Page images

of Comparative Philology affords, to believe that the social position of the Celtic woman, even allowing for the modifications in manners and customs to which the ceaseless migrations of the Celtic tribes might have led, was a relatively high one, certainly as high as, if not higher than that which prevailed amongst the Gothic race; but no such comparisons, having even a soupçon of " odiousness", need be made, for although the ancient British had not the greatest of the Roman historians to write especially of their manners, what Tacitus has said of the Britons leaves no room to doubt that he entertained a high opinion of them. We may, in fact, believe with Professor Huxley that "the typical Gauls of the ancient writers" and this may be presumed to embrace their Gallo-Brythonic offshoot-"were close allies by blood, customs, and language, of the Germans"."

Dr. Schrader is, however, an exception to this rule as to the more favourable view of Celtic clan-life, and his opinion is sufficiently noteworthy. He observes the absence of an Indo-European name for the wedded pair, thence inferring polygamy to have been the rule, and monogamy not even the exception; but this inference is hardly strengthened by the ensuing reflection, namely, that "the modern view, according to which marriage is identity of interests, supported by law, church, love, and custom, was foreign to the primeval period, when the man was absolute master, and the wife, acquired by capture or purchase, merely a servant and bearer of children."3

Why should we consider that this identity of interests was, even in pre-historic times, thus unsupported by law, custom, love, and church? The tendency of the following remarks will, I hope, be to show that not only law, love, and custom, but even church also, or at least the equiva

1 It may be mentioned, in passing, that by the use of such words as "Briton", "Gallo-Brythonic", etc., the responsibility is avoided which would otherwise be assumed in bringing the Belgæ, as distinct from the Cymri, under the designation of "Celtic",- -a term which can be strictly applied to the Cymri alone of the two; whilst the questionable use of the word "Celtic", as applied to the inhabitants of those parts of Britain of which one speaks, will, perhaps, sometimes, for convenience sake, be permissible.

2 Critiques and Addresses, p. 180.

3 Prehist. Antiq. of the Aryan Peoples.

lent of all these four conditions, certainly did exist, and that, too, amongst the ancient Britons, for what is custom but oral and unwritten law, or law but the tabulated expression of custom? As to love, is it at all probable that love in its higher phases did not exist merely because there was no national ecclesiastical sanction of its consummation by marriage?

"In love, the heavens themselves do guide the state;

Money buys land, and wives are sold by fate."

And a refinement of the passions is not a quality of which the most civilised communities enjoy a monopoly. As to church, is it not improbable that any ritual which the Druidical system could enforce would be deemed necessary in a matter which more particularly concerned the private social arrangements of the sept or clan, when, in short, the religion of the hearth under the clan system would be equally, nay, more powerful and binding in its operations? and it can readily be conceived that the clan system fostered an approximately and comparatively true idea of the position of woman amongst a race like the Indo-European, "noble above all others", without their possessing a common name for the two parents. In like manner no word survives for river, or button, or egg, or the human skin, but no one would therefore wish to maintain that any one of these was either unknown or unnamed. It is well to remember that it was of the first

1 Custom was always regarded, even by the Romans, as closely ap proximating to law in its binding force. See Appendix to Abdy and Walker's Institutes of Justinian.


Merry Wives, Act v, Sc. 5.

3 Le prêtre ne pouvant descendre aux détails, il fallut qu'a defaut de lois civiles, les affaires de la famille gauloise fussent toujours dirigées par l'aieul; il s'entremit encore dans les actes civils, jugea les differends, calma les querelles, sans toutefois empieter sur les attributions du grand tribunal des Druides." (L. A. Martin, Histoire Morale de la Gaule, p. 50.)

From the Sanskrit dhava, husband, is formed vi-dhavâ, husbandless, i.e., widow; in Celtic, feadbh; whence Müller infers that if the custom of widow-burning had existed in the early organization of the Aryan family life, the want of a name for a woman who had lost her husband would hardly have been felt; or if it had been, the word would most likely have had some reference to this awful rite. See Selected Essays ("Comparative Mythology") for words referred to above relating to degrees of affinity.

G. H. Rendall, The Cradle of the Aryans, p. 10.

importance under the clan system to preserve the continuity of the family in the succession of the son, that the sanctity of the home' was preserved by the religion which was common to the whole Aryan race, namely, that of the Hearth; in short the house of the Briton was his church, its members were priests and priestesses of the Hearth, and the house mother the high priestess whose offices corresponded with those of the Roman mater familias. It was probably a recognition of the importance of this position of the house-mother, in regard to the clan and the hearth, that gave to the Celtic woman a place in the religious system of the Druid, corresponding closely with the conspicuous position which the vestal virgins filled in relation to the cult of the hearth among the Greeks and Romans. We know that the Britons worshipped fire as the symbol of the "golden-handed" Sun, the lavish distributor of the countless benefits which his light and heat confer upon Man; and among the Slavs, the Lithuanians, the old Prussians, the Greeks,


1 The difference between the ancient and modern European house is well remarked by De Coulanges in The Ancient City. "For use", he says, "the house is merely a domicile, a shelter. We leave it and forget it with little trouble; or if we are attached to it, this is merely by the force of habit and of recollections, because for us religion is not there. Our God is the God of the universe; we find Him everywhere." (Ed. 1874, p. 130.)


2 The influence of Hestia was, perhaps, more deeply felt among Greeks, and wrought more good than that of any other Olympian deity. Her worship involved direct and practical duties. She could not be fitly served by men who broke their plighted word, or dealt treacherously with those whom they had received at their hearth; and thus her worship was almost an unmixed good both for households and for the state. (See G. W. Cox's Manual of Mythology, p. 28.)

The morals of the Eastern Slavs, if we are to believe The Chronicle of Nestor, a Russian monk of the eleventh century, were of a woful nature. Perhaps, however, little reliance is to be placed upon one who entertained views of marriage so antagonistic to those which he described. See La Chronique de Nestor. French translation by Louis, Prais, 1834.

4 These are among the nations whose especial rite it was to keep up sacred, everlasting fires in the symbolic sense. The last lingering relics of fire-worship in Europe reach us, as usual, through Turanian and Aryan channels of folk-lore. The Esthonian bride consecrates her new hearth and home by an offering of money cast into the fire, or laid on the oven, for Tule-ema (Fire-Mother). See Bocler, Ehsten. Abergl. Gebr., p. 29, quoted by Tylor in Primitive Culture. The high pagan



the Romans, the Iranians, and the Hindus,1 the first conditions of worship were that the sacred fire should be transmitted from father to son. And hence in the sacra privata of the Gael and the Brython, the fire as it remained unextinguished upon the domestic hearth was, besides being a symbol of the sun-god, also a symbol of the unity of the family, which a violation of conjugal virtue' must have tended to destroy; and herein the cult was identified with ancestor worship, for it was the fire by which the sacrifice was conveyed into the presence of the departed spirits; and that the Britons were not oblivious of the memory of their ancestors is shown in Tacitus' Life of Agricola, where Calgacus-and fictitious as such speeches are deemed, they may still be considered the expression of a prevalent belief--is described as urging his warriors, as they entered the field of battle, to

morality, according to Tacitus, of the ancient Germans may be attributed to the religion of the hearth. Cæsar says of them that "they reckon in the number of their gods those only whom they perceive, and whose benefits they openly enjoy,-the sun, fire, and the moon.' (De Bell. Gall., vi, 21.) The Teutonic fire-god, Loki (originally Logi) is akin to the old liukan, the Latin lucere (to shine), the modern German lohe (glow). See G. W. Cox's Mythology and Folk-Lore, p. 172. In the presence of this fire no act materially or morally impure could be committed. (Ibid.)

1 See Dosabhai Sohrabji's Hist. of the Parsis. See The Civilisation of the Eastern Iranians, Wilhelm Geiger. Fire was to the ancient Persians a symbol of moral purity and strong weapon of defence against the demons. During night and darkness, when the wicked demons are at their work, fire produces light and brightness, and frightens away these hellish spirits. (Vol. i.)

Amongst the ancient Prussians a perpetual fire was kept up in honour of the god Potrimpos, and if it was allowed to go out, the priest in charge was burnt to death. (Voight, Gesch. Preussen, vol. i, p. 582; quoted by Lubbock, Origin of Civilization, p. 318.)

2 From this it may be surmised that the purely artificial feeling of shame peculiar to a highly civilised people (see Letourneau's Sociology Based on Ethnology) was unknown, at all events among the house. community, if not in the general life of the Britons.

The Druids had their solemn fires on the eve of November, to which the people were obliged to resort, and rekindle the private fires in their houses from these (Beltane) consecrated fires of the Druids; the domestic fire in every house having been, for that purpose, first carefully extinguished. See Toland's Hist. of Druids, and Borlase's Antiq. of Cornwall.

In the laws of Menu, the illegitimate son annihilates in this world, and in the next, the offerings made to the Manes (iii, 75).

think of their ancestors and of their posterity. Ancestor worship must, in fact, have had a decided influence upon their marriage relations.

The ancient British believed as firmly that the spirits of the departed "compassed them about like a cloud of witnesses" as they did in the tangible existence in the flesh of their kith and kin. But to render this fact ever present in their minds, they in imagination embodied those spirits in the animate objects which they saw around them. Hence we find that in the battle of Cattraeth, as described in the Gododin, the British tribes are distinguished as wolves, bears, or ravens, so that ancestor worship and totemism, as part of the cult of the hearth, prompted them to acts of domestic virtue no less than of martial valour. A relic of the good faith, which this regard for the sanctity of the hearth inculcated, exists to this day in Ireland, where the expression breaking the cinders" means to "charge and confirm guilt on a man at his own hearth, so that the fire, which represents his honour, is broken up into cinders. The trampling of a man's cinders was one of the greatest insults which could be offered to him, as it conveyed the idea of guilt, and that not only on the individual himself, but also on his family."


The degradation of, or, at least, the contempt for women is a prominent trait in the character of savage peoples, but the Britons honoured their womankind in at least two notable ways, namely, by conceding to them, as in the instances of Boadicea and Cartismandua,3 a right to the throne, and by permitting them to minister

1 See W. K. Sullivan's Introduction to The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, by E. O'Curry, vol. ii, p. 278. "A burning shame" seems, according to this writer, to be an expression still in use, which may be traced to the same origin. The terms grisach and grisach dearginso, in the sense of "shame" and "burning shame", are still commonly used, he says, as denunciatory epithets by the Irish-speaking people.

2 In his edition of Macpherson's Gaelic Proverbs Mr. Nicholson says he does not know any other proverbs that speak of women so respectfully as the Gaelic ones do. They are not wanting in humour; but they never regard women as inferior creatures, and mere causes of mischief, which is the point of view of several great nations.

3 See Tacitus, Hist., i, 3, c. 45. Boadicea, it is, however, to be noted, was one of the Germanic rather than the Keltic type of woman.

« PreviousContinue »