones, or forest trees of any kind."
Baron d'Holbach said, "The word Gods has been used to express the concealed, remote, unknown causes of the effects he (man) witnessed." And Dormer's Origin of Primitive Superstitions declared that, "If monotheism had been an original doctrine, traces of such a belief would have remained among all peoples." Lubbock considered the Andaman Islanders "have no idea of a Supreme Being." Professor Jodi talks of "the day on which man began to become God." Dr. Carus, while affirming that "the anthropomorphic idol is doomed before the tribunal of science," says, "The idea of God is and always has been a moral idea."
Pictet observes, "There existed very anciently in Ireland a particular worship, which, by the nature of its doctrines, by the character of its symbols, by the names even of its gods, lies near to that religion of the Cabirs of Samothracia, emanating probably from Phnicia." He thought the Phnicians introduced it into Erin, the Muc Innis, or Holy Isle. Of this system, Bryant's Ancient Mythology has much to relate.
A French author held that the Celtic religion was based upon a belief in the dual powers of good and evil in perpetual strife; and that the Irish associated with this a contradictory pantheism and naturalism, as in the Theogony of Hesiod.
Certainly the Irish called sea, land, or trees to witness to their oaths. The Four Masters had this passage--"Laeghaire took oaths by the sun, and the wind, and all the elements, to the Leinster men, that he would never come against them, after setting him at liberty." The version in the Leabhar-na-Uidhri is that "Laeghaire swore by the sun and moon, the water and the air, day and night, sea and land, that he would never again, during life, demand the Borumean tribute of the Leinster men."
O'Beirne Crowe, at the Archaeological Association, 1869, declared the poem Faeth Fiada pre-Christian; adding, "That the pagan Irish worshipped and invoked, as did all other pagan people, the personified powers of Nature, as well as certain natural objects, is quite true."
The Irish prayer, in the Faeth Fiada, runs thus--"I beseech the waters to assist me. I beseech Heaven and Earth, and Cronn (a river) especially. Take you hard warfare against them. May sea-pouring not abandon them till the work of Fene crushes them on the north mountain Ochaine." And then we are told that the water rose, and drowned many. This prayer was said to have been used by Cuchulainn, when pressed hard by the forces of Medb, Queen of the Connachta.
If the Palæolithic man be allowed to have been susceptible to the impressions of Nature, the mixture of many races, driven one upon another in the western corner of Europe, and so coming in contact with some higher influences, could not be imagined without impulses of devotion to the mighty and mysterious forces of Nature.
Our knowledge of so-called Celtic religion has been largely derived from Cæsar and other Roman authorities. These, imbued with Italian ideas, were not very reliable observers. They saw Jupiter in one Celtic deity; Mars, Minerva, Apollo, and Mercury in others. They knew the people after relations, more or less intimate, with visitors or traders from more enlightened lands. They were acquainted with Iberians, Germans, and Celts in Gaul, but only partially with those across the Channel, until Christianity had made some way. The wilder men of those nationalities, in Ireland and Northern Scotland, were little known; these, at any rate, had not quite the same mythology as Romans saw in Gaul.
It may be granted that the traditional opinions of the Irish would be more safely conveyed to us through their early literature, rude as that might be, and capable of conflicting interpretations,--historical or mythological. In spite of the obscurity of Fenian and other poets of that remote age, their writings do furnish a better key to the religion of Erin, than theories founded upon the remarks, of Roman writers respecting Gaulish divinities. It must, however, be conceded that, in the main, Ireland consisted of varieties of the three great ethnological divisions of Gaul, commonly classed as Iberian, German, and Celtic, and inherited something from each.
A difficulty. springs up from the language in which this early poets wrote. Like our English tongue, the Irish passed through many phases, and the reading thereof has occasioned much contention among translators The early introduction of Latin, Norman-French, and English increased the obscurity, and hampered the labours of copyists in the Middle Ages, as was the case with that composite language known now as Welsh.
The god most prominently set forth in early Irish missionary records, in the Lives of the Saints, and in the ancient Bards, is Crom, Cromm Cruach or Cenn Crûach, the bleeding head; or Cromm Cruaich, the Crooked or Bent One of the Mound. As Crom-cruaghair, the great Creator, he has, by some writers, been identified with the Persian Kerum Kerugher. Crom has been rendered great; and Cruin, the thunderer. One considers Cromleac as the altar of the Great God. He is also known as Ceancroitihi, and the head of all gods. Cromduff-Sunday, kept early in August, was the festival of Black Crom.
He figures in the several Lives of St. Patrick. At the touch of the Saint's sacred staff of Jesus, his image fell to the ground. He is associated with Mag Slecht, a mound near Ballymagauran, of Tullyhead Barony, County Cavan. The Welsh god Pen Crug or Cruc, Chief of the Mound, answered to the Irish deity.
He was certainly the Sun-god, for his image was surrounded by the fixed representations of twelve lesser divinities. Irish imagination pictured the first of gold, the others of silver. They were certainly stones; and, as Andrew Lang remarks, "All Greek temples had their fetish stone, and each stone had its legend." The one surrounded with the twelve would readily suggest the Sun and the twelve Signs of the Zodiac.
An old reference to Crom has been recorded in Ogham letters, thus translated, "In it Cruach was and twelve idols of stone around him, and himself of gold." In the old book Dinseanchus we read thus of Crom Cruach--"To whom they sacrificed the first-born of every offspring, and the first-born of their children." This record of their heathen fathers must have been, doubtless, a libel in the excess of zeal. The priests of Crom were the Cruim-thearigh.
Instead of gold, one story declares the image was ornamented with bronze, and that it faced the South, or Sun. It was set up in the open air on the Mag Slechta, says Colgan, the Field of Adoration. They who are not Irish or Welsh scholars have to submit to a great variety of readings and meanings in translators.
The mythology has been thus put into verse by T. D. McGee --
"Their ocean god was Menanan Mac Lir,Professor Rhys has an explanation of Cromm Cruaich as the Crooked or Bent one of the Mound; saying--"The pagan sanctuary had been so long falling into decay, that of the lesser idols only their heads were to be seen above ground, and that the idol of Cenn Cruaich, which meant the Head or Chief of the Mound, was slowly hastening to its fall, whence the story of its having had an invisible blow dealt it by St. Patrick."
The Mother of the Irish gods,--the Bona Dea of Romans--appears to have been the Morrigan, to whom the white-horned bull was sacred. She was the Great Queen. Some old poet had sung, "Anu is her name; and it is from her is called the two paps above Luachair." From her paps she was believed to feed the other deities, and hence became Mother of the gods. According to another, she was the goddess of battle with the Tuatha, and one of the wives of the Great Dagda. She was thought to have her home in the Sighi, or fairy palaces.
The Bona Dea of Rome is said to have been Hyperborean. Hence, observes Crowe, it may have been Ireland that gave the goddess and her worship to the Romans. As Ann, she may have been the goddess of wealth. Rea or Reagh: was, also, Queen of Heaven. Not a few crescents have been found in the neighbourhood of Castle-reagh. Dr. Keating calls the Moriagan, Badha, and Macha the three chief goddesses of the Tuath de Danaans.
Her white-horned bull of Cruachan, Find-bennach, was in direct opposition to the brown bull of Cualnge. She was the goddess of prosperity. She occasionally appeared in the shape of a bird and addressed the bull Dond. She is the Mor Riogan, and identified with Cybele.
The Female Principle was adored by the old Irish in various forms. As the Black Virgin, she is the dark mould, or matter, from whose virgin material all things proceed. She is the Ana-Perema, of the Phnicians, and the queen of women. She may be the Brid, Bride or Bridget, goddess of wisdom, but daughter of the Druid Dubhthach. Several goddesses are like the Indian Dawn goddesses. Aine, or circle, was mother of all gods. Ri, or Rol, says Rhys, was "the mother of the gods of the non-Celtic race."
The Celtic Heus or Esus was a mysterious god of Gaul. The Irish form was Aesar, meaning, he who kindles a fire, and the Creator. In this we are reminded of the Etruscan Aesar, the Egyptian sun bull Asi, the Persian Aser, the Scandinavian Aesir, and the Hindoo Aeswar. The Bhagavat-Gita says of the last that "he resides in every mortal."
Hesus was acknowledged in the British Isles. In one place he is represented with a hatchet, cutting down a tree. As the Breton Euzus, the figure is not attractive looking. Dom Martin styles Esus or Hesus "the Jehovah of the Gauls." He was, perhaps, the Aesar, or Living One, of the Etruscans. Leflocq declares, "Esus is the true god of the Gauls, and stands for them the Supreme Being, absolute and free." The name occurs on an altar erected in the time of the Emperor Tiberius, which was found in 1711 under the choir of Notre Dame, Paris.
Sun-gods were as common in Ireland as in other lands. Under the head of "Sun-worship" the subject is discussed; but some other references may be made in this place.
The Irish sun-gods, naturally enough, fought successfully in summer, and the Bards give many illustrations of their weakness in winter. Sun heroes were not precisely deities, as they were able to go down to Hades. Aengus, the young sun, whose foster-father was Mider, King of the Fairies, was the protector of the Dawn goddess Etain, whom he discreetly kept in a glass grianan or sun-bower, where he sustained her being most delicately on the fragrance and bloom of flowers. His father was the great god Dagda.
Sun-gods have usually golden hair, and are given to shooting off arrows (sunbeams), like Chaldæan ones. As a rule, they are not brought up by their mothers; one, in fact, was first discovered in a pig-sty. They grow very rapidly, are helpers and friends of mankind, but are engaged everywhere in ceaseless conflicts with the gods or demons of darkness.
The Irish sun-gods had chariots, like those of the East. They indulged in the pleasures of the chase, and of fighting, but were more given to the pursuit of Erin's fairest daughters. Occasionally they made improper acquaintance with darker beings, and were led into trouble thereby.
Grian was the appellation of the sun, and Carneach for the priest of the solar deity. Strabo mentions a temple in Cappadocia to Apollo Grynæus. Ovid notes a goddess called by the ancients Grane. The Phrygians had a god Grynæus. Grane and Baal both refer to the sun. J. T. O'Flaherty regarded the Irish word Grian as pure Phnician. The Four Masters inform their readers that "the monarch Laogaire had sworn ratha-Greine agus Gavithe"; that is, by the sun and wind. Breaking his oath, he was killed by those divinities. Eusebius held that Usous, King of Tyre, erected two pillars for worship to the sun and wind.
It has been affirmed by an Erse scholar, that the Irish Coté worshipped the sun under forty different names. Dal-greine, or sun standard, was the banner of the reputed Fingal. Daghda was an Apollo, or the sun. He was also the god of fire.
The Phnicians have been credited as the introducers of Irish solar deities. Sir S. Rush Meyrick held their origin in these Islands from Arkite sun-worship: Tydain was the Arkite god, the Lord of Mystery. H. O'Brien, in Phnician Ireland, Dublin, 1822, spoke of the Irish word Sibbol as "a name by which the Irish, as well as almost all other nations, designated and worshipped Cybele;" sibola, an ear of corn, being a symbol of Ceres and Cybele of the Phnicians. Several supposed Phnician relics, especially swords, have been discovered in Ireland.
The Gaulish Belenus was known over these Islands. In his temples at Bayeux and at Bath there were images of the Solar god. He was adored, too, at Mont St. Michel. A remnant of his worship is seen in the custom of maids washing their faces in May-morn dew, and then mounting a hill to see the sunrise. According to Schedius, the word may be rendered 2 + 8 + 30 + 5 + 50 + 70 + 200 or 365, the period in days of the sun's annual round. The solar Hercules was represented in Irish by Ogmian or Ogham. The god of light was ever god of the Heavens.
Belenus was Belus or Belis, from belos, an arrow, or ray, and therefore a form of Apollo. As Apollo-Belinus, he was the young Sun, armed with arrows or rays, and was exhibited as a young man without beard, and rays round his head. As Apollo-Abelios, he was the old or winter sun, having no rays. The Breton god was Beletucadrus--Mars and Apollo being identical. The votive altar at St. Lizier bears the names of Minerva and Belisana. Baron Chaudruc-de-Crazannes, writing upon Belisana, goddess of the Gauls, observes that Cæsar "had found in Esus, Taranis, Teutates, Camulus, Belisana, an identity with Jupiter, Mercury, Apollo, Mars, and Minerva, of Greeks and Romans." Belisana, without lance or shield, was called the Queen of Arrows, i. e. the solar rays. She was represented as thinking profoundly.
Samhan, literally servant, is derived from Sam, the sun; so, samh-an, like the sun. As the Irish Pluto, he is guardian of the Dead. As such, he would receive the prayers for souls on Hallow Eve. The Arab schams is the sun. Cearas, god of fire, has a feminine equivalent in Ceara, goddess of Nature. As the horse was a symbol of the sun, we are not surprised to see it associated with the god Cunobelin of Gaul, who had the sun's face, with locks of hair. The Gaulish Cernunnos appeared as an old man with horns on his head.
Le Blanc, in Etude sur le Symbolisme Druidique, asserts that the name of Bal-Sab proves that Bâl, Bel, or Beal is the same as the Irish Samhan. Bâl is the personification. of the sacred fire become visible. The year, the work of Samhan, the Sun, was known as the Harmony of Beal. Samhan, adds Le Blanc, "was that idol which the King of Ireland adored after the name of head of all the gods." In the Psalms we read, "They join themselves to Baal-Peor, and eat the sacrifice of the dead." This was true of many ancient countries, and may; perhaps, be applied to Ireland.
A Hymn to Apollo, appearing in the ably conducted Stonyhurst Magazine, is so beautiful, and so truly descriptive of the sun and fire worship of ancient Erin, that a verse of it may be transcribed:--
"Pile up the altar with faggots afresh,There was an Irish fish god, associated with caves and storms, with the attributes of Dagon in the land of the Philistines. Neith, a god of war, had two wives, Nemain and Fea; these were also styled goddesses of war. The Book of Leinster names Brian, Tuchar, and Sucharba as gods of the Tuaths. The Irish Badb is but the Gaulish Badna, and yet not a goddess of war. Deuc or Ducius was known to St. Austin as "a libidinous demon." Aou was another Celtic god.
Camulus, the Gaulish Mercury, whose image was on the Puy de Dome, was the Irish Cumall, father of the mythical Finn, and said to be the same as the Welsh Gwyn, son of Nûd. The Irish Toth was probably a copy of Thoth, or the Gaulish Teut, god of war. Canobalinos, the Welsh Conbelin, was adored in both isles. Decete is named in Devon, Anglesey, and South-west Ireland.
Dormer Supposed the deities were first of place, then of peoples. Rhys saw minor gods as genii locorum and asked what race it was that gave the Celtic lands its population of spirits. He regarded the mass of divinities as "very possibly creations of the people here long before the Celts." The non-Aryan mythology had doubtless great influence on the religion of the Goiedels.
When St. Patrick tried conversion Upon the King's daughters, Eithne and Finola, they inquired if his god lived in the hills, valleys, fountains, or rivers. Seeing his party in white, the princesses concluded they Were men of Sidhe, or earth divinities.
Some imagine the popular Mithraic faith of the East reached Ireland. It did gain the shores of Gaul; for, in 1598, a stone cist was dug up near Dijon, enclosing a glass vessel. Upon the stone was this Greek inscription--"In the sacred wood of Mithras, this tumulus covers the body of Chyndonax, high priest. Return, thou ungodly person, for the protecting gods preserve my ashes."
Chaldæan influence may have been Carried to Erin by Tyrian traders. Very many terms of divination used there are like those employed in Chaldaic. A Chaldæan record on physic or divination was found in India in 1765. The Tuaths, so associated with Irish deities, have been thought to be wandering Chaldees. It is singular that the Irish Venus was recognized under the names of Bidhgoe Nanu, and Mathar, which in Persian would be Biducht, Nanea, and Metra.
The circle may represent the universe. The Irish god Ti-mor means the great circle. He was Alpha and Omega, Α Ω, the perfect Decad or 10, of Pythagoras. Much was another name for the Great God.
In comparing Irish gods with others, Neit has been identified with the Naat of India and Neith of Egypt; Creeshna, the sun, with the Indian Christna: Prith, lord of the air, with Pritha, a title of Vishnu; Ner, latinized to Nereus, with the Naros of India; Cau, with Caudra; Omti with the Buddhist Om, Esar with Eswara, &c. Comhdhia--the middle and end--reminds one of the Orphic hymn--"Zeus is the first, Zeus is the last: Zeus is the head, Zeus is the middle."
"The god of the Gael," writes Donald Ross," was outside of him, and draped awfully by his imagination." The Deity everywhere has been regarded with awe, and even terror, in all religious systems. Pantheism, however, in some mystical form, entered the mind of the Gael, as well as that of the Greek and Hindoo. While Orpheus sang, "All has come from the bosom of Zeus," Finlanders held that their god Kawe was in the bosom of K-unattaris (Nature).
Some fancy the butterfly--Dealbhaude--was in Ireland a symbol of God, from its changes of being. Be'al was the source of all being, as the Scandinavian Tuisco, after whom our Tuesday is named, was the Father of all beings.
Dr. Todd affirmed--"The Irish had no knowledge of the Dei Gentium, Saturn, Apollo, Mars, &c., or of the feminine deities Juno, Venus, Minerva, &c., under any Celtic name or designation." Crowe answered, "Now, this is not true. The Dei Gentium, under the ancient Gaulish or Iberno-Celtic names, are often met with in Irish story." But Crowe held with Cæsar and Tacitus, that the Celts of Gaul and our Isles had similar gods to those of Rome and Greece.
Though the transcribers of the Book of Leinster, during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, corrupted the MS., from ignorance more than design, yet not a few learned men trace in that book the most ancient Irish mythological treatise.
With so fighting a race as that of Erin, war-gods were common. Some were battle furies, as Nemon, the Nemetona of Gaul. Others were like Cairbre, whose exploits are narrated by the Four Masters, and who, as a hero, was, as Prof. Rhys says, "placed on a level with the gods." It is not easy, however, to discover there those ancient legends which, as Cory's Ancient Fragments supposes, "recognize as the primary element of all things, two independent principles, of the nature of male and female; and those in mystic union, as the soul and body, constitute the Great Hermaphrodite Deity." There was scarcely that refinement in ancient Ireland.
Dr. Kenealy's Book of God perceives in the Irish Oun or Ain the cycle, or seasons course; as in Bel-ain, the year of Baal, the sun. The Irish anius is the astrologer, surveying the cycle. Bay is regarded as circle or cycle in Irish and Sanscrit. The Irish Cnaimh was, in Kenealy's View, the Phnician great-winged one, or Cneph of Egypt. He speaks of "their more ancient manner of invocation being Ain treidhe Dia ainm Tau-lac, Fan, Mollac or Ain, triple God, whose name is Tau-lac, Fan, Mollac. This third person was the Destroyer." Fan he places with Pan or Phanes.
Another fanciful author sees the source of an Irish religious festival in the Charistita of Romans, a feast sacred to Concord and the Loves at the end of the year--whence the word Eu-charist. Lenoir is more correct in saying, "Astronomy is truly the fruitful source from which the Mages and the priests have drawn ancient and modern fables."
The Rev. R. Smiddy writes of the Celtic Ceal, the heaven; and Cealtach, a heavenly person. Church, a circle, is swreal, or swrealleacht, the pillared temple of the Druids. He derives teampul from tiomchal, round, as the sun. Taking Dia as both god and day, he gets Dia Sol, Dia Luan, Dia Moirt (death), Dia Ceadion (the first god), Dia Ardion (the high God), Dia Beanion (the woman god), Dia Satharn (Saturn). After all, we may perceive, with Max Müller, that "the whole dictionary of ancient religion is made up of metaphor."
The French author of Sirius, who perceives in that star the origin of all thundering or barking gods, has a god of thunder in the Celtic T-aran, which is T affix to the sound made by a dog.
"The Celtic priests, or Druids," says he, "who, like the Egyptian priests, had adopted the Chien-Levrier for a symbol, called themselves the ministers of an Unknown God, descended, it is said, upon earth, as Thoth, under a human form, and having all the characteristics of that Egyptian god, with the head of a dog; benefactor of Humanity, Supreme--civilizing Legislator, Poet and Musician, King of Bards, Inventor and Protector of Agriculture, Regulator of Waters, Protector in Darkness, raised to the Presidency in a circle of stones, Founder of sacred ceremony, Model-priest, invoked under the name of Father."
All that is very Welsh, and cannot be applied to Ireland. The Welsh Triads have had claimed for them a greater age than modern critics are disposed to allow. Many of the Welsh gods therein recorded are of doubtful pagan origin, and belonged rather to the mysticism that crept into Europe from the East during the early Middle Ages.
The Irish--except where their Bards came under the influence of the same wave of oriental or Gnostic learning--of olden time knew little of Addon, the seed-bearer in himself; Ammon without beginning; Celi, the mystery; Deon, the just: Duv, he is: Dovydd. regulator; Deon, separate One; Dwyv, I am; Daw, being; Gwawr, dawn of day; Gwerthevin, supreme; Ton, source; Tor, one of yore; Nudd, manifest; Perydd, cause; Rhen, pervader; Rhwyf, overlooker, &c.
There is no mention of their recognition of the Three Attributes--Plennydd, Alawn, and Gwron, indicated by the three divergent rays. They had no Circle of Ceugant as the infinite space; nor did they look upon the cromlech as representing, in three stones upholding the cap-stone, the doctrine of Trinity in Unity.
We cannot conceive of an Irish bard writing, as did a Welsh bard, of Ceridwen--"Her complexion is formed of the mild light in the evening hour, the splendid, graceful, bright, and gentle Lady of the Mystic Song." But we do know that the early Crusaders brought home much of this mystic talk from the East, and that ecclesiastics of an imaginative turn were charmed with pseudo-Christian gnosticism. The Irish pagan, as the Welsh pagan, was ignorant of such refinement of speech or ideas. The Welsh Archdruid assured the writer of his belief that so-called pagan philosophy was the source of Bardism, that the teaching of the Triads was but the continuation of a far older faith in his fathers.
Ossian more properly pictures the opinions of his race in Ireland and Scotland, though they are rather negative than affirmative. He, doubtless, never entered the esoteric circle of Druidism, and is very far from displaying any tincture of mysticism in his verses.
His gods were hardly spiritual, but vulnerable; as, when Fingal fought the Scandinavian Deity, that shrieked when wounded, "as rolled into himself, he rose upon the wind." Yet the gods could disturb the winds and waves, bring storms on foes, and so destroy them. Dr. Blair was struck with the almost total absence of religious ideas in Ossian.
Even at the funeral, in Temora, we have only, "Loud at once from the hundred bards rose the song of the tomb."
He lived in the age of Christianity. Hear the challenge of the wild Northmen--"Are the gods of the Christians as great as Loda (Odin) of the Lochlins?" Dr. Donald Clark fancied that in Ossian's day the people had lost faith in their old Druidic religion, but had not then embraced Christianity.
The remarks of Dr. H. Waddell are entitled to careful attention. Referring to Ossian, he says--
"All local gods, to him, were objects of ridicule. He recognized the Deity, if he could be said to recognize Him at all, as an omnipresent vital essence, everywhere diffused in the world, or centred for a lifetime in heroes. He himself, his kindred, his forefathers, and the human race at large, were dependent solely on the atmosphere; their souls were identified with the air, heaven was their natural home, earth their temporary residence, and fire the element of purification, or the bright path to immortality for them when the hour of dissolution came.--The incremation of Malvina's remains, on the principle of transmutation, and escape from dark, perishable clay to luminous and immortal ether, is a beautiful illustration of this."
After all, one is constrained to admit with Ernest Rhys--"I for one am quite prepared to believe in a Druidic residue, after you have stripped all that is mediæval and Biblical from the poems of Taliesin." So it is with Ossian, or other bards of Irish origin. With all that has been accumulating of a mediæval character, from the hands of supposed transcribers and translators, there yet remains something of the primeval barbaric conception of religion in the grand old tales of Erin.
In the Bardic story of the Battle of Gabhra we read--"I return my thanks to the gods."
This led N. O'Kearney to observe--"From this passage it is evident that the pure monotheism of the Druids had dwindled down into a vulgar polytheism, previous to the date of the Fenian era. Historians assert that Tighernmas was the first monarch who introduced polytheism, and that a great multitude of people were struck dead. on the worship of strange gods. The sun, moon, stars, elements, and many animals that were adored by the Egyptians, were introduced as deities."
Jocelin, an interesting romancer, speaking of Legasius, son of King Neal, tells the reader that "he swore by an idol called Ceaneroithi, or the head of all the gods, because he was believed by the foolish people to give answers."
A periodical called the Harp of Erin, which appeared in 1818, has the following argument from an old tradition:--"That the Ancient Irish were not idolaters, we have sufficient evidence to convince any person who is possessed of common understanding. We are informed that Tighernmas, the King, was the first who paid divine honors to an idol, and that having been struck by lightning, his death was considered as a judgment. Surely, if idolatry had been a common practice of the people, their bards and history would neither have represented the act of the monarch as a crime, nor his death punishment from heaven for the offence."
The quotations from Bardic chronicles and poems, made by Prof. Rhys and others, would not sanction the views of the Harp of Erin. Their Nuada, Diarmait, Conchobar, &c, were assuredly sun-deities Rhys says of the last named, "Conchobar was doubtless not a man, his sister Dechtere, the mother of Cuchulainn, is called a goddess. He was known in the Book of the Dun as Diaalmaide, or terrestrial god. The river Boyne may have had its name from the goddess Boann, wife of the Irish Neptune, Nodens.
Adolphe Pictet was formerly regarded as the most learned Celtic scholar in France. He is very precise in his belief of Irish polytheism, though influenced too strongly by the Cabiric theory. "The double Cabiric Irish chain," says he, "is only the ascending development of the two primitive principles."
Ordinary people may fail to follow this philosopher in his metaphysical views concerning the early Irish. They may doubt his progression of six degrees in Irish masculine and feminine divinities.
He held that Eire, Eo-anu, and Ceara were only the same being in three degrees of development; that Porsaibhean, daughter of Ceara, was the Greek Persephone, the Roman Proserpine; that Cearas and Ceara were Koros and his sister Kore; that Cearas was Dagh-dae, god of fire, and that he was a sort of demiurgus; that Aesar and Eire or Aeire, as fundamental duality, give birth to two chains of progressive parallels,--masculine and feminine, fire and water, sun and moon; that the goddess Lute or Lufe is power and desire, but Luth is force; that the Midr, children of Daghdae, were rays of God; that Aesar was god of intelligible fire; that Brighit was goddess of wisdom and poetry, like Nath, while Aedh was goddess of vital fire.
Much of this might be esteemed by some readers as a pleasing or romantic philosophy of Irish mythology.
It may be useful to look at the religion of the Manx, or people of the Isle of Man, who were, if not Irish, close kinsmen of the same. We take the following from a Manx poem, first printed in 1778, as dealing with the divinities.
"Mananan beg, hight Mac of Lerr,This Mananan, a deity of the Tuath de Danaans, was god of waters; but Mac of Lir was styled son of the sea. Neid and Bad were gods of the wind. We are informed by the author that "By the name Gubh or Gobh, a blaze, fire, &c., the pagan Irish meant to insinuate that Sam-Gubha were particularly inspired by the solar heat." The motto of old was, "Let the altar for ever blaze to Daghdae."
Easc was the new moon to Manx and Irish. The Irish still say Paternoster at the new moon, and, crossing themselves, add, "May you leave us as safe as you found us!" Ce-Aehd was a goddess of Nature. An old poem says, "There was weeping in the day of Saman Bache." Ceara was the sun; and Badhh-Be-bad, the god of wind. Brid, daughter of Daghdae, was the goddess of wisdom and poets; An, the mater dea, Aodh, goddess of fire. Manx traditions and customs are similar to the Irish.
Sword-worship, in some respects, figured in the past, as with the Huns, &c. Famous heroes or deities have had the names of their swords preserved, as in the case of Arthur and Fingal.
Speaking swords occur in the Leb na huidre, as recorded in the Revue Celtique. Noticing the custom of bringing in the tongues of the slain as trophies, the Irish MS. Says--"And it is thus they ought to do that, and their swords on their thighs when they used to make the trophy, for their swords used to turn against them when they made a false trophy--for demons used to speak to them from their arms."
Spenser gives this narrative on the fabled power of the sword; saying, "So do the Irish at this day, when they go to battle, say certain prayers or charms to their swords, making a cross therewith upon the earth, and thrusting the points of their blades into the ground, thinking thereby to have the better success in fight. Also they use commonly to swear by their swords."
The Fairies or Sides are often presented as deities. As the Tuatha were largely supernatural, and their spirits haunted the old spots, it is not surprising that these arrachta or spectres were reverenced by the Irish. Though St. Patrick drove many of them away, a number fled across Donegal Bay to the pagans of Senghleann. In St. Fiacc's Story of the Saint we are assured that the Irish used to worship the Sides.
"This Side worship," wrote Beirne Crowe, "had nothing to do with Druidism; in fact, was opposed to it, and must have preceded it in Ireland." They were deified mortals, anyhow, and capable, by intercourse with women, of producing heroes. But one was hardly justified in declaring that "the worship of these deities reaches back to the remotest antiquity, to at least a thousand years before the Druid appeared."
The Sides and the Druids are curiously opposed to each other in legends. The Side goddess, in the adventures of Condla Ruad, told Coud's Druid that Druidism had the grades conferred on it in the Great Land or Elysium. It was thought that their temples were the so-called Druidical monuments, especially New Grange. They were scattered all over Ireland.
By the Irish Mac Oc, King of the Fairies, living in a glass structure, is meant the young Sun. Rhys said the Story "doubtless belonged originally to Irish mythology before any Celts had settled in Ireland."
This Mac Oc, or Aengus, is regarded as the Irish counterpart of Merlin or Emrys. He is associated with a fairy maiden, in the form of a Swan. He was the son of the divine King of the Tuaths, and usurped his father's crown, as Zeus did that of his father Chronos. As in other lands, the domains of heroes and gods continually encroach upon each other; as divine attributes are bestowed upon departed chiefs, and divine honours, after the tapu order, are often paid to living heads of Septs. In no country, perhaps, was there more reverence given to chiefs, and in none more rigorous obedience exacted from the people by those who then controlled the very tribal lands.
It may be that this peculiarity of native character would account for the devotion to Saints in Irish Christian times. Still, it has been pointed out how tradition has converted honoured heroes or divinities of former days into modern Saints. This is, at least, a very curious coincidence, and by no means confined to Ireland, being witnessed in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany.
The great age to which some of these lived, according to such authorities as The Four Masters, &c., excites attention. St. Diarerca and St. Fechin continued on earth 180 years; but St. Ciaran, 300; St. Mochta, 300; St. Sincheall, 330. Their ubiquity is suspicious. Thus, there are 25 St. Shanauns or Shannons, 37 Moluans, 43 Molaises, 58 Mochuans, 200 Colmans, and a number called St. Dagan, St. Molach, St. Duil, &c. It is odd to perceive so many provided with an alias.
"If the ancient Irish," observes Marcus Keane, "belonged to one great system of mythology, we would naturally expect to find traditions of different gods of the same system preserved in the same locality. This accordingly we find to be the case."
Mrs. Wilkes, in Ur of the Chaldees, remarked that many of the Saints of Ireland bear Aryan and Semitic names. Again, "They (the missionaries) found it necessary, in many cases, to preserve to the Christian faith the names of many of the gods and heroes of their forefathers." She instances St. Molach, St. Dagan, St. Duil, St. Satan, St. Di(ch)ul, St. Cronan, &c. Another points out that St. Luan is derived from Lune or Lugedus; St. Bolcain from Vulcan; St. Ciaran from the Centaur Chiron; and St. Declan from Declain, the Irish god of generation. M. Sonnerat held that St. Shannon was the god Dearg.
The author of Towers and Temples of Ancient Ireland derives St. Diul from Dia-Baal; St. Maedog from Maedeog of Virginity; and St. Earc from Earch, the sun. He found 24 with the name of Colomb, 12 of Bridget, 25 of Senan, 12 of Dichul, and 30 of Cronan.
He contended that Irish Hagiology "began to be committed to writing about the tenth century"; that "in after times when it was thought desirable to ascribe ancient legends to Christian Saints, all were without distinction referred to the fifth and sixth centuries, as of course no celebrated Saint could have been ascribed to a period before St. Patrick, and that "the ancient literature seems to have been destroyed by the early Christians."
Although every one cannot be expected to follow Marcus Keane in opinion, there is much plausibility, if not reason, in the assumption that some of the Irish Saints were baptized deities of the Island.
Prof. Bevan, in a recent lecture at the Gresham College, showed how the Celtic gods were Romanized. Ogmius became Mercury; Grannos, Apollo; Caturix or Camulos, Mars; Bridgit, Minerva; Esas, Jupiter. He thought the Irish religion was partly of aboriginal forms of belief, and partly Druidic. He considered the transition from Druidism to Christianity a very gradual one. Lud or Llud, whose temple was on the site of St. Paul's Cathedral, he recognized as the Irish Nodens.
As the Revue Celtique contains a wealth of learning pertaining to the mythology of Ireland, some information from that work may be here placed before the reader.
Badb, one of the Irish goddesses of war) had three sisters, Neman, Macha, and Morrigan or Morrigu. These are described as Furies, able to confound armies; even though assuming but the form of a crow. Hennessey thought these three were separate beings: "the attributes of Neman being those of a being who confounded her victims with madness, whilst Morrigu incited to deeds of valour, or planned strife and battle, and Macha revelled amidst the bodies of the slain." Badb was the daughter, also, of the mythical Tuatha King Ernmas. She inspired fear, so as to produce lunacy.
Standish O'Grady, in his critical and philosophical History of Ireland, adduces evidence of the useful labours of the early Irish gods, whom he detects under the assumed names of heroes. Parthalon was he who cleared from forest the plain of the Liffey. The Dagda Mor drove back the sea from Murthemney, forming the district now known as the Louth. Lu taught men first to ride on horses. Creidené first discovered and smelted gold in Ireland.
When the old original gods of Ireland were driven out by a younger and more vigorous set of divinities, they retired to Tir-na-n-og, the land of the young; or to Tirna-m-beo, land of life; or to Tir-na-Fomorah.
The temple of Ned, the war god, was near the Foyle. According to O'Grady, "The Dagda Mor was a divine title given to a hero named Eocaidh, who lived many centuries before the birth of Christ, and in the depths of the pre-historic ages he was the mortal scion or ward of an elder god, Elathan." He considered the Mor Reega, or great Queen, even more important than the Dagda Mor. She was connected with wealth, fertility, and war. She could transform herself into a water serpent, &c.
Then there is Dana, who became Brigit, mother of the three gods, Brian, Inchar or Incharba, and Inchair. Though the daughter of Dagda or good god, King of the Tuatha, she was wife to Bress, King of the Fomoré. As goddess of literature, it was fitting that Ecné, poetry or knowledge, should be her descendant.
The old form of the goddess Brigit is thought to have been Brigentis. Four inscriptions to her have been found on the east of Ireland. The god Brian was formerly Brênos.
The writings of Arbois de Jubainville, in the Cours de la littérature Celtique, have been justly admired. As he regarded the stories concerning the migration of early races, and the narratives of heroes and heroines, as having a mythological side, his views of Irish gods are interesting.
When Parthalon arrived in Ireland, the country was far from complete in form. At Mag Itha he had a battle with Cichol Gri-cenchos. The word cenchos, without feet, suggested Vitra, the Vedic god of evil, who possessed neither feet nor hands. He was assisted by men with only one foot and one hand, like Aja Ekapad, the one-footed, and Vyamsa, the shoulderless demon, of the Hindoo Vedas. Parthalon, by that victory, freed Ireland from foreign Fomoré. All his race, 5000, were struck dead by the gods in one day. So was the Silver Age destroyed by the anger of Jupiter against Niobe.
The chronicler had no record of years, but of days. Parthalon arrived on the first of May, the festival of the god of death, Beltené, ancestor of the human race. In older Erse MSS. he is described as the son of that deity. He gained the shore in Kenmare river, opposite the setting sun, where dead Celts recovered their lives.
The god Dagda, Dago-devo-s, the good god, yet King of the Tuatha de Danaans, was the Zeus or Ormazd of Irish mythology. The Danaans, or people of God, were, like the Devas of India, gods of the day, light, and life. The Fomoré, their enemies, represent the Titans of Greek story, whose chief Bress, Balar, or Tethra, was identical with the Persian Ahriman, the Vedic Yama, or even Varuna.
The Fomoré are, says Jubainville, "the gods of the dead, of night, and of storms." On the other hand, the Tuatha "are the gods of life, of day, and of the sun, constituting another group, the less ancient of the gods, if we believe the doctrine of Celts; for, following the Celtic theory, night preceded day."
The Fomorian gods of earth and night were spoken of by the Christian chroniclers as pirates ravaging the coast. But the Book of Invasions simply mentions their arrival by sea. They must have been monsters, for a work treating of them had for its title the History of Monsters. Even Geraldus Cambrensis translated Fomoré by Gigantibus.
Among the stories told of them was the one giving some Fomorians but one foot and one hand, while others were goat-headed. The tale told of their Kings exacting the tribute of two-thirds of corn and milk, and two out of three children born in a family, reminds us of the Greek Minotaur. The Fomoré seem to belong to the beginning of all things, since no Irish legend knows of anything before their coming.
Our French author, who had much to report on solar gods, has the following remarks upon the lunar deity:--
"The queen of night is the moon, which, among the stars, is distinguished by the crescent form, under which she usually presents herself to our notice. The god of night is distinguished from other gods by a crescent placed upon his forehead, and this crescent is transformed into the horns of the calf, the bull, or the goat. Hence, in the Prometheus of Æschylus, Io, the horned virgin, becomes, later on, a heifer; hence, in the Athenian fable, the conception of the Minotaur with the head of a bull; hence, in the Irish fable, the conception of the Fomoré with the goat's head;--and, upon the continent of Gaul, the numerous horned gods which now ornament the Salle of St. Germain Museum. For to render to these gods of the dead the worship they exact, it was necessary to immolate to them human lives."
We are told that Greeks poets and painters gave distinct characteristics to gods, as Phaeton, Apollo, and Hercules, originally the same. The ancient literature of Ireland lacks these well-defined contours.
The dual idea of good and bad gods, with good and bad tribes, corresponds with the Dasyu of India, who were both demons and the hostile tribes preceding the Aryans in that peninsula. The Irish triad is produced by the habit of using three synonyms to express the same mythological thought.
Lug, one of the Tuatha gods, nursed by the Queen of the Fir-Bolgs, is supposed to have introduced games, races, &c. His festival was August 1. It has been suggested that the festival on the same day, in honour of Augustus, was only a new form of a more ancient custom. Lug's mother was Ethniu, daughter of Balar, but his father was the god Dagda.
Balar Balebeimnech, "Balar of the strong blows," was said to have been killed by his grandson. He carried off the cow of the three brothers, smiths of the Tuatha. Balar was killed by Lug. He is sometimes called the son of the bull-faced god. Lug and he may be compared with Bellerophon and the Chimæra. A doublet of Balar is see in Tigernmas.
Cûchulainn, the son of Lug, was a deified hero. His remarkable adventures formed the subject of many bardic songs. Labraid, of the swift hand on the sword, was the King of Hades, the Irish Pluto. Being assisted against his foes by the mighty Cûchulainn, he presented the her with his sister-in-law, Fand, for a wife; and she returned with the warrior from Hades. But Cûchulainn paid other visits to the world of spirits, with a view of rescuing friend from Hades, and returning to Erin. He had the deity Lug for his father, and the goddess Dechtere for his mother. As an Apollo, he was beardless; yet, when re-born, he appeared with long hair (rays). He released a maiden changed into a swan, being the goddess of Dawn. N. O'Kearney, translator of the Conn-eda story, found that the Irish hero was so beloved, that people would not "swear an oath either by the sun, stars, or elements, except by the head of Conneda."
Nuada, the Welsh Nudd or Lludd, must not be confounded with Net, god of war. He is declared by Rhys "of the non-Celtic race in both Britain and Ireland; for an old inscription in the county of Kerry gives the name without a case-ending, and so marks it as a probably non-Celtic word." In his Celtic Britons the same writer notes another deity; speaking of "the sea god Nodens, who was of sufficient importance during the Roman occupation to have a temple built for him at Lydney, on the western side of the Severn, while the Irish formerly called the goddess of the Boyne his wife."
The Feast of Goibniu, which assured immortality to the Tuatha, consisted principally of beer, a more common drinks than nectar or ambrosia, but which had a similar power of raising the consumer in his own estimation. Goibniu, the smith, was the brewer of this magical drink for the gods. Ogmé, founder of oghamic writing, was called the sun-faced. He was the son of Elada, whose name means poetic composition, or knowledge. His brother Dian-cecht, the god of rapid power, was long the Tuath god of medicine.
The deities, when they desired to make themselves visible, appeared as birds. The Fomoré gods were seen as crows or ravens. As Chronos was King of the world at the time of the Golden Age, so Bress, King of the Fomoré ruled awhile even over the Tuatha, who represent the Greek golden race.
It is well to conclude with M. Jubainville, that "the gods of the Gauls (or Irish), like those of the Romans, are, to our eyes, a creation of the human mind." It may be also added that usually the gods rise from low types to higher. Still, Lubbock assures us that "religion, as understood by the lower savage races, differs essentially from ours; nay, it is not only different, but even opposite." Some may be disposed to fancy the same of the more ignorant in Christian lands.
In connection with Irish idolatry, the question of sacrifices to the gods needs some consideration.
We may assume that the lower animals may have been so offered; as, black sheep to Samhan on November 1, and firstlings to the god Crom. But whether the Irish ever had human sacrifices has been much debated. Such a practice we know existed in both civilized and uncivilized countries. It prevailed with worshippers of Baal, with American Indians, with Khonds, and other tribes of India, &c. In Deut. xii. 30, we read, "Their sons and their daughters have they burnt in the fire to their gods." The animal sacrifice may be but a survival of the human.
Cæsar was positive as to the Gauls and Britons doing so. Strabo, Plutarch, and others said the same. Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius opposed the Druids on account of that cruelty. Yet the Archdruid Myfyr exclaimed--"They never wrought an atonement for sin by the sacrifice of bloody carcases of any kind." The writer has heard the learned Welsh Druid affirm this in most earnest tones. He would not admit so degrading a practice for his Druids.
Yet Nennius tells how Vortigern, seeking to build a fort, was constantly annoyed by spirits running off with the stones; and how he was told by his Druids to get a fatherless boy, kill him, and sprinkle his blood upon the foundation of the buildings. Similar stories are mentioned in relation to Jericho, and to the erection of even Christian ecclesiastical edifices.
O'Curry affirms that there is "no instance of human sacrifices at any time in Erin." There is only one known text referring to the custom in Ireland, which occurs in the Dinnsenchus. Both men and women were liable to be burnt to ashes for certain crimes, but not in worship. The Lives of St. Patrick do not mention such offerings, though the Book of Leinster and Lucan's verses note their ancient service. Elton thought that some of the penalties of the ancient laws seemed to have originated in an age when criminals were offered to the gods.
Some old poem upon the Fair of Tailté, a pagan cemetery, has it--
"The three forbidden bloods--There was, however, in Leitrim a Plain of Shrieking, and Magh-sleacth was the place of slaughter.
In an article, contributed to an antiquarian periodical, in 1785, concerning the Irish mountain Sliabh Croobh, we find the following:--
"On its summit still remain the vestiges of Druid worship, the rude altar, and the sacred well, and that during the era of Druidical government, their priests were not only the judges, but executioners of those who were doomed to death either as delinquents, or victims of sacrifice. I am inclined to suspect that it was anciently styled Sliabh cro abh; cro signifying death, and abh the point of a weapon,--and as a spot destined for human slaughter, might bear the appellation of the mountains of final death. A stone hatchet, and undoubtedly a sacrificial one, belonging to the Druids, was dug up at the foot of this mountain a few years ago, and is in Lord Moira's possession."
To show how wide-spread was the custom of human sacrifices, we may quote the list of nations adopting it, as given in the work Indo-Aryans, by Rajendralala Mitra. This includes the "Phnicians, Carthaginians, Druids, Scythians, Greeks, Trojans, Romans, Cyclops, Lamiæ, Sestrygons, Syrens, Cretans, Cyprians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Jews, Aztecs, Khonds, Toltecs, Tezcaucans, Sucas, Peruvians, Africans, Mongols, Dyaks, Chinese, Japanese, Ashantis, Yucatans, Hindus." He adds--"The Persians were, perhaps, the only nation of ancient times that did not indulge in human sacrifices."
If, then, O'Curry, and other Irish writers, object to such a charge being made against their rude forefathers, it must be allowed that the latter would have been in, at least, respectable and numerous company.
The astronomical side of idolatry should not be passed over. It has been maintained, with much learning, that all tales of gods and goddesses, in all lands, can be traced to ideas connected with the heavenly bodies, and their several movements. The writer's old colonial friend, Henry Melville, nearly half a century ago, read Lemprière's stories of the deities on astronomical lines. Upon the Celestial Atlas he moved his cardboard masonic tools, bringing the figures of various constellations together, so as to explain the particular story. Later on, he discovered a system of interpretation, as certain and infallible, which he called the Laws of the Medes and Persians, as they were unalterable.
Melville had no opportunity of explaining the stories of Irish bards upon his plan. Vallencey, Jubainville and others have attempted it on other and theological lines. But if the stories could be treated at all astronomically, the interest in them would be increased, as showing their derivation from other and more enlightened lands. The great puzzle is, however, how several and such different keys manage to turn the same lock. But, as remarked by the Rev. Geo. St. Clair, "time will make the secret things plain and patent"
It may not be wrong, therefore, to trace in those Irish legends the existence of ancient and Oriental learning of a more or less astronomical character.
The Irish had a notion of the week, or seven days' period. That may have come from the East, meaning the sun, the moon, and the five then known planets. One has supposed that five were named after the Romans, and two from the Belgæ. But the Woden day was changed to Gaden; and Thursday to Tordain, or Torneach, thunder, or the spirit of Tor or Thor. Schiegel says--"Among the Greeks and Romans, the observation of the days of the week was introduced very late." And yet they were well known long before in Babylon. The Phnician, characterized by Sayce as the link between Chaldæan and Hebrew, may have been the means of introducing the week to Ireland.
The twelve signs of the zodiac were not unknown to the Irish. They were ever like the ladder, with six steps upward, and six downward. Mazzaroth, the twelve, is in the Arabic manzeel, a house or dwelling. The Targumists and Rabbins employed the words tereysar mazzalaya for the Signs. Philo called the dodecahedron a perfect number. "It is to honour that sign," adds Philo, "that Moses divided his nation into twelve tribes, established the twelve cakes of the shewbread, and placed twelve precious stones around the ephod of the pontiffs."
On the Irish zodiac, above the figures representing the Signs, the Irish letters were placed. The figure in the Sagittarius was a deer's body with a man's head. That in the Scales had legs, but no feet. The Virgin was standing, apparently spinning, being fully clothed, even to shoes. Aquarius was seen with a very long body, but short, thin legs and feet.
The Phnician presence was to be, also, traced in Ireland by the remarkable evidences of Baal worship. Of this the Irish language and Irish customs bear witness.
Thus,--we have Beal-agh, fire of Baal, in the Giant Ring at Belaugh, Co. Down, four miles from Belfast, 579 ft. in diameter. There is Bal-Kiste, or Baal, Lord of the chest or ark; Meur-Bheil, the finger of Be'il; Belí, god of fire; Baal Tinne, for the summer solstice; Suil-Beal, oracle of Druids; Bealtime, the Baal month.
Four miles north of Cork is Beal-atha-magh-adhoir,--the field for the worship of Baal. Sliabh-bulteine was the hill of Bel. The ark-Breith, a covered coracle, was drawn by oxen. The old Irish name for the year was Bealaine or Bliadhain, the circle of Baal.
The Bel-tor of Dartmoor, the Belenus of Gaul, the Beal of the Gaedhil, the Bali of India, the Belus obelisk of Pomona in Orkney, the Bealtien cake of Scotland, the Bel-eg, priest or learned one of Brittany, the Punic Bal--all take us outside of Ireland. But Camden declared the cromlech on Sliabh Greine, hill of the sun, was to Beli. As reported by J. J. Thomas--"The Irish expression 'Bal mhaith art'--May Bel be propitious to thee! or Bal dhia dhuit, the god Bal .to you! were deemed complimentary addresses to a stranger along the sequestered banks of the Suir, in the South of Ireland, about twenty-two years ago."
There can he no doubt about this Baal worship being connected with Phallicism. Devotion to generative powers preceded, perhaps, that to the sun, as the main cause of production in Nature; but the Baal development appeared later on in the so-called march of civilization. An increased fondness for ritual is generally taken for an evidence of refinement.
This Phallic exponent has been conspicuous in the Bal-fargha, or Bud, of the Island of Muidhr, off the coast of Sligo, represented as similar to the Mabody of Elephanta in India, where the argha was an especial object of worship, and which was seen by the writer, in Bombay, as still an object of religious devotion. There was on the Irish island a wall of large unmortared stones, some ten feet high, and of a rude circular form, having a low entrance. The Bud, or Linga, was surrounded by a parapet wall.
Innis Murra, an islet about three miles from the Sligo coast, has always been held sacred. In that, the area of this Bal-fargha, or argha, of rough stone-work, is 180 feet by 100, in its oval shape. To preserve its devotional character, three Roman Catholic chapels have been erected on the Isle. The holy ground is used as a cemetery; but the males are buried apart from the females. For some reason, a wooden image of St. Mobs is placed there for the regard of worshippers.
As is well known, the snake has been associated with amatory sentiments in nearly all countries, and has for thousands of years. been a favourite form of ornament with women. Now, opposite this island, once given up to sexual worship, the limestone coast has been worn into shapes often tortuous or serpentine. Tradition asserts that this is the spot where St. Patrick cast the snakes of Ireland into the sea; that is to say, in other words, that Christianity extirpated the libidinous deities.
Irish literature notices the presence of two religious sects once existing in the country; viz. those who adored fire, and those who adored water. The first were Baalites; the second Lirites. The Samhaisgs were of the one, and Swans of the other. O'Kearney, in his observations upon this peculiarity of the past, incidentally shows the antiquity of faction fights in Ireland; saying, "It is probable that very violent contentions were once carried on in the Island by the partizans of the rival religions, who were accustomed to meet, and decide their quarrels, at the place set apart for battles." In later and Christian times, when Ireland had a multitude of independent bishops, under no ecclesiastical supervision, disputes of a more or less theological kind are said by the ancient historians to have been settled by their followers in the same fashion.
As the population of Ireland is, perhaps, the most mixed, in racial descent, of any in the world, it is not surprising that this Island should exhibit a greater variety of religions, several of which have left their traces in the traditions and superstitions of out-of-the-way localities.
That Buddhism should have found a foothold there is not surprising, since Buddhist missionaries at one era had spread over much of the Northern hemisphere. Though the reader may find in this work, under the heading of "Round Towers," references to this Oriental faith, some other information may be here required.
Whenever it came, and however introduced, Buddhism, as it was taught in its early purity, was a distinct advance upon previously existing dogmas of belief. It was a vast improvement upon Baal worship, Hero worship, or Nature worship, as it carried with it a lofty ethical tone, and the principle of universal brotherhood. Though there is linguistic as well as other evidence of its presence in Ireland, it may be doubted if the labours of the foreign missionaries had much acceptance with the rude Islanders.
Cnox Buidhbh, Budh's hill, is in Tyrone. A goddess of the Tuatha was called Badhha. Budhbh, the Red, was a chief of the Danaans. Buddhist symbols are found upon stones in Ireland. There are Hills of Budh in Mayo and Roscommon. Fergus Budh or Bod was a prince of Brejea. He was Fergus of the fire of Budh. Budh or Fiodh was the sacred tree.
Vallencey, the fanciful Irish philologist, was a believer in the story of Buddhist visitations. He found that Budh in Irish and Sanscrit was wise; that Dia Tait was Thursday, and the day between the fasts (Wednesday and Friday), Wednesday being a sacred day in honour of Budh in India, showing that "they observed Budhday after Christianity was introduced." La Nollad Aois, or La Nollad Mithr, December 24th, was sacred to Mithras the Sun; to which he quotes Ezek. iv. 14. Eire aros a Niorgul alluded to the crowing of Nargal, the cock of Aurora, which was sacrificed on December 25th, in honour of the birth of Mithras, the Sun.
He further shows that the Oin-id lamentation for the Dead was kept in Ireland on the eve of La Saman, the day of Saman, the Pluto or Judge of Hell, November 1st (All Saints), as in several other heathen lands of antiquity. He sees a new reckoning on Mathair Oidhehe, the eve before La Nollah Mithr. The Sab-oide, or festival of Sab, the Sun, was held on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 23rd of the month, as with the Sabbaths of the Persian Magi. He was not then aware that Sabbath, day of rest, was an old Chaldæan word. He recognizes Christmas Eve in Madra nect, or Mother night.
Buddhism abolished caste and sacrifices. The Tripitaka, or Bible, contains 592,000 verses. The last Buddhist council was held 251 B.C.
Dr. Kenealy observes, in his Book of God, "The Irish hieratic language was called Ogham (pronounced owm), which is the same as the Buddhist and the Brahmin Aum, and the Magian and Mexican horn, or ineffable name of God. This last, the Greek changed into A O M, Α Ω, or Alpha and Omega." W. Anderson Smith, in Lewisiana, reluctantly acknowledges, "We must accept the possibility of a Buddhist race passing north from Ireland." Thus he and others must trace the relics of Buddhism in Scotland and the Hebrides through Ireland. Truly, as Fergusson writes, "Buddhism, in some shape or other, or under some name that may be lost, did exist in Britain before the conversion of the inhabitants to Christianity."
Hanloy, Chinese interpreter at San Francisco, who claims the discovery of America for his countrymen, that left written descriptions of the strange land, has this additional information--"About 500 years before Christ, Buddhist priests repaired there, and brought back the news that they had met with Buddhist idols and religious writings in the country already. Their descriptions, in many respects, resemble those of the Spaniards a thousand years after."
In the vaulted stone building at Knockmoy, Galway Co., assumed by some to have been a temple of the Tuatha, and next which sacred spot an abbey was subsequently erected, is a figure, taken for Apollo, bound to a tree, pierced with arrows, yet slaying the Python with his dart. Other three figures represent, in their crowns and costume, Eastern divinities, before whom another person is approaching. These have been conjectured to be the three, Chanchasm, Gonagom, and Gaspa, who obtained the perfect state of Nirvana before the birth of Godama, founder of Buddhism.
The mythological figures to be seen at the chapel of Cormac, the King and Bishop of Cashel, are not less strange in a Christian edifice than the heathen argha witnessed on a banner in some English churches. They are, to say the least, in a novel situation.
The Lion of Cashel, with its tail over its back, and a head partly human, is confronted by a centaur shooting an arrow. The figure's helmet is said to be like that of an Irish warrior in the tenth century. The two mythological hares devouring foliage of the shamrock appearance, present a more striking character. Anna Wilkes was led to exclaim--"The supposed Cuthite remains at Cashel bear striking resemblance to some of the Ninevite sculptures; Nergal or Nimrod, the winged lion, as exhibited in the British Museum, is a remarkable imitation of the winged lion of Cashel."
Were these, and similar sculptures, survivals of older faiths in the minds of the artists? They were not fancies of their own, but they reflect past phases of heathenism Superstitions ever indicate former beliefs.
It is not a little surprising to notice, in the ancient writings of Irish Churchmen, so few references to the idolatrous practices of their countrymen. In the catalogues of the Dublin Museum of the Irish Academy one finds expression of the same wonder in these words: "The ecclesiastical chroniclers of the period, in their zeal for the establishment of Christianity, would appear to have altogether ignored the subject of pagan worship." It is this silence which has led so many persons to doubt the idolatrous customs of the early Irish, or to be very sceptical as to the nature of the gods they worshipped.
The Akkadian religion of Assyria throws some light upon Irish faiths. Major Conder, referring to the inscriptions of Tell Loh, thought they proved "the piety of those ancient Akkadian rulers, and showing that the deities adored represented the sun and moon, the dawn and sunset, with the spirits of the mountains, the sea, the earth, and of hell." Elsewhere he says, "As regards the deities adored, they evidently include heaven, hell, the ocean, the sun and moon, the dawn, and the sunset." This was in Ur of the Chaldees, but long before Abraham's time.
The Major was struck with another inscription--"I have made the Pyramid temple to the Lord of the heavenly region. To Tammuz, Lord of the Land of Darkness, I have built a Pyramid temple." He further adds--"The Akkadians and Babylonians believed in pairs of deities inhabiting the various kingdoms of the gods." Others have detected the same duality in the divinities of Ireland. The Druidical three rods, or rays of light, have been compared to a Phnician Trinity--the three sons of Il, and called Elohim. Morien contends that Jehovah is represented in Druidism by the three letters, I A O.
It is curious to note the remains of a very ancient building on the Hebridean Harris Island, known locally as the temple. of Annait, and a similar one at Skye, afterwards becoming the Church of the Trianade, or Trinity. We are reminded of the Tanat or Tanath of the Phnicians, the Anaietis of the Lydians, the Aphrodite Tanais of the Babylonians. How such mysteries got to the Hebrides need not surprise us. Two races left their descendants in those Islands--the Norwegian and the Irish; the latter spread over the islets and coastline of Western Scotland, and carried thither the popular creed of the migration era.
Sir W. Jones considered that "the whole crowd of gods and goddesses meant only the powers of Nature." Adolphe Pietet proceeds on the following lines--"From a primitive duality, constituting the fundamental force of the Universe, there arises a double progression of cosmical powers, which, after having crossed each other by a mutual transition, at last proceed to blend in one Supreme Unity, as in their essential principles; such, in a few words, is the distinctive 'character of the mythological doctrines of the ancient Irish."
As elsewhere mentioned, the Irish Saints are traditionally mixed up with matters connected with former deities. Thus, Ledwich, in his Antiquities of Ireland, is induced to exclaim, "Very few of the Saints who adorn our legends ever had existence, but are personifications of inanimate things, and even of passions or qualities." St. Thenew or Mungo, patron Saint of Glasgow, was but a metamorphosed divinity of the same race. He was born of a virgin, a proof of her goddess-ship. His miraculous powers were like those of Irish gods, being exerted over Nature's laws. His rod was the Druidical hazel-branch, which burst into flame after his breathing upon it. Thus we see the river Shannon, once an object of worship, remembered under the name of St. Senanus; and the mountain Kevn of Glendalough, also adored, become the Saint Kevin.
The strange mixture of heathenism and Scripture has struck many inquirers. Meyrick's Druidical Religion during the residence of the Romans, points to this strange union in Britain. It was his opinion that "at the commencement of the fourth century, the Druids felt a common cause with the Roman priests in the extermination of Christianity." Bergmann detected the same influence in Snorre's Scandinavian Fascination of Gulfi. He separated the two elements for us. Leflocq remarked the mixture in the "transferring the gods themselves, and placing in the mouth of Odin an echo of the language of Moses." He might well say, "We are surprised to find the teaching of Genesis, and the morals of the Evangelists, in a book of the Eddas." Many may be equally surprised at the same in the MSS. of Erin.
"The Druids and Bards of these far-reaching bardic times," says Mrs. Bryant, "were practically heretics with respect to the more ancient forms of religious idea, which linger without meaning in the Irish peasants' tenacious memory, or adhere to his habits by the same persistence of conservative instinct."
While the cultured Egyptians, Assyrians, Hindoos, Jews, and Greeks, bowed to other gods than the First Cause, no Irishman need be astonished at a similar weakness in his half-civilized ancestors. It might be that the moral infirmities of the former were greater than those in the men and women of old Erin.