The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 88

Folk-Lore, viii. 281. If the fish appeared when an invalid drank of the well, this was a good omen. For the custom of burying sacred animals, see Herod, ii. 74; Ælian, xiii. 26.

Footnote 618:(return)

Gomme, Ethnol. in Folklore, 92.

Footnote 619:(return)

Trip. Life, 113; Tigernach, Annals, A.D. 1061.

Footnote 620:(return)

Mackinley, 184.

Footnote 621:(return)

Burne, Shropshire Folk-Lore, 416; Campbell, WHT ii. 145.

Footnote 622:(return)

Old Stat. Account, xii. 465.

Footnote 623:(return)

S. Patrick, when he cleared Ireland of serpents, dealt in this way with the worst specimens. S. Columba quelled a monster which terrified the dwellers by the Ness. Joyce, PN i. 197; Adamnan, Vita Columb. ii. 28; Kennedy, 12, 82, 246; RC iv. 172, 186.

Footnote 624:(return)

RC xii. 347.

Footnote 625:(return)

For the water-horse, see Campbell, WHT iv. 307; Macdongall, 294; Campbell, Superstitions, 203; and for the Manx Glashtyn, a kind of water-horse, see Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 285. For French cognates, see Bérenger-Féraud, Superstitions et Survivances, i. 349 f.

Footnote 626:(return)

Reinach, CMR i. 63.

Footnote 627:(return)

Orosius, v. 15. 6.

Footnote 628:(return)

LU 2a. Of Eochaid is told a variant of the Midas story—the discovery of his horse's ears. This is also told of Labraid Lore (RC ii. 98; Kennedy, 256) and of King Marc'h in Brittany and in Wales (Le Braz, ii. 96; Rh[^y]s, CFL 233). Other variants are found in non-Celtic regions, so the story has no mythological significance on Celtic ground.

Footnote 629:(return)

Ptol. ii. 2. 7.

Footnote 630:(return)

Campbell, WHT iv. 300 f.; Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 284; Waldron, Isle of Man, 147.

Footnote 631:(return)

Macdougall, 296; Campbell, Superstitions, 195. For the Uruisg as Brownie, see WHT ii. 9; Graham, Scenery of Perthshire, 19.

Footnote 632:(return)

Rh[^y]s, CFL ii. 431, 469, HL, 592; Book of Taliesin, vii. 135.

Footnote 633:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 340; LL 165; IT i. 699.

Footnote 634:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 409.

Footnote 635:(return)

See Pughe, The Physicians of Myddfai, 1861 (these were descendants of a water-fairy); Rh[^y]s, Y Cymmrodor, iv. 164; Hartland, Arch. Rev. i. 202. Such water-gods with lovely daughters are known in most mythologies—the Greek Nereus and the Nereids, the Slavonic Water-king, and the Japanese god Ocean-Possessor (Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, 148; Chamberlain, Ko-ji-ki, 120). Manannan had nine daughters (Wood-Martin, i. 135).

Footnote 636:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 338, 344; Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 243; Henderson, Folk-Lore of the N. Counties, 262. Cf. the rhymes, "L'Arguenon veut chaque année son poisson," the "fish" being a human victim, and

"Blood-thirsty Dee

Each year needs three,

But bonny Don,

She needs none."

Footnote 637:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 339.

Footnote 638:(return)

Rendes Dindsenchas, RC xv. 315, 457. Other instances of punishment following misuse of a well are given in Sébillot, ii. 192; Rees, 520, 523. An Irish lake no longer healed after a hunter swam his mangy hounds through it (Joyce, PN ii. 90). A similar legend occurs with the Votiaks, one of whose sacred lakes was removed to its present position because a woman washed dirty clothes in it (L'Anthropologie, xv. 107).

Footnote 639:(return)

Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 392.

Footnote 640:(return)

Girald. Cambr. Itin. Hib. ii. 9; Joyce, OCR 97; Kennedy, 281; O'Grady, i. 233; Skene, ii. 59; Campbell, WHT ii. 147. The waters often submerge a town, now seen below the waves—the town of Is in Armorica (Le Braz, i. p. xxxix), or the towers under Lough Neagh. In some Welsh instances a man is the culprit (Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 379). In the case of Lough Neagh the keeper of the well was Liban, who lived on in the waters as a mermaid. Later she was caught and received the baptismal name of Muirghenn, "sea-birth." Here the myth of a water-goddess, said to have been baptized, is attached to the legend of the careless guardian of a spring, with whom she is identified (O'Grady, ii. 184, 265).

Footnote 641:(return)

Roberts, Cambrian Pop. Antiq. 246; Hunt, Popular Romances, 291; New Stat. Account, x. 313.

Footnote 642:(return)

Thorpe, Northern Myth. ii. 78.

Footnote 643:(return)

Joyce, PN ii. 84. Slán occurs in many names of wells. Well-worship is denounced in the canons of the Fourth Council of Arles.

Footnote 644:(return)

Cartailhac, L'Age de Pierre, 74; Bulliot et Thiollier, Mission de S. Martin, 60.

Footnote 645:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 284.

Footnote 646:(return)

Dalyell, 79-80; Sébillot, ii. 282, 374; see p. 266, infra.

Footnote 647:(return)

I have compiled this account of the ritual from notices of the modern usages in various works. See, e.g., Moore, Folk-Lore, v. 212; Mackinley, passim; Hope, Holy Wells; Rh[^y]s, CFL; Sébillot, 175 f.; Dixon, Gairloch, 150 f.

Footnote 648:(return)

Brand, ii. 68; Greg. In Glor. Conf. c. 2.

Footnote 649:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 293, 296; Folk-Lore, iv. 55.

Footnote 650:(return)

Mackinley, 194; Sébillot, ii. 296.

Footnote 651:(return)

Folk-Lore, iii. 67; Athenæum, 1893, 415; Pliny, Ep. viii. 8; Strabo, iv. 287; Diod. Sic. v. 9.

Footnote 652:(return)

Walker, Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. vol. v.; Sébillot, ii. 232. In some early Irish instances a worm swallowed with the waters by a woman causes pregnancy. See p. 352, infra.

Footnote 653:(return)

Sébillot, ii. 235-236.

Footnote 654:(return)

See Le Braz, i. 61; Folk-Lore, v. 214; Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 364; Dalyell, 506-507; Scott, Minstrelsy, Introd. xliii; Martin, 7; Sébillot, ii. 242 f.; RC ii. 486.

Footnote 655:(return)

Jullian, Ep. to Maximin, 16. The practice may have been connected with that noted by Aristotle, of plunging the newly-born into a river, to strengthen it, as he says (Pol. vii. 15. 2), but more probably as a baptismal or purificatory rite. See p. 309, infra.

Footnote 656:(return)

Lefevre, Les Gaulois, 109; Michelet, Origines du droit français, 268.

Footnote 657:(return)

See examples of its use in Post, Grundriss der Ethnol. Jurisprudenz, ii. 459 f.

Footnote 658:(return)

Roberts, Cambrian Popular Antiquities, 246.




The Celts had their own cult of trees, but they adopted local cults—Ligurian, Iberian, and others. The Fagus Deus (the divine beech), the Sex arbor or Sex arbores of Pyrenean inscriptions, and an anonymous god represented by a conifer on an altar at Toulouse, probably point to local Ligurian tree cults continued by the Celts into Roman times.659 Forests were also personified or ruled by a single goddess, like Dea Arduinna of the Ardennes and Dea Abnoba of the Black Forest. But more primitive ideas prevailed, like that which assigned a whole class of tree-divinities to a forest, e.g. the Fatæ Dervones, spirits of the oak-woods of Northern Italy.661 Groups of trees like Sex arbores were venerated, perhaps for their height, isolation, or some other peculiarity.

The Celts made their sacred places in dark groves, the trees being hung with offerings or with the heads of victims. Human sacrifices were hung or impaled on trees, e.g. by the warriors of Boudicca. These, like the offerings still placed by the folk on sacred trees, were attached to them because the trees were the abode of spirits or divinities who in many cases had power over vegetation.

Pliny said of the Celts: "They esteem nothing more sacred {199} than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows. But apart from this they choose oak-woods for their sacred groves, and perform no sacred rite without using oak branches."663 Maximus of Tyre also speaks of the Celtic (? German) image of Zeus as a lofty oak, and an old Irish glossary gives daur, "oak," as an early Irish name for "god," and glosses it by dia, "god." The sacred need-fire may have been obtained by friction from oak-wood, and it is because of the old sacredness of the oak that a piece of its wood is still used as a talisman in Brittany.665 Other Aryan folk besides the Celts regarded the oak as the symbol of a high god, of the sun or the sky,666 but probably this was not its earliest significance. Oak forests were once more extensive over Europe than they are now, and the old tradition that men once lived on acorns has been shown to be well-founded by the witness of archæological finds, e.g. in Northern Italy.667 A people living in an oak region and subsisting in part on acorns might easily take the oak as a representative of the spirit of vegetation or growth. It was long-lived, its foliage was a protection, it supplied food, its wood was used as fuel, and it was thus clearly the friend of man. For these reasons, and because it was the most abiding and living thing men knew, it became the embodiment of the spirits of life and growth. Folk-lore survivals show that the spirit of vegetation in the shape of his representative was annually slain while yet in full vigour, that his life might benefit all things and be passed on undiminished to his successor. Hence the oak or a {200} human being representing the spirit of vegetation, or both together, were burned in the Midsummer fires. How, then, did the oak come to symbolise a god equated with Zeus. Though the equation may be worthless, it is possible that the connection lay in the fact that Zeus and Juppiter had agricultural functions, or that, when the equation was made, the earlier spirit of vegetation had become a divinity with functions resembling those of Zeus. The fires were kindled to recruit the sun's life; they were fed with oak-wood, and in them an oak or a human victim representing the spirit embodied in the oak was burned. Hence it may have been thought that the sun was strengthened by the fire residing in the sacred oak; it was thus "the original storehouse or reservoir of the fire which was from time to time drawn out to feed the sun."669 The oak thus became the symbol of a bright god also connected with growth. But, to judge by folk survivals, the older conception still remained potent, and tree or human victim affected for good all vegetable growth as well as man's life, while at the same time the fire strengthened the sun.