« PreviousContinue »
Among the strange features of the fifth century, a time in which new and old were fermenting together, we may perhaps place a re-action in favour of British paganism. Druidism as a system, indeed, was extinct, but traditions of the faith had no doubt lingered among the Keltic tribes. It is consistent with the analogies of Roman1 and Norse paganism, to suppose that some votaries of the old gods would be found, who would try to regenerate their religion by incorporating parts of Christianity; it is also the most probable explanation of some facts connected with this period. A number of remarkable structures are found in the British isles and Britanny: huge stones so poised that a touch can move them; circles of monoliths or triliths, sometimes surrounding what seems an altar; and avenues of stones, heaped up without any architectural plan. The mechanical forces required for the erection of one at least of these, probably indicate an acquaintance with Roman civilization; while the people who raised them must yet have been barbarous. The districts in which they are found, the fact that no Saxon tradition is connected with them, and the incompleteness of the greatest of all, Stonehenge, appear to refer them to Keltic architects, in the perilous times when the Saxon was pressing in. The position, east by west, of the sacrificial stones, was perhaps designed to symbolize the diurnal course of the sun; the altar at Stonehenge indicates an advance in astronomical science, being so placed that it is best lighted up when the summer sun is highest. The circles of triliths may be explained as a combination of the Roman circus or amphitheatre, with a developement of the old sepulchral architecture, for purposes of worship, 3 the uprights and transoms
1 Julian and Libanius are obvious instances of the Roman re-action. mythe of Baldr in its latest form, and the predictions of a new heaven and earth, in the Völuspá Saga, seem to me written under the influence of Christianity, and certainly cannot be proved to belong to pre-Christian times.
2 See a paper on Stonehenge, by Mr. Rickman, Archæologia, vol. 28. A reflex argument for this might be found in the probable derivation of "church" from the Welsh circ-circus and circle. The word "circ," having acquired a religious significance, might in process of time be Christianized.
being imitations of the arch; while the numbers three and twelve, which seem to run through them, were perhaps partly astronomical and in part borrowed from Christianity. The conjecture would be worthless, if these numbers did not appear to have been adopted as sacred or mythical numbers in British legends and laws, whose date can only be referred to some period between the fifth and tenth centuries. But there is other evidence for Neo-Druidism, as it may be called. A belief in the stars as controlling destiny, appears in more than one Welsh poem of the sixth century; while the metempsychosis of Taliesin is described in a legend which pretends to the same date. The Sangreal of medieval romances, has been altered
1 Higden says, "apud Stonehenge lapides miræ magnitudinis ad modum portarum elevantur, ita ut portæ portis superpositæ videantur."-Gale, vol. iii., p. 193.
2 Thus Stonehenge has three circles and three avenues. Karnac, which was probably left unfinished, has eleven rows of stones. Mr. Davis says: The stones forming them were often complete numbers having some astronomical significance, as 12. 30. 60. 100., in which there may be a reference to the lunar year and its divisions, the zodiacal signs, the 12 months of 30 days and 30 nights, and the Druidical sæcula of thirty years. The circles of 19 stones may refer to the meteoric cycle. The two inner circles at Abury, the lesser circle at Stennis, and one at Stanton Drew, each consisted of 12; the outer circles at Abury, the outer circles of uprights and transoms at Stonehenge, the large circle at Stanton Drew, and the circle at Arbor Lowe, each of 30; those of Roll. rich and Stennis of 60; and the large enclosing circle of Abury of 100 stones. Four circles at Boscawen and adjacent places have each been formed of 19 stones.-Crania Brit., Decade 4., cap. v., p. 124.
3 Instances of this are innumerable. Thus in Nennius, cap. 13., three men come to Ireland, with thirty ships, and thirty wives in each ship. In the Arthur legends, there are twelve ordinary seats at the Round Table, and a thirteenth, in which whoever sits, is to achieve a great adventure and die. This must have been copied from the Last Supper; and would not, I think, have been consciously borrowed in the 12th century.
♦ Llywarch Hen speaks of the doom inflicted on him on the night of his birth (Bardes Bretons, p. 169), and of the day of death as fate (Bardes Bretons, p. 168). Taliesin says, "I have been in Asia, with Noah in the Ark. I have been with my Lord in the manger of the ass. Then I was for nine months in the womb of the hag Ceridwen," a deity, degraded into a sorceress, who presides over a mystical caldron, and has a fight, in which she and her foe assume different shapes at pleasure. Mr. Nash thinks this story later than the first crusade.-Taliesin, chap. v. Zeuss, however, (Gram. Celt, vol. ii., p. 954,) admits the claims of a portion
MIXTURE OF TWO FAITHS.
from the British gradal, or mystical caldron of generation, which had passed out of faith into story. Even the fact of our Lord's incarnation was copied, with an irreverence which a later age would scarcely have ventured on, in the legends of Merlin and Arthur, who are represented as miraculously born of virgins; while Arthur's mysterious sepulture, and future resurrection, are also strikingly Christian in their analogies. Lastly, while the Welsh bards express a hostility to the monks, which resembles the jealousy of a religious order against its rivals, the oldest Welsh laws seem curiously to confound the functions of the two; and order the clergymen to keep records of genealogy and history, and to impart instruction, while the highest, or Druid bard, is to demonstrate the sciences of wisdom and religion in court and in church. That all these facts together, do not amount to proof of the theory, may be readily granted; it can only be said, that they are explained by it with less violence than in any other way. The great arguments, after all,
of it to date back as far as the sixth century. Moreover, the idea of a struggle in which the combatants take different forms, is certainly older than the eleventh century. There is a remarkable passage in the Anglo-Saxon dialogue of Salomon and Saturn. "Saturnus quoth.—But how many shapes will the devil and the Pater Noster take when they contend together?' Salomon quoth-"Thirty shapes.' Saturnus quoth-'What are the first?' Salomon quoth-The devil will be first in the shape of a youth, in the likeness of a child; then will the Pater Noster be in the likeness of a holy spirit. * At the twenty-first time, the devil will be in the likeness of a poisonous bird: on the twenty-second time, the Pater Noster will be in the likeness of a golden eagle.""-Kemble's Salomon and Saturn, pp. 146, 147. The idea underlying legends such as these, of which Gaelic literature has many specimens, is the personality of the soul under any and all bodily shapes; in other words, the doctrine of the metempsychosis.
1 Villemarqué, Les Romans de la Table Ronde, p. 140-146.
2 The Flail of the Bards (Taliesin) dwells on the hatred of the Bard to the Church. Gwenchlain of Bretagne, speaks with delight of a massacre of monks and Christians.-Welsh Laws, vol. ii., book xiii., chap. 2, s.s. 71, 195.
3 Mr. Herbert in his Stonehenge, and Britannia after the Romans, has put forward the arguments for Neo-Druidism with great learning, but in a manner so wild and fanciful, as to discredit his own theory. A re-action against the nonsense of "Helio-Arkite theology" and "symbolical literature," has led Mr. Nash in his very valuable Taliesin, to deny the existence of any traces of paganism. This is contrary to all probability. More than three centuries after Augustine,
PROBABILITIES OF NEO-DRUIDISM.
are the à priori probability that some such fusion of superstition and Christian dogma must have taken place; and the great difficulty of explaining structures, which almost certainly belong to this period, by any cause but faith, by any faith that was not at least semi-pagan, or yet as the work of any people who were not at least semi-Christian. For the tribes of the west were precisely those among whom Christianity struck root earliest; and the territory about Stonehenge was not lost till the end of the fifth century.
our Saxon kings had to forbid heathen rites and magic (drycræft, or Druidism,) under heavy penalties. I do not believe in Neo-Druidism as an organized system. I only believe that the British church, especially among the more barbarous tribes, was half pagan in tone; and that facts taken from the Gospels were freely worked up into a new mythology, side by side with old superstitions.
THE SAXON CONQUEST.
THE SAXON INVASION UNHISTORICAL.-BRITISH AND ANGLO-SAXON LEGENDS.-
OF KENT, SUSSEX, THE WESTERN COUNTIES, AND NORTHUMBRIA.-REASONS
THE great political events that took place in Britain during the fifth or sixth centuries are known to us dimly by their results. The Keltic tribes whom Cæsar found in the island appear at the end of the sixth century either west of the Severn, or subject to Saxon princes. That Germanic settlements in England were formed as early at least as the time of the Emperor Probus has been shown; and the Anglian coast was probably occupied by Saxons, who were certainly seen in the British scas during the fourth century. But no contemporary history records how the waves of invasion swept gradually over the land; Saxon and British traditions are alike unreliable; scarcely even the name of a battle-field has been preserved. Popular belief supposes that the Saxon conquest was one great event, consummated, like the Norman, in a few years; that it exterminated the native races, and destroyed the traditions of Roman art and law, covering England with a people more purely Germanic than can be found in Germany itself. We cannot construct a true history of the times, but we can prove this hypothesis to be false. Yet it was not in itself unnatural; Welsh vanity has exaggerated its losses, and Saxon chroniclers only concern themselves with the history of their own race. The population that was neither Saxon nor Welsh had no defeats and no victories