Irish Druids And Old Irish
OPINIONS ON IRISH DRUIDS
Leflocq wrote his Études de
Mythologie Celtique in 1869, observing,
"Some represented the Druids as the successors of the Hebrew patriarchs,
the masters of Greek philosophy, the forerunners of Christian teaching. They
have credited them with the honours of a religious system founded upon primitive
monotheism, and crowned by a spiritualism more elevated than that of Plato and
St. Augustine." One might perceive little of this in Irish tales, like the
preceding. Leflocq is justified in adding, "One will be at first confounded
by the extreme disproportion which exists between the rare documents left by the
past, and the large developments presented by modern historians."
Pliny speaks thus of the Druids, "A man would think the Persians learned
all their magic from them;" and Pomponius Mela affirmed, "They profess
to have great knowledge of the motions of the heavens and the stars."
Others write in the same strain. Who, then, were the Druids of Greeks and
Romans? Why did Cæsar recognize such as living in Gaul? Why did Jamblichus make
Pythagoras a disciple of Gaulish priests? Why did St. Clement say the
Druids had a religion of philosophy; and St. Cyril, that they held but one God? Why
should Origen, like the foe of early Christianity, Celsus, believe that the
Druids of Gaul had the same doctrines as the Jews?
Himerius speaks of Abaris, the sage, from Scythia, but well acquainted with
Greek, with this description:--"Abaris came to Athens, holding a bow,
having a quiver hanging from his shoulders, his body wrapt up in a plaid, and
wearing trousers reaching from the soles of his feet to his waist." Cicero
knew Divitiacus, who professed the knowledge of Nature's secrets, though
regarded as a Hyperborean.
Could these have been the Scythians from Tartary, the descendants of the wise
men who gave their religion and the arrow-headed letters to Assyrian-Semitic
conquerors, who had come down as Turanian roamers to the Plains of Babylon, and
whose Chaldæan faith spread even to Egypt and Europe?
It would seem more probable--with respectful consideration of the learned
Morien, who makes Wales the teacher of the world--that wisdom should emanate
from a people cultured long before Abrahamic days, though subsequently regarded
as rude shepherd Scythians, than proceed from a western land preserving no
monuments of learning.
Then, the dress, the staff, the egg, and other things associated with Druids,
had their counterpart In the East, from, perhaps, five thousand years before our
As to so-called Druidical monuments, no argument can be drawn thence, as to
the primary seat of this mysticism, since they are to be seen nearly all over
the world. An instance of the absurd ideas prevalent among the ancients
respecting Druids is given in Dion Chrysostom:--"For, without the Druids,
the Kings may neither do nor consult anything; so that in reality they are the
Druids who reign, while the Kings, though they sit on golden thrones,
dwell in spacious palaces, and feed on costly dishes, are only their
ministers." Fancy this relating to either rude Irish or Welsh. Toland makes
out that Lucan spoke to one; but Lucan said it not. The Edinburgh Review
of 1863 may well come to the conclusion that "the place they really fill in
history is indefinite and obscure."
Madame Blavatsky has her way of looking at them. They were "the
descendants of the last Atlanteans, and what is known of them is sufficient to
allow the inference that they were Eastern priests akin to the Chaldæans and
Indians." She takes, therefore, an opposite view to that held by Morien.
She beheld their god in the Great Serpent, and their faith in a succession of
worlds. Their likeness to the Persian creed is noticed thus:--"The Druids
understood the morning of the Sun in Taurus; therefore, while all the fires were
extinguished on the first of November, their sacred and inextinguishable fires
alone remained to illumine the horizon, like those of the Magi and the modern
Poppo, a Dutchman of the eighth century, wrote De officiis Druidum;
and Occo, styled the last of the Frisian Druids, was the author of a similar
work. Worth, in 1620, and Frickius of 1744 were engaged on the same subject. It
is curious to notice St. Columba addressing God as "My Druid," and
elsewhere saying, "My Druid is Christ the Son of God." The Vates were
an order known in Irish as Faidh. Some derive Druid from Druthin,
the old German for God. The word Druith is applied to a Druidess.
While many treat the Druids as religious, O'Curry asserts, "There is no
ground whatever for believing the Druids to have been the priests of any special
positive worship." Then Vallencey declares that "Druidism was not the
established religion of the Pagan Irish, but Buddhism." Yet Lake Killarney
was formerly Lock Lene, the Lake of Learning.
The mystical, but accomplished, Massey tell us, "An Irish name for
Druidism is Maithis, and that includes the Egyptian dual Thoth called
Mati, which, applied to time, is the Terin or two Times at the base of all
reckoning"--"likely that the Druidic name is a modified form of Tru-Hut."--"In
Egypt Terut signifies the two times and before,. so the Druidic science
included the knowledge of the times beforehand, the coming times."
Toland, one of the earliest and most philosophical Irish writers on this
subject, thus spoke of them in his History of the Druids--"who were
so prevalent in Ireland, that to this hour their ordinary word for magician is Druid
(Drai), the art magic is called Druidity (Druidheacht), and the wand,
which was one of the badges of the profession, the rod of Druidism (Slatnan
Windele, in Kilkenny records, expressed this view:--"Druidism was an
artfully contrived system of elaborate fraud and imposture. To them was
entrusted the charge of religion, jurisprudence, and medicine. They certainly
well studied the book of Nature, were acquainted with the marvels of natural
magic, the proportions of plants and herbs, and what of astronomy was then
known; they may even have been skilled in mesmerism and biology." He
thought that to the Druid "exclusively were known all the occult virtues of
the whole materia medica, and to him belonged the carefully elaborated
machinery of oracles, omens, auguries, aëromancy, fascinations, exorcisms,
dream interpretations and visions, astrology, palmistry, &c"
As this may demand too much from our faith, we may remember, as Canon Bourke
says, that "the youth of these countries have been taught to regard the
Pagan Druids as educated savages, whereas they had the same opportunity of
acquiring knowledge, and had really possessed as much as the Pagans of the
Peloponnesus." We should further bear in mind the assurance of the
Irish historian, O'Curry, that "there
are vast numbers of allusions to the Druids, and of specific instances of the
exercise of their vocation-be it magical, religious, philosophical, or
educational--to be found in our old MSS."
Has not much misapprehension been caused, by authors concluding that all
varieties of religion in Ireland proceeded from a class of men who, while
popularly called Druids, may not have been connected with them? We know very far
more about these varieties of faith in Ireland, before Christianity, than we do
about any description of religion in Wales; and yet the Druidism of one country
is reported as so different from that in the other immediately contiguous. Such
are the difficulties meeting the student of History.
The Irish Druidical religion, like that of Britain and Gaul, has given rise
to much discussion, whether it began, as some say, when Suetonius drove Druids
from Wales, or began in Ireland before known in either Britain or Gaul, direct
from the East.
"The Druidical religion," says Kenealy in the Book of God,
"prevailed not only in Britain, but likewise all over the East."
Pictet writes, "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
Samothrace, emanated probably from Phnicia." Mrs. Sophie Bryant thinks
that "to understand the Irish non Christian tradition and worship, we
should understand the Corresponding tradition and worship, and their history,
for all the peoples that issued from the same Aryan home." Ledwich is
content with saying, that "the Druids possessed no internal or external
doctrine, either veiled by Symbols, or clouded in enigmas, or any religious
tenets but the charlatanerie of barbarian priests and the grossest Gentile
While Professor O'Curry had "no ground whatever for believing the Druids
to have been the priests of any special positive worship,"--and Vallencey
could say," From all I could collect from Irish documents, relative to the
religion of the heathen Irish, it appears that the Druidical religion never made
a part of it,"--popular opinion has always been in the other direction. Yet
Vallencey would credit Druids with some religion, when he mentions the Druidical
oracular stone,--in Irish Logh-oun, in Cornish Logan,--"into which
the Druids pretend that the Logh, or divine affluence, descended when
they consulted it."
Dr. Richey depreciates the Druid, when writing of the early Irish
missionaries: "They did not encounter any Archdruid as the representative
or head of a national religion,--they found no priesthood occupying a definite
political position which the ministers of the new religion could
appropriate." The Welsh Archdruid Myfyr took higher ground, when saying,
"This Gorsedd has survived the bardic chairs of Greece and Rome--it has
survived the institutions of Egypt, Chaldæa, and Palestine." He declared,
"Druidism is a religious system of positive philosophy, teaching truth and
reason, peace and justice." He believed of Druids what Burnouf thought of
the Hindoo Rishis, that their metaphysics and religion "were founded on a
thorough grasp of physical facts."
Morien, his favourite disciple, boldly avows that Druidism, like Freemasonry,
was a philosophy, founded on natural law, and not religion in the ordinary sense
of that term. So L. Maclean regarded Ossian's heroes "for the greater part
cabalistic, and indicative of the solar worship. Phion (Fingal) bespeaks the Phnician;
Cual, the Syrian or Dog-star worshipper, of which Conchulain with his crios
or belt is but a variation." In Smith's Dictionary of
the Bible, the religion of the Phnicians is described in the way Morien
has done that of the Druids;--"a personification of the forces of nature,
which, in its more philosophical shadowing forth of the Supreme powers, may be
said to have represented the male and female principles of production."
The Sabbath--a Babylonian word--was, it is said, kept on the 1st, 8th, 15th,
22nd, 29th of months, as with the Magi of the East. Philo says all nations of
antiquity kept the seventh day holy. Porphyry mentions the same thing of the
heathen. Professor Sayce finds it was a day of rest with ancient Assyrians, as
Dr. Schmidt of temple pagan worship. Eusebius asserted that almost all
philosophers acknowledged it. The Roman Pontiffs regulated the Sabbath, and
Roman school-boys had then a holiday. The Persian word Shabet is clearly
of Assyrian origin. The authoress of Mazzaroth says, "The Assyrians,
Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and the natives of India were acquainted with
the seven days division of time, as were the Druids." The sun, moon, and
five planets were the guardians of the days.