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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 110

{246} their value. The Druids invoked a god during the mistletoe rite, and at a Galatian sacrifice, offered to bring birds to destroy grasshoppers, prayer was made to the birds themselves. In Mona, at the Roman invasion, the Druids raised their arms and uttered prayers for deliverance, at the same time cursing the invaders, and Boudicca invoked the protection of the goddess Andrasta in a similar manner. Chants were sung by the "priestesses" of Sena to raise storms, and they were also sung by warriors both before and after a battle, to the accompaniment of a measured dance and the clashing of arms.852 These warrior chants were composed by bards, and probably included invocations of the war-gods and the recital of famous deeds. They may also have been of the nature of spells ensuring the help of the gods, like the war-cries uttered by a whole army to the sound of trumpets.853 These consisted of the name of a god, of a tribe or clan, or of some well-known phrase. As the recital of a divine name is often supposed to force the god to help, these cries had thus a magical aspect, while they also struck terror into the foe. Warriors also advanced dancing to the fray, and they are depicted on coins dancing on horseback or before a sword, which was worshipped by the Celts. The Celtiberian festival at the full moon consisted entirely of dancing. The dance is a primitive method of expressing religious emotion, and where it imitates certain actions, it is intended by magical influence to crown the actions themselves with success. It is thus a kind of acted prayer with magical results.

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DIVINATION.

A special class of diviners existed among the Celts, but the Druids practised divination, as did also the unofficial layman. Classical writers speak of the Celts as of all nations the most devoted to, and the most experienced in, the science of divination. Divination with a human victim is described by Diodorus. Libations were poured over him, and he was then slain, auguries being drawn from the method of his fall, the movements of his limbs, and the flowing of his blood. Divination with the entrails was used in Galatia, Gaul, and Britain. Beasts and birds also provided omens. The course taken by a hare let loose gave an omen of success to the Britons, and in Ireland divination was used with a sacrificial animal.857 Among birds the crow was pre-eminent, and two crows are represented speaking into the ears of a man on a bas-relief at Compiègne. The Celts believed that the crow had shown where towns should be founded, or had furnished a remedy against poison, and it was also an arbiter of disputes.858 Artemidorus describes how, at a certain place, there were two crows. Persons having a dispute set out two heaps of sweetmeats, one for each disputant. The birds swooped down upon them, eating one and dispersing the other. He whose heap had been scattered won the case. Birds were believed to have guided the migrating Celts, and their flight furnished auguries, because, as Deiotaurus gravely said, birds never lie. Divination by the voices of birds was used by the Irish Druids.

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Omens were drawn from the direction of the smoke and flames of sacred fires and from the condition of the clouds.861 Wands of yew were carried by Druids—"the wand of Druidism" of many folk-tales—and were used perhaps as divining-rods. Ogams were also engraved on rods of yews, and from these Druids divined hidden things. By this means the Druid Dalan discovered where Etain had been hidden by the god Mider. The method used may have been that of drawing one of the rods by lot and then divining from the marks upon it. A similar method was used to discover the route to be taken by invaders, the result being supposed to depend on divine interposition.862 The knowledge of astronomy ascribed by Cæsar to the Druids was probably of a simple kind, and much mixed with astrology, and though it furnished the data for computing a simple calendar, its use was largely magical.863 Irish diviners forecast the time to build a house by the stars, and the date at which S. Columba's education should begin, was similarly discovered.864

The Imbas Forosnai, "illumination between the hands," was used by the


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