Universal Brotherhood – June 1898

THE ANCIENT DRUIDS: II — Rev W. Williams

THEIR HISTORY AND RELIGION

(Continued.)

In our preceding remarks on the Ancient Druids, we gave a short sketch of the wanderings and migrations of the Celts from their native land until their final settlement in the northwest of France and the neighboring island of Britain in which the system of Druidism attained to its highest development. Owing to freedom from the incursions of surrounding nations, their numbers increased to such an extent, that the country of Wales, the Isle of Mona, Ireland and part of Scotland became peopled by Celtic tribes who were accompanied by their Druid priests and bards and formed the great strongholds of Druidism, to the spread of which, their extensive forests with their leafy dells and shady groves mainly contributed.

The existing remains of such enormous structures as Stonehenge and Avebury, of huge cromlechs, dolmens and menhirs, in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland, have been we think erroneously attributed to the Druids. It is more probable that these megalithic temples and betylia were already in existence on the arrival of the Celts, and were made use of for their annual assemblies and the celebration of their sacrificial ceremonies with which they were inaugurated. The Celts were not builders like the Suryas or members of the Solar race. They were hunters and agriculturists and the exigencies of their modes of living, left them neither time nor leisure to attend to works of architecture, of which they had no need, as Nature herself had provided them with structures and temples fairer, more enduring and grander in their proportions than those upreared by human arts and skill.

"The groves were God's first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them — ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood
Amid the cool and silence, he knelt down
And offered to the Mightiest, solemn thanks
And supplication, for his simple heart
Could not resist the sacred influence
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place.
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the Invisible Breath, that swayed at once
All their screen tops, stole over him and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty."

The existence in America and Africa of structures similar to those of Stonehenge tend to show that they were rather the erection of the Atlantean race, those Cyclops of Antiquity the wrecks and ruins of whose Architecture, fill the minds of all beholders with feelings of wonder and admiration.

It has been observed by students of Comparative Religion, that all systems of belief possess in common certain fundamental ideas and conceptions which according to the prominence given to them, become influential means and powerful agents in developing and moulding national character. Appealing to peculiar mental and spiritual faculties, they bring out and incite to activity latent powers and forces which result in the evolution of those religious systems which have prevailed from time immemorial throughout the world. Confirmatory evidences of this fact are amply furnished in the rise and progress of religion in Arabia, China, India and Christendom. The doctrine of the unity of the Divine Being lies at the basis of all their cosmogonies and systems of philosophy, to which become attached, in course of time, teachings of Metempsychosis or Reincarnation, of moral and physical causation and speculations which crystallize into dogmas on the nature and ultimate destiny of man. There is also an embryological law which governs their development by which we can account for the many and differing phases of growth which they exhibit, as also the causes of their decline and extinction. Those in which the principle of humanity has been the ruling element, have attained the greatest longevity and become the most active and universal agents in the progress of civilization and the advancement of the Arts and Sciences which ameliorate the conditions of life and enable man to utilize the forces of nature and make them subservient to his welfare and enjoyment.

Religions, like empires, upreared on any other principle than that of humanity, have been transient in duration, disastrous rather than beneficial to the human race, and contained within them the seeds and elements of their own decay and annihilation. Sporadic in origin, as luxuriant in growth as tropical plants, like these they were short-lived, and, having no root in human nature, withered away and became extinct. This, as we shall presently see was the case with Druidism, a graft from that old prehistoric Aryan Religion whose vigorous offshoots attained to marvellous developments under the influences of more southern climes.

The religion of the Celts, like all other ancient religions, was patriarchal in its character, until, as we have stated, their altered circumstances and newly acquired modes of life necessitated a change which resulted in the relegation of religious rites and ceremonies and their celebration to certain individuals characterized for their learning and holiness of life, who henceforth became known by the name of Druids. In silent forest glades and groves, they had ample opportunity, like the Aranyakas in India, for the development of those high spiritual states of ecstasy in which the whole realm of knowledge and the secrets of nature became unveiled and revealed to their wondering and inquiring gaze, and so long as they were unswayed by ambition and remained content to be advisers and teachers, the fame of their extensive learning and the vast stores of knowledge which they accumulated, caused them to become subjects of the highest reverence. The rumor of them spread throughout all lands, so that students from all parts of the world flocked to them for instruction, and tradition states that Pythagoras himself was indebted to them for the doctrine of Metempsychosis. It is admitted by Greek writers that he was a disciple of the Celtic sages and acquainted with Abaris, a great Druid adept, who instructed him in the doctrine of the Abred or Circle of Courses, which, like the Gilgal Nishmoth or revolutio animarum of the ancient Kabbala, is intimately connected with the doctrine of Reincarnation. Iamblichos, in his life of Pythagoras, informs us that it was the common opinion that he had been instructed by the Celts. Diogenes Laertius expressly states that the philosophy of Greece came originally from the Celts. Stephanus Byzantius relates that the name of Abaris belongs to the Cymry or ancient inhabitants of Wales, in whose language it is a familiar term meaning The Contemplative One, or as we would now say, The Philosopher. We gather from the fragments of Hecatoeus, an ancient Greek historian and traveller, that Abaris was a Hyperborean, which, taking into consideration the scattered notices of him in other Greek writers, clearly demonstrates that the Hyperboreans, to whom they frequently refer, were the Celtic inhabitants of Britain. This fact receives additional confirmation from the description which Hecatceus gives of the geography, climate, harvest capacity, temples, groves, priests and harpers or bards of the island of the Hyperboreans, which plainly indicate it to have been Britain and no other country. Polyhistor, a great authority with ancient historians, mentions in his book of Symbols, that Pythagoras had visited the Druids, as also the Brahmans, and Aristotle especially affirms that Grecian philosophy was not of indigenous growth, but derived its origin from Gaul, whilst the Roman poet Lucan goes so far as to declare that the Druids alone were acquainted with the true nature and character of the Gods. Herodotus relates that a deputation consisting of two young Hyperborean virgins visited Delos, where they were received and entertained with great honors, and who continued to reside there till their death, after which the young women, in honor of their memory, cut off their hair before marriage, and rolling it around a distaff, deposited it on their tombs, which were situated eastward behind the temple of Diana.

Taking a general review of all these scattered references we are able to form some idea of the widely prevalent influence of the Druids and the vast power they wielded over the popular mind. Arrogating to themselves like the Brahmans, the possession of all knowledge, human and divine, natural and supernatural, they ultimately aspired to become spiritual autocrats and reigned with absolute sway in the domain of conscience to which the impressive and imposing character of their religious rites and ceremonies, their august assemblies in the midst of deep forests together with their mysterious and secluded mode of living greatly contributed. The splendid spectacular display of their annual festivals, their stately processions accompanied with strains of awe-inspiring music, of priests and bards arrayed in magnificent robes and bedecked with the glittering insignia of their rank and office, their solemn invocations to the great Deity and invisible Gods, and their no less awful curses and dread anathemas and formulas of excommunication thundered forth against offenders, all these tended to invest them in the midst of spectators with the aureole of a regal majesty wielding mystic and direful powers. This was especially the case at the yearly festival of cutting the mistletoe which was celebrated in the depth of those sombre forests in which the Druids had their retreats and principal sanctuaries.

In these immense primeval forests existed vast openings, in the centre of which arose like rounded domes majestic oaks of great antiquity. As the time approached, bards were sent forth in all directions to summon the people to the great religious ceremony of the year. Vast multitudes from all quarters assembled at the appointed place where they stood waiting the commencement of the long looked for ceremony. A feeling of awe and dread seized hold of the vast crowd as the echo of a choral chant first resounded amidst the forest glades and the dim outline of white robed priests bearing lighted torches emerged from out of the darkness leading the sacrifices. Amidst a solemn silence unbroken by the rustle of a leaf, undisturbed by the flapping of the night bird's wing, the august procession came slowly on, headed by three venerable Druids of highest rank and dignity and crowned with ivy, one carrying bread intended for offering, another bearing a vase filled with holy water, the third holding a sceptre of ivory the characteristic mark of the chief Druid. Then followed the high pontiff whose office it was to gather the sacred plant, crowned with a garland of oak leaves, and arrayed in a magnificently embroidered robe aglow with the lustrous emblazonry of mystic symbols. In his hand was a massive golden crosier and on his breast a large ruby flashing forth rays of a strange and wondrous light. Suspended from his girdle by a chain of precious metal hung a pruning knife of gold, having the form of a crescent. Behind him marched the nobility and others of inferior rank. On arriving at the centre of the grove, a triangular altar of wood was constructed around the oak from which it seemed to rise (unity in the circle and trinity in the altar). A circular tablet was then appended to the tree, on which were inscribed mystic letters signifying God the Father, Sovereign Light, Principle of Life to the World. Two white bulls were then offered, when a Druid cast upon a fire lighted at each of the angles of the altar a slice of bread on which some drops of wine had been poured and as the mystic flames serpent-like darted and flashed upwards, suddenly the weird stillness was broken by the choral strains of the Bards as they chanted a most impressive litany.

The smallest of the small,
Is Hu the Mighty, as the world judges.
But the greatest of the great to us.
And our mysterious God.
Light his course and active;
The glowing sun is his car.
Great on land and on the seas.
The greatest we can conceive.
Greater than the worlds.
Let us beware of mean indignity
To Him who deals in bounty.

Ere the strains had ceased to echo through the forest, the Arch Druid by means of a ladder ascended the tree and cut without touching it, the branch of mistletoe with his golden falchion, allowing it to fall upon a white linen cloth, which had never been used, the four corners of which were held by young Druidesses, great care being taken that it should not touch the ground. In profound silence portions of the sacred plant were distributed amongst the crowd of spectators. The ceremonies completed and the Druids returning again to their sombre retreats and sanctuaries, the remainder of the night was spent in feasting and revels.

Having now finished the sketch of the history, as also of the rites and ceremonies of the Druids we shall next deal with their Theology and review the causes which led to their final overthrow and extinction. We leave them in the possession of fame and power, renowned and respected for their learning, exercising a sovereignty and sway over the popular mind that brooked no dispute, that feared no rivalry. The cynosure of nations, centres of law and religion, hedged about with a sanctity and divinity greater than that of kings, they built up a system of Religion which with its stately priesthood, its magnificent rituals and imposing ceremonies aided by profound learning and occult knowledge appeared impregnable to the assaults and ravages of time, and proof against all the elements of decay, and thus we leave it, equalling in its grandeur and magnificence that famed city of which its monarch and founder said in his heart, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty."

(To be continued.)


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