The following excerpts are from a book published in 1911 by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, better known as Evans-Wentz, a noted author and archeologist. It portrays a fascinating history of the belief in Fairies in Celtic countries. My particular interest is the The Tuatha Dé Danann, so I have selected text portions that relate to them.
I have avoided the temptation to comment on this material. If it seems odd to quote from a text almost 100 years old, consider this from the book’s description:
“Dr. Evans-Wentz presents an accurate record of ancestral Celtic devotion about the apparent reality of leprechauns, pixies, elves, fairies and other nature spirits. Not only is this a formal and scholarly study but an educated report of how beliefs became the standards of ancient Pagan magic. We come away with the conclusion that fairies and other such manifestations may be the inhabitants of a more advanced existence that only a few of us can understand. This account combines medieval myths, traditional fairy knowledge, and early Paganism with folk-lore, history, anthropology and psychology to become a narrative which appears too consistent to be the result of an insane distraction. This magnificent book is a very readable collection of anecdotes, interviews, and legends made available to Evans-Wentz who has fashioned them into an essential reference for generations to come.”
Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz (Feb. 2, 1878 – July 17, 1965) was an anthropologist and writer who was also a pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in Trenton, N.J., receiving both his B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University, where he studied with William James and William Butler Yeats. He then studied Celtic mythology and folklore at Jesus College, Oxford in 1907; there he adopted the form Evans-Wentz for his name. He traveled extensively, spending time in Mexico, Europe, and the Far East. He spent the years of the First World War in Egypt. He later traveled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and India, reaching Darjeeling in 1919; there he studied Tibetan religious texts firsthand.
Evans-Wentz is best known for four texts translated from the Tibetan, especially The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Evans-Wentz credited himself only as the compiler and editor of these volumes, but the actual translation of the texts was performed by Tibetan Buddhists, primarily Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (1868–1922), a teacher of English at the Maharaja's Boy's School in Gangtok; and Sikkim who had also done translations for Alexandra David-Neel and Sir John Woodroffe.
Evans-Wentz was a practitioner of the religions he studied. He became Dawa-Samdup's "disciple" (Evan-Wentz's term), wore robes and ate a simple vegetarian diet. He met Ramana Maharshi in 1935, and meant to settle permanently in India, but returned to the U.S. when World War II compelled him to do so. He passed his final twenty-three years in San Diego, and provided financial support to the Maha Bodhi Society, Self-Realization Fellowship, and the Theosophical Society. His Tibetan Book of the Dead was read at his funeral.
The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University has hosted The Evans-Wentz Lectureship in Asian Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics since 1969, funded by a bequest from Evans-Wentz.
Interestingly, Evans-Wentz is often incorrectly identified as being English. The confusion stems from the fact that he also attended Oxford, England, as a Rhodes scholar. He was a very articulate and erudite man – well versed in the Western Classics, and a variety of Western mystery traditions – and in his footnotes, he made frequent cross references underscoring that breadth of knowledge.
As noted, he also wrote the seminal book, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. That text is probably the single most recognizable Tibetan title to Western readers, this text (elaborated in the 14th century) discusses the process of death and rebirth as understood by Tibetan Buddhists.
"Dr. Evans-Wentz, who literally sat at the feet of a Tibetan lama for years in order to acquire his wisdom...not only displays a deeply sympathetic interest in those esoteric doctrines so characteristic of the genius of the East, but likewise possesses the rare faculty of making them more or less intelligible to the layman." – Anthropology Digest
So, sit back and let the magick of the fey speak to you. Thanks, Evans-Wentz!
The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries
By W. Y. Evans-Wentz
For when the Sons of Mil, the ancestors of the Irish people, came to Ireland they found the Tuatha De Danann in full possession of the country. The Tuatha De Danann then retired before the invaders, without, however, giving up their sacred Island. Assuming invisibility, with the power of at any time reappearing in a human-like form before the children of the Sons of Mil, the People of the Goddess Dana became and are the Fairy-Folk, the Sidhe of Irish mythology and romance.
Therefore it is that to-day Ireland contains two races – a race visible which we call Celts, and a race invisible which we call Fairies. Between these two races there is constant intercourse even now; for Irish seers say that they can behold the majestic, beautiful Sidhe, and according to them the Sidhe are a race quite distinct from our own, just as living and possibly more powerful. These Sidhe (who are the 'gentry' of the Ben Bulbin country and have kindred elsewhere in Ireland, Scotland, and probably in most other countries as well, such as the invisible races of the Yosemite Valley) have been described more or less accurately by our peasant seer-witnesses from County Sligo and from North and East Ireland. But there are other and probably more reliable seers in Ireland, men of greater education and greater psychical experience, who know and describe the Sidhe races as they really are, and who even sketch their likenesses. And to such seer Celts as these, Death is a passport to the world of the Sidhe, a world where there is eternal youth and never-ending joy, as we shall learn when we study it as the Celtic Otherworld.
The recorded mythology and literature of ancient Ireland have, very faithfully for the most part, preserved to us clear pictures of the Tuatha De Danann; so that disregarding some Christian influence in the texts of certain manuscripts, much rationalization, and a good deal of poetical colouring and romantic imagination in the pictures, we can easily describe the People of the Goddess Dana as they appeared in pagan days, when they were more frequently seen by mortals than now. Perhaps the Irish folk of the olden times were even more clairvoyant and spiritual-minded than the Irish folk of to-day. So by drawing upon these written records let us try to understand what sort of beings the Sidhe were and are.
Nature of the Sidhe
In the Book of Leinster the poem of Eochaid records that the Tuatha De Danann, the conquerors of the Fir-Bolgs, were hosts of siabra; and siabra is an Old Irish word meaning fairies, sprites, or ghosts. The word fairies is appropriate if restricted to mean fairies like the modern 'gentry'; but the word ghosts is inappropriate, because our evidence shows that the only relation the Sidhe or real Fairies hold to ghosts is a superficial one, the Sidhe and ghosts being alike only in respect to invisibility. In the two chief Irish MSS., the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster, the Tuatha De Danann are described as 'gods and not-gods'; and Sir John Rhys considers this an ancient formula comparable with the Sanskrit deva and adeva, but not with 'poets (dée) and husbandmen (an dée)' as the author of Cóir Anmann learnedly guessed. It is also said, in the Book of the Dun Cow, that wise men do not know the origin of the Tuatha De Danann, but that it seems likely to them that they came from heaven, on account of their intelligence and for the excellence of their knowledge' The hold of the Tuatha De Danann on the Irish mind and spirit was so strong that even Christian transcribers of texts could not deny their existence as a non-human race of intelligent beings inhabiting Ireland, even though they frequently misrepresented them by placing them on the level of evil demons, as the ending of the story of the Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn illustrates: 'So that this was a vision to Cuchulainn of being stricken by the people of the Sid: for the demoniac power was great before the faith; and such was its greatness that the demons used to fight bodily against mortals, and they used to show them delights and secrets of how they would be in immortality. It was thus they used to be believed in. So it is to such phantoms the ignorant apply the names of Side and Aes Side.' A passage in the Silva Gadelica not only tends to confirm this last statement, but it also shows that the Irish people made a clear distinction between the god-race and our own:--In The Colloquy with the Ancients, as St. Patrick and Caeilte are talking with one another, 'a lone woman robed in mantle of green, a smock of soft silk being next her skin, and on her forehead a glittering plate of yellow gold,' came to them; and when Patrick asked from whence she came, she replied: 'Out of uaimh Chruachna, or "the cave of Cruachan".' Caeilte then asked: 'Woman, my soul, who art thou?' 'I am Scothniamh or "Flower-lustre", daughter of the Daghda's son Bodhb derg.' Caeilte proceeded: 'And what started thee hither?' 'To require of thee my marriage-gift, because once upon a time thou promisedst me such.' And as they parleyed Patrick broke in with: 'It is a wonder to us how we see you two: the girl young and invested with all comeliness; but thou Caeilte, a withered ancient, bent in the back and dingily grown grey.' 'Which is no wonder at all,' said Caeilte, 'for no people of one generation or of one time are we: she is of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are unfading and whose duration is perennial I am of the sons of Milesius, that are perishable and fade away.' The exact distinction is between Caeilte, a withered old ancient--in most ways to be regarded as a ghost called up that Patrick may question him about the past history of Ireland--and a fairy-woman who is one of the Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann.
In two of the more ancient Irish texts, the Echtra Nerai or 'Expedition of Nera', a preliminary tale in the introduction to the Táin bó Cuailnge or 'Theft of the Cattle of Cuailnge'; and a passage from the Togail Bruidne dâ Derga, or 'Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel', there seems no reasonable doubt whatever about the Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe being a race like what we call spirits. The first text describes how Ailill and Medb in their palace of Cruachan celebrated the feast of Samain (November Eve, a feast of the dead even in pre-Christian times). Two culprits had been executed on the day before, and their bodies, according to the ancient Irish custom, were left hanging from a tree until the night of Samain should have passed; for on that night it was dangerous to touch the bodies of the dead while demons and the people of the Sidhe were at large throughout all Ireland, and mortals found near dead bodies at such a time were in great danger of being taken by these spirit hosts of the Tuatha De Danann. And so on this very night, when thick darkness had settled down, Ailill desired to test the courage of his warriors, and offered his own gold-hilted sword to any young man who would go out and tie a coil of twisted twigs around the leg of one of the bodies suspended from the tree. After many had made the attempt and failed, because unable to brave the legions of demons and fairies, Nera alone succeeded; but his success cost him dear, for he finally fell under the power both of the dead man, round whose legs he had tied the coil, and of an elfin host: with the dead man's body on his back, Nera was obliged to go to a strange house that the thirst of the dead man might be assuaged therein; and the dead man in drinking scattered 'the last sip from his lips at the faces of the people that were in the house, so that they all died'. Nera carried back the body; and on returning to Cruachan he saw the fairy hosts going into the cave, 'for the fairy-mounds of Erinn are always opened about Halloween.' Nera followed after them until he came to their king in a palace of the Tuatha De Danann, seemingly in the cavern or elsewhere underground; where he remained and was married to one of the fairy women. She it was who revealed to Nera the secret hiding-place, in a mysterious well, of the king's golden crown, and then betrayed her whole people by reporting to Nera the plan they had for attacking Ailill's court on the Halloween to come. Moreover, Nera was permitted by his fairy wife to depart from the síd; and he in taking leave of her asked: 'How will it be believed of me that I have gone into the síd?' 'Take fruits of summer with thee,' said the woman. 'Then he took wild garlic with him and primrose and golden fern.' And on the following November Eve when the síd of Cruachan was again open, 'the men of Connaught and the black hosts of exile' under Ailill and Medb plundered it, taking away from it the crown of Briun out of the well. But 'Nera was left with his people in the síd, and has not come out until now, nor will he come till Doom.'
All of this matter is definitely enough in line with the living Fairy-Faith: there is the same belief expressed as now about November Eve being the time of all times when ghosts, demons, spirits, and fairies are free, and when fairies take mortals and marry them to fairy women; also the beliefs that fairies are living in secret places in hills, in caverns, or under ground--palaces full of treasure and open only on November Eve. In so far as the real fairies, the Sidhe, are concerned, they appear as the rulers of the Feast of the Dead or Samain, as the controllers of all spirits who are then at large; and, allowing for some poetical imagination and much social psychology and anthropomorphism, elements as common in this as in most literary descriptions concerning the Tuatha De Danann, they are faithfully enough presented.
The second text describes how King Conaire, in riding along a road toward Tara, saw in front of him three strange horsemen, three men of the Sidhe 'Three red frocks had they, and three red mantles: three red steeds they bestrode, and three red heads of hair were on them. Red were they all, both body and hair and raiment, both steeds and men.' 'Who is it that fares before us?' asked Conaire. 'It was a taboo of mine for those Three to go before me – the three Reds to the house of Red. Who will follow them and tell them to come towards me in my track?' 'I will follow them,' says Lé fri flaith, Conaire's son. 'He goes after them, lashing his horse, and overtook them not. There was the length of a spearcast between them: but they did not gain upon him and he did not gain upon them.' All attempts to come up with the red horsemen failed. But at last, before they disappeared, one of the Three said to the king's son riding so furiously behind them, 'Lo, my son, great the news. Weary are the steeds we ride. We ride the steeds of Donn Tetscorach (?) from the elfmounds. Though we are alive we are dead. Great are the signs: destruction of life: sating of ravens: feeding of crows, strife of slaughter: wetting of sword-edge, shields with broken bosses in hours after sundown. Lo, my son!' Then they disappear. When Conaire and his followers heard the message, fear fell upon them, and the king said: 'All my taboos have seized me to-night, since those Three [Reds] [are the] banished folks (?).' In this passage we behold three horsemen of the Sidhe banished from their elfmound because guilty of falsehood. Visible for a time, they precede the king and so violate one of his taboos; and then delivering their fearful prophecy they vanish. These three of the Tuatha De Danann, majestic and powerful and weird in their mystic red, are like the warriors of the 'gentry' seen by contemporary seers in West Ireland. Though dead, that is in an invisible world like the dead, yet they are living. It seems that in all three of the textual examples already cited, the scribe has emphasized a different element in the unique nature of the Tuatha De Danann. In the Colloquy it is their eternal youth and beauty, in the Echtra Nerai it is their supremacy over ghosts and demons on Samain and their power to steal mortals away at such a time, and in this last their respect for honesty. And in each case their portrayal corresponds to that of the 'gentry' and Sidhe by modern Irishmen; so that the old Fairy-Faith and the new combine to prove the People of the God whose mother was Dana to have been and to be a race of beings who are like mortals, but not mortals, who to the objective world are as though dead, yet to the subjective world are fully living and conscious.
O'Curry says: 'The term (sídh, pron. shee), as far as we know it, is always applied in old writings to the palaces, courts, halls, or residences of those beings which in ancient Gaedhelic mythology held the place which ghosts, phantoms, and fairies hold in the superstitions of the present day.' In modern Irish tradition, 'the People of the Sidhe,' or simply the Sidhe, refer to the beings themselves rather than to their places of habitation. Partly perhaps on account of this popular opinion that the Sidhe are a subterranean race, they are sometimes described as gods of the earth or dei terreni, as in the Book of Armagh; and since it was believed that they, like the modern fairies, control the ripening of crops and the milk-giving of cows, the ancient Irish rendered to them regular worship and sacrifice, just as the Irish of to-day do by setting out food at night for the fairy-folk to eat.
Thus after their conquest, these Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann in retaliation, and perhaps to show their power as agricultural gods, destroyed the wheat and milk of their conquerors, the Sons of Mil, as fairies to-day can do; and the Sons of Mil were constrained to make a treaty with their supreme king, Dagda, who, in Cóir Anmann (§ 150), is himself called an earth-god. Then when the treaty was made the Sons of Mil were once more able to gather wheat in their fields and to drink the milk of their cows; and we can suppose that ever since that time their descendants, who are the people of Ireland, remembering that treaty, have continued to reverence the People of the Goddess Dana by pouring libations of milk to them and by making them offerings of the fruits of the earth.
The Palaces of the Sidhe
The marvellous palaces to which the Tuatha De Danann retired when conquered by the race of Mil were hidden in the depths of the earth, in hills, or under ridges more or less elevated. At the time of their conquest, Dagda their high king made a distribution of all such palaces in his kingdom. He gave one síd to Lug, son of Ethne, another to Ogme; and for himself retained two – one called Brug na Boinne, or Castle of the Boyne, because it was situated on or near the River Boyne near Tara, and the other called Síd or Brug Maic ind Oc, which means Enchanted Palace or Castle of the Son of the Young. And this Mac ind Oc was Dagda's own son by the queen Boann, according to some accounts, so that as the name (Son of the Young) signifies, Dagda and Boann, both immortals, both Tuatha De Danann, were necessarily always young, never knowing the touch of disease, or decay, or old age. Not until Christianity gained its psychic triumph at Tara, through the magic of Patrick prevailing against the magic of the Druids – who seem to have stood at that time as mediators between the People of the Goddess Dana and the pagan Irish – did the Tuatha De Danann lose their immortal youthfulness in the eyes of mortals and become subject to death. In the most ancient manuscripts of Ireland the pre-Christian doctrine of the immortality of the divine race 'persisted intact and without restraint'; but in the Senchus na relec or 'History of the Cemeteries', from the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, and in the Lebar gabala or 'Book of the Conquests', from the Book of Leinster, it was completely changed by the Christian scribes.
When Dagda thus distributed the underground palaces, Mac ind Oc, or as he was otherwise called Oengus, was absent and hence forgotten. So when he returned, naturally he complained to his father, and the Brug na Boinne, the king's own residence, was ceded to him for a night and a day, but Oengus maintained that it was for ever. This palace was a most marvellous one: it contained three trees which always bore fruit, a vessel full of excellent drink, and two pigs – one alive and the other nicely cooked ready to eat at any time; and in this palace no one ever died.
In the Colloquy, Caeilte tells of a mountain containing a fairy palace which no man save Finn and six companions, Caeilte being one of these, ever entered. The Fenians, while hunting, were led thither by a fairy woman who had changed her shape to that of a fawn in order to allure them; and the night being wild and snowy they were glad to take shelter therein. Beautiful damsels and their lovers were the inhabitants of the palace; in it there was music and abundance of food and drink; and on its floor stood a chair of crystal. In another fairy palace, the enchanted cave of Keshcorran, Conaran, son of Imidel, a chief of the Tuatha De Danann, had sway; 'and so soon as he perceived that the hounds' cry now sounded deviously, he bade his three daughters (that were full of sorcery) to go and take vengeance on Finn for his hunting ' – just as nowadays the 'good people' take vengeance on one of our race if a fairy domain is violated. Frequently the fairy palace is under a lake, as in the christianized story of the Disappearance of Caenchomrac: Once when 'the cleric chanted his psalms, he saw [come] towards him a tall man that emerged out of the loch: from the bottom of 'the water that is to say.' This tall man informed the cleric that he came from an underwater monastery, and explained 'that there should be subaqueous inhabiting by men is with God no harder than that they should dwell in any other place'. In all these ancient literary accounts of the Sidhe-palaces we easily recognize the same sort of palaces as those described to-day by Gaelic peasants as the habitations of the' gentry', or 'good people', or 'people of peace.' Such habitations are in mountain caverns like those of Ben Bulbin or Knock Ma, or in fairy hills or knolls like the Fairy-Hill at Aberfoyle on which Robert Kirk is believed to have been taken, or beneath lakes. This brings us directly to the way in which the Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann of the olden times took fine-looking young men and maidens.
How the Sidhe ‘Took’ Mortals
Perhaps one of the earliest and most famous literary accounts of such a taking is that concerning Aedh, son of Eochaid Lethderg son of 'the King of Leinster, who is represented as contemporary with Patrick. While Aedh was enjoying a game of hurley with his boy companions near the sídh of Liamhain Softsmock, two of the sídh-women, who loved the young prince, very suddenly appeared, and as suddenly took him away with them into a fairy palace and kept him there three years. It happened, however, that he escaped at the end of that time, and, knowing the magical powers of Patrick, went to where the holy man was, and thus explained himself: 'Against the youths my opponents I (i. e. my side) took seven goals; but at the last one that I took, here come up to me two women clad in green mantles: two daughters of Bodhb derg mac an Daghda, and their names Slad and Mumain. Either of them took me by a hand, and they led me off to a garish brugh; whereby for now three years my people mourn after me, the sídh-folk caring for me ever since, and until last night I got a chance opening to escape from the brugh, when to the number of fifty lads we emerged out of the sídh and forth upon the green. Then it was that I considered the magnitude of that strait in which they of the sídh had had me, and away from the brugh I came running to seek thee, holy Patrick.' 'That,' said the saint, 'shall be to thee a safeguard, so that neither their power nor their dominion shall any more prevail against thee.' And so when Patrick had thus made Aedh proof against the power of the fairy-folk, he kept him with him under the disguise of a travelling minstrel until, arriving in Leinster, he restored him to his father the king and to his inheritance: Aedh enters the palace in his minstrel disguise; and in the presence of the royal assembly Patrick commands him: 'Doff now once for all thy dark capacious hood, and well mayest thou wear thy father's spear!' When the lad removed his hood, and none there but recognized him, great was the surprise. He seemed like one come back from the dead, for long had his heirless father and people mourned for him. 'By our word,' exclaimed the assembly in their joyous excitement, 'it is a good cleric's gift!' And the king said: 'Holy Patrick, seeing that till this day thou hast nourished him and nurtured, let not the Tuatha De Danann's power any more prevail against the lad.' And Patrick answered: 'That death which the King of Heaven and Earth hath ordained is the one that he will have.' This ancient legend shows clearly that the Tuatha De Danann, or Sidhe, in the time when the scribe wrote the Colloquy were thought of in the same way as now, as able to take beautiful mortals whom they loved, and able to confer upon them fairy immortality which prevented 'that death which the King of Heaven and Earth hath ordained.’
Mortals, did they will it, could live in the world of the Sidhe for ever, and we shall see this more fully in our study of the Otherworld. But here it will be interesting to learn that, unlike Aedh, whom some perhaps would call a foolish youth, Laeghaire, also a prince, for he was the son of the king of Connaught, entered a dun of the Sidhe, taking fifty other warriors with him; and he and his followers found life in Fairyland so pleasant that they all decided to enjoy it eternally. Accordingly, when they had been there a year, they planned to return to Connaught in order to bid the king and his people a final farewell. They announced their plan, and Fiachna of the Sidhe told them how to accomplish it safely: 'If ye would come back take with you horses, but by no means dismount from off them'; 'So it was done: they went their way and came upon a general assembly in which Connaught, as at the year expired, mourned for the aforesaid warrior-band, whom now all at once they perceived above them (i. e. on higher ground). Connaught sprang to meet them, but Laeghaire cried: "Approach us not [to touch us]: 'tis to bid you farewell that we are here!" "Leave me not!" Crimthann, his father, said: "Connaught's royal power be thine; their silver and their gold, their horses with their bridles, and their noble women be at thy discretion, only leave me not!" But Laeghaire turned from them and so entered again into the sídh, where with Fiachna he exercises joint kingly rule; nor is he as yet come out of it.'
Visions of Sidhe Women
There are many recorded traditions which represent certain hills as mystical places whereon men are favoured with visions of fairy women. Thus, one day King Muirchertach came forth to hunt on the border of the Brugh (near Stackallan Bridge, County Meath), and his companions left him alone on his hunting-mound. 'He had not been there long when he saw a solitary damsel beautifully formed, fair-haired, bright-skinned, with a green mantle about her sitting near him on the turfen mound; and it seemed to him that of womankind he had never beheld her equal in beauty and refinement.' In the Mabinogion of Pwyll, Prince of Dyvet, which seems to be only a Brythonic treatment of an original Gaelic tale, Pwyll seating himself on a mound where any mortal sitting might see a prodigy, saw a fairy woman ride past on a white horse, and she clad in a garment of shining gold. Though he tried to have his servitor on the swiftest horse capture her, 'There was some magic about the lady that kept her always the same distance ahead, though she appeared to be riding slowly.' When on the second day Pwyll returned to the mound the fairy woman came riding by as before, and the servitor again gave unsuccessful chase. Pwyll saw her in the same manner on the third day. He thereupon gave chase himself, and when he exclaimed to her, 'For the sake of the man whom you love, wait for me!' she stopped; and by mutual arrangement the two agreed to meet and to marry at the end of a year.
Minstrels or Musicians of the Sidhe
Not only did the fairy-folk of more ancient tunes enjoy wonderful palaces full of beauty and riches, and a life of eternal youth, but they also had, even as now, minstrelsy and rare music – music to which that of our own world could not be compared at all; for even Patrick himself said that it would equal the very music of heaven if it were not for 'a twang of the fairy spell that infests it'. And this is how it was that Patrick heard the fairy music: As he was travelling through Ireland he once sat down on a grassy knoll, as he often did in the good old Irish way, with Ulidia's king and nobles and Caeilte also: 'Nor were they long there before they saw draw near them a scológ or "non-warrior" that wore a fair green mantle having in it a fibula of silver; a shirt of yellow silk next his skin, over and outside that again a tunic of soft satin, and with a timpán (a sort of harp) of the best slung on his back. "Whence comest thou, scológ?" asked the king. "Out of the sídh of the Daghda's son Bodhb Derg, out of Ireland's southern part." "What moved thee out of the south, and who art thou thyself?" "I am Cascorach, son of Cainchinn that is ollave to the Tuatha De Danann, and am myself the makings of an ollave (i.e. an aspirant to the grade). What started me was the design to acquire knowledge, and information, and lore for recital, and the Fianna's mighty deeds of valour, from Caeilte son of Ronan." Then he took his timpán and made for them music and minstrelsy, so that he sent them slumbering off to sleep.' And Cascorach's music was pleasing to Patrick, who said of it: 'Good indeed it were, but for a twang of the fairy spell that infests it; barring which nothing could more nearly than it resemble Heaven's harmony.' And that very night which followed the day on which the ollave to the Tuatha De Danann came to them was the Eve of Samain. There was also another of these fairy timpán-players called 'the wondrous elfin man', 'Aillén mac Midhna of the Tuatha De Danann, that out of sídh Finnachaidh to the northward used to come to Tara: the manner of his coming being with a musical timpán in his hand, the which whenever any heard he would at once sleep. Then, all being lulled thus, out of his mouth Aillén would emit a blast of fire. It was on the solemn Samain-Day (November Day) he came in every year, played his timpán, and to the fairy music that he made all hands would fall asleep. With his breath he used to blow up the flame and so, during a three-and-twenty years' spell, yearly burnt up Tara with all her gear.' And it is said that Finn, finally overcoming the magic of Aillén, slew him.
Perhaps in the first musician, Cascorach, though he is described as the son of a Tuatha De Danann minstrel, we behold a mortal like one of the many Irish pipers and musicians who used to go, or even go yet, to the fairy-folk to be educated in the musical profession, and then come back as the most marvellous players that ever were in Ireland; though if Cascorach were once a mortal it seems that he has been quite transformed in bodily nature so as to be really one of the Tuatha De Danann himself. But Allen mac Midhna is undoubtedly one of the mighty 'gentry' who could--as we heard from County Sligo – destroy half the human race if they wished. Aillén visits Tara, the old psychic centre both for Ireland's high-kings and its Druids. He comes as it were against the conquerors of his race, who in their neglectfulness no longer render due worship and sacrifice on the Feast of Samain to the Tuatha De Danann, the gods of 'the dead, at that time supreme; and then it is that he works his magic against the royal palaces of the kings and Druids on the ancient Hill. And to overcome the magic of Aillén and slay him, that is, make it impossible for him to repeat his annual visits to Tara, it required the might of the great hero Finn, who himself was related to the same Sidhe race, for by a woman of the Tuatha De Danann he had his famous son Ossian (Oisin).
In Gilla dé, who is Manannan mac Lir, the greatest magician of the Tuatha De Danann, disguised as a being who can disappear in the twinkling of an eye whenever he wishes, and reappear unexpectedly as a 'kern that wore garb of yellow stripes', we meet with another fairy musician. And to him O'Donnell says: 'By Heaven's grace again, since first I heard the fame of them that within the hills and under the earth beneath us make the fairy music,. . . music sweeter than thy strains I have never heard; thou art in sooth a most melodious rogue!' And again it is said of him: 'Then the gilla decair taking a harp played music so sweet. . . and the king after a momentary glance at his own musicians never knew which way he went from him.’
Social Organization and Warfare Among the Sidhe
So far, we have seen only the happy side of the life of the Sidhe-folk--their palaces and pleasures and music; but there was a more human (or anthropomorphic) side to their nature in which they wage war on one another, and have their matrimonial troubles even as we moderns. And we turn now to examine this other side of their life, to behold the Sidhe as a warlike race; and as we do so let us remember that the 'gentry' in the Ben Bulbin country and in all Ireland, and the people of Finvara in Knock Ma, and also the invisible races of California, are likewise described as given to war and mighty feats of arms.
The invisible Irish races have always had a very distinct social organization, so distinct in fact that Ireland can be divided according to its fairy kings and fairy queens and their territories even now; and no doubt we see in this how the ancient Irish anthropomorphically projected into an animistic belief their own social conditions and racial characteristics. And this social organization and territorial division ought to be understood before we discuss the social troubles and consequent wars of the Sidhe-folk. For example in Munster Bodb was king and his enchanted palace was called the Síd of the Men of Femen; and we already know about the over-king Dagda and his Boyne palace near Tara. In more modern times, especially in popular fairy-traditions, Eevil or Eevinn (Aoibhill or Aolbhinn) of the Craig Liath or Grey Rock is a queen of the Munster fairies; and Finvara is king of the Connaught fairies. There are also the Irish fairy-queens Cleeona (Cliodhna, or in an earlier form Clidna and Aine.
We are now prepared to see the Tuatha De Danann in their domestic troubles and wars; and the following story is as interesting as any, for in it Dagda himself is the chief actor. Once when his own son Oengus fell sick of a love malady, King Dagda, who ruled all the Sidhe-folk in Ireland, joined forces with Ailill and Medb in order to compel Ethal Anbual to deliver up his beautiful daughter Caer whom Oengus loved. When Ethal Anbual's palace had been stormed and Ethal Anbual reduced to submission, he declared he had no power over his daughter Caer, for on the first of November each year, he said, she changed to a swan, or from a swan to a maiden again. 'The first of November next,' he added, 'my daughter will be under the form of a swan, near the Loch bel Draccon. Marvellous birds will be seen there: my daughter will be surrounded by a hundred and fifty other swans.' When the November Day arrived, Oengus went to the lake, and, seeing the swans and recognizing Caer, plunged into the water and instantly became a swan with her. While under the form of swans, Oengus and Caer went together to the Boyne palace of the king Dagda, his father, and remained there; and their singing was so sweet that all who heard it slept three days and three nights. In this story, new elements in the nature of the Sidhe appear, though like modern ones: the Sidhe are able to assume other forms than their own, are subject to enchantments like mortals; and when under the form of swans are in some perhaps superficial aspects like the swan-maidens in stories which are world-wide, and their swan-song has the same sweetness and magical effect as in other countries.
In the Rennes Dinnshenchas there is a tale about a war among the 'men of the Elfmounds' over 'two lovable maidens who dwelt in the elfmound', and when they delivered the battle 'they all shaped themselves into the shapes of deer.' Midir's Sons under Donn mac Midir, in rebellion against the Daghda's son Bodh Derg, fled away to an obscure sídh, where in yearly battle they met the hosts of the other Tuatha De Danann under Bodh Derg; and it was into this sídh or fairy palace on the very eve before the annual contest that Finn and his six companions were enticed by the fairy woman in the form of a fawn, to secure their aid. And in another tale, Laeghaire, son of the king of Connaught, with fifty warriors, plunged into a lake to the fairy world beneath it, in order to assist the fairy man, who came thence to them, to recover his wife stolen by a rival.
The Sidhe as War Goddesses or Badb
It is in the form of birds that certain of the Tuatha De Danann appear as war-goddesses and directors of battle – and we learn from one of our witnesses that the 'gentry' or modern Sidhe-folk take sides even now in a great war, like that between Japan and Russia. It is in their relation to the hero Cuchulainn that one can best study the People of the Goddess Dana in their role as controllers of human war. In the greatest of the Irish epics, the Tam Bó Cuailnge, where Cuchulainn is under their influence, these war-goddesses are called Badb (or Bodb) which here seems to be a collective term for Neman, Macha, and Morrigu (or Morrigan) – each of whom exercises a particular supernatural power. Neman appears as the confounder of armies, so that friendly bands, bereft of their senses by her, slaughter one another; Macha is a fury that riots and revels among the slain; while Morrigu, the greatest of the three, by her presence infuses superhuman valour into Cuchulainn, nerves him for the cast, and guides the course of his unerring spear. And the Tuatha De Danann in infusing this valour into the great hero show themselves – as we already know them to be on Samain Eve – the rulers of all sorts of demons of the air and awful spirits: In the Book of Leinster it is recorded that 'the satyrs, and sprites, and maniacs of the valleys, and demons of the air, shouted about him, for the Tuatha De Danann were wont to impart their valour to him, in order that he might be more feared, more dreaded, more terrible, in every battle and battle-field, in every combat and conflict, into which he went.'
The Battles of Moytura seem in most ways to be nothing more than the traditional record of a long warfare to determine the future spiritual control of Ireland, carried on between two diametrically opposed orders of invisible beings, the Tuatha De Danann representing the gods of light and good and the Fomorians representing the gods of darkness and evil. It is said that after the second of these battles 'The Morrigu, daughter of Ermnas (the Irish war-goddess), proceeded to proclaim that battle and the mighty victory which had taken place, to the royal heights of Ireland and to its fairy host and its chief waters and its river-mouths. ' For good had prevailed over evil, and it was settled that all Ireland should for ever afterwards be a sacred country ruled over by the People of the Goddess Dana and the Sons of Mil jointly. So that here we see the Tuatha De Danann with their war-goddess fighting their own battles in which human beings play no part.
It is interesting to observe that this Irish war-goddess, the bodb or badb, considered of old to be one of the Tuatha De Danann, has survived to our own day in the fairy-lore of the chief Celtic countries. In Ireland the survival is best seen in the popular and still almost general belief among the peasantry that the fairies often exercise their magical powers under the form of royston-crows; and for this reason these birds are always greatly dreaded and avoided. The resting of one of them on a peasant's cottage may signify many things, but often it means the death of one of the family or some great misfortune, the bird in such a case playing the part of a bean-sidhe (banshee). And this folk-belief finds its echo in the recorded tales of Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. In the Mabinogi, 'Dream of Rhonabwy,' Owain, prince of Rheged and a contemporary of Arthur, has a wonderful crow which always secures him victory in battle by the aid of three hundred other crows under its leadership. In Campbell's Popular Tales of the West Highlands the fairies very often exercise their power in the form of the common hoody crow; and in Brittany there is a folk-tale entitled 'Les Compagnons' in which the chief actor is a fairy under the form of a magpie who lives in a royal forest just outside Rennes.
W. M. Hennessy has shown that the word bodb or badb, aspirated bodhbh or badhbh (pronounced bov or bav), originally signified rage, fury, or violence, and ultimately implied a witch, fairy, or goddess; and that as the memory of this Irish goddess of war survives in folk-lore, her emblem is the well-known scald-crow, or royston-crow. By referring to Peter O'Connell's Irish Dictionary we are able to confirm this popular belief which identifies the battle-fairies with the royston-crow, and to discover that there is a definite relationship or even identification between the Badb and the Bean-sidhe or banshee, as there is in modern Irish folklore between the royston-crow and the fairy who announces a death. Badb-catha is made to equal 'Fionog, a royston-crow, a squall crow'; Badb is defined as a 'bean-sidhe, a female fairy, phantom, or spectre, supposed to be attached to certain families, and to appear sometimes in the form of squall-crows, or royston-crows'; and the Badb in the threefold aspect is thus explained: 'Macha, i. e. a royston-crow; Morrighain, i. e. the great fairy; Neamhan, i. e. Badb catha nó feannóg; a badb catha, or royston-crow.' Similar explanations are given by other glossarists, and thus the evidence of etymological scholarship as well as that of folk-lore support the Psychological Theory.
The Sidhe in Battle
The People of the Goddess Dana played an important part in human warfare even so late as the Battle of Clontarf, fought near Dublin, April 23, 1014; and at that time fairy women and phantom-hosts were to the Irish unquestionable existences, as real as ordinary men and women. It is recorded in the manuscript story of the battle, of which numerous copies exist, that the fairy woman Aoibheall came to Dunlang O'Hartigan before the battle and begged him not to fight, promising him life and happiness for two hundred years if he would put off fighting for a single day; but the patriotic Irishman expressed his decision to fight for Ireland, and then the fairy woman foretold how he and his friend Murrough, and Brian and Conaing and all the nobles of Erin and even his own son Turlough, were fated to fall in the conflict.
On the eve of the battle, Dunlang comes to his friend Murrough directly from the fairy woman; and Murrough upon seeing him reproaches him for his absence in these -words: 'Great must be the love and attachment of some woman for thee which has induced thee to abandon me.' 'Alas O King,' answered Dunlang, 'the delight which I have abandoned for thee is greater, if thou didst but know it, namely, life without death, without cold, without thirst, without hunger, without decay, beyond any delight of the delights of the earth to me, until the judgement, and heaven after the judgement; and if I had not pledged my word to thee I would not have come here; and, moreover, it is fated for me to die on the day that thou shalt die.' When Murrough has heard this terrible message, the prophecy of his own death in the battle, despondency seizes him; and then it is that he declares that he for Ireland like Dunlang for honour has also sacrificed the opportunity of entering and living in that wonderful Land of Eternal Youth: 'Often was I offered in hills, and in fairy mansions, this world (the fairy world) and these gifts, but I never abandoned for one night my country nor mine inheritance for them.'
And thus is described the meeting of the two armies at Clontarf, and the demons of the air and the phantoms, and all the hosts of the invisible world who were assembled to scatter confusion and to revel in the bloodshed, and how above them in supremacy rose the Badb: 'It will be one of the wonders of the day of judgement to relate the description of this tremendous onset. There arose a wild, impetuous, precipitate, mad, inexorable, furious, dark, lacerating, merciless, combative, contentious badb, which was shrieking and fluttering over their heads. And there arose also the satyrs, and sprites, and the maniacs of the valleys, and the witches, and goblins, and owls, and destroying demons of the air and firmament, and the demoniac phantom host; and they were inciting and sustaining valour and battle with them.' It is said of Murrough (Murchadh) as he entered the thick of the fight and prepared to assail the foreign invaders, the Danes, when they had repulsed the Dal-Cais, that 'he was seized with a boiling terrible anger, an excessive elevation and greatness of spirit and mind. A bird of valour and championship rose in him, and fluttered over his head and on his breath.'
The recorded or manuscript Fairy-Faith of the Gaels corresponds in all essentials with the living Gaelic Fairy-Faith: the Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe, the 'Gentry', the 'Good People', and the 'People of Peace' are described as a race of invisible divine beings eternally young and unfading. They inhabit fairy palaces, enjoy rare feasts and love-making, and have their own music and minstrelsy. They are essentially majestic in their nature; they wage war in their own invisible realm against other of its inhabitants like the ancient Fomorians; they frequently direct human warfare or nerve the arm of a great hero like Cuchulainn; and demons of the air, spirit hosts, and awful unseen creatures obey them. Mythologically they are gods of light and good, able to control natural phenomena so as to make harvests come forth abundantly or not at all. But they are not such mythological beings as we read about in scholarly dissertations on mythology, dissertations so learned in their curious and unreasonable and often unintelligible hypotheses about the workings of the mind among primitive men. The way in which social psychology has deeply affected all such animistic beliefs was pointed out above in chapter iii. In chapter xi, entitled Science and Fairies, our position with respect to the essential nature of the fairy races will be made clear.
— From the way they are described in many of the old Irish manuscripts, we may possibly regard the Tuatha De Danann as reflecting to some extent the characteristics of an early human population in Ireland. In other words, on an already flourishing belief in spiritual beings, known as the Sidhe, was superimposed, through anthropomorphism, an Irish folk-memory about a conquered pre-Celtic race of men who claimed descent from a mother goddess called Dana.
— Before Caeilte appears, Patrick is chanting Mass and pronouncing benediction 'on the rath in which Finn Mac Cumall (the slain leader of the Fianna) has been: the rath of Drumderg'. This chanting and benediction act magically as a means of calling up the ghosts of the other Fianna, for, as the text continues, thereupon 'the clerics saw Caeilte and his band draw near them; and fear fell on them before the tall men with their huge wolf-dogs that accompanied them, for they were not people of one epoch or of one time with the clergy. Then Heaven's distinguished one, that pillar of dignity and angel on earth, Calpurn's son Patrick, apostle of the Gael, rose and took the aspergillum to sprinkle holy water on the great men; floating over whom until that day there had been [and were now] a thousand legions of demons. Into the hills and "skalps", into the outer borders of the region and of the country, the demons forthwith departed in all directions; after which the enormous men sat down' (Silva Gadelica). Here, undoubtedly, we observe a literary method of rationalizing the ghosts of the Fianna; and their sudden and mysterious coming and personal aspects can be compared with the sudden and mysterious coming and personal aspects of the Tuatha De Danann as recorded in certain Irish manuscripts.
— Silva Gadelica. In many old texts mortals are not forcibly taken; but go to the fairy world through love for a fairy woman; or else to accomplish there some mission.
No doubt the most curious elements in this text are those which represent the prince and his warrior companions, fresh come from Fairyland, as in some mysterious way so changed that they must neither dismount from their horses and thus come in contact with the earth, nor allow any mortal to touch them; for to his father the king who came forward in joy to embrace him after having mourned him as dead, Laeghaire cried, 'Approach us not to touch us!' Some unknown magical bodily transmutation seems to have come about from their sojourn among the Tuatha De Danann, who are eternally young and unfading – a transmutation apparently quite the same as that which the 'gentry' are said to bring about now when one of our race is taken to live with them. And in all fairy stories no mortal ever returns from Fairyland a day older than on entering it, no matter how many years may have elapsed. The idea reminds us of the dreams of mediaeval alchemists who thought there exists, if one could only discover it, some magic potion which will so transmute every atom of the human body that death can never affect it. Probably the Christian scribe in writing down these strange words had in mind what Jesus said to Mary Magdalene when she beheld him after the Resurrection: 'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father.' The parallel would be a striking and exact one in any case, for it is recorded that Jesus after he had arisen from the dead – had come out of Hades or the invisible realm of subjectivity which, too, is Fairyland – appeared to some and not to others – some being able to recognize him and others not; and concerning the nature of Jesus's body at the Ascension not all theologians are agreed. Some believe it to have been a physical body so purified and transmuted as to be like, or the same as, a spiritual body, and thus capable of invisibility and of entrance into the Realm of Spirit. The Scotch minister and seer used this same parallel in describing the nature and power of fairies and spirits; hence it would seem to follow, if we admit the influence in the Irish text to be Christian, that early, like modern Christians, have, in accordance with Christianity, described the nature of the Sidhe so as to correspond with what we know it to be in the Fairy-Faith itself, both anciently and at the present day.
— Sometimes, as in Da Choca's Hostel, the Badb appears as a weird woman uttering prophecies. In this case the Badb watches over Cormac as his doom comes. She is described as standing on one foot, and with one eye closed (apparently in a bird's posture), as she chanted to Cormac this prophecy: 'I wash the harness of a king who will perish.'
— The Celtic examples recall non-Celtic ones: the raven was sacred among the ancient Scandinavians and Germans, being looked upon as the emblem of Odin; in ancient Egypt and Rome commonly, and to a less extent in ancient Greece, gods often declared their will through birds or even took the form of birds; in Christian scriptures the Spirit of God or the Holy Ghost descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the semblance of a dove; and it is almost a world-wide custom to symbolize the human soul under the form of a bird or butterfly. Possibly such beliefs as these are relics of a totemistic creed which in times long previous to history was as definitely held by the ancestors of the nations of antiquity, including the ancient Celts, as any totemistic creed to be found now among native Australians or North American Red Men. At all events, in the story of a bird ancestry of Conaire we seem to have a perfectly clear example of a Celtic totemistic survival.
In Ireland this world and the world we go to after death are not far apart.'
W. B. YEATS.
'Many go to the Tir-na-nog in sleep, and some are said to have remained there, and only a vacant form is left behind without the light in the eyes which marks the presence of a soul.'
The Heaven-World of the ancient Celts, unlike that of the Christians, was not situated in some distant, unknown region of planetary space, but here on our own earth. As it was necessarily a subjective world, poets could only describe it in terms more or less vague; and its exact geographical location, accordingly, differed widely in the minds of scribes from century to century. Sometimes, as is usual today in fairy-lore, it was a subterranean world entered through caverns, or hills, or mountains, and inhabited by many races and orders of invisible beings, such as demons, shades, fairies, or even gods. And the underground world of the Sidhe-folk, which cannot be separated from it, was divided into districts or kingdoms under different fairy kings and queens, just as the upper world of mortals. We already know how the Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe-folk, after their defeat by the Sons of Mil at the Battle of Tailte, retired to this underground world and took possession of its palaces beneath the green hills and vales of Ireland; and how from there, as gods of the harvest, they still continued to exercise authority over their conquerors, or marshalled their own invisible spirit-hosts in fairy warfare, and sometimes interfered in the wars of men.
More frequently, in the old Irish manuscripts, the Celtic Otherworld was located in the midst of the Western Ocean, as though it were the 'double' of the lost Atlantis; and Manannan Mac Lir, the Son of the Sea – perhaps himself the 'double' of an ancient Atlantean king – was one of the divine rulers of its fairy inhabitants, and his palace, for he was one of the Tuatha De Danann, was there rather than in Ireland; and when he travelled between the two countries it was in a magic chariot drawn by horses who moved over the sea-waves as on land. And fairy women came from that mid-Atlantic world in magic boats like spirit boats, to charm away such mortal men as in their love they chose, or else to take great Arthur wounded unto death. And in that island world there was neither death nor pain nor scandal, nought save immortal and unfading youth, and endless joy and feasting.
Even yet at rare intervals, like a phantom, Hy Brasil appears far out on the Atlantic. No later than the summer of 1908 it is said to have been seen from West Ireland, just as that strange invisible island near Innishmurray, inhabited by the invisible 'gentry', is seen – once in seven years. And too many men of intelligence testify to having seen Hy Brasil at the same moment, when they have been together, or separated, as during the summer of 1908, for it to be explained away as an ordinary illusion of the senses. Nor can it be due to a mirage such as we know, because neither its shape nor position seems to conform to any known island or land mass. The Celtic Otherworld is like that hidden realm of subjectivity lying just beyond the horizon of mortal existence, which we cannot behold when we would, save with the mystic vision of the Irish seer. Thus in the legend of Bran's friends, who sat over dinner at Harlech with the Head of Bran for seven years, three curious birds acted as musicians, the Three Birds of Rhiannon, which were said to sing the dead back to life and the living into death;--but the birds were not in Harlech, they were out over the sea in the atmosphere of Rhiannon's realm in the bosom of Cardigan Bay. And though we might say of that Otherworld, as we learn from these Three Birds of Rhiannon, and as Socrates would say, that its inhabitants are come from the living and the living in our world from the dead there, yet, as has already been set forth in chapter iv, we ought not to think of the Sidhe-folk, nor of such great heroes and gods as Arthur and Cuchulainn and Finn, who are also of its invisible company, as in any sense half-conscious shades; for they are always represented as being in the full enjoyment of an existence and consciousness greater than our own.
In Irish manuscripts, the Otherworld beyond the Ocean bears many names. It is Tír-na-nog, 'The Land of Youth'; Tír-Innambéo, 'The Land of the Living'; Tír Tairngire, 'The Land of Promise'; Tír N-aill, 'The Other Land (or World)'; Mag Már, 'The Great Plain'; and also Mag Mell, 'The Plain Agreeable (or Happy).'
But this western Otherworld, if it is what we believe it to be – a poetical picture of the great subjective world – cannot be the realm of any one race of invisible beings to the exclusion of another. In it all alike – gods, Tuatha De Danann, fairies, demons, shades, and every sort of disembodied spirits – find their appropriate abode; for though it seems to surround and interpenetrate this planet even as the X-rays interpenetrate matter, it can have no other limits than those of the Universe itself. And that it is not an exclusive realm is certain from what our old Irish manuscripts record concerning the Fomorian races. These, when they met defeat on the battle-field of Moytura at the hands of the Tuatha De Danann, retired altogether from Ireland, their overthrow being final, and returned to their own invisible country – a mysterious land beyond the Ocean, where the dead find a new existence, and where their god-king Tethra ruled, as he formerly ruled in this world. And the fairy women of Tethra's kingdom, even like those who came from the Tuatha De Danann of Erin, or those of Manannan's ocean-world, enticed mortals to go with them to be heroes under their king, and to behold there the assemblies of ancestors. It was one of them who came to Connla, son of Conn, supreme king of Ireland; and this was her message to him: 'The immortals invite you. You are going to be one of the heroes of the people of Tethra. You will always be seen there, in the assemblies of your ancestors, in the midst of those who know and love you.' And with the fairy spell upon him the young prince entered the glass boat of the fairy woman, and his father the king, in great tribulation and wonder, beheld them disappear across the waters never to return.
To enter the Otherworld before the appointed hour marked by death, a passport was often necessary, and this was usually a silver branch of the sacred apple-tree bearing blossoms, or fruit, which the queen of the Land of the Ever-Living and Ever-Young gives to those mortals whom she wishes for as companions; though sometimes, as we shall see, it was a single apple without its branch. The queen's gifts serve not only as passports, but also as food and drink for mortals who go with her. Often the apple-branch produces music so soothing that mortals who hear it forget all troubles and even cease to grieve for those whom the fairy women take. For us there are no episodes more important than those in the ancient epics concerning these apple-tree talismans, because in them we find a certain key which unlocks the secret of that world from which such talismans are brought, and proves it to be the same sort of a place as the Otherworld of the Greeks and Romans. Let us then use the key and make a few comparisons between the Silver Branch of the Celts and the Golden Bough of the Ancients, expecting the two symbols naturally to differ in their functions, though not fundamentally.
It is evident at the outset that the Golden, Bough was as much the property of the queen of that underworld called Hades as the Silver Branch was the gift of the Celtic fairy queen, and like the Silver Bough it seems to have been the symbolic bond between that world and this, offered as a tribute to Proserpine by all initiates, who made the mystic voyage in full human consciousness. And, as we suspect, there may be even in the ancient Celtic legends of mortals who make that strange voyage to the Western Otherworld and return to this world again, an echo of initiatory rites – perhaps druidic – similar to those of Proserpine as shown in the journey of Aeneas, which, as Virgil records it, is undoubtedly a poetical rendering of an actual psychic experience of a great initiate.
In Virgil's classic poem the Sibyl commanded the plucking of the sacred bough to be carried by Aeneas when he entered the underworld; for without such a bough plucked near the entrance to Avernus from the wondrous tree sacred to Infernal Juno (i. e. Proserpine) none could enter Pluto's realm. And when Charon refused to ferry Aeneas across the Stygian lake until the Sibyl-woman drew forth the Golden Bough from her bosom, where she had hidden it, it becomes clearly enough a passport to Hades, just as the Silver Branch borne by the fairy woman is a passport to Tír N-aill; and the Sibyl-woman who guided Aeneas to the Greek and Roman Otherworld takes the place of the fairy woman who leads mortals like Bran to the Celtic Other-world.
With this parallel between the Otherworld of the Celts and that of the Ancients seemingly established, we may leave poetical images and seek a literal interpretation for the animistic idea about those realms. The Rites of Proserpine as conducted in the Mysteries of Antiquity furnish us with the means; and in what Servius has written we have the material ready. Taking the letter Υ?, which Pythagoras said is like life with its dividing ways of good and evil, as the mystic symbol of the branch which all initiates like Aeneas offered to Proserpine in the subjective world while there out of the physical body, he says of the initiatory rites: 'He (the poet) could not join the Rites of Proserpine without having the branch to hold up. And by "going to the shades" he (the poet) means celebrating the Rites of Proserpine.' This passage is certainly capable of but one meaning; and we may perhaps assume that the invisible realm of the Ancients, which is called Hades, is like the Celtic Other-world located in the Western Ocean, and is also like, or has its mythological counterpart in, the Elysian Fields to the West, reserved by the Greeks and Romans for their gods and heroes, and in the Happy Otherworld of Scandinavian, Iranian, and Indian mythologies. It must then follow that all these realms – though placed in different localities by various nations, epochs, traditions, scribes, and poets (even as the under-ground world of the Tuatha De Danann in Ireland differs from that ruled over by one of their own race, Manannan the Son of the Sea) – are simply various ways which different Aryan peoples have had of looking at that one great invisible realm of which we have just spoken, and which forms the Heavenworld of every religion, Aryan and non-Aryan, known to man. And if this conclusion is accepted, and it seems that it must be, merely on the evidence of the literary or recorded Celtic Fairy-Faith, our Psychological Theory stands proven.
The Rites of Proserpine had many counterparts. Thus, to pass on to another parallel, in the Mysteries of Eleusis the disappearance of the Maiden into the under-world, into Hades, the land of the dead, was continually re-enacted in a sacred drama, and it no doubt was one of the principal rites attending initiation. In our study of the Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth, we shall return to this subject of Celtic Initiation.
Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth
"It seems as if Ossian's was a premature return. To-day he might find comrades come back from Tir-na-nog for the uplifting of their race. Perhaps to many a young spirit standing up among us Cailte might speak as to Mongan, saying: 'I was with thee, with Finn."'
However much the conception of the Otherworld among the ancient Greeks may have differed from that among the Celts, it was to both peoples alike inseparably connected with their belief in re-birth. Alfred Nutt, who studied this intimate relation more carefully perhaps than any other Celtic folk-lorist, has said of it: 'In Greek mythology as in Irish, the conception of re-birth proves to be a dominant factor of the same religious system in which Elysium is likewise an essential feature.' Death, as many initiates have proclaimed in their mystical writings, is but a going to that Otherworld from this world, and Birth and coming back again; and Buddha announced it as his mission to teach men the way to be delivered out of this eternal Circle of Existence.
Among ourselves the doctrine may seem a strange one, though among the great nations of antiquity – the Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, and Celts – it was taught in the Mysteries and Priest-Schools, and formed the corner-stone of the most important philosophical systems like those of Buddha, Pythagoras, Plato, the Neo-Platonists, and the Druids. The Alexandrian Jews, also, were familiar with the doctrine, as implied in the Wisdom of Solomon, and in the writings of Philo. It was one of the teachings in the Schools of Alexandria, and thus directly shaped the thoughts of some of the early Church Fathers – for example, Tertullian of Carthage (circa A. D. 160-240), and Origen of Alexandria (circa A. D. 185-254). It is of considerable historical importance for us at this point to consider at some length if Christians in the first centuries held or were greatly influenced by the re-birth doctrine, because, as we shall presently observe, the probable influence of Christian on pagan Celtic beliefs may have been at a certain period very deep and even the most important reshaping influence.
As an examination of Origen's De Principiis proves, Origen himself believed in the doctrine. But the theologians who created the Greek canons of the Fifth Council disagreed with Origen's views, and condemned Origen for believing, among other things called by them heresies, that Jesus Christ will be reincarnated and suffer on earth a second time to save the daemons, an order of spiritual beings regarded by some ancient philosophers as destined to evolve into human souls. Tertullian, contemporary with Origen, in his De Anima considers whether or not the doctrine of re-birth can be regarded as Christian in view of the declaration by Jesus Christ that John the Baptist was Elias (or Elijah), the old Jewish prophet, come again: 'And if ye are willing to receive it (or him), this (John the Baptist) is Elijah, which is to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.' Tertullian concludes, and modern Christian theologians frequently echo him (upon comparing Malachi iv. 5), that all the New Testament writers mean to convey is that John the Baptist possessed or acted in 'the spirit and power' of Elias, but was not actually a reincarnation of Elias, since he did not possess 'the soul and body' of Elias. Had Tertullian been a mystic and not merely a theologian with a personal bias against the mystery teachings, which bias he shows throughout his De Anima, it is quite evident that he would have been on this doctrinal matter in agreement with Origen, who was both a mystic and a theologian, and, then, probably with such an agreement of these two eminent .Church Fathers on record before the time when Christian councils met to determine canonical and orthodox beliefs, the doctrine of re-birth would never have been expurgated from Christianity.
In the Pistis Sophia, an ancient Gnostic-Christian work, which contains what are alleged to be some of Jesus Christ's esoteric teachings to his disciples, it is clearly stated (contrary to Tertullian's argument, but in accord with what we may assume Origen's view would have been) that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elias. The same work further expounds the doctrine of re-birth as a teaching of Jesus Christ which applies not to particular personages only, like Elias, but as a universal law governing the lives of all mankind.
As our discussion has made evident, during the first centuries the re-birth doctrine was undoubtedly well known to Alexandrian Christians. Among other early Christian theologians and philosophers who held some form of a rebirth doctrine, were Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais (circa 375-414), Boethius, a Roman (circa 475-525), and Psellus, a native of Andros (second half of ninth century). In addition to the many Gnostic-Christian sects, the Manichaeans, who comprised more than seventy sects connected with the primitive Church, also promulgated the re-birth doctrine. Along with the condemnation of the Gnostics and Manichaeans as heretical, the doctrine of re-birth was likewise condemned by various ecclesiastical bodies and councils. This was the declaration by the Council of Constantinople in 553: 'Whosoever shall support the mythical doctrine of the pre-existence of the Soul, and the consequent wonderful opinion of its return, let him be anathema,' And so, after centuries of controversy, the ancient doctrine ceased to be regarded as Christian. It is very likely, however, as will be shown in due order, that a few of the early Celtic missionaries, always famous for their Celtic independence even in questions touching Christian theology and government, did not feel themselves bound by the decisions of continental Church Councils with respect to this particular doctrine.
During the mediaeval period in Europe, the re-birth doctrine continued to live on in secret among many of the alchemists and mystical philosophers, and among such Druids as survived religious persecution; and it has come down from that period to this through Orders like the Rosicrucian Order – an Order which seems to have had an unbroken existence from the Middle Ages or earlier – and likewise through the unbroken traditions of modern Druidism. In our own times there is what may be called a renaissance of the ancient doctrine in Europe and America – especially in England, Germany, France, and the United States – through various philosophical or religious societies; some of them founding their teachings and literature on the ancient and mediaeval mystical philosophers, while others stand as the representatives in the West of the mystical schools of modem India, which, like modern Druidism, claim to have existed from what we call prehistoric times. Today in the Roman Church eminent theologians have called the doctrine of Purgatory the Christian counterpart of the philosophical doctrine of re-birth; and the real significance of this opinion will appear in our later study of St. Patrick's Purgatory which, as we hold, is connected more or less definitely with the pagan-Irish doctrines of the underworld of the Sidhe-folk and spirits, as well as shades of the dead, and with the Celtic-Druidic Doctrine of Reincarnation.
Scientifically speaking, as shown in the Welsh Triads of Bardism, the ancient Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth represented for the priestly and bardic initiates an exposition of the complete cycle of human evolution; that is to say, it included what we now call Darwinism – which explains only the purely physical evolution of the body which man inhabits as an inheritance from the brute kingdom – and also besides Darwinism, a comprehensive theory of man's own evolution as a spiritual being both apart from and in a physical body, on his road to the perfection which comes from knowing completely the earth-plane of existence. And in time, judging from the rapid advance of the present age, our own science through psychical research may work back to the old mystery teachings and declare them scientific.
With this preliminary survey of the subject we may now proceed to show how in the Celtic scheme of evolution the Otherworld with all its gods, fairies, and invisible beings, and this world with all its visible beings, form the two poles of life or conscious existence. Let us begin with purely philosophical conceptions, going first to the Welsh Barddas, where it is said 'There are three circles of existence: the circle of Ceugant (the circle of Infinity), where there is neither animate nor inanimate save God, and God only can traverse it; the circle of Abred (the circle of Re-birth), where the dead is stronger than the living, and where every principal existence is derived from the dead, and man has traversed it; and the circle of Gwynvyd (the circle of the white, i. e. the circle of Perfection), where the living is stronger than the dead, and where every principal existence is derived from the living and life, that is, from God, and man shall traverse it; nor will man attain to perfect knowledge, until he shall have fully traversed the circle of Gwynvyd, for no absolute knowledge can be obtained but by the experience of the senses, from having borne and suffered every condition and incident'...'The three stabilities of knowledge: to have traversed every state of life; to remember every state and its incidents; and to be able to traverse every state, as one would wish, for the sake of experience and judgement; and this will be obtained in the circle of Gwynvyd.'
Thus Barddas expounds the complete Bardic scheme of evolution as one in which the monad or soul, as a knowledge of physical existence is gradually unfolded to it, passes through every phase of material embodiment before it enters the human kingdom, where, for the first time exercising freewill in a physical body, it becomes responsible for all its acts, The Bardic doctrine as otherwise stated is 'that the soul commenced its course in the lowest water-animalcule, and passed at death to other bodies of a superior order, successively, and in regular gradation, until it entered that of man. Humanity is a state of liberty, where man can attach himself to either good or evil, as he pleases'. Once in the human kingdom the soul begins a second period of growth altogether different from that preceding – a period of growth toward divinity; and with this, in our study, we are chiefly concerned. It seems clear that the circle of Gwynvyd finds its parallel in the Nirvana of Buddhism, being, like it, a state of absolute knowledge and felicity in which man becomes a divine being, a veritable god.
We see in all this the intimate relation which there was thought to be between what we call the state of life and the state of death, between the world of men and the world of gods, fairies, demons, spirits, and shades. Our next step must be to show, first, what some other authorities have had to say about this relation, and then, second, and fundamentally, that gods or fairy-folk like the Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann could come to this world not only as we have been seeing them come as fairy women, fairy men, and gods, at will visible or invisible to mortals, but also through submitting to human birth.
Rebirth of the People of Danu
We proceed now directly to show that there was also a belief, probably widespread, among the ancient Irish that divine personages, national heroes who are members of the Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe race, and great men, can be reincarnated, that is to say, can descend to this plane of existence and be as mortals more than once. This aspect of the Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth has been clearly set forth by the publications of such eminent Celtic folk-lorists as Alfred Nutt and Miss Eleanor Hull. Miss Hull, in her study of Old Irish Tabus, or Gesa, referring to the Cuchulainn Cycle of Irish literature and mythology, writes thus: 'There is no doubt that all the chief personages of this cycle were regarded as the direct descendants, or it would be more correct to say, as avatars or reincarnations of the early gods. Not only are their pedigrees traced up to the Tuatha De Danann, but there are indications in the birth-stories of nearly all the principal personages that they are looked upon simply as divine beings reborn on the human plane of life. These indications are mysterious, and most of the tales which deal with them show signs of having been altered, perhaps intentionally, by the Christian transcribers. The doctrine of re-birth was naturally not one acceptable to them...The goddess Etain becomes the mortal wife of a king of Ireland...Conchobhar, moreover, is spoken of as a terrestrial god; and Dechtire, his sister, and the other of Cúchulainn, is called a goddess.
In the case of Cúchulainn himself, it is distinctly noted that he is the avatar of Lugh lamhfada (long-hand), the sun-deity of the earliest cycle. Lugh appears to Dechtire, the mother of Cúchulainn, and tells her that he himself is her little child, i.e. that the child is a reincarnation of himself; and Cúchulainn when inquired of as to his birth, points proudly to his descent from Lugh. When, too, it is proposed to find a wife for the hero, the reason assigned is, that they knew "that this re-birth would be of himself" (i.e. that only from himself could another such as he have origin).' We have in this last a clue to the popular Irish belief regarding the re-birth of beings of a god-like nature. D'Arbois de Jubainville has shown, also, that the grandfather of Cuchulainn, son of Sualtaim, was from the country of the Sidhe, and so was Ethné Ingubé, the sister of Sualtaim. And Dechtire, the mother of Cuchulainn, was the daughter of the Druid Cathba and the brother of King Conchobhar. Thus the ancestry of the great hero of the Red Branch Knights of Ulster is both royal and divine. And Conall Cernach, Cuchulainn's comrade and avenger, apparently from a tale in the Cóir Anmann (Fitness of Names), composed probably during the twelfth century, was also a reincarnated Tuatha De Danann hero.
Practically all the extant manuscripts dealing with the ancient literature and mythology of the Gaels were written by Christian scribes or else copied by them from old manuscripts, so that, as Miss Hull points out, what few Irish re-birth stories have come down to us – and they probably but remnants of an extensive re-birth literature like that of India – have been more or less altered. Yet to these scholarly scribes of the early monastic schools, who kept alive the sacred fire of learning while their own country was being plundered by foreign invaders and the rest of mediaeval Europe plunged in warfare, the world owes a debt of gratitude; for to their efforts alone, in spite of a reshaping of matter naturally to be expected, is due almost everything recorded on parchments concerning pagan Ireland.
Rebirth of Mongan
We have preserved to us a remarkable re-birth story in which the characters are known to be historical. It concerns a quarrel between the king of Ulster, Mongan, son of Fiachna – who, according to the Annals of Ireland by The Four Masters, was killed in A. D. 620 by Arthur, son of Bicor – and Forgoll, the poet of Mongan. The dispute between them was as to the place of the death of Fothad Airgdech, a king of Ireland who was killed by Cailte, one of the warriors of Find, in a battle whose date is fixed by the Four Masters in A. D. 285. Forgoll pretended that Fothad had been killed at Duffry, in Leinster, and Mongan asserted that it was on the river Larne (anciently Ollarba) in County Antrim. Enraged at being contradicted, even though it were by the king, Forgoll threatened Mongan with terrible incantations; and it was agreed that unless Mongan proved his assertion within three days, his queen should pass under the control of Forgoll. Mongan, however, had spoken truly and with certain secret knowledge, and felt sure of winning.
When the third day was almost expired and Forgoll had presented himself ready to claim the wager, there was heard coming in the distance the one whom Mongan awaited. It was Cailte himself, come from the Otherworld to bear testimony to the truthfulness of the king and to confound the audacious presumptions of the poet Forgoll. It was evening when he reached the palace. The king Mongan was seated on his throne, and the queen at his right full of fear about the outcome, and in front stood the poet Forgoll claiming the wager. No one knew the strange warrior as he entered the court, save the king.
Cailte, when fully informed of the quarrel and the wager, quickly announced so that all heard him distinctly, 'The poet has lied!' 'You will regret those words,' replied the poet. 'What you say does not well become you,' responded Cailte in turn, 'for I will prove what I say.' And straightway Cailte revealed this strange secret: that he had been one of the companions in arms under the great warrior Find, who was also his teacher, and that Mongan, the king before whom he spoke, was the reincarnation of Find:
'We were with thee,' said Cailte, addressing the king. 'We were with Find.' 'Know, however,' replied Mongan, 'that you do wrong in revealing a secret.' But the warrior continued: 'We were therefore with Find. We came from Scotland. We encountered Fothad Airgdech near here, on the shores of the Ollarba. We gave him furious battle. I cast my spear at him in such a manner that it passed through his body, and the iron point, detaching itself from the staff, became fixed in the earth on the other side of Fothad. Behold here [in my hand] the shaft of that spear. There will be found the bare rock from the top of which I let fly my weapon. There will be found a little further to the east the iron point sunken in the earth. There will be found again a little further, always to the east, the tomb of Fothad Airgdech. A coffin of stone covers his body; his two bracelets of silver, his two arm-rings, and his neck-torque of silver are in the coffin. Above the tomb rises a pillar-stone, and on the upper extremity of that stone which is planted in the earth one may read an inscription in ogam: Here reposes Fothad Airgdech; he was fighting against Find when Cailte slew him.'
And to the consternation of Forgoll, what this warrior who came from the Otherworld declared was true, for there were found the place indicated by him, the rock, the spear-head, the pillar-stone, the inscription, the coffin of stone, the body in it, and the jewellery. Thus Mongan gained the wager; and the secret of his life which he alone had known was revealed – he was Find re-born; and Cailte, his old pupil and warrior-companion, had come from the land of the dead to aid him: It was Cailte, Find's foster-son, that had come to them. Mongan, however, was Find, though he would not let it be told.' But not only was Mongan an Irish king, he was also a god, the son of the Tuatha De Danann Manannan Mac Lir: 'this Mongan is a son of Manannan Mac Lir, though he is called Mongan, son of Fiachna.' And so it is that long after their conquest the People of the Goddess Dana ruled their conquerors, for they took upon themselves human bodies, being born as the children of the kings of Mil's Sons.
There are other episodes which show very clearly the relationship between Mongan incarnated in a human body and his divine father Manannan. Thus, 'When Mongan was three nights old, Manannan came for him and took him with him to bring up in the Land of Promise, and vowed that he would not let him back into Ireland before he were twelve years of age.' And after Mongan has become Ulster's high king, Manannan comes to him to rouse him out of human slothfulness to a consciousness of his divine nature and mission, and of the need of action: Mongan and his wife were frittering away their time playing a game, when they beheld a dark black-tufted little cleric standing at the door-post, who said: '"This inactivity in which thou art, O Mongan, is not an inactivity becoming a king of Ulster, not to go to avenge thy father on Fiachna the Black, son of Deman, though Dubh-Lacha may think it wrong to tell thee so..." Mongan seized the kingship of Ulster, and the little cleric who had done the reason was Manannan the great and mighty.'
In the ancient tale of the Voyage of Bran – probably composed in its present form during the eighth, possibly the seventh, century A.D. – there is another version of the Mongan Re-birth Story, which, being later in origin and composition than the Voyage itself, was undoubtedly clumsily inserted into the manuscript, as scholars think. Therein, Mongan as the offspring of Manannan by the woman of Line-mag – quite after the theory of the Christian Incarnation – is described as 'a fair man in a body of white clay'. This and what follows in the introductory quatrain show how early Celtic doctrines correspond to or else were originated by those of the Christians. And the transcriber seeing the parallels, glossed and altered the text which he copied by introducing Christian phraseology so as to fit it in with his own idea – altogether improbable – that the references are to the coming of Jesus Christ. The references are to Manannan and to the woman of Line-mag, who by him was to be the mother of Mongan – as Mary the wife of Joseph was the mother of Jesus Christ by God the Father:
A noble salvation will come
From the King who has created us,
A white law will come over seas,
Besides being God, He will be man.
This shape, he on whom thou lookest,
Will come to thy parts;
'Tis mine to journey to her house,
To the woman in Line-mag.
For it is Moninnan, the son of Ler,
From the chariot in the shape of a man...
He will delight the company of every fairy-knoll,
He will be the darling of every goodly land,
He will make known secrets – a course of wisdom –
In the world, without being feared.
To him is attributed the power of shape-shifting, which is not transmigration into animal forms, but a magical power exercised by him in a human body.
He will be throughout long ages
An hundred years in fair kingship...
Moninnan, the son of Ler
Will be his father, his tutor.
At his death
The white host (the angels or fairies) will take him under a wheel (chariot) of clouds
To the gathering where there is no sorrow.
Birth of Etain
Another clear example of one of the Tuatha De Danann being born as a mortal is recorded in the famous saga of the Wooing of Etain. Three fragments of this story exist in the Book of the Dun Cow. The first tells how Etain Echraide, daughter of Ailill and wife of Midir (a great king among the Sidhe people) was driven out of Fairyland by the jealousy of her husband's other wife, and how after being wafted about on the winds of this world she fell invisibly into the drinking-cup of the wife of Etar of Inber Cichmaine, who was an Ulster chieftain. The chieftain's wife swallowed her; and, in due time, gave birth to a girl: 'It was one thousand and twelve years from the first begetting of Etain by Ailill to the last begetting by Etar.' Etain, retaining her own name, grew up thence as an Irish princess.
One day an unknown man of very stately aspect suddenly appeared to Etain the princess; and as suddenly disappeared, after he had sung to her a wonderful song designed to arouse in her the subconscious memories of her past existence among the Sidhe:
So is Etain here to-day.
Among little children is her lot.
It is she was gulped in the drink
By Etar's wife in a heavy draught.
The scribe ends this part of the story by letting it be known that Midir has struck off the head of his other wife, Fuamnach, the cause of all Etain's trouble.
The second section of the tale introduces Etain as queen of Eochaid Airem, high king of Ireland, and the most curious and important part of it shows how she was loved by Ailill Aenguba. Ailill, so far as blood kinship went, was the brother of Eochaid, though apparently either an incarnation of Midir or else possessed by him: Etain acceded to his love, but he was under a strange love-weakness; and on two occasions when he attempted to advance his desires an over-powering sleep fell on him, and each time Etain met a man in Ailill's shape – as though it were his 'double ' – bemoaning his weakness. On a third occasion she asked who the man was, and he declared himself to be Midir, and besought her to return with him to the Otherworld. But her worldly or human memory clouded her subconscious memory, and she did not recognize Midir, yet promised to go with him on gaining Eochaid's permission. After this event, curiously enough, Ailill was healed of his strange love-malady.
In the third part of the story, Midir and Eochaid are playing games. Midir loses the first two and with them great riches, but winning the third claims the right to place his arms about Etain and kiss her. Eochaid asked a month's delay. The last day of the month had passed. It was night. Eochaid in his palace at Tara awaited the coming of his rival, Midir; and though all the doors of the palace had been firmly closed for the occasion, and armed soldiers surrounded the queen, Midir like a spirit suddenly stood in the centre of the court and claimed the wager. Then, grasping and kissing Etain, he mounted in the air with her and very quickly passed out through the opening of the great chimney. In consternation, King Eochaid and his warriors hurried without the palace; and there, on looking up, they saw two white swans flying over Tara, bound together by a golden chain.
King Arthur as Reincarnated Hero
Judging from substantial evidence set forth above in chapter v, the most famous of all Welsh heroes, Arthur, equally with Cuchulainn his Irish counterpart, can safely be considered both as a god apart from the human plane of existence, and thus like the Tuatha De Danann or Fairy-Folk, and also like a great national hero and king (such as Mongan was) incarnated in a physical body. The taking of Arthur to Avalon by his life-guardian, the Lady of the Lake, and by his own sister, and by two other fairy women who live in that Otherworld of Sacred Apple-Groves, is sufficient in itself, we believe, to prove him of a descent more divine than that of ordinary men. And the belief in his return from that Otherworld – a return so confidently looked for by the Brythonic peoples – seems to be a belief (whether recognized as such or not) that the Great Hero will be reincarnated as a Messiah destined to set them free. In Avalon, Arthur lives now, and 'It is from there that the Britons of England and of France have for a long time awaited his coming.'
And Malory expressing the sentiment in his age writes: 'Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross. I will not say it shall be so, but rather I will say, here in this world he changed his life.' If we consider Arthur's passing an expected return, as many do, in a purely mythological aspect, we must think of him for the time as a sun-god, and yet even then cannot escape altogether from the re-birth idea; for, as a study of ancient Egyptian mythology shows, there is still the same set of relations. There are the sun-symbols always made use of to set forth the doctrine of re-birth, be it Egyptian, Indian, Mexican, or Celtic: the death of a mortal like the passing of Arthur is represented by the sun-set on the horizon between the visible world here and the invisible world beyond the Western Ocean, and the re-birth is the sunrise of a new day.
Origin Celtic Rebirth Beliefs
In considering briefly what non-Celtic doctrines could conceivably have shaped the Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth, two chief streams of influence are open to examination. One stream has its source in re-birth doctrines like those set forth by Orphic, Pythagorean, Platonic, and similar orientally-derived philosophies; while the other arises out of primitive Christianity, wherein, as literary and historical evidence suggests, re-birth may have been an equally important doctrine; or, at all events, there was a decided tendency, later condemned as heretical, to synthesize the Alexandrian philosophy and the Jewish (which to some extent influenced the Alexandrian) with early Church doctrines. This tendency is clearly shown by Origen, and by Clemens Alexandrinus, another eminent Father.
We have a better check on the second stream than on the first, because Christianity has a later and more definite origin than any of the orientally-derived philosophies. Some of the Druids, chiefly of Scotland and Wales, who are known to have held the re-birth doctrine before conversion, and probably after conversion, as was the case with a modern Druid, an editor of the Archaiology of Wales, accepted the New Faith as a purer form of Druidism and Jesus Christ as the Greatest of Druids. This ready and full acceptance would most likely not have been possible had their cardinal re-birth doctrine been thereby condemned. It would seem, therefore, that a primitive Christian re-birth doctrine may have been openly held by certain of the early Celtic missionaries. These latter, during the centuries when Ireland was the university for all Europe, had good opportunities for knowing much about the earliest traditions of Christianity, and they, with their own half-pagan instincts, would have given approval to such a doctrine without consulting Rome, just as Church Fathers like. Tertullian condemned it on their own personal authority and Origen believed it. Further, if we hold in mind that the doctrine of the Incarnation even now inculcates that the Son pre-existed and united Himself with a human soul in the act of conception, and that it may originally and by some Irish saints have been thought of as applying to all mankind in a more humble and less divine way, we seem to see in the Mongan re-birth story, which Christian transcribers have glossed, evidently with such ideas in mind, a proof that on this doctrinal point Christian and Celtic beliefs coalesced.
But the Christian beliefs did not originate the Celtic, for scholars have shown that the germ of the Mongan re-birth story, as well as that of the Cuchulainn re-birth episode, is pre-Christian, and that the Etain birth-story dates from a time when Irish myth and history were entirely free from Christian influence. The same original pagan character is shown in the re-birth episodes existing in Brythonic literature. And, finally, from the testimony of several ancient authorities, e.g. Julius Caesar, Diodorus Siculus, Pomponius Mela, and Lucan, who wrote, respectively, about 50 B.C., 40 B.C., A. D. 44, and A. D. 60 to 65, that the Celts already held the re-birth doctrine, it is certain that any possible influence from the Christian stream instead of originating the Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth could merely have modified it.
The question remaining, Would the classical or oriental doctrines of re-birth have originated or fundamentally shaped the Celtic re-birth doctrine? is a very difficult one. At present it cannot be answered with certainty either negatively or positively. We may suppose, however, as we did in the case of the parallel Christian re-birth doctrine, a possible contact and amalgamation, brought about in various ways, e. g. through Oriental merchants like the Phoenicians, and travellers who visited Britain in pre-Christian times, but chiefly through the continental Celts, who had direct knowledge of Greek and Roman culture, meeting their insular brethren beyond the Channel and Irish Sea. All such ancient contracts push the problem further and further back in time; and our easiest and safest course is to state – as we may of the similar problem of the origin of the Celtic Otherworld belief--that available facts of comparative religion, philosophy, and myth, indicate clearly a prehistoric epoch when there was a common ancestral stock for the Mediterranean and pan-Celtic cultures. This may have had its beginnings in the Danube country, or in North Europe, as many authorities in ethnology now hold, or, as others are beginning to hold, in the lost Atlantis – the most probable home of the dark pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Britain, Southern and Western Europe, and North Africa, who with the Aryans are the joint ancestors of the modern Celts. Both branches of this common Celtic ancestral stock held the re-birth doctrine. And at last from their Aryan ancestors it seems to have been inherited by the Celts of or that race, Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, or Celtic, as the case may be, is alone the originator of this or any other particular belief is as useless and as absurd as to attempt proof that the Gael has no racial affinity with the Brython. One of the greatest services now being performed by scientific inquiry into human problems is the demonstration of the unreasonableness of assuming artificial social barriers separating race from race, religion from religion, and institution from institution, and the declaration that the unity and the brotherhood of man is a fact inherent in man's own nature, and not a sentimental ideal. But there is specialization and differentiation everywhere in nature; and while Celtic traditions and beliefs are not fundamentally unlike those found in every age, race, and cultural stage, the treatment of this common stock of prehistoric lore and mystical religion is in some respects unique, and hence Celtic. Beyond this statement we cannot go.
— Barddas (Llandovery, 1862) is 'a collection (by Iolo Morganwg, a Bard) of original documents, illustrative of the theology, wisdom, and usage of the Bardo-Druidic System of the Isle of Britain'. The original manuscripts are said to have been in the possession of Llywelyn Sion, a Bard of Glamorgan, about 1560. Barddas shows considerable Christian influence, yet in its essential teachings is sufficiently distinct. Though of late composition, Barddas seems to represent the traditional bardic doctrines as they had been handed down orally for an unknown period of time, it having been forbidden in earlier times to commit such doctrines to writing. We are well aware also of the adverse criticisms passed upon these documents; but since no one questions their Celtic origin--whether it be ancient or more modern – we are content to use them.
— One of the greatest errors formerly made by European Sanskrit scholars and published broadcast throughout the West, so that now it is popularly accepted there as true, is that Nirvana, the goal of Indian philosophy and religion, means annihilation. It does mean annihilation (evolutionary transmutation of lower into higher), but only of all those forces or elements which constitute man as an animal. The error arose from interpreting exoterically instead of esoterically, and was a natural result of that system of western scholarship which sees and often cares only to examine external aspects. Native Indian scholars who have advised us in this difficult problem prefer to translate Nirvana as 'Self-realization', i.e. a state of supernormal consciousness (to be acquired through the evolution of the individual), as much superior to the normal human consciousness as the normal human consciousness is superior to the consciousness existing in the brute kingdom.
— 'One point alone of the Druids' teaching has become generally known among the common people (in order that they could be braver in war), that souls are eternal and there is a second life among the shades.'
— What is probably the oldest form of a tale concerning Conchobhar's birth makes Conchobhar 'the son of a god who incarnated himself in the same way as did Lug and Etain.'
— We have already mentioned the belief that gods having their abode in the sun could leave it to assume bodies here on earth and become culture heroes and great teachers.
— Annals of Tigernach, Third Frag. in Rev. Celt. In the piece called Tucait baile Mongâin in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, 'Mongan is seen living with his wife the year of the death of Ciaran mac int Shair, and of Tuathal Mael-Garb, that is to say in 544,' following the Chronicum Scotorum, Hennessy's ed. As D'Arbois de Jubainville adds, the Irish chronicles of this epoch are only approximate in their dates. Thus, while the Four Masters makes the death of Mongan A. D. 620, the Annals of Ulster makes it A. D. 625, the Chronicum Scotorum A. D. 625, the Annals of Clonmacnoise, A. D. 624, and Egerton MS. 1782 A.D. 615.
— In the Irish conception of re-birth there is no change of sex: Lug is re-born as a boy, in Cuchulainn; Finn as Mongan; Etain as a girl. But it seems that Etain as a mortal had no consciousness of her previous divine existence, while Cuchulainn and Mongan knew their non-human origin and pre-existence.
— Some time after this, according to one part of the tale, Eochaid stormed Midir's fairy palace--for the purpose localized in Ireland – and won Etain back, but the fairies cast a curse on his race for this, and Conaire, his grandson, fell a victim to it. Such a recovering of Etain by Eochaid may vaguely suggest a re-birth of Etain, through the power exerted by Eochaid, who, being a king, is to be regarded in his non-human nature as one of the Tuatha De Danann himself, like Midir his rival.
— The Christian scribe's version fills up the apace between Tuan's death and re-birth by making him pass eighty years as a stag, twenty as a wild boar, one hundred as an eagle, and twenty as a salmon. In this particular example, the uninitiated scribe (evidently having failed to grasp an important aspect of the re-birth doctrine as this was esoterically explained in the Mysteries, namely, that between death and re-birth, while the conscious Ego is resident in the Otherworld, the physical atoms of the discarded human body may transmigrate through various plant and animal bodies) appears to set forth as Celtic an erroneous doctrine of the transmigration of the conscious Ego itself.
In other texts, for example in the song which Amairgen (considered the Gaelic equivalent or even original of the Brythonic Taliessin) sang as he, with the conquering Sons of Mil, set foot on Ireland, there are similar transformations, attributed to certain heroes like Taliessin (see the Mabinogion) and Tuan mac Cairill during their disembodied states after death and until re-birth. But these transformations seem to echo poetically, and often rationally, a very mystical Celtic pantheism, in which Man, regarded as having evolved upwards through all forms and conditions of existence, is at one with all creation:
I am the wind which blows o'er the sea;
I am the wave of the deep;
I am the bull of seven battles;
I am the eagle on the rock;
I am a tear of the sun;
I am the fairest of plants;
I am a boar for courage;
I am a salmon in the water;
I am a lake in the plain;
I am the world of knowledge;
I am the head of the battle-dealing spear;
I am the god who fashions fire in the head;
Who spreads light in the gathering on the mountain?
Who foretells the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the spot where the sun rests?
And Amairgen also says: 'I am,' [Taliessin] 'I have been' (Book of Invasions; cf. Voy. of Bran; cf. Rhys, Hib. Lect.; cf. Skene, Four Ancient Books.)
In later times, especially among non-bardic poets, there has been a similar tendency to misinterpret this primitive mystical Celtic pantheism into the corrupt form of the re-birth doctrine, namely transmigration of the human soul into animal bodies. Dr. Douglas Hyde has sent to me the following evidence: 'I have a poem, consisting of nearly one hundred stanzas, about a pig who ate an Irish manuscript, and who by eating it recovered human speech for twenty-four hours and gave his master an account of his previous embodiments. He had been a right-hand man of Cromwell, a weaver in France, a subject of the Grand Signor, &c. The poem might be about one hundred or one hundred and fifty years old.' it is probable that the poet who composed this poem intended to add a touch of modern Irish humour by making use of the pig. We should, nevertheless, bear in mind that the pig (or, as is more commonly the rule, the wild boar) holds a very curious and prominent position in the ancient mythology of Ireland, and of Wales as well. It was regarded as a magical animal; and, apparently, was also a Druid symbol, whose meaning we Archaeology lost. Possibly the poet may have been aware of this. If so, he does not necessarily imply transmigration of the human soul into animal bodies; but is merely employing symbolism. See Taliessin in the Mabinogion, and the Book of Taliessin in Skene's Four Ancient Books.
— It is interesting to compare with this episode the episodes of how the magic of St. Patrick prevailed over the magic of the Druids when the old and the new religions met in warfare on the Hill of Tara, in the presence of the high king of Ireland and his court.
— I take this to mean, somewhat as in the similar case of Dechtire, the mother of Cuchulainn that the kind of soul or character which 'will be reincarnated in the child is determined by the psychic prenatal conditions which a mother consciously or unconsciously may set up. If this interpretation, as it seems to be, is correct, we have in this Welsh belief a surprising comprehension of scientific laws on the part of the ancient Welsh Druids – from whom the doctrine comes – which equals, and surpasses in its subtlety, the latest discoveries of our own psychological embryology, criminology, and so-called laws of heredity.
Archaeology and the Fey
— 'As he spoke, he paused before a great mound grown over with trees, and around it silver clear in the moonlight were immense stones piled, the remains of an original circle, and there was a dark, low, narrow entrance leading therein. "This was my palace. In days past many a one plucked ere the purple flower of magic and the fruit of the tree of life..." And even as he spoke, a light began to glow and to pervade the cave, and to obliterate the stone walls and the antique hieroglyphics engraven thereon, and to melt the earthen floor into itself like a fiery sun suddenly uprisen within the world, and there was everywhere a wandering ecstasy of sound: light and sound were one; light had a voice, and the music hung glittering in the air... "I am Aengus; men call me the Young. I am the sunlight in the heart, the moonlight in the mind; I am the light at the end of every dream, the voice for ever calling to come away; I am desire beyond joy or tears. Come with me, come with me: I will make you immortal; for my palace opens into the Gardens of the Sun, and there are the fire-fountains which quench the heart's desire in rapture."' – A. E.
In this chapter we propose to deal with the popular belief among Celtic peoples that tumuli, dolmens, menhirs, and in fact most megalithic monuments, prehistoric or historic, are either the abodes or else the favourite haunts of various orders of fairies – of pixies in Cornwall, of corrigans in Brittany, of little spirits like pygmies, of spirits like mortals in stature, of goblins, of demons, and of ghosts. Interesting attempts have been made to explain this folk-belief by means of the Pygmy Theory of Fairies; and this folk-belief appears to be almost the chief one upon which the theory depends. As was pointed out in the Introduction, possibly one of the many threads interwoven into the complex fabric of the Fairy-Faith round an original psychical pattern may have been bequeathed by a folk-memory of some unknown, perhaps pygmy, races, who may have inhabited underground places like those in certain tumuli. But even though the Pygmy Theory were altogether accepted by us the problem we are to consider would still be an unsolved one; for how explain by the Pygmy Theory why the folk-memory should always run in psychical channels, and not alone in Celtic lands, but throughout Europe, and even in Australia, America, Africa, and India.
Archaeological researches have now made it clear that many of the great tumuli covering dolmens or subterranean chambers, like that of Mont St. Michel (at Carnac) for example, were religious and funereal in their purposes from the first; and therefore the Pygmy Theory is far from a satisfactory or adequate explanation. To us the inquiry is similar to an investigation into the reasons why ghosts should haunt a house, whereas the supporters of the Pygmy Theory forget the ghosts and tell all about the people who may or who may never have lived in the haunted house, and who built it. The megaliths, in the plain language of the folk-belief, are haunted by fairies, pixies, 'corrigans, ghosts, and various sorts of invisible beings. Like the Psychical Research Society, we believe there may be, or actually are, invisible beings like ghosts, and so propose to conduct our investigations from that point of view.
To begin with, we shall concern ourselves with menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs, and certain kinds of tumuli – such as are found at Carnac, round which corrigans hold their nightly revels, and where ghost-like forms are sometimes seen in the moonlight, or even when there is no moon. M. Paul Sébillot in Le Folk-lore tie France has very adequately described the numerous folk-traditions and customs connected with all such monuments, and it remains for us to deal especially with the psychical aspects of these traditions and customs.
The learned Canon Mahé in his Essai sur les antiquités du département du Morbihan (p. 258), a work of rare merit, published at Vannes in 1825, holds that not only were the majestic Alignements of Carnac used as temples for religious rites, but that the stones themselves of which the Alignements are formed were venerated as the abodes of gods. And quoting Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Hermes, and others, he shows that the ancients believed that gods and daemons, attracted by sacrifice and worship to stone images and other inanimate objects, overshadowed them or even took up their abode in them. This position of Canon Mahé is confirmed by a comparative study of Celtic and non-Celtic traditions respecting the theory of what has been erroneously called 'idol-worship'. All evidence goes to show that idols so called, are simply images used as media for the manifestation of ghosts, spirits, and gods: the ancients, like contemporary primitive races, do not seem ever to have actually worshipped such images, but simply to have supplicated by prayer and sacrifice the indwelling deity. The ancient Egyptians, for example, conceived the Ka or personality as a thing separable from the person or body, and hence 'the statue of a human being represented and embodied a human Ka'. Likewise a statue of a god was the dwelling-place of a divine Ka, attracted to it by certain mystical formulae at the time of dedication. Though there might be many statues of the same god no two were alike; each was animated by an independent 'double' which the rites of consecration had elicited from the god. These statues, being thus animated by a 'double', manifested their will--as Greek and Roman statues are reported to have done – either by speaking, or by rhythmic movements. The divine virtue residing in the images of the gods was thought to be a sort of fluid, analogous to what we call the magnetic fluid, the aura, &c. It could be transmitted by the imposition of hands and by magic passes, on the nape of the neck or along the dorsal spine of a patient; and no doubt extraordinary curative properties were attributed to it.
Dr. Tylor has brought together examples from all parts of the globe of so-called fetishism, which is veneration paid to natural living objects such as trees, fish, animals, as well as to inanimate objects of almost every conceivable description, including stones, because of the spirit believed to be inherent or resident in the particular object; and he shows that idols originally were fetishes, which in time came to be shaped according to the form of the spirit or god supposed to possess them. Mr. R. R. Marett, the originator of the pre-animistic theory, believes that originally fetishes were regarded as gods themselves, and that gradually they came to be regarded as the dwellings of gods. Certain well-defined Celtic traditions entirely fit in with this theory: e.g. Canon Mahé writes, 'In accordance with this strange theory they (the Celts) could believe that rocks, set in motion by spirits which animated them, sometimes went to drink at rivers, as is said of the Peulvan at Noyal-Pontivy' (Morbihan); and I have found a parallel belief at Rollright, Oxfordshire, England, where it is said of the King Stone, an ancient menhir, and, according to some folk-traditions, a human being transformed, that it goes down the bill on Christmas Eve to drink at the river. In the famous menhir or pillar-stone on Tara to this day, we have another curious example like the moving statues in Egypt and the Celtic stones which move; for in the Book of Lismore the wonderful properties of the Lia Fáil, the 'Stone of Destiny', are enumerated, and it is said that ever when Ireland's monarch stepped upon it the stone would cry out under him, but that if any other person stepped upon it, there was only silence.
In the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick it is said that Ireland's chief idol was at Mag Slecht, and by name 'Cenn Cruaich, covered with gold and silver, and twelve other idols [were] about it, covered with brass'. When Patrick tried to place his crosier on the top of Cenn Cruaich, the idol 'bowed westward to turn on its right side, for its face was from the South, to wit, Tara...And the earth swallowed the twelve other images as far as their heads, and they are thus in sign of the miracle, and he cursed the demon, and banished him to hell'. Sir John Rhys points out that Cenn Cruaich means 'Head or Chief of the Mound', and that the story of its inclined position suggests to us an ancient and gradually falling menhir planted on the summit of a tumulus or hill surrounded by twelve lesser pillar stones, all thirteen – itself a sacred number – regarded as the abodes of gods or else as gods themselves; and these gods are referred to as the demon exorcized from the place by Patrick. The central menhir or Cenn Cruaich probably represents the Solar God, and the twelve menhirs surrounding this probably represent the twelve months of the year. In the Colloquy it is said that Patrick went his way 'to sow faith and piety, to banish devils and wizards out of Ireland; to raise up saints and righteous, to erect crosses, station-stones, and altars; also to overthrow idols and goblin images, and the whole art of sorcery'. Welsh tradition says that St. David split the capstone of the Maen Ketti Cromlech (dolmen) in Gower, in order to prove to the people that there was nothing divine in it.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Merlin constructed Stonehenge by magically transporting from Ireland the 'Choir of the Giants', apparently an ancient Irish circle of stones. The rational explanation of this myth seems to be that the stones of Stonehenge, not belonging to the native rocks of South England, as geologists well know, were probably transported from some distant part of Britain and set up on Salisbury Plain, because of some magical properties supposed to have been possessed by them; and most likely 'the stones were regarded as divine or as seats of divine power'. And further (thereby admitting the sacred purpose of the group), Sir John Rhys sees no objection to identifying Stonehenge with the famous temple of Apollo in the island of the Hyperboreans, referred to in the journal of Pytheas' travels. According to Sir John Rhys's interpretation of this journal, 'the kings of the city containing the temple and the overseers of the latter were the Boreads, who took up the government in succession, according to their tribes. The citizens gave themselves up to music, harping and chanting in honour of the Sun-god, who was every nineteenth year wont himself to appear about the time of the vernal equinox, and to go on harping and dancing in the sky until the rising of the Pleiades.'
Two menhirs, roughly hewn to simulate the human form, are yet to be found in Guernsey, Channel Islands, and formerly there was a similar menhir in the Breton village of Baud, Morbihan. One of the Guernsey figures was dug up in 1878 under the chancel of the Câtel Church, and then placed in the churchyard, so that in this instance it seems highly probable that the Christian Church was built on the site of a sacred pagan shrine where a cult of stones once existed. The second stone figure (a female), now standing as a gate-post in the churchyard of St. Martin's parish, seems also to mark a spot where a pre-Christian sanctuary was christianized. The country-people of the district, up to the middle of the last century, considered it lucky to make floral and even food offerings to this stone; but in 1860 the churchwarden to destroy its sanctity had it broken in two, though now it has been restored. A like stone image was the famous 'Vénus de Quinipilly', near Baud, Morbihan. At its base was a stone trough, wherein until late into the seventeenth century the sick were cured by contact with the image, and young men and maidens were wont to bathe to secure love and long life.
Canon Mahé recorded: in 1825 that the folk-belief located ghosts and spirits of the dead round megalithic monuments, more especially those known to have been used for tombs, because the Celts thought them haunted by ancestral spirits; and what was true in 1825 is true now, for there is still in Brittany the association of ancestral spirits, corrigans, and other spirit-like tribes with tumuli, dolmens, menhirs, and cromlechs, and, as we have shown, a very living faith in the Légende de la Mort. In describing some curious dolmens and cromlechs (stone circles) on the summit of a mountain called the Clech or Mané er kloch, 'Mountain of the bell,' at Mendon, Arrondissement de Lorient, Morbihan, the same author gives it as his opinion, based on folk-traditions, that the cromlechs, like others in Brittany, were places in which the ancient Bretons practised necromancy and invoked the spirits of their ancestors, to whom they attributed great power. He then records a very valuable and interesting tradition concerning these monuments, which seems to indicate clearly a close relationship between the Poulpiquets (another name for corrigans), thought of as spirits by the peasants, and the magical rites conducted in the circles to invoke spirits or daemons: 'The people call the stones which are found there the rocks of the Hoséguéannets or Guerrionets (who are the same as the Poulpiquets); and they declare that at fixed seasons they are in the habit of coming there to celebrate their mysteries, which would prove that the race of these dwarfs is not yet extinct, as I believed.'
When we hear how corrigans dance the national Breton ronde or ridée, at or in such cromlechs (themselves, like the dance, circular in form), which with other ancient stone monuments and earthworks are still believed to be the favourite haunts of these and kindred spirit-tribes, we seem to see, in the light of what Canon Mahé records, a psychical folk-memory about a goblin race who are now thought of as frequenting the very places where anciently such spirits are said to have been invoked by pagan priests for the purposes of divination. Further, it appears that at these sacred centres, as the quoted tradition indicates, in prehistoric times Brythonic initiations took place, like those still flourishing among a few surviving American Indian tribes (who also dance the circular initiation dance), and among other primitive peoples, as we shall more adequately show in the chapter on St. Patrick's Purgatory. The Breton dance is, therefore, most likely the memorial of an ancient initiation dance, religious in character, and, probably, in honour of the sun, being circular in the same way that cromlechs dedicated to a sun-cult are circular. Stonehenge, the most highly developed type of the cromlech, was undoubtedly a sun-temple; and the dance anciently held in it, as described by Pytheas, in honour of the god Apollo, was no doubt circular like the Breton national dance, and, presumably, initiatory. Through a natural anthropomorphic process, this circular initiation dance has come to be attributed to corrigans in Brittany, to pixies in Cornwall and in England, and to fairies in these and other Celtic countries. The idea of fairy tribes in such a special relation may result from a folk-memory of the actual initiators who, as masked men, represented spirits; and, if this be a plausible view, then fairies may be compared to the initiators of contemporary initiation ceremonies among primitive peoples and, following Dr. Gilbert Murray's theory, to the Greek satyrs also.
A circular dance like the Breton one still survives among the peasantry in the Channel Islands, at least in Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark, being celebrated at weddings, but the revolution is now around a person instead of a stone, and to this person obeisance is paid. This tends to confirm our opinion that the dance is the survival of an ancient sun-dance, the central figure being typical of the sun deity himself, or Apollo; and if we design this dance thus – we have the astronomical emblem still used in all our calendars to represent the sun, one which in itself preserves a vast mass of forgotten lore. Formerly in Guernsey, the sites of principal dolmens (or cromlechs) and pillar-stones were visited in sacred procession, and round certain of them the whole body of pilgrims 'solemnly revolved three times from east to west' – as the sun moves.
Again, according to Canon Mahé, the bases and lower parts of the sides of four singular barrows at Coët-bihan blend in such a way as to form an enclosed court, and one of the barrows has been pierced as though for a passageway into this court. And he holds that it is more than probable that these ancient earthworks when first they were raised, and others like them in various Celtic lands, witnessed many mystic and religious rites and sacred tribal assemblies. The supposition that the Coët-bihan earthworks were originally dedicated to pagan religious usages is very much strengthened by the fact that in very early times a Christian chapel was erected near them. 1 Mont St. Michel at Carnac is another example of a pagan tumulus dedicated to a Christian saint; and, as Sir John Rhys says, the Archangel Michael appears in more places than one in Celtic lands as the supplanter of the dark powers. Not only were tumuli thus transferred by re-dedication from pagan gods to Christian saints, but dolmens and menhirs as well.
Thus, for example, at Plouharnel-Carnac (Morbihan) there is a menhir surmounted by a Christian cross, just as at Dol (Ille-et-Vilaine) a wooden crucifix surmounts the great menhir, and at Carnac there is a dolmen likewise christianized by a stone cross-mounted on the table-stone. Again, M. J. Déchelette in his Manuel d'Archéologie Préhistorique, Celtique et Gallo-Romaine describes a dolmen at Plouaret (Cotes-du-Nord) converted into a chapel dedicated to the Seven Saints, and another dolmen at Saint-Germain-de-Confolens (Charente) likewise transformed into a place of worship. Miss Edith F. Carey thus explains the dolmens in the Channel Islands: 'All our old traditions prove our dolmens to have been the general rendezvous of our insular sorcerers. In sixteenth and seventeenth century manuscripts I have found these dolmens described as "altars of the gods of the sea "...One of our ancient dolmens retains its ancient name of De Hus, and a fifteenth-century "Perchage" of Fief de Léree tells us that a now destroyed dolmen on our western coast was dedicated to the same god, for Heus or Hesus was the War-God of ancient Gaul.' The same writer describes excavations made at De Hus by Mr. Lukis, and that he found in a side chamber there two kneeling skeletons, one facing the north, the other the south. He considered them to have been of young persons probably interred alive as a funeral or propitiatory sacrifice to some tribal chief, or else to a presiding deity of the dolmen. Beside a tomb of the early bronze age at the bottom of a large tumulus near Mammarlöf, in Skåne, Dr. Oscar Montelius, the famous archaeologist of Sweden, discovered a circular stone altar on which reposed charcoal and the remains of a burnt animal offering, which undoubtedly was made to the dead Schliemann made a parallel discovery in an ancient tomb at Mycenae, Greece. Curiously, in India to-day the Dravidian tribes, a pygmy-like aboriginal race, worship at the ancient dolmens in their forests and mountains, whether as at tombs and hence to ancestral spirits or to gods is not always clear; but the latter form of worship is probably more common, since Mr. Walhouse once observed one of their medicine-men performing a propitiatory service to the agricultural or earth deities. The medicine-man passed the night in solitude sitting 'on the capstone of a dolmen with heels and hams drawn together and chin on knee' – evidently thus to await the advent of the Sun-god.
All the above illustrations, mostly Celtic ones, tend to prove that menhirs, certain tumuli and earthworks, cromlechs, and dolmens were originally connected with religious usages, chiefly with a cult of gods and fairy-like beings, and, though less commonly, with the dead. We pass now to a special consideration of chambered tumuli, to show that the same apparently holds true of them.
New Grange and Celtic Mysteries
Though, as Professor J. Loth and other eminent archaeologists hold, all tumuli containing chambers, and all allées couvertes of dolmens, should be considered as designedly funereal in their purposes, nevertheless certain of the greater ones, like New Grange and Gavrinis may also properly be considered as places for rendering worship or even sacrifice to the dead, and, perhaps, as places for religious pilgrimages and sacred rites. This, too, seems to be the opinion of M. J. Déchelette in his work on Celtic and Gallo-Roman archaeology, as he traces from the earliest prehistoric times in Europe the evolution of the cult of the dead according to the evidence furnished by the ancient megalithic monuments.
To begin with, let us take as a type for our study the most famous of all so-called Celtic tumuli, that of New Grange, on the River Boyne in Ireland. In Irish literature New Grange is constantly associated with the Tuatha De Danann as one of their palaces. Note: Mr. Coffey quotes from the Senchus-na-Relec, in L. U., this significant passage: 'The nobles of the Tuatha De Danann were used to bury at Brugh (i.e. the Dagda with his three sons; also Lugaidh, and Oe, and Ollam, and Ogma, and Etan the Poetess, and Corpre, the son of Etan).' The manuscript, however, being late and directly under Christian influence, echoes but imperfectly very ancient Celtic tradition: the immortal god-race are therein rationalized by the transcribers, and made subject to death.
The testimony indicates that the essential nature of these fairy-folk is subjective or spiritual. These two facts at the outset are very important and fundamental, because we expect to show even more dearly than we have just done in the case of menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs, and smaller tumuli, that the folk-belief under consideration is at bottom a psychical one, which has grown up out of a folk-memory of the time when, as has just been said, Celtic or pre-Celtic tumuli were used for interments, and probably certain ones among them as places for the celebration of pagan mysteries.
Mr. George Coffey, the eminent archaeologist in charge of the archaeological collections of the Royal Irish Academy, quotes from ancient Irish records in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre and other manuscripts to show that the early traditions refer to the Boyne country as the burial-place of the kings of Tara, and that sometimes they seem to associate Brugh-na-Boyne with the tumuli on the Boyne, but, no exact identification being possible, it cannot be said with certainty whether any one of the three great Boyne tumuli is meant. Even though it could be shown conclusively that some mighty hero or king had actually been entombed in New Grange, as is likely, in the earth behind the chamber, under the chamber's floor, or even within the chamber, still, as we have already pointed out, most of the great Irish heroes and kings were in popular belief literally gods incarnate, and, therefore (as commonly among all ancient peoples, civilized and non-civilized, who held the same doctrine), the tomb of such a divine personage came to be regarded as the actual dwelling of the once incarnate god, even though his bones were long turned to dust. The Book of Ballymote strengthens this suggestion: in one of its ancient Irish poems, by MacNia, son of Oenna, preceded by this mystical dedication, 'Ye Poets of Bregia, of truth, not false,' the wonders of the Palace of the Boyne, the Hall of the great god Daghda, supreme king and oracle of the Tuatha de Danann, are thus celebrated:
Behold the Sidh before your eyes,
It is manifest to you that it is a king's mansion,
Which was built by the firm Daghda;
It was a wonder, a court, an admirable hill.
It seems clear enough, from the old Irish manuscripts referred to by Mr. Coffey, that the Boyne country near Tara was the sacred and religious centre of ancient Ireland, and was used by the Irish in very much the same way as Memphis and other places on the sacred Nile were used by the ancient Egyptians, both as a royal cemetery and as a place for the celebration of pagan mysteries. It is known that most of the Mysteries of Antiquity were psychic in their nature, having to do with the neophyte's entrance into Hades or the invisible world while out of the physical body, or else with direct communication with gods, spirits, and shades of the dead, while in the physical body; and such mysteries I were performed in darkened chambers from which all light was excluded. These chambers were often carved out of solid rock, as can be seen in the Rock Temples of India; and when mountain caves or natural caverns were not available, artificial ones were used.
The places, like Tara and Memphis, where the great men and kings of the nations of antiquity were entombed, being the most sacred, were very often, on that account, also the places dedicated to the most magnificent temples and to the Mysteries, or among less advanced nations to the worship of the dead. On every side of sacred Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain is dotted with the burial mounds of unknown heroes and chieftains of ancient Britain; while in modern times, even though the Mysteries are long forgotten, Westminster Abbey, at the centre of the planet's capital, has, in turn, become the hallowed Hall of the Mighty Dead for the vast British Empire. In view of all these facts, after a careful examination of the famous New Grange tumulus itself, and a study of the references to it in old Irish literature, we are firmly of the opinion that one cannot be far wrong in describing it as a spirit-temple in which were celebrated ancient Celtic or pre-Celtic Mysteries at the time when neophytes, including those of royal blood, were initiated; and as such it is directly related to a cult of the Tuatha De Danann or Fairy-Folk, of spirits, and of the dead. Nor are we alone in this opinion. Mr. Coffey himself, we believe, is inclined to favour it; and Mr. W. C. Borlase, author of The Dolmens of Ireland, who is quite committed to it, says that it is not necessary, as some do, to consider New Grange as an ancient abode of mortal men, for 'the spirits of the dead, the fairies, the Sidhe, might have had their brugh, or palace, as well'. And he points out that in the old Irish manuscripts we have proof that it was supposed to be thus used. This proof is found in the Agallamh na Senórach or 'Colloquy with the Ancients' by St. Patrick, from the Book of Lismore, a fifteenth-century manuscript copied from older manuscripts and now translated by Standish H. O'Grady: The three sons of the King of Ireland, by name Ruidhe, Fiacha, and Eochaid, leaving their nurse's and guardian's house, went to fert na ndruadh, i. e. 'grave of the wizards', north-west of Tara, to ask of their father a country, a domain; but he refused their request, and then they formed a project to gain lands and riches by fasting on the tuatha dé Danann at the brugh upon the Boyne: '"Lands therefore I will not bestow on you, but win lands for yourself." Thereupon they with the ready rising of one man rose and took their way to the green of the brugh upon the Boyne where, none other being in their company, they sat them down. Ruidhe said: "What is your plan to-night?" His brothers rejoined: "Our project is to fast on the tuatha dé Danann, aiming thus to win from them good fortune in the shape of a country, of a domain, of lands, and to have vast riches." Nor had they been long there when they marked a cheery-looking young man of a pacific demeanour that came towards them. He salutes the king of Ireland's sons; they answer him after the same manner. "Young man, whence art thou? whence comest thou?" "Out of yonder brugh chequered with the many lights hard by you here." "What name wearest thou?" "I am the Daghda's son Bodhb Derg; and to the tuatha dé Danann it was revealed that ye would come to fast here to-night, for lands and for great fortune."' Then with Bodhb Derg, the three sons of Ireland's king entered into the brugh, and the tuatha dé Danann went into council, and Midhir Yellow-mane son of the Daghda who presided said: 'Those yonder accommodate now with three wives, since from wives it is that either fortune or misfortune is derived.' And from their marriages with the three daughters of Midhir they derived all their wishes – territories and wealth in the greatest abundance. 'For three days with their nights they abode in the sídh.' 'Angus told them to carry away out of fidh omna, i. e. "Oakwood," three apple-trees: one in full bloom, another shedding the blossom, and another covered with ripe fruit. Then they repaired to the dún, where they abode for three times fifty years, and until those kings disappeared; for in virtue of marriage alliance they returned again to the tuatha dé Danann, and from that time forth have remained there.'
Mr. Borlase, commenting on this passage, suggests its importance in proving to us that during the Middle Ages there existed a tradition, thus committed to writing from older manuscripts or from oral sources, regarding 'the nature of the rites performed in pagan times at those places, which were held sacred to the heathen mysteries'. The passage evidently describes a cult of royal or famous ancestral spirits identified with the god-race of Tuatha De Danann, who, as we know, being reborn as mortals, ruled Ireland. These ancestral spirits were to be approached by a pilgrimage made to their abode, the spirit-haunted tumulus, and a residence in it of three days and three nights during which period there was to be an unbroken fast. Sacrifices were doubtless offered to the gods, or spirit-ancestors; and while they were 'fasted upon', they were expected to appear and grant the pilgrim's prayer and to speak with him. All this indicates that the existence of invisible beings was taken for granted, probably through the knowledge gained by initiation.
The Echtra Nerai or the 'Adventures of Nera', contains a description like the one above, of how a mortal named Nera went into the Sidhe-palace at Cruachan; and it is said that he went not only into the cave (uamh) but into the síd of the cave. Note: ...require of thee my marriage-gift, because once upon a time thou promisedst me such.' And as they parleyed Patrick broke in with: 'It is a wonder to us how we see you two: the girl young and invested with all comeliness; but thou Caeilte, a withered ancient, bent in the back and dingily grown grey.' 'Which is no wonder at all,' said Caeilte, 'for no people of one generation or of one time are we: she is of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are unfading and whose duration is perennial I am of the sons of Milesius, that are perishable and fade away.' The exact distinction is between Caeilte, a withered old ancient – in most ways to be regarded as a ghost called up that Patrick may question him about the past history of Ireland – and a fairy-woman who is one of the Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann.
The term uamh or cave according to Mr. Borlase, indicates the whole of the interior vaulted chamber, while the síd of that vaulted chamber or uamh is intended to refer to 'the sanctum sanctorum, or penetralia of the spirit-temple, upon entering into which the mortal came face to face with the royal occupants, and there doubtless he lay fasting, or offering his sacrifices, at the periods prescribed'. The word brugh refers simply to the appearance of a tumulus, or souterrain beneath a fort or rath, and means, therefore, mansion or dwelling-place. And Mr. Borlase adds: 'I feel but little doubt that in the inner chamber at New Grange, with its three recesses and its basin, we have this síd of the cave, and the place where the pilgrims fasted – a situation and a practice precisely similar to those which, under Christian auspices, were continued at such places as the Leaba Mologa in Cork, the original Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg, and elsewhere. The practice of lying in stone troughs was a feature of the Christian pilgrimages in Ireland. Sometimes such troughs had served the previous purpose of stone coffins. It is just possible that the shallow basins in the cells at Lough Crew, New Grange, and Dowth may, like the stone beds or troughs of the saints, have been occupied by the pilgrims engaged in their devotions. If so, however, they must have sat in them in Eastern fashion.'
Again, in the popular tale called The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainnè, Aengus, the son of the Dagda, one of the Tuatha De Danann, is called Aengus-an-Bhrogha, and connected with the Brugh-na-Boinne. In the tale Finn says, 'Let us leave this tulach, for fear that Aengus-an-Bhrogha and the Tuatha-De-Danann might catch us; and though we have no part in the slaying of Diarmuid, he would none the more readily believe us.' Aengus is evidently an invisible being with great power over mortals. This is clear in what follows: he transports Diarmuid's body to the Brugh-na-Boinne, saying, 'Since I cannot restore him to life, I will send a soul into him, so that he may talk to me each day.' Thus, as the presiding deity of the brugh, Aengus the Tuatha De Danann could reanimate dead bodies 'and cause them to speak to devotees, we may suppose oracularly.' In the Bruighion Chaorihainn or 'Fort of the Rowan Tree', a Fenian tale, a poet put Finn under taboo to understand these verses:
I saw a house in the country
Out of which no hostages are given to a king,
Fire burns it not, harrying spoils it not.
And Finn made reply: 'I understand that verse, for that is the Brugh of the Boyne that you have seen (perhaps, as we suggest, during an initiation), namely, the house of Aengus Og of the Brugh, and it cannot be burned or harried as long as Aengus (a god) shall live.' As Mr. Borlase observes, to say that 'no hostages are given to a king' out of the Brugh is probably another way of saying that the dead pay no taxes, or that being a holy place, the Brugh was exempt. This last evidence is from oral tradition, and rather late in being placed on record; but it is not on that account less trustworthy, and may be much more so than the older manuscripts. Until quite modern times the folk-lore of the Boyne country still echoed similar traditions about unknown mystic rites, following what O'Donovan has recorded; for he has said that Aenghus-an-Bhrogha was considered the presiding fairy of the Boyne till quite within recent times, and that his name was still familiar to the old inhabitants of Meath who were then fast forgetting their traditions with the Irish language. And this tradition brings us to consider what was apparently an Aengus Cult among the ancient Celtic peoples.
New Grange and Great Pyramid
Caliph Al Mamoun in A. D. 820, by a forced passage, was the first in modern times to enter the Great Pyramid, and he found nowhere a mummy or any indications that the structure had ever been used as a tomb for the dead. The King's Chamber, so named by us moderns, proved to be a keen disappointment for its first violator, for in it there was neither gold nor silver nor anything at all worth carrying away. The magnificent chamber contained nothing save an empty stone chest without a lid. Archaeologists in Egypt and archaeologists in Ireland face the same unsolved problem, namely, the purpose of the empty stone chest without inscriptions and quite unlike a mummy tomb, and of the stone basin in New Grange.
Certain Egyptologists have supposed that some royal personage must have been buried in the curious granite coffer, though there can be only their supposition to support them, for they have absolutely no proof that such is true, while there is strong circumstantial evidence to show that such is not true. Sir Gardner Wilkinson in his well-known publications has already suggested that the stone chest as well as the Great Pyramid itself were never intended to hold a corpse; and it is generally admitted by Egyptologists that no sarcophagus intended for a mummy has ever been found so high up in the body of a pyramid as this empty stone chest, except in the Second Pyramid. Incontestable evidence in support of the highly probable theory that the Great Pyramid was not intended for an actual tomb can be drawn from two important facts: (1) 'the coffer-has certain remarkable cubic proportions which show a care and design beyond what could be expected in any burial-coffer' – according to the high authority of Dr. Flinders Petrie; (2) the chamber containing the coffer and the upper passage-ways have ventilating channels not known in any other Pyramid, so that apparently there must have been need of frequent entrance into the chamber by living men, as would be the case if used, as we hold, for initiation ceremonies.
It is well known that very many of the megalithic monuments of the New Grange type scattered over Europe, especially from the Carnac centre of Brittany to the Tara-Boyne centre of Ireland, have one thing in common, an astronomical arrangement like the Great Pyramid, and an entrance facing one of the points of the solstices, usually either the winter solstice, which is common, or the summer solstice. The puzzle has always been to discover the exact arrangement of the Great Pyramid by locating its main entrance. A Californian, Mr. Louis P. McCarty, in his recent (1907) work entitled The Great Pyramid Jeezeh, suggests with the most logical and reasonable arguments that the builders of the Pyramid have placed its main entrance in an undiscovered passage-way beneath the Great Sphinx, now half-buried in the shifting desert sands. If it can be shown that the Sphinx is the real portal, and many things tend to indicate that it is, the Great Pyramid is built on the same plan as New Grange, that is to say, it opens to the south-east, and like New Grange contains a narrow passageway leading to a central chamber. South-easterly from the centre of the Pyramid lies the Sphinx, 5,380 feet away, a distance equal to 'just five times the distance of the "diagonal socket length" of the Great Pyramid from the centre of the Subterranean Chamber, under the Pyramid, to the supposed entrance under the Sphinx' – a distance quite in keeping with the mighty proportions of the wonderful structure. And what is important, several eminent archaeologists have worked out the same conclusion, and have been seeking to connect the two monuments by making excavations in the Queen's Chamber, where it is supposed there exists a tunnel to the Sphinx. In all this we should bear in mind that the present entrance to the Pyramid is the forced one made by the treasure-seeking Caliph.
This very probable astronomical parallelism between the great Egyptian monument and the Irish one would establish their common religious, or, in a mystic sense, their funereal significance. We have set forth what symbolical relation the sun, its rising and setting, and its death at the winter equinox, were anciently supposed to hold to the doctrines of human death and re-birth. Jubainville, regarding the sun among the Celts in its symbolical relation to death, wrote, 'In Celtic belief, the dead go to live beyond the Ocean, to the south-west, there where the sun sets during the greater part of the year.' This, too, as M. Maspero shows, was an Egyptian belief; while, as equally among the Celts, the east, especially the south-east, where, after the winter solstice, the sun seems to be re-born or to rise out of the underworld of Hades into which it goes when it dies, is symbolical of the reverse – Life, Resurrection, and Re-birth. In this last Celtic-Egyptian belief, we maintain, may be found the reason why the chief megalithic monuments (dolmens, tumuli, and alignements), in Celtic countries and elsewhere, have their directions east and west, and why those like New Grange and Gavrinis open to the sunrise, and on the Greek temples also opened to the sunrise, and on the divine image within fell the first rays of the beautiful god Apollo. In the great Peruvian sun-temple at Cuzco, a splendid disk of pure gold faced the east, and, reflecting the first rays of the rising sun, illuminated the whole sanctuary.' The cave-temple of the Florida Red Men opened eastward, and within its entrance on festival days stood the priest at dawn watching for the first ray of the sun, as a sign to begin the chant and offering. The East Indian performs the ablution at dawn in the sacred Ganges, and stands facing the east meditating, as Brahma appears in all the wondrous glory of a tropical sunrise. And in the same Aryan land there is an opposite worship: the dreaded Thugs, worshippers of devils and of Kali the death-goddess, in their most diabolical rites face the west and the sunset, symbols of death. How Christianity was shaped by paganism is nowhere clearer than in the orientation of great cathedral churches (almost without exception in England), for all of the more famous ones have their altars eastward; and Roman Catholics in prayer in their church services, and Anglicans in repeating the Creed, turn to the east, as the Hindu does. St. Augustine says: 'When we stand at prayer, we turn to the east, where the heaven arises, not as though God were only there, and had forsaken all other parts of the world, but to admonish our mind to turn to a more excellent nature, that is, to the Lord.' Though the Jews came to be utterly opposed to sun-worship in their later history, they were sun-worshippers at first, as their temples opening eastward testify. This was the vision of Ezekiel: 'And, behold, at the door of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the Altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east.'
All this illustrates the once world-wide religion of our race; and shows that sun-cults and sun-symbols are derived from a universal doctrine regarding the two states of existence – the one in Hades or the invisible lower world where the Sun-god goes at night, and the other in what we call the visible realm which the Sun-god visits daily. The relation between life and death – symbolically figured in this fundamental conception forming the background of every sun-cult – is the foundation of all ancient mysteries. Thus we should expect the correspondences which we believe do exist between New Grange and the Great Pyramid. Both alike, in our opinion, were the greatest places in the respective countries for the celebration of the Mysteries. High up in the body of the Great Pyramid, after he had performed the long underground journey, typical of the journey of Osiris or the Sun to the Otherworld or the World of the Dead, we may suppose (knowing what we do of the Ancient Mysteries and their shadows in modern Masonic initiations) that the royal or priestly neophyte laid himself in that strange stone coffin without a lid, for a certain period of time – probably for three days and three nights. Then, the initiation being complete, he arose from the mystic death to a real resurrection, a true child of Osiris. In New Grange we may suppose that the royal or priestly neophyte, while he 'fasted on the Tuatha De Danann for three days with their nights, ' sat in that strange stone basin after the manner of the Orient.
The Great Pyramid seems to be the most ancient of the Egyptian pyramids, and undoubtedly was the model for all the smaller ones, which 'always betray profound ignorance of their noble model's chiefest internal features, as well as of all its niceties of angle and cosmic harmonies of linear measurement'. Dr. Flinders Petrie says: 'The Great Pyramid at Gizeh (of Khufu, fourth dynasty) unquestionably takes the lead, in accuracy and in beauty of work, as well as in size. Not only is the fine work of it in the pavement, casing, King's and Queen's chambers quite unexcelled; but the general character of the core masonry is better than that of any other pyramid in its solidity and regularity.' And of the stone coffers he says: 'Taking most of its dimensions at their maximum, they agree closely with the same theory as that which is applicable to the chambers; for when squared they are all even multiples of a square fifth of a cubit...There is no other theory applicable to every lineal dimension of the coffer; but having found their proportion in the form of the Pyramid, and in the King's Chamber, there is some ground for supposing that it was intended also in the coffer, on just one-fifth the scale of the chamber.' And here is apparent the important fact we wish to emphasize; the Great Pyramid does not seem to have been intended primarily, if at all, for the entombment of dead bodies or mummies while 'the numerous quasi-copies' were 'for sepulchral purposes ' without doubt. There appears to have been at first a clear understanding of the esoteric usage of the Great Pyramid as a place for the mystic burial of Initiates, and then in the course of national decadence the exoteric interpretation of this usage, the interpretation now popular with Egyptologists. led to the erection of smaller pyramids for purposes of actual burial. And may we not see in such pyramid-like tumuli as those of Mont St. Michel, Gavrinis, and New Grange copies of these smaller funeral pyramids; or, if not, direct copies, at least the result of a similar religious decadence from the unknown centuries since the Great Pyramid was erected by the Divine Kings of prehistoric Egypt as a silent witness for all ages that Great Men, Initiates, have understood Universal Law, and have solved the greatest of all human problems, the problem of Life and Death?
In conclusion, and in support of the arguments already advanced, I offer a few observations of my own, made at Gavrinis itself, the most famous tumulus in Continental Europe. After a very careful examination of the interior and exterior of the tumulus, an examination extending over more than twelve hours, I am convinced that its curious rock-carvings and those in New Grange are by the same race of people, whoever that race may have been; and that there is sufficient evidence in its construction to show that, like New Grange, it was quite as religious as funereal in its nature and use. The facts which bear out this view are the following. First, there are three strange cavities cut into the body of the stone on the south side of the inner chamber, communicating interiorly with one another, and large enough to admit human hands; if used as places in which to offer sacrifice to the dead or fairies, small objects could have been placed in them. In the oldest extant authentic records of them which I have found it is said of their probable purpose:
'Some people look on them as a double noose intended to strangle the [animal] victims which the priest sacrificed; for others they are two rings behind which the hands of the betrothed met each other to be married.' Their purpose is certainly difficult enough to decipher, perhaps is undecipherable; but one thing about them is certain, namely, that a close examination round their exterior edges and within them also shows the rock-surface worn smooth as though by ages of handling and touching; and it is incontestable that this wearing of the rock-surface by human hands could not have taken place had the inner chamber been sealed up and used solely as a tomb. We suggest here, as Sir James Fergusson in his Rude Stone Monuments has suggested, that the inner chamber of Gavrinis was probably a place for the celebration of religious rites: he advances the opinion that the strange cavities were used to contain holy oil or holy water. There is this second curious fact connected with the tumulus of Gavrinis. On entering it – and it opens like New Grange to the sunrise, being oriented 43° 60" to the south-east – one finds placed across the floor of the narrow passage-way as slightly inclined steps rising to the inner chamber three or four stones. Two of them, now very prominent, form veritable stumbling-blocks, and the one at the threshold of the inner chamber is carved quite like the lintel stone above the entrance at New Grange. From what we know of ancient mystic cults, there was a darkened chamber approached by a narrow passage-way so low that the neophyte must stoop in traversing it to show symbolically his humility; and as symbolic of his progress to the Chamber of Death, the Sanctum Sanctorum of the spirit-temple, there were steps, often purposely placed as stumbling-blocks. The Great Pyramid, evidently, conforms to this mystical plan; and strikes one, therefore, all the more forcibly as the most remarkable structure for initiatory ceremonies ever constructed on our planet. Thus, Dr. Flinders Petrie says: 'But we are met then by an extraordinary idea, that all access to the King's chamber after its completion must have been by climbing over the plug-blocks, as they lay in the gallery, or by walking up the ramps on either side of them. Yet, as the blocks cannot physically have been lying in any other place before they were let down we are shut up to this view.' And as Egyptian tombs represented the mansions of the dead, just so Celtic or pre-Celtic spirit-temples and place for initiations were always connected with the Underworld of the Dead; and save for such symbolical arrangements as we see in Gavrinis, and New Grange also, they were undistinguishable from tombs used for interments only.
It seems to us most reasonable to suppose that if, as the old Irish manuscripts show, there were spirit-temples or places for pagan funeral rites, or rites of initiation, in Ireland, constructed like other tumuli which were used only as tombs for the dead (because the ancient cult was one of ancestor worship and worship of gods like the Tuatha De Danann, and spirits), then there must have been others in Brittany also, where we find the same system of rock-inscriptions. Further, in view of all the definite provable relations between Gavrinis and New Grange, we are strongly inclined to regard them both as having the same origin and purpose, Gavrinis being for Armorica what New Grange was for Ireland, the royal or principal spirit-temple.
— Myers, in the Survival of the Human Personality, shows that 'the departed spirit, long after death, seems pre-occupied with the spot where his bones are laid'. Among contemporary uncultured races there exists a theory parallel to this one arrived at through careful scientific research, namely, that ghosts haunt graves and monuments connected with the dead: according to the Australian Arunta the 'double' hovers near its body until the body is reduced to dust, the spirit or soul of the deceased having separated from this 'double' or ghost at the time of death or soon afterwards (Spenser and Gillen, Nat. Tribes of Cent. Aust.).
— On April 17, 1909, at Carnac, in a natural fissure in the body of the finest menhir at the head of the Alignement of Kermario, I found quite by chance, while making a very careful examination of the geological Structure of the menhir, a Roman Catholic coin (or medal) of St. Peter. The place in the menhir where this coin was discovered is on the south side about fifteen inches above the surface of the ground. The menhir is very tall and smoothly rounded, and there is no possible way for the coin to have fallen into the fissure by accident. Nor is there any probability that the coin was placed there without a serious purpose; and it is an object such as only an adult would possess. An examination of the link remaining on the coin, which no doubt formerly connected it with a necklace or string of prayer-beads, shows that it has been purposely opened so as to free it at the time it was deposited in the stone. Had the coin been accidentally torn away from a chain or string of prayer-beads the link would have presented a different sort of opening. But it would be altogether unreasonable to suppose that by any sort of chance the coin could have reached the place where I found it. I showed the coin to M. Z. Le Rouzic, of the Carnac Museum, and he considers it, as I do, as evidence or proof of a cult rendered to stones here in Brittany. The coin must have been secretly placed in the menhir by some pious peasant as a direct ex voto for some favour received or demanded. The coin is somewhat discoloured, and has probably been some years in the stone, though it cannot be very old. And the offering of a coin to the spirit residing in a menhir is parallel to throwing coins, pins, or other objects into sacred fountains, which, as we know, is an undisputed practice.
— These 'idols' probably were not true images, but simply unshaped stone pillars planted on end in the earth; and ought, therefore, more properly to be designated fetishes.
— Very much first-class evidence suggests that the menhir was regarded by the primitive Celts both as an abode of a god or as a seat of divine power, and as a phallic symbol (cf. Jubainville, Le culte des menhirs dans le monde celtique, in Rev. Celt.). As a phallic symbol, the menhir must have been inseparably related to a Celtic sun-cult; because among all ancient peoples where phallic worship has prevailed, the sun has been venerated as the supreme masculine force in external nature from which all life proceeds, while the phallus has been venerated as the corresponding force in human nature.
— In Cornwall, Wales, and Ireland, instead of the peculiarly Breton word dolmen (composed of dol (for tol = tavl], meaning table, and of men [Middle Breton maen], meaning stone) the word cromlech is used. Cromlech is the Welsh equivalent for the Breton dolmen, but Breton archaeologists use cromlech to describe a circle formed by menhirs.
— The place for holding a gorsedd for modern Welsh initiations, under the authority of which the Eisteddfod is conducted, must also be within a circle of stones, 'face to face with the sun and the eye of light, as there is no power to hold a gorsedd under cover or at night, but only where and as long as the sun is visible in the heavens' (Rhys, Hib. Lect.; from Iolo MSS.).
— Recently before the Oxford Anthropological Society, Dr. Murray argued that the satyrs of Greek drama may originally have been masked initiators in Greek initiations. (Cf. The Oxford Magazine, February 3, 1910.)
— These Dravidians are slightly taller than the pure Negritos, their probable ancestors; and Indian tradition considers them to be the builders of the Indian dolmens, just as Celtic tradition considers fairies and corrigans (often described as dark or even black-skinned dwarfs) to be the builders of dolmens and megaliths among the Celts. Apparently, in such folk-traditions, which correctly or incorrectly regard fairies, corrigans, or Dravidians as the builders of ancient stone monuments, there has been preserved a folk-memory of early races of men who may have been Negritos (pygmy blacks). These races, through a natural anthropomorphic process, came to be identified with the spirits of the dead and with other spiritual beings to whom the monuments were dedicated and at which they were worshipped. Here, again, the Pygmy Theory is seen at its true relative value: it is subordinate to the fundamental animism of the Fairy-Faith.
— The popular opinion that Christians face the east in prayer, or have altars eastward because Jerusalem is eastward, does not fit in with facts.
— In 1770, when New Grange apparently was not covered with a growth of trees as now, Governor Pownall visited it and described it as like a pyramid in general outline: 'The pyramid in its present state' is 'but a ruin of what it was.'
— Mr. Coffey says of similar details in Irish tumuli: 'In the construction of such chambers it is usual to find a sort of sill or low stone placed across the entrance into the main chamber, and at the openings into the smaller chambers or recesses; such stones also occur laid at intervals across the bottom of the passages. This forms a marked feature in the construction at Dowth, and in the cairns on the Loughcrew Hills, but is wholly absent at New Grange'. New Grange, however, has suffered more or less from vandalism, and originally may have contained similar stone sills.
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