The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 147

Cæsar, vi. 14.

Footnote 1125:(return)

Zimmer, Gloss. Hiber. 271. Other Irish incantations, appealing to the saints, are found in the Codex Regularum at Klosternenburg (RC ii. 112).

Footnote 1126:(return)

Leahy, i. 137; Kennedy, 301.

Footnote 1127:(return)

Sauvé, RC vi. 67 f.; Carmichael, Carm. Gadel., passim; CM xii. 38; Joyce, SH i. 629 f.; Camden, Britannia, iv. 488; Scot, Discovery of Witchcraft, iii. 15.

Footnote 1128:(return)

For examples see O'Curry, MS. Met. 248; D'Arbois, ii. 190; RC xii. 71, xxiv. 279; Stokes, TIG xxxvi. f.

Footnote 1129:(return)

Windisch, Táin, line 3467.

Footnote 1130:(return)

Diod. Sic. v. 31.

Footnote 1131:(return)

D'Arbois, i. 271.

Footnote 1132:(return)

RC xii. 109; Nutt-Meyer, i. 2; D'Arbois, v. 445.

Footnote 1133:(return)

Petrie, Ancient Music of Ireland, i. 73; The Gael, i. 235 (fairy lullaby of MacLeod of MacLeod).

Footnote 1134:(return)

O'Curry, MS. Mat. 255.

Footnote 1135:(return)

Archæologia, xxxix. 509; Proc. Soc. Ant. iii. 92; Gaidoz, Le Dieu Gaul. du Soleil, 60 f.

Footnote 1136:(return)

IT iii. 409; but see Rh[^y]s, HL 215.

Footnote 1137:(return)

Pliny, HN xxix. 3. 54.

Footnote 1138:(return)

Rev. Arch. i. 227, xxxiii. 283.

Footnote 1139:(return)

Hoare, Modern Wiltshire, 56; Camden, Britannia, 815; Hazlitt, 194; Campbell, Witchcraft, 84. In the Highlands spindle-whorls are thought to have been perforated by the adder, which then passes through the hole to rid itself of its old skin.

Footnote 1140:(return)

Pliny, xxxii. 2. 24; Reinach, RC xx. 13 f.

Footnote 1141:(return)

Rev. Arch. i. 227; Greenwell, British Barrows, 165; Elton, 66; Renel, 95f., 194f.

Footnote 1142:(return)

Reinach, BF 286, 289, 362.

Footnote 1143:(return)

O'Curry, MS Mat. 387. See a paper by Hartland, "The Voice of the Stone of Destiny," Folk-lore Journal, xiv. 1903.

Footnote 1144:(return)

Petrie, Trans. Royal Irish Acad. xviii. pt. 2.

Footnote 1145:(return)

O'Curry, MS. Mat. 393 f.

Footnote 1146:(return)

Sébillot, i. 334 f.

Footnote 1147:(return)

Trollope, Brittany, ii. 229; Bérenger-Féraud, Superstitions et Survivances, i. 529 f.; Borlase, Dolmens of Ireland, iii. 580, 689, 841 f.

Footnote 1148:(return)

Rev. des Trad. 1894, 494; Bérenger-Féraud, i. 529, ii. 367; Elworthy, Evil Eye, 70.

Footnote 1149:(return)

Bérenger-Féraud, i. 523; Elworthy, 69, 106; Reinach, L'Anthropologie, iv. 33.

Footnote 1150:(return)

Kennedy, 324; Adamnan, Vita S. Col. ii. 35.

Footnote 1151:(return)

Life of S. Fechin of Fore, RC xii. 333; Life of S. Kieran, O'Grady, ii. 13; Amra Cholumbchille, RC xx. 41; Life of S. Moling, RC xxvii. 293; and other lives passim. See also Plummer, Vitæ Sanctorum Hiberniæ.

Footnote 1152:(return)

Adamnan, ii. 34. This pebble was long preserved, but mysteriously disappeared when the person who sought it was doomed to die.

Footnote 1153:(return)

Wodrow, Analecta, passim; Walker, Six Saints of the Covenant, ed. by Dr. Hay Fleming.




Among all the problems with which man has busied himself, none so appeals to his hopes and fears as that of the future life. Is there a farther shore, and if so, shall we reach it? Few races, if any, have doubted the existence of a future state, but their conceptions of it have differed greatly. But of all the races of antiquity, outside Egypt, the Celts seem to have cherished the most ardent belief in the world beyond the grave, and to have been preoccupied with its joys. Their belief, so far as we know it, was extremely vivid, and its chief characteristic was life in the body after death, in another region. This, coupled with the fact that it was taught as a doctrine by the Druids, made it the admiration of classical onlookers. But besides this belief there was another, derived from the ideas of a distant past, that the dead lived on in the grave—the two conceptions being connected. And there may also have been a certain degree of belief in transmigration. Although the Celts believed that the soul could exist apart from the body, there seems to be no evidence that they believed in a future existence of the soul as a shade. This belief is certainly found in some late Welsh poems, where the ghosts are described as wandering in the Caledonian forest, but these can hardly be made use of as evidence for the old pagan doctrine. The evidence for the latter may be gathered {334} from classical observers, from archæology and from Irish texts.

Cæsar writes: "The Druids in particular wish to impress this on them that souls do not perish, but pass from one to another (ab aliis ... ad alios) after death, and by this chiefly they think to incite men to valour, the fear of death being overlooked." Later he adds, that at funerals all things which had been dear to the dead man, even living creatures, were thrown on the funeral pyre, and shortly before his time slaves and beloved clients were also consumed. Diodorus says: "Among them the doctrine of Pythagoras prevailed that the souls of men were immortal, and after completing their term of existence they live again, the soul passing into another body. Hence at the burial of the dead some threw letters addressed to dead relatives on the funeral pile, believing that the dead would read them in the next world." Valerius Maximus writes: "They would fain make us believe that the souls of men are immortal. I would be tempted to call these breeches-wearing folk fools, if their doctrine were not the same as that of the mantle-clad Pythagoras." He also speaks of money lent which would be repaid in the next world, because men's souls are immortal. These passages are generally taken to mean that the Celts believed simply in transmigration of the Pythagorean type. Possibly all these writers cite one common original, but Cæsar makes no reference to Pythagoras. A comparison with the Pythagorean doctrine shows that the Celtic belief differed materially from it. According to the former, men's souls entered new bodies, even those of animals, in this world, and as an expiation. There is nothing of this in the Celtic doctrine. The new body is not a prison-house of the soul in which it must expiate its former sins, and the soul receives it not in this world but in another. The real point of {335} connection was the insistence of both upon immortality, the Druids teaching that it was bodily immortality. Their doctrine no more taught transmigration than does the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. Roman writers, aware that Pythagoras taught immortality via a series of transmigrations, and that the Druids taught a doctrine of bodily immortality, may have thought that the receiving of a new body meant transmigration. Themselves sceptical of a future life or believing in a traditional gloomy Hades, they were bound to be struck with the vigour of the Celtic doctrine and its effects upon conduct. The only thing like it of which they knew was the Pythagorean doctrine. Looked at in this light, Cæsar's words need not convey the idea of transmigration, and it is possible that he mistranslated some Greek original. Had these writers meant that the Druids taught transmigration, they could hardly have added the passages regarding debts being paid in the other world, or letters conveyed there by the dead, or human sacrifices to benefit the dead there. These also preclude the idea of a mere immortality of the soul. The dead Celt continued to be the person he had been, and it may have been that not a new body, but the old body glorified, was tenanted by his soul beyond the grave. This bodily immortality in a region where life went on as on this earth, but under happier conditions, would then be like the Vedic teaching that the soul, after the burning of the body, went to the heaven of Yama, and there received its body complete and glorified. The two conceptions, Hindu and Celtic, may have sprung from early "Aryan" belief.

This Celtic doctrine appears more clearly from what Lucan says of the Druidic teaching. "From you we learn that the bourne of man's existence is not the silent halls of Erebus, in another world (or region, in orbe alio) the spirit animates the members. Death, if your lore be true, is but the centre of a {336} long life." For this reason, he adds, the Celtic warrior had no fear of death.1158 Thus Lucan conceived the Druidic doctrine to be one of bodily immortality in another region. That region was not a gloomy state; rather it resembled the Egyptian Aalu with its rich and varied existence. Classical writers, of course, may have known of what appears to have been a sporadic Celtic idea, derived from old beliefs, that the soul might take the form of an animal, but this was not the Druidic teaching. Again, if the Gauls, like the Irish, had myths telling of the rebirth of gods or semi-divine beings, these may have been misinterpreted by those writers and regarded as eschatological. But such myths do not concern mortals. Other writers, Timagenes, Strabo, and Mela, speak only of the immortality of the soul, but their testimony is probably not at variance with that of Lucan, since Mela appears to copy Cæsar, and speaks of accounts and debts being passed on to the next world.