The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

Page: 49

Ques. From what is the term Druid derived?

Ans. There exists much difference of opinion on this point. The word has been variously deduced from the Saxon, “dry,” a magician, from the German, “druthin,” a master or lord, from the Celtic, “deru,” an oak, etc. The best informed writers now refer it to the compound Celtic word “derouyd,” from “De,” God, and “rouyd,” speaking. It would, therefore, seem to signify those who speak of or for God.

Ques. Where did Druidism prevail?

Ans. In some parts of Germany, in Gaul, and in ancient Britain and Ireland.

Ques. Where did it originate?

Ans. Various theories have been advanced on this subject. Some refer it to the Siva-worshippers of Hindostan, others to the Magi of Persia; but all agree as to its Eastern origin.

Ques. Who is the earliest writer on this subject?

[258] Ans. Julius Cæsar. His account is considered perfectly reliable, although, to render it more intelligible, he gives to the Celtic gods the names of the Greek and Roman divinities whom they resemble.

Ques. What were the principal characteristics of Druidism?

Ans. The belief in one Supreme Being: in the immortality of the soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments. This last doctrine takes with them, as with the Hindoos, the form of metempsychosis. The religion of the Druids was farther characterized by the use of circular temples, open at the top; the worship of fire as the emblem of the sun, and the celebration of the ancient Tauric festival, (held on the first of May, when the sun enters Taurus.)

Ques. What name did the Druids give to the Supreme Being?

Ans. Esus, or Hesus; although this is sometimes mentioned as the appellation of a subordinate divinity. Superior to the Roman Jupiter, or the Zeus of the Greeks, Esus had no parentage; was subject to no fate; he was free and self-existent, and the creation of the world was his own voluntary act. The Druids taught that excepting this Supreme God, all things had a beginning, but that nothing created would ever have an end. Notwithstanding these enlightened ideas, they reverenced many other divinities. The Assyrian Baal was worshipped among the Celts [259] as Bel or Belen. As he represented the sun, the Romans recognized in him their god Apollo. Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Cæsar, makes the following statement on the authority of an ancient Greek writer.

“Apollo,” he says, “is worshipped with solemn rites by the inhabitants of a large island, which lies off the coast of Gaul, in the Northern Ocean. This island is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, so named because they live beyond the region of the north wind. The god has there a remarkable temple, circular in form, and a magnificent forest is consecrated to him.” It is generally supposed that the temple alluded to by Diodorus, was the Druidical circle of Stonehenge, of which we shall speak later.

Ques. Who was Teu´tates?

Ans. This name is thought to be derived from “Tut-tat,” signifying “parent of men.” This god was much honored by the Gauls, who attributed to him the invention of letters and poetry. According to the Triads, (Druidical verses,) he “wrote upon stone the arts and the sciences of the world.” In his more beneficent character, the name Gwyon was often given to this divinity. He resembles, both in name and attributes, Thoth, the Mercury of Egypt and Phœnicia. The ancient Gauls had no idols, nor did they ever attempt any visible representation of their deities. When the Romans established their own worship in the country, they endeavored, according to [260] their usual policy, to conciliate the conquered tribes by adopting their gods, and placing their images in the temples which they built. We read that Zenodorus, a famous sculptor, said by some to have been a native of Gaul, executed a statue of Teu´tates which cost forty million sestertia. He spent six years upon this great work.

Camul, the Celtic Mars, Tarann, the god of thunder, and many other divinities of inferior rank, were worshipped in Gaul and Germany.

Ques. How was the Druid priesthood divided?

Ans. Into three orders; the priests, the bards, and the Druids, properly so called.

Ques. What were the duties of the priests?

Ans. They studied the hidden laws of nature and the mysteries of earth and heaven. They offered public and private sacrifices, and obtained a knowledge of the future from the entrails and the blood of victims, or from the flight of birds. They also cured maladies with certain mysterious charms. The bards held a still higher rank: they preserved in their verses the mystic learning of the priests, the traditions of their race, and the great actions of their heroes. No sacrifice was duly offered without their sacred chant; they encouraged the warrior going to the field of combat, and received him on his return with notes of triumph. To live in heroic song was the aspiration of every Celtic warrior, and to the coward or traitor, there was no penalty so terrible as the denunciation of the sacred bards. Music was the [261] only gentle art known to the rude tribes of Gaul and Britain, and they were, perhaps for this reason, the more susceptible to its influence. The character of these minstrels was peculiarly sacred in their eyes, on account of the gifts of prophecy and second sight which they were believed to possess in moments of inspiration.

The verses of the bards were never committed to writing, and a long and painful course of oral instruction was necessary before a candidate could be admitted to take his place in this influential class. According to Cæsar, twenty years was the ordinary novitiate required.

The bards of Gaul seem to have passed away with the religious system to which they belonged; but in the British islands, they continued, although divested of their sacred character, to be a highly esteemed and privileged class. We may judge of their influence in keeping alive the patriotic spirit of the people, from the fact that Edward I. ordered their extermination as the surest means of extinguishing the feeling of nationality among the Welsh tribes. In Ireland and Scotland, the bards gradually passed away with the decline of the feudal system, and the power of the native princes and chieftains whose glory they sung.

Ques. Who were the Druids, properly so called?

Ans. They were priests of the highest order, who remained secluded in caves and grottoes, or in the depths of oak forests, where they were [262] supposed to study the deeper mysteries of nature and religion, and to consult more directly the secret will of the divinity. They were also the teachers of youth.

The Druids must have possessed some knowledge of the motions of the heavenly bodies, since they counted the year by lunations; astronomical instruments have also been found among the druidical remains in Ireland, which prove that they had made a certain progress in this science. Like the Persians, they mingled astrology and divination with their observations of the celestial bodies. The healing art was also practised by the Druids. The effect of their remedies was not, however, attributed to any natural cause, but rather to a mysterious virtue residing in certain plants, and rendered efficacious by the magic rites with which they were gathered.

The mistletoe, when found growing on the oak, was esteemed particularly sacred; it was an antidote against poison, a remedy in all diseases, and a preservative against the machinations of evil spirits. To possess the proper efficacy, it should be gathered in February or March, on the sixth day of the moon. As soon as the mistletoe was found growing on the no less sacred oak, the Druids assembled; a banquet and a sacrifice were prepared, after which a priest in white vestments cut the plant with a golden sickle while two others received it reverently into a white mantle spread beneath. Two milk-white heifers were [263] instantly offered in sacrifice, and the rest of the day was spent in rejoicing. In like manner, the samolus, or marsh-wort, possessed no virtue unless it were sought fasting, and gathered with the left hand, without looking at it. They plucked the helago, or hedge hyssop, barefooted, and without a knife, after ablutions, and offerings of bread and wine. The vervain and other plants had also their distinct ceremonial.