Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

their superior knowledge of the principle, and their great zeal for the rites of their religion. We learn this singular fact from the best authority, the writings of Julius Cæsar, who informis us that,“ such of the Gauls as were desirous of being thoroughly instructed in the principles of their religion (which was the same with that of the Britons) usually took a journey into Britain for that purpose."*

A mind habituated to reflection will naturally be solicitous to know something of the nature and principles of that religion for which this country was then distinguished, and I, therefore, purpose to devote the present Lecture to a brief delineation of it: in doing which I shall present you with some account of the class of priests who taught its principles and performed its sacred rites—the religious principles which they taughtthe deities whom they worshipped—the various acts of worship which they paid to their gods, with the times, places, and other circumstances attending their worship-and, finally, the extinction of these priests and their religion to make way for the profession of Christianity.

I. It must be generally known, I presume, that the system of superstition which prevailed in this country, at the time Christianity was introduced, passed by the name of Druidism; and the priests who taught the principles and performed the offices of it were termed Druids.† This class of men, for many ages, enjoyed the highest honours and the greatest privileges, not only in our own but in several other countries. Julius Cæsar, speaking of the Gauls (and it was the same in Britain), says, “There are only two orders of men who are in any high degree of honour and esteem; these are the Druids and the Nobles.” To say nothing, in this place, of their prodigious influence in civil affairs, they had the supreme and sole direction of every thing relating to religion. Diodorus Siculus declares that “no sacred rite was at that time ever performed without a Druid : by them, as being

• Cæsar de Bello Gallico, lib. vi. cap. 13. + The name of these famous priests is derived by some writers from the Teutonic word Druthin, a servant of truth; by others from the Saxon word Dry, a magician; by others from the Greek word pus, an oak; and by others from the Celtic, or British, word Derw, which also signifies an oak, for which the Druids had a most superstitious veneration.

RELIGIOUS SYSTEM OF THE BRITISH DRUIDS.

429

the favourites of the gods, and the depositaries of their counsels, the people offered all their sacrifices, thanksgivings, and prayers; and were perfectly submissive and obedient to their commands. Nay, so great was the veneration in which they were held, that, when two hostile armies, inflamed with warlike rage, with swords drawn and spears extended, were on the point of engaging in battle, at their intervention, they sheathed their swords and became calm and peaceful."* The persons of the Druids were held sacred and inviolable ; they were exempted from all taxes and military services; in short, they enjoyed so many immunities and distinctions that princes were ambitious of being admitted into their society.t

Among the Druids there appears to have existed a species of hierarchy-for they were not all of equal rank and dignity. Cæsar assures us that some of them were more eminent than others, and that the whole order was subject to one supreme head or Archdruid—a kind of high-priest, who was elected from among the most distinguished of the Druids, by a plurality of votes. This high station was attended with so much power and riches, with such an accumulation of honours and privileges of various kinds, that it was an object of great ambition, and the election of one to fill it sometimes occasioned a civil war in the country.

The Druids were divided into three classes, who applied to different branches of learning, and each class had its respective office and religious duties to perform-they were denominated the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids, which last name was indeed generic, and common to the whole order, though sometimes appropriated to a particular class. The Bards were the poets of the age, and confined themselves to the writing and setting to music of odes, songs, or poems, heroic, historical, and genealogical ; and they were common to Germany, Gaul, and Britain. Strictly speaking, they did not belong to the sacerdotal order, nor had they any immediate concern with the offices of religion. They composed hymns to the honour of their deities, which they sang at their sacrifices and other religious solemnities; also he

*Diod. Sicul. I. v. $ 31. Strabo, 1. iv. + Cæsar de Bel. Gal. 1. vi. e. 13. Cicero de Divinatione, 1. i. Mela, 1. iii. ch. ii.

roic poems in praise of the kings, heroes, and great men of their country, in which they employed all their art, and exerted all their genius, and these compositions were sung to the sweet and melodious sounds of the lyre and the harp.

The second class were termed by the Greeks Ovatis; by the Romans Vates; and by the Gauls and Britons Faids. These were unquestionably of the priestly order, and performed an important part in the public offices of religion. They were a species of pretended prophets, common to all the Celtic nations, who believed them to be divinely inspired in their poetical compositions, and favoured with revelations from heaven, concerning the nature of things, the will of the gods, and future events. The third class were by far the most numerous, and therefore the whole order was commonly denoted by the name of Druids. They were competent to discharge all the offices of religion, including those of the Bards, and the Vates, or Faids, when the latter were absent.

The number of British Druids appears to have been very considerable. Both the Gauls and Britons of these times were greatly addicted to superstition; and among a superstitious people there will never be any lack of priests. Besides this, an opinion was prevalent among them, as Strabo informs us, that the greater the number of Druids they had in the country, the more plentiful would be their harvests. and the greater abundance would they enjoy of the fruits of the earth-an opinion that must have been highly favourable to the priestly order. It seems a probable supposition, that the British Druids bore as great a proportion to the rest of the people, as the clergy in popish countries bear to the laity in the present age. Their revenues also were as great as the people could afford : they consisted of the offerings which were brought to their sacred places and presented to their gods; and these were said to be very frequent, and on some occasions very great. It was a common practice, with the nations of Gaul and Britain, to dedicate all the cattle and other spoils which were taken in war to that deity by whose assistance they imagined they had gained the victory; and of these devoted spoils the Druids were the administrators, if not the proprietors. Independently of all this, however, these artful priests are said to have invented a most effec

SOME ACCOUNT OF THE DRUIDESSES.

431

tual method of enforcing the payment of certain annual dues, that were exacted by them from every house. All the families were obliged, under the dreadful penalties of excommunication, to extinguish their fires on the last evening of October, and to attend at the temple with their annual payment; and on the first day of November to receive some of the sacred fire from the altar to rekindle those in their own houses. By this contrivance the people were reduced to the necessity of paying their impost, or be deprived of the use of fire at the approach of winter, when the want of it would be most sensibly felt. Should any of their friends or neighbours take pity on the delinquents, and supply them with fire, they thereby subjected themselves to the same terrible sentence of excommunication, by which they were not only excluded from all the sacred solemnities, but from all the sweets of society, and all the benefits of law and justice. From these sources of wealth, it seems not unreasonable to conclude that the British Druids were the most opulent, as well as the most respected, body of men in the country, at the times in which they flourished.

Besides the Druids, there were also Druidesses, who assisted in the offices and shared in the honours and emoluments of the priesthood. When the Roman general Suetonius invaded the island of Anglesey, his soldiers were struck with terror at the strange appearance of a great number of these consecrated females, who ran up and down among the ranks of the British army like enraged furies, with hair dishevelled, and flaming torches in their hands, imprecating the wrath of heaven on the invaders of their country! Of these Druidesses, there were also distinct classes. Some vowed perpetual virginity and lived together in sisterhoods, much sequestered from the world. They were great pretenders to divination, prophecy, and miracleshighly admired by the people, who consulted them on all important occasions as infallible oracles, and gave them the honourable appellations of Senæ, or venerable women. Another class consisted of female devotees, who were married, but spent the far greater part of their time in the company of the Druids, and in the offices of their religion, conversing only occasionally with their husbands. A third class of Druidesses consisted of such as performed the most servile offices about the temples, sacrifices, and persons of the Druids. Such were the ministers and teachers of religion among the ancient Britons : we shall now turn our attention to the principles and opinions which they inculcated.

II. The Druids, like all the other priests of antiquity, had two sets of religious opinions, or doctrinal systems, and these differed greatly from each other. One of those systems they communicated only to the initiated, or such as were admitted into their own order, and at their admission were solemnly sworn to keep that system of doctrines a profound secret from all the rest of mankind, like our modern Freemasons. And, to prevent their secret from transpiring, they instructed their disciples in the most private places, such as caves of the earth, or the deepest recesses of the thickest forests, in order that they might not be overheard by any who were not initiated. They never committed to writing any of their doctrines, for fear they should thereby become public; and so jealous were some of the ancient priests, on this head, that they made it an inviolable rule never to communicate any of their secret doctrines to females, lest they should divulge them. The other system of religious doctrines was made public, being adapted to the capacities and superstitious inclinations of the people, and calculated to promote the honour and opulence of the priesthood.

There has been much ingenious conjecture exercised concerning the secret doctrines of the Druids ; but, whatever they were, they could be of no benefit to the bulk of mankind, from whom they were carefully concealed. These artful priests, for their own mercenary ends, seem to have adopted a maxim, which unhappily has survived them; namely, that " ignorance is the mother of devotion,” and that the common people are incapable of comprehending rational principles, or of being influenced by rational motives. Strabo, an excellent writer of antiquity, who died about the period of the birth of Christ, has assigned the true reason of the fabulous theology of the ancients. He says, “ It is not possible to bring women, and the common herd of mankind, to religion, piety, and virtue, by the pure and simple dictates of reason. It is necessary to call in the aids of superstition, which must be nourished by fables and prodigies of various kinds. With this view, therefore, were all the fables of

« ZurückWeiter »