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Slaughter, *- of all these known and acknowledged features of the ancient Celtic wor. ship, of that superstition which spread wherever the first races of men dispersed them. selves, there remain, to this day, undoubted traces and testimonies, not only in the traditions and records of Ireland, but in those speaking monuments of antiquity which are still scattered over her hills and plains.
Combined with this old and primitive system of idolatry are to be found, also, a number of rites and usages belonging evidently to much later and less simple modes of worship. There may be traced, indeed, in the religious remains of the Irish, the marks of three distinct stages of superstition; namely, that first rude ritual which their Celtic progenitors brought with them from the East; next, the introduction of images somewhat approaching the human shape; and, thirdly, those monuments of a more refined system of fire-worship which still embellish this country. While some of their rites and names of deities are traceable directly to the Phænicians, there are other religious customs which seem to have been derived, through the means of this people, from Persia. It was on the whole the description of religion likely to spring up in a country into which a variety of modes of devotion and doctrine had been imported; and it is well known that the Phænicians, with that utter indifference to diversity of worship which forms one of the most striking differences between the Pagan and the Christian religionist, set no limit to the varieties of creed and ritual, with which, in their career over the globe, they furnished their colonies. Being in constant communication with Persia, for the sake of the Eastern trade, it was even a part of the commercial policy of this people to encourage an intercourse, on religious subjects, between their Eastern and Western customers, of which they themselves should be made the channel, and so convert it to their own advantage in the way of trade.
The mixed nature, indeed, of the creed of the ancient Irish seems to be intimated in their mode of designating their own priesthood, to whom they applied as well the Persian as the Celtic denominations; calling them indifferently either Mugi, or Druids. Thus, those Magi described, in the Lives of St. Patrick, as warning the king against the consequences of the new faith, are, in the ancient Hymn of Fiech, on the same subject, denominated Druids.
The great object of Phænician adoration, the Sun, was, under the same name of Baal, or Bel, the chief deity of the Irish. Even the very title of Beel.Sanien, or Lord of Heaven, by which the Phænicians, with outstretched hands, invoked their God, was preserved in the Pagan worship of Ireland ;and the Festival of Samhin, or Heaven, the great Cabiric divinity, (honoured, under the same name at Samothrace,) marked one of the four divisions of the Irish year. That the worship of the Sun formed a part of the Pagan system which St. Patrick found established on his arrival, appears from the following passage of his Confession :-" That Sun whom we behold, rises daily, at the command of God, for our use. Yet will he never reign, nor shall his splendour endure; and all those who adore him will descend wretchedly into punishment. But we believe and adore the true Sun, Christ."|| Even to our own days the names of places,—those significant memorials, by which a whole history is sometimes conveyed in a single word, -retain vestiges of the ancient superstition of the land, and such names as Knoc-greine and Tuam Greine, "Hills of the Sun,” still point out the high places and cairns where, ages since, the solar rites were solemnized. It will be found, in general, that names formed from the word Grian, which, still in the Irish, as in the old Celtic language, signifies the Sun, and from which, evidently, the epithet Grynæus, applied to Apollo, was derived, marked such places as were once devoted to the solar worship. I Thus Cairne-Grainey, or the Sun's Heap, Granny's Bed, corrupted from Grain Beacht, the Sun's Circle, &c.
*."Magh.Sleacth, so called from an idol of the Irish, named Crom-Cruach-a stone capped with gold, about which stood twelve other rough stones. Every people that conquered Ireland (that is, every colony esta. blished in Ireland) worshipped this deity, till the arrival of St. Patrick. They sacrificed the first-born of every species to this deity; and Tigheromas Mac Follaigh King of Ireland, commanded sacrifices to this deity on the day of Saman, and that both men and women should worship him prostrated on the ground, till they drew blood from their noses, foreheade, ears, and elbows. Many died with the severity of this worship, and hence it was called Magh-Sleacıh."-Vet. MSS. quoted in the Collectan. de Reb. Hibern. No. XII.
| See Borlase, book ii. ch. 23. "On the Resemblance betwixt the Druids and the Persiang." ! Τας χείρας ορέγειν εις τους ουρανους προς τον Ήλιον.-Euseb. Preparat. lib. 1. c. 7.
και Τουτον γας φησι θεον ονομιζω μονον ουρανου κυριον ΒΕΕΛΣΑΜΗΝ καλουντες, ο εστι παρα Φοινιξι Κυριος Ougtvou.— Philo. Byb. ez Sanchoniath. See Orellius on this passage, for his view of Sanchoniathon's account of the progress of idolatry, "a cultu arborum et plantarum ad solis astrorumque cultum, a Fetischismo ad Sabæismum."
| Nam Sol iste quem videmus Deo jubente, propter nos quotidiè oritur, sed nunquam regnabit, neque per manebit splendor ejus, sed et omnes qui adorant eum in poenam miseri male devenient. Nos autem credimus et adoramus Solem verum, Christum.-St. Patricii Confessio. Rer. Hibern. Scriptor prol. 1 54,
From the same associations, a point of land, in the neighbourhood of Wexford, is called Grenor, or the Place of the Sun's Fire; and the ancient town of Granard, where there existed, in the fifth century, a sacred well of the Druids, and where also St. Patrick is said to have overturned an altar of the Sun, and erected a church in its place, was so named from being a site of the ancient Irish worship. On like grounds, the appellation of Grange is supposed to have been given to that curious cavern near Drogheda, which, from the manner of its construction, as well as from the pyramidal obelisk* found in its recesses, is thought to have been consecrated, like the caves of the Mithraic worship, to the Sun. Among various other monuments of solar worship through Ireland, may be noticed the remains of a cromlech, or tomb-altar, near Cloyne, which bore, originally, the name of Carig Croith, or the Sun's Rock.
Wherever the sun has been made an object of adoration, the moon has naturally shared in the worship; and, accordingly, in Ireland this luminary was adored under the sacred name of Re. While some of their mountains, too, appear to have been dedicated to the sun, we meet with Slieve-Mis, in the county of Antrim, signifying Mountains of the Moon. Those golden ornaments, in the shape of a crescent, which have been found frequently in the Irish bogs, are supposed to have been connected with this lunar worship, and to have been borne by the Druids in those religious ceremonies which took place on the first quarter of the moon's age. I
The worship of fire, once common to all the religions of the world, constituted also a part of the old Irish superstitions; and the Inextinguishable Fire of St. Bridget was but a transfer to Christian shrines and votaries of a rite connected, through long ages, with the religious feelings of the people. Annually, at the time of the vernal cquinox, the great festival of La Baal-linne, or the Day of the Baal-Fire, was celebrated ; and through every district of Ireland it was strictly ordered that, on that night, all fires should be extinguished; nor were any, under pain of death, to be again lighted till the pile of sacrifices in the palace of Tara was kindled. Among the Persians the same ceremony, according to Hyde, still prevails: after their festival of the 24th of April, the domestic fires are every where extinguished, nor would any good believer rekindle them but by a taper lighted at the dwelling of the priest. 11 A similar relic of Oriental paganism exists also in Jerusalem, where, annually, at the time of Easter, a sacred fire is supposed to descend into the Holy Sepulchre, and of the tapers lighted at its flame a considerable traffic is made by the priests. To this day the custom of making bonfires on the first night of May prevails throughout Ireland;—the change of the period of the festival from the vernal equinox to the commencement of May having been made soon after the introduction of Christianity, in order to guard against its interference with the holy season of Lent.
With the worship of fire, that of water was usually joined by the Gentiles; and we find, in like manner, particular fountains and wells were held sacred among the Irish. Even that heresy, or, at leost, variety of opinion, which is known to have prevailed among the Easterns on this subject, existed also in Ireland; as we are told, in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, of a certain Magus, or Druid, who regarded water alone as an object of reverence, considering tire to be an evil genius. T Hence, by his own wish, it is added, he was buried under a stone in a certain well, in Mayo, wbich had been long venerated by the people under the name of the King of the Waters. In another. history of St.
* It was to a stone, we know, of this pyramidal shape, that the Phænicians of Emesa offered up their vows, invoking it, as a symbol of the sun, by the mystic name Elagabalus.--See Gibbon, vol. i. ch. 6.- This stone, like most of those dedicated to the sun, was black; and it is rather remarkable that, at Stonehenge, which is supposed in general to have been a temple consecrated to the sun, the altar-stone has been lately discovered, on examinalion, lo be black.
| The monument at the New Grange exactly points out to us the manner in wbich the Mithratic cavern is connected wih the Mithralic pyramid."-" The narrow passage, in fact, and the stone bowls of this Irish grotto are merely the counterpart of those in the cave of Trophonius, the pagodas of Hindostan, and the pyramids of Egypt."— Faber, on the Cabiric Mysteries, vol. ii. The reverend writer adds, that “the island of Ogygia, which Plutarch affirms to lie due west of Britian, most certainly be Ireland, and no other."
1 See, for a description of these crescents, Collectan. No. XIII. Gough's Camden, vol. iii.-A bas-relief, found ai Autun, of which there is an engraving given by Montfaucon, represents a Gallic Druid holding in his right hand a crescent resembling the moon at six days old ; "which," adds Montfaucon," exactly with that religious care of the Druids not to celebrate the ceremony of the mistletoe except on the sixth day of the moon, that I think it cannot be doubted but that this crescent, which is of the size of the moon at that age, respects that rite of the Druids."--Antiq. Expliq. vol. ii. part. ii. book v.
§ To this day, the annual ren: which the farmers pay to their landlords, in the month of May, is called by them Cios-na-Bealtinne, or the rent of Baal's fire.
See account of this ceremony, from Chardin, in Dupuis, Origine des Culles, tom. v. 169. “Tout le peuple crédule achète aussitôt de ces bougies," This mode of increasing their income, says Hyde, is resorted to by them in addition to their tithes : -" Præter decimas excogitarunt alium sacerdotalem reditum augendi inodum."
1 L. 2 c. 20 –"This reminds us of the old Oriental contests between the worshippers of fire and those of water, and leads to a conclusion that some connexion had existed betwecn Ireland and remote parts of the East."- Lanigan, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, vol. i. chap. 5.
Patrick it is mentioned, as the motive of this holy man for visiting Slane, that he had heard of a fountain there which the Magi honoured, and made offerings to it as to a god.* Even in our own times the Irish are described, by one well versed in their antiquities,t as being in the habit of visiting fountains, or wells, more particularly such as are in the neighbourhood of an old blasted oak, or an upright unhewn stone, and hanging rags upon the branches of the trees. When asked their reason for this practice, the answer of the oldest among them is generally, we are told, to the effect that their ancestors did the same, and that it was designed as a preventive against the sorceries of the Druids. There is scarcely a people throughout the East, among whom this primitive practice, of hanging pieces torn from their garments upon the branches of particular trees, has not been found to prevail. The wild-olive of Africa,f and the Sacred Tree of the Hindus, bear usually strung upon them this simple sort of offering; and more than one observant traveller in the East has been reminded, by this singular custom, of Ireland.
There are, however, some far less innocent coincidences to be remarked between the Irish and Eastern creeds. It is, indeed, but too certain that the sacrifice of human victims formed a part of the Pagan worship in Ireland, as it did in every country where the solar god, Baal, was adored. On the eve of the Feast of Samhin, all those whom, in the month of March preceding, the Druids had, from their tribunal on Mount Usneach, condemned to death, were, in pursuance of this solemn sentence, burned between two fires. Il In general, however, as regarded both human creatures and brutes, the ceremony of passing them between two fires appears to have been intended not to affect life, but merely as a mode of periodical purification. Thus, in an old account of the Irish rites, it is said, “The Druids lighted up two blazing fires, and having performed incantations over them, compelled the herds of cattle to pass through them, according to a yearly custom.” But it cannot be denied that, to a late period, some of the most horrible features of the old Canaanite superstition continued to darken and disgrace the annals of the Irish; for, like the Israelite idolaters, not only did they “burn incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree," but also the denounced crime of Manasseh and Ahaz, in causing their children to pass through the fire,” was but too faithfully acted over again in Pagan Ireland. A plain, situated in the district at present called the county of Leitrim, to which they gave the name of Magh-Sleacth, or Field of Slaughter, was the great scene, as alrcady has been stated, of these horrors of primeval superstition; for there, on the night of Samhim, the same dreadful tribute which the Carthaginians are known to have paid to Saturn, in sacrificing to him their first-born children, ** was by the Irish offered up to their chief idol, Crom-Cruach.ft This frightful image, whose head was of gold, stood surrounded by twelve lesser idols, representing, it is most probable, the signs of the zodiac;-the connexion of sun-worship with astronomy having been, in all countries, a natural consequence of that creed, insomuch that science, no less than poetry, may be said to have profited largely by superstition.
* Sir W. Betham's Irish Antiquarian Researches, Append. 29. † Letters of Columbanus, by Dr. O'Connor, let. iii.
I The Argali.- Travels in Europe and Africa, by Colonel Keating. “A traveller," observes this writer, " will see precisely the like in the west of Ireland." Mungo Park, too, speaks of the large tree called Neema Tooba. "decorated with innumerable rags and scraps of cloth,” and which “nobody now presumed to pass without hanging up something."
§ See Sir William Ouseley's interesting Travels through Persia, vol. ii. Append. No. 9.- Among the trees thus decorated, seen by Sir William in the vale of Abdui, and elsewhere, he mentions one in the neighbour. hood of a stone pillar; bringing to his recollection, he says, various remains which he had seen in Wales and Ireland.
| From an old Irish manuscript in the possession of the learned antiquary, Lhuyd, cited by Dr. O'Connor. See also O'Brien's Irish Dictionary, Beol, linne, where, however, the translation is somewhat different from that of Dr. O'Connor.
The superstition of purifying between two fires appears to have been as universal as it was ancient. "Les adorateurs de feu, dit Maimonide (lib. iii. c. 38.,) publièrent qui ceux qui ne feraient point passer leurs enfans par le feu, les exposoient au danger de mourir."-Dupuis, tom. iii. p. 740. The narrative of an embassy from Justin to the Khákàn, or emperor, who then resided in a fine vale near the Irtish, mentions the
Tartarian custom of purifying the Roman ambassadors by conducting them between two fires.'”-Sir. W. Jones, Fifth Discourse, on the Tartars. “The more ignorant Irish," says Ledwich, “still drive their cattle through these fires as an effectual means of preserving them from future accidents;" and Martin tells us that the natives of the Western Isles of Scotland, which are known to have been peopled from Ireland. " when they would describe a man as being in a great strait, or difficulty, say that he is between two fires of Bel." The same superstitious practice was observed at the festival of the goddess Pales, at Rome. " Per flammas saluisse pecus, saluisse colonos."-Ovid. Fast. lib. iv. of this old Roman ceremony, Niebuhr thus speaks :“The Festival of Pales, the 21st, when the country people and the earliest inhabitants of Rome used to purify themselves by passing through a strong fire, as our ancestors used to kindle fires on May.day.”
** Diodor. Sicul. lib. 20.
tt Dinseanchus, Ms., quoted Rer. Hibernic. Script. prol. 1. 22. This image was destroyed by St. Patrick."In commemoration," says O'Flaherty, " of this memorable annihilation of idolatry, I believe, the last Sunday in summer is, by a solemn custom, dedicated throughout Ireland, and commonly called Domnach Cromcruach, that is, the Sunday of Black Crom; I suppose on account of the horrid and deformed appearance of this diabolical spectre."-Ogygia, part iij. ch. xxii. “Cromcruach,” says Keating, "was the same god that Zoroaster worshipped in Greece." To this one flighty assertion of Keating may be traced the origin, perhaps, of all those wild notions and fancies which Vallancey afterwards promulgated.
How far those pillar-temples, or Round Towers, which form so remarkable a part of Ireland's antiquities, and whose history is lost in the night of time, may have had any connexion with the Pyrolatry, or Fire-worship, of the early Irish, we have no certain means of determining. That they were looked upon as very ancient, in the time of Giraldus, appears from the tale told by him of the fishermen of Lough Neagh pointing to strangers, as they sailed over that lake, the tall, narrow, ecclesiastical round towers under the water,* supposed to have been sunk there from the time of the inundation by which the lake was formed. This great event,—the truth or falsehood of which makes no difference in the fact of the period assigned to it,-is by the annalist Tigernach referred to the year of Christ 62; thus removing the date of these structures to far too remote a period to admit of their being considered as the work of Christian hands.
The notion, that they were erected by the Danes,t is unsupported even by any plausible grounds. In the time of Giraldus, the history of the exploits of these invaders was yet recent; and had there been any tradition, however vague, that they were the builders of these towers, the Welsh slanderer would not have been slow to rob Ireland of the honour. But, on the contrary, Giraldus expressly informs us that they were built "in the manner peculiar to the country.” Had they been the work of Danes, there would assuredly have been found traces of similar edifices, either in their own Scandinavian regions, or in the other countries of Europe which they occupied. But not a vestige of any such buildings has been discovered, nor any tradition relating to them; and while, in Ireland, Round Towers, or the remains of them, are found in places which the Danes never possessed, in some of the principal seats of these people, such as Waterford and Wexford, no building of the kind has been ever known to exist.
In drepair of being able to ascertain at what period, and by whom, they were constructed, our antiquaries are reduced to the task of conjecturing the purposes of their construction. That they may have been appropriated to religious uses in the early ages of the church, appears highly probable from the policy adopted by the first Christians in all countries, of enlisting in the service of the new faith the religious habits and associations of the old. It is possible, therefore, that they might, at some period, have been used as stations for pilgrims; for to this day, it appears, the prayers said at such stations are called Turrish prayers. Another of the notions concerning them is, that they were places of confinement for penitents. But, besides the absurdity of the supposition, that a people, whose churches were all constructed of wood and wicker, should have raised such elaborate stone towers for the confinement of their penitents, we have means of knowing the penitential discipline of the early Christian Irish, and in no part of it is such a penance as that of in prisonment in a Round Tower enjoined. The opinion of Harris, that they were intended, like the pillars of the Eastern Stylites for the habitation of solitary anchorets, is in so far, perhaps, deserving of notice, as showing how naturally the eye turns to the East, in any question respecting the origin of Irish antiquities. It is pretended that the models of these Inclusorii,-as, according to this hypothesis, the towers are supposed to have been,-were brought from the East by some of those Irish monks who are known to have visited the places of the Holy Land. But of any such Oriental importation, at that period, there exists no record whatever; and Adamnan, an Irish writer of the seventh century, who, in a work taken down by him from the lips of a French traveller to the East, gives an account of the Tombs of the Patriachs and other holy wonders, makes no mention of the abodes of these Pillar Saints, nor of the models which they are alleged to have furnished for bis country's Round Towers. It may be mentioned, too, as one of the points in which the resemblance here assumed is wanting, that Simon Stylites, and his fanatical imitators, lived upon, not within, their high columns
"Piscatores Turres istas, quæ, more patriæ, arctæ sunt et altæ, necnon et rotunda, sub undis manifeste, sereno tempore, conspiciunt."-Giralds. Cambrens. Dist. II. c. 9.
† The chief supporters of this opinion, as well as of the notion that these towers were intended for belfries, are Molyneux (Natural History of Ireland, Discourse concerning the Danish Mounts, &c,) and Dr. Ledwich, in his Antiquities As an instance of the vitality of a misrepresentation, it may be noticed that Lynch, ite author of the Defence of Ireland against Giraldus, was the first who mentioned, and only upon hearsay, ihat the Danes were the builders of the Round Towers.--" primi erexisse dicuntur." The Franciscan, Walsh, prosessing to copy Lynch, converts into certainty what Lynch gave but as a report; and on this authority, so misrepresented, the learned Molyneux, and others, found their eonclusiong. See, on this subject, Dr. Lanigan, chap. 32.
1 "A pilgrimage is called Turrish in Irish, and prayers said by pilgrims at stations are called Turrish prayers; a term peculiar to this country, and perhaps allusive to these towers."-William Tighe, Survey of The Co. of Kilkenny. $ "This opinion seems to have been first proposed by a Dean Richardson, of Belturbet, from whom it was taken by Harris, who has endeavoured to make it appear probable."-Lanigan, Ecclesiast. Hist. chap. 32. The same opinion was adopted also by Doctor Milner.- Lellers from Ireland, Lel. 14.
To the notion that our Irish structures were intended for watch-towers or beacons, there are the most conclusive objections;— their situation being frequently on low grounds, where they are overlooked by natural elevations,* and the apertures at their summit not being sufficiently large to transmit any considerable body of light. Their use occasionally as belfries may be concluded from the term, Clocteach, applied to some of them; but, besides that their form and dimensions would not admit of the swing of a moderately sized bell, the very circumstance of the door or entrance being usually from eight or ten to sixteen feet above the ground, proves them to have been in no degree more fitted or intended for belfries, than for any of the other various modern uses assigned to them.
In the ornaments of one or two of these towers, there are evident features of a more modern style of architecture, which prove them to have been added to the original struclure in later times; and the same remark applies to the crucifix and other Christian emblems, which are remarked on the tower at Swords, and also on that of Donoughmore.f The figures of the Virgin and St. John, on one of the two Round Towers of Scotland, must have been, likewise, of course, a later addition; unless, as seems likely from the description of the arches in which these figures are contained, the structure itself is entirely of recent date, and, like the tower of Kineth, in Ireland, a comparatively modern imitation of the old Pagan pattern.
As the worship of tire is known, unquestionably, to have formed a part of the ancient religion of the country, the notion that these towers were originally fire-temples, appears the most probable of any that have yet been suggested. To this it is objected, that enclosed structures are wholly at variance with that great principle of the Celtic religion, which considers it derogatory to divine nature to confine their worship within the limits of walls and roofs;-the refined principle upon which the Magi incited Xerxes to burn the temples of the Greeks. It appears certain, however, that, at a later period, the use of fire-temples was adopted by the Persians themselves; though, at the same time, they did not the less continue to offer their sacrifices upon the hills and in the open air, employing the Pyreia introduced by Zoroaster, as mere repositories of the sacred fire. I A simple altar, with a brazier burning upon it, was all that the temple contained, and at this they kindled the fire for their worship on the high places. To this day, as modern writers concerning the Parsees inform us, the part of the temple called the Place of Fire, is accessible only to the priests ;and on the supposition that our towers were, in like manner, temples in which the sacred flame was kept safe from pollution, the singular circumstance of the entrance to them being rendered so difficult by its great height from the ground is at once satisfactorily explained.
But there is yet a far more striking corroboration of this view of the origin of thc Round Towers. While in no part of Continental Europe has any building of a similar construction been discovered, there have been found, near Bhaugulpore, in Hindostan, two towers, which bear an exact resemblance to those of Ireland. In all the peculiarities of their shape,ll-the door or entrance, elevated some feet above the ground, the four windows near the top, facing the cardinal points, and the small rounded roof,--these Indian temples are, to judge by the description of them, exactly similar to the Round Towers; and, like them also, are thought io have belonged to a form of worship now extinct and even forgotten. One of the objections brought against the notion of the Irish Towers having been fire-temples, namely, that it was not necessary for such a purpose to raise them to so great a height, T is abundantly answered by the description given of some
* In the deep and secluded valley of Glendalough stands one of the most interesting, from its romantic posi. tion, of all these Round Towers,
A print of this tower at Swords, with a crucifix on the top, may be seen at the end of Molyncux's work.
1. “Cependant, tous les auteurs, Arabes et Persans, cités par M. Hyde et M. D'Herbelot, attribuent à Zer. dusht l'établissement des Pyrees."— Foucher, Memoires de l'Acad. tom xxix. M. Foucher has shown, that the two apparently inconsistent systems,-that of Zoroaster, which introduced fire temples, and the old primitive mode of worshipping in the op?n air,-both existed together. “ Pour lever cette contradiction apparente, il suffit d'observer que les Pyrées n'etoient pas des temples proprement dits, mais de simples oratoires, d'où l'on tiroit le feu pour sacritier sur les montagnes.”
Anquetil du Perron, Zend Avesta, tom. ii.
Voyages and Travels, by Lord Valentia, vol. ji.--"was much pleased," says his lordelip, “ with the sight of two very singular Round Towers, about a mile north-west of the town. They much resemble those buildings in Ireland, which have hitherto puzzled the antiquaries of the sister kingdoms, excepting that they are more ornamented. It is singular that there is no tradition concerning them, nor are they held in any respect by the Hindoos. The Rajah of Jyanegur considers them as holy, and has erected a small building to shelter the great number of his subjects who annually come to worship here."
11 Dr. Milner, Tour in Ireland, letter xiv. “The tower at Kildare is calculated to be four feet loftier than the pillar of Trajan at Rome."-D'Allon.