<<<
>>>

The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 126

lia fail, or coronation stone, which shouted when a king of the Milesian race seated himself upon it; and the lia adrada, or stone of adoration, apparently a boundary stone. The plurima simulacra of the Gaulish Mercury may have been boundary stones like those dedicated to Mercury or Hermes among the Romans and Greeks. Did Cæsar conclude, or was it actually the case, that the Gauls dedicated such stones to a god of boundaries who might be equated with Mercury? Many such standing stones still exist in France, and their number must have been greater in Cæsar's time. Seeing them the objects of superstitious observances, he may have concluded that they were simulacra of a god. Other Romans besides himself had been struck by {285} the resemblance of these stones to their Hermai, and perhaps the Gauls, if they did not already regard them as symbols of a god, acquiesced in the resemblance. Thus, on the menhir of Kervadel are sculptured four figures, one being that of Mercury, dating from Gallo-Roman times. Beneath another, near Peronne, a bronze statuette of Mercury was discovered.970 This would seem to show that the Gauls had a cult of pillar stones associated with a god of boundaries. Cæsar probably uses the word simulacrum in the sense of "symbol" rather than "image," though he may have meant native images not fully carved in human shape, like the Irish cérmand, cerstach, ornamented with gold and silver, the "chief idol" of north Ireland, or like the similarly ornamented "images" of Cromm Cruaich and his satellites.971 The adoration of sacred stones continued into Christian times and was much opposed by the Church.972 S. Samson of Dol (sixth century) found men dancing round a simulacrum abominabile, which seems to have been a kind of standing stone, and having besought them to desist, he carved a cross upon it. Several menhirion in France are now similarly ornamented.

The number of existing Gallo-Roman images shows that the Celts had not adopted a custom which was foreign to them, and they must have already possessed rude native images. The disappearance of these would be explained if they were made of perishable material. Wooden images of the Matres have been occasionally found, and these may be pre-Roman. Some of the images of the three-headed and crouching gods show no sign of Roman influences in their modelling, and they may have been copied from earlier images of wood. We also find {286} divine figures on pre-Roman coins.975 Certain passages in classical writings point to the existence of native images. A statue of a goddess existed in a temple at Marseilles, according to Justin, and the Galatian Celts had images of the native Juppiter and Artemis, while the conquering Celts who entered Rome bowed to the seated senators as to statues of the gods. The Gauls placed rich ornaments on the images of the gods, and presumably these were native "idols."

"Idols" are frequently mentioned in Irish texts, and there is no doubt that these mean images. Cormac mac Art refused to worship "idols," and was punished by the Druids.978 The idols of Cromm Cruaich and his satellites, referred to in the Dindsenchas, were carved to represent the human form; the chief one was of gold, the others of stone. These were miraculously overthrown by S. Patrick; but in the account of the miracle the chief idol was of stone adorned with gold and silver, the others, numbering twelve, were ornamented with bronze.979 They stood in Mag Slecht, and similar sacred places with groups of images evidently existed elsewhere, e.g. at Rath Archaill, "where the Druid's altars and images are." The lady Cessair, before coming to Ireland, is said to have taken advice of her laimh-dhia, or "hand gods," perhaps small images used for divination.

For the British Celts the evidence is slender, but idolatry in the sense of "image-worship" is frequently mentioned in the lives of early saints. Gildas also speaks of images {287} "mouldering away within and without the deserted temples, with stiff and deformed features."983 This pathetic picture of the forsaken shrines of forgotten gods may refer to Romano-Celtic images, but the "stiff and deformed features" suggest rather native art, the art of a people unskilful at reproducing the human form, however artistic they may have been in other directions.

If the native Celts of Ireland had images, there is no reason to suppose, especially considering the evidence just adduced, that the Gauls, or at least the Druids, were antagonistic to images. This last is M. Reinach's theory, part of a wider hypothesis that the Druids were pre-Celtic, but became the priests of the Celts, who till then had no priests. The Druids prohibited image-worship, and this prohibition existed in Gaul, ex hypothesi, from the end of palæolithic times. Pythagoras and his school were opposed to image-worship, and the classical writers claimed a connection between the Pythagoreans and the Druids. M. Reinach thinks there must have been some analogy between them, and that was hostility to anthropomorphism. But the analogy is distinctly stated to have lain in the doctrine of immortality or metempsychosis. Had the Druids been opposed to image-worship, classical observers could not have failed to notice the fact. M. Reinach then argues that the Druids caused the erection of the megalithic monuments in Gaul, symbols not images. They are thus Druidic, though not Celtic. The monuments argue a powerful priesthood; the Druids were a powerful priesthood; therefore the Druids caused the monuments to be built. This is not a powerful argument!

{288}

As has been seen, some purely Celtic images existed in Gaul. The Gauls, who used nothing but wood for their houses, probably knew little of the art of carving stone. They would therefore make most of their images of wood—a perishable material. The insular Celts had images, and if, as Cæsar maintained, the Druids came from Britain to Gaul, this points at least to a similarity of cult in the two regions. Youthful Gauls who aspired to Druidic knowledge went to Britain to obtain it. Would the Druids of Gaul have permitted this, had they been iconoclasts? No single text shows that the Druids had any antipathy to images, while the Gauls certainly had images of worshipful animals. Further, even if the Druids were priests of a pre-Celtic folk, they must have permitted the making of images, since many "menhir-statues" exist on French soil, at Aveyron, Tarn, and elsewhere. The Celts were in constant contact with image-worshipping peoples, and could hardly have failed to be influenced by them, even if such a priestly prohibition existed, just as Israel succumbed to images in spite of divine commands. That they would have been thus influenced is seen from the number of images of all kinds dating from the period after the Roman conquest.


<<<
>>>