Irish Druids And Old Irish Religions
Whatever the earlier savage races may have thought of religion, if they
thought at all about it, those who came after, with more or less touch of
civilization, were led, in Ireland, as elsewhere, to contemplate Deity in the
Sun. Sun-worship may have superseded other and grosser forms of Nature worship.
There are survivals of the worship in the customs and languages of Europe. Up to this century, a singular ceremony took place in the church of the Carmine, Naples, attended by civic officials in procession. The day after Christmas Day, when the new sun of the year began then first to move in position, there was a solemn cutting of the hair of an image, symbol of the sun's rays, as in the old heathen times.
A Scotch dance, the Reel, still keeps up the memory of the old Celtic circular dance. There is, also, the Deisol, or practice of turning sun-ways, to bless the sun. This was from right to left, as with Dancing Dervishes now, or the old Bacchic dance from east to west. Plautus wrote, "When you worship the gods, do it turning to the right hand." Poseidonius the Stoic, referring to the Celts, said, "At their feasts, the servant carries round the wine from right to left. Thus they worship their gods, turning to the right." The Highland mother, with a choking child, cries out, "Deas-iul! the way of the South." A Dîsul Sunday is still kept up in Brittany.
A stone was dug up in the road from Glasgow to Edinburgh, on which was an inscription to Grannius, the Latin form of grian, the sun. Enclosures in the Highlands were called Grianan, the house of the sun. On Harris Island is a stone circle, with a stone in the centre, known as Clack-na-Greine, the stone of the sun. At Elgin, the bride had to lead her husband to the church following the sun's course.
But did the Irish indulge in this form of idolatry?
Some writers, zealous for the honour of their countrymen, have denied the impeachment. Even the learned O'Curry was of that school, declaring--"There is no ground whatever for imputing to them human sacrifice--none whatever for believing that the early people of Erinn adored the sun, moon, or stars, nor that they worshipped fire."
But what was St. Patrick's teaching?
The Saint is recorded to have said of the sun, "All, who adore him shall unhappily fall into eternal punishment" In his Confessio, he exclaimed, "Woe to its unhappy worshippers, for punishment awaits them But we believe in and adore the true Sun, Christ!"
Morien, the modern and enthusiastic Welsh Bard, is equally desirous to remove from his sires the reproach of being sun-worshippers "One of the Welsh names of the sun," he remarks, "proves that they believed in a personal God, and that they believed He dwelt in the sun That name of the sun is Huan, the abode of Hu" (the Deity) Elsewhere he writes, "There was no such a being as a Sun-God in the religious systems of the Druids. They named the sun the House of God (Huan-Annedd Hu)." Again, "The Gwyddorr (High Priest), was emblematical of the Spirit of God in the sun. The Gwyddon was clad in robe of virgin white, symbolizing light and holiness. His twelve disciples, representing the twelve constellations, formed the earthly zodiac. They too were robed in white." Morien is the ablest living advocate of Welsh Druidism, but his views on that subject are somewhat governed by his extensive reading, his love of symbolism, and his poetic temperament.
St. Patrick gives, according to an Erse poem, no such credit to the Irish; crying out, "O blasphemous Cumhal, that honour you pay to the sun, through ignorance of the omnipotent King, is no more perfect than if you worshipped your shield." The Milligans, in their learned story of the Irish under the Druids, say, "They worshipped the sun as their principal Deity, and the moon as their second Deity, like the Phœnicians."
Donald Ross, Scotch Inspector of Schools, writes in a similar way of his ancient northern kindred--"The noblest strains in all Gaelic literature are in praise of the sun, and which is also represented as the ultimately inexplicable factor in the universe. In the sun the Gaels found the two highest attributes of divinity, power, and purity."
There is a remarkable passage from St. Patrick's Confession, which refers to his being tempted by Satan in a dream--"It was suggested to me in the spirit that I should invoke Helia (Elias or Eli); and meanwhile I saw the sun rising in the heaven. And while I was calling out Helia with all my might, behold the splendour of that sun fell upon me, and immediately struck from me the oppressive weight." Probus had this version of the event, "When he had thrice invoked the true Sun, immediately the sun rose upon him."
The language of the country has much association with sun adoration. The mythical Simon Brek of Irish history may be Samen, the sun. Waterford was Cuan-na-Grioth, the harbour of the sun. One Irish name for the sun is Chrishna, of Eastern origin; but the Welsh Hu Gadarn, the sun, was Finn Mac Haul in Erse.
Griann, Greine, Grianan, Greienham, have relations to the sun. The hill Grianan Calry is a sunny spot. The word Grange is from Griann. There is a Grianoir in Wexford Bay. The Grange, near Drogheda, is a huge cone of stones, piled in honour of the sun. Greane, of Ossory, was formerly Grian Airbh. As Graine, the word occurs in a feminine form. The beautiful story of Diarmuid, or Dermot, and Graine is clearly a solar myth The runaway pair were pursued by the irate husband, Finn Mac Coul, for a whole year, the lovers changing their resting-place every night. One bard sings of "Diarmuid with a fiery face" The last Danaan sovereign was Mac Grene The, cromlech on a hill of Kilkenny is known as the Sleigh Grian, hill of the sun. The women's quarter of that dwelling, was the Grianan, so-called from its brightness.
The cromlech at Castle Mary, near Cloyne, is Carrig Croath, Rock of the Sun General Vallencey traces some appellations for the sun to the Chaldaic and Sanscrit The Celts of Brittany borrowed their Sul, for sun, from the Roman Sol. Caer Sedi was an Irish cycle.
Bel is also the sun in Irish, as in eastern lands. Beli was their god of fire Bel-ain were wells sacred to the sun. The Irish vernal equinox was Aiche Baal tinne the night of Baal's fire. The sun's circuit was Bel-ain, or Bel's ring. A cycle of the sun, or an anniversary, was Aonach (pro. Enoch); and it is singular that we are told that the days of Enoch were 365 years.
Easter, as is well known, is connected with sun-worship. The Irish Dancing Easter Sunday is thus alluded to in an old poem --
"But, Dick, she dances in such a way,People used to be out early on Easter Sunday to see the sun dance in honour of the Resurrection.
The sun and moon, according to the Chronicles of St. Columba, were to be seen on an altar of glass in the temple of the Tuath-de-Danaan, in Tyrconnal. For centuries, an Irish oath was accompanied with the hand on forehead, and the eyes turned to the sun. The round mounds, or Raths, enclosing the round dwelling, related to early sun-worship; the same may be said of the tradition that the battle of Ventry, between the Fenians and their foes, lasted 366 days.
Hecateus mentions the Hyperboreans of an island north of Gaul worshipping the sun. Diodorus speaks of the island's idolatry, saying, "The citizens are given up to music, harping, and chanting in honour of the sun." In Walker's Bards, we read of the Feast of Samhuin, or the moon, in the temple of Tiachta. "The moon," says Monier Williams, the great Vedas authority, "is but a form of the sun."
The circular dance in honour of the sun was derived from the East. Lucian says "it consisted of a dance imitating this god" (the sun). The priests of Baal indulged in it. A Druid song has this account--"Ruddy was the sea-beach while the circular revolution was performed by the attendants, and the white bands in graceful extravagance."
An ancient sculpture at Glendalough represents the long-haired Apollo, or Sun, attended by his doves. These were sun-images in Erin. In 2 Chron. xiv. 5, we read of Asa putting "away out of all cities of Judah the high places and the images"; or sun-images of the Revised Version.
At the Lucaid-lamh-fada, or festival of love, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 16, games were held in honour of the sun and moon. Fosbroke alludes to the revolving, with the sun, as a superstition. "At Inismore, or Church Island, in Sligo, in a rock near the door of the church, is a cavity, called Our Lady's Bed, into which pregnant women going, and turning thrice round, with the repetition of certain prayers, fancy that they would then not die in child-birth."
A Scotch writer observes--"The hearty Celts of Ireland say, 'The top of the morning to you.' Are these expressions to be regarded as remnants of Dawn-worship? It may be so, for many similar traces of the worship of the sun and moon, as givers of good fortune, are still to be found."
An Ode to the Sun in the Leabhar breac has been thus rendered by an Erse authority:--"Anticipate, my lays, O Sun! thou mighty Lord of the seven heavens--mighty governor of the heaven--sole and general God of man--thou gracious, just, and supreme King--whose bright image constantly forces itself on my attention. To whom heroes pray in perils of war--all the world praise and adore thee. For thou art the only glorious and sovereign object of universal love, praise, and adoration."
Similarly sang Orpheus of old--"O Sun! thou art the genial parent of Nature, splendent with various hues, shedding streams of golden light." The Rig Veda, however, in one place calls the sun, "the most beautiful work of God"; while another of the Hindoo sacred books has this--"Let us adore the supremacy of the Divine Sun, the godhead." Well might Capella exclaim in his Hymn to the Sun, "The whole world adores thee under a great number of different names"
Ossian sang--"When wilt thou rise in thy beauty, first of Erin's maids? Thy sleep is long in the tomb. The sun shall not come to thy bed, and sing, 'Awake Darthula! Awake, thou first of women! The voice of spring is abroad. The flowers shake their heads on the green hills. The woods wave their growing leaves.' Retire, O Sun! The daughter of Colla is asleep. She will not come forth in her beauty. She will not move in the steps of her loveliness."
Crowe, who observes, "The sun was a chief deity with us as well as the Greeks,"--adds, "I have long thought that the great moat of Granard was the site of a temple to the sun." The Rev. F. Leman, in 1811, spoke of an inscription upon a quartzose stone, at Tory Hill, Kilkenny, in old Irish characters, which he read Sleigh-Grian, hill of the sun. "Within view of this hill," said he, "towards the west, on the borders of Tipperary, rises the more elevated mountain of Sleigh-na-man, which, from its name, was probably consecrated to the moon."
When Martin was in the Hebrides, he came across observances reminding him of solar worship. "In the Island of Rona," said he, "off Ness, one of the natives needs express his high esteem for my person, by making a turn round about me, sun-ways, and at the same time blessing me, and wishing me all happiness." Again--"When they get into the Island (Flannan) all of them uncover their heads, and make a turn sun-ways round, thanking God for their safety." The Rev. Mac Queen mentions that every village in Skye had a rude stone, called Grugach, or fair-haired, which represented the sun; and he declares that milk libations were poured into Gruaich stones.
Travellers have written of Hebridean boats, going out to sea, having their heads rowed sun-ways at first for fear of ill-luck on the voyage. Quite recently one observed the same thing done by Aberdeen fishermen, who objected to turn their boat against the sun.
In all myths, sun-gods are very successful in their war-like enterprises during the summer, but frequently lose a battle in winter, In Egyptian paintings, the winter sun is represented with only a single hair on the head; this reminds one of Samson,--a word derived from Shemesh, the sun--losing strength in the loss of hair.
The shaving of the head, so as to leave a circular, bare spot, is a very ancient practice, and was done in honour of the sun, by certain priests of Jupiter and other deities. Mahomet forbade that idolatrous habit of his Arab disciples. Rhys calls the tonsure in Britain and Ireland, "merely a druidical survival?'
While the image of the sun was, down to the great Revolution, carried in the priestly processions of Brittany, while Christians now, as the Peruvians used to do formerly, stand the plate-image of the sun upon the altar, and while we, though aesthetically, honour the sun-flower, we cannot too rudely condemn the ancient Irish for their reverent bowing to the material author of all earthly life.