of Isis; or, Mysteries of the Druids
Book the Second
AS travelers, who have lost
their way by night, gaze ever towards the east for the first rays of light
and hope, so we who grope in the darkness of antiquity must direct our
eyes to the land of the rising sun, whence learning and life itself first
Listen then to a romance of
Danaus, King of Greece, had
fifty sons, whom he married to the fifty daughters of his brother Ęgistus,
King of Egypt. But soon these women thirsted for dominion, and conspired
secretly to slay their husbands and to rule in their steads. But the
youngest and the most beautiful had a tender heart, which crept from her
lips in words of warning to her father and her spouse. Then they were all
seized and set adrift in ships upon the sea, which after many storms bore
them in safety to a large and uninhabited island.
Here they staid and named
it Albion, after Albina their eldest sister, and here they maintained
themselves by the chase, killing the deer and the boars, and wild bulls,
and large birds which they found in the forests with arrows and bolts, and
bowstrings, and snares and pitfalls.
And while filled with meat
and drink, and with lustful thoughts, they lay sleeping on the ground
covered with the skins of wild beasts, dark brooding spirits swept towards
them from the sky, and encircled them with their shadowy arms, and
intoxicated them with their flaming breath By these were born huge and
hideous giants which soon bore others, till they filled the whole land
with a strange and fierce crew.
MEANWHILE Troy had fallen:
the wanderings of Eneas were past: and Ascanius had died leaving behind
him his son Silvius. The son of Silvius loved a maid, who became pregnant.
Then the wise men and women of the land were sent for, and all those who
knew songs of magic art. They cast. their lots and found sorrowful spells:
that a child would be born through whom both his father and mother would
suffer death: that through their death he would be driven from the land,
and after a long time would be crowned with honor.
His mother died as she gave
him to the world, and the child, whom they named Brutus, when he had
become a youth, shot his father through the breast a-hunting the deer.
His kindred banished him
from the land, and he sailed sadly over the sea-streams into Greece where
he headed an insurrection against Pandrasus the king, and with such
success that the king offered him all his ships, and treasures, and Imogen
his only daughter if he would consent to seek another kingdom. So Brutus,
with his followers, like Eneas of old, sailed forth upon the waters in
search of a new land.
After two days and two
nights the sea became blue: the wild waves were hushed: they came to a
desolate island: its inhabitants had been slain by the pirates: the timid
deer coursed over its wasted shores. But they found there a marble temple,
and within the fair and beautiful image of Diana.
Brutus with twelve wise
men, and with Gerion, his priest, entered the temple while his followers
remained without. He bore a vessel of red gold in his hand: it was filled
with wine and with the milk of a white hind which he had killed. Having
kindled a fire by the altar, he walked around it nine times. He called to
the goddess beloved of his heart: he kissed the altar and poured the wine
and milk upon the fire.
"Lady Diana! loved Diana!
High Diana!" he cried. "Help me in my need. Teach me whither I may go and
wherein I may dwell. And there I will make thee a lofty dwelling and honor
thee with great worship.
Then he spread the hide of
the white hind upon the altar, and kneeling upon it fell asleep. In his
dreams he beheld Diana floating towards him with sweet smiles. She laid
her hands like a wreath of flowers upon his head, saying: Beyond Gaul in
the west thou shall find a winsome land: therein thou shalt prosper.
Therein is fowl: there is fish: there dwell fair deer: there is wood:
there is water: there is much desert: grim giants dwell in the land. It is
For thirty days and thirty
nights they sailed past Africa and over the lake of Silvius, and over the
lake of Philisteus: by Ruscikadan they took the sea, and by the mountain
country of Azare. They fought with the pirates, and gained from them such
treasures that there was not a man in the fleet who did not wear gold and
pall. And by the pillars of Hercules they were encompassed by mermen who
sing songs so sweet that mariners will rest slothfully on their oars, and
listen to them for days without wearying of their songs to hear--these
impeded them much with their wicked crafts, but they escaped them safely.
In a peaceful sea, and
among the playing fish they came to Dartmouth in Totnes. There the ships
bit the sands, and with merry hearts the warriors went ashore. It happened
after many days that Brutus and his people were celebrating holy writs,
with meat, with drink, and with merry glee sounds: with silver and with
gold: with horses and with vestments.
Twenty strong giants
descended the hills: trees were their clubs: in the centre of their
foreheads was a single eye vivid as the blue ice. They hurled huge stones
and slew five hundred of the Trojans. But soon the fierce steel arrows of
the Trojans whistled through the air, and blood began to spurt from their
monstrous sides. They tried to fly; but those darts followed them swift
and revengeful, as birds of prey winged with the dark feathers of death.
Nineteen were slain and Geog-magog, their leader was brought bound before
Brutus, who ordered a wrestling match to be held between the giant and
Corineus, a chieftain of his army.
A mighty crowd gathered
upon the downs by the sea-cliff. Corineus and the giant advanced towards
each other, they yoked their arms and stood breast to breast. Their eyes
gushed blood, their teeth gnashed like wild boars, their bones cracked.
Now their faces were black and swollen, now red and flaming with rage.
Geog-magog thrust Corineus off his breast and drawing him back broke three
of his ribs with his mighty hand. But Corineus was not overcome, he hugged
the giant grimly to his waist, and grasping him by the girdle swung him
over the cliff upon the rocks below. Which spot is called "Geog-magog's
leap" to this day. And to Corineus, the conqueror, was given a dukedom,
which was thence called Corinee and thence Cornwall.
Brutus having conquered the
giant off-spring of the treacherous sisters, built a New Troy, and erected
temples to the great Diana, and caused her to be worshipped throughout the
land. Which was named Britain after Brutus, the first man who set foot
upon its shores.
FABLES are seldom actual
impostures. They are usually truths disguised in gaudy or grotesque
garments, but so disguised that the most profound philosophers are often
at a loss how to separate the tinsel from the gold. But even when they
remain insolvable enigmas, they are, at least, to be preferred to the
etymological eurekas and tedious conjectures with which antiquarians clog
the pages of history, and which are equally false and less poetical.
My fable of Albion is
derived from the ancient chronicles of Hugh de Genesis, an historiographer
now almost forgotten, and is gravely advanced by John Hardyng, in his
uncouth rhymes, as the source of that desire for sovereignty which he
affirms to be a peculiarity of his own countrywomen.
The story of Brū or Brutus
was first published by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and was generally supposed to
have been a monkish fabrication, till it was discovered in the historical
poems of Tyssilia, a Welsh bard.
It is worthy of remark that
the boys of Wales still amuse themselves by cutting out seven enclosures
in the sward, which they call the City of Troy, and dance round and
between them as if in imitation of the revolution of the planets. In a
poem by Taliesin, the Ossian of Wales, called The Appeasing, of Lhudd, a
passage occurs, of which this is a literal translation: "A numerous race,
fierce, they are said to have been, Were thy original colonists, Britain,
first of isles, Natives of a country in Asia, and the city of Gafiz Said
to have been a skilful people, but the district is unknown Which was
mother to these children, warlike adventurers on the sea; Clad in their
long dress, who could equal them? Their skill is celebrated, they were the
dread of Europe."
This is strong evidence in
favor of the Phnicians, at that time the pirate-scourges of the sea, but
in the Welsh triads, or traditional chronicles, we read that--
"The first of the three
chieftains who established the colony was Hu, the Mighty, who came with
the original settlers. They came over the Hazy Sea from the summer
country, which is called Deffrobani, that is where Constinoblys now
It maybe possible to
reconcile these contradictions of history in its simplest state, to which
I might add a hundred from later writers. We learn from Josephus that the
Scythians, were called Magogi by the Greeks, and it is probable that
these (who certainly did migrate to Britain at a remote period) were the
real aborigines, and the race alluded to in the fourth Triad. That then
the warlike race of Taliesin also migrated from another region of the
East, and that their battles with the Scythians gave rise to the fables of
Brutus and Magog; for it was a practice, common enough with illiterate
nations, to express heroes in their war-tales by the images of giants.
This superstition is
somewhat borne out by the assertion of Tacitus and other classical
writers, that at the time of Cęsar's invasion, there were three distinct
races in Britain, especially contrasting-the red-haired, large-limbed, and
blue-eyed Celts of the North, with the Silures of Devon, Cornwall, and the
Cassiterides or Scilly Isles, who had swarthy faces and dark curly hair,
like the Iberi of Spain.
But let us pass on from
such dateless periods of guess-work, to that in which The White Island
first obtained notice from those philosophers, and poets, and historians,
whom now we revere and almost deify.
THE north of the island was
inhabited by wild hordes of savages, who lived upon the bark of trees, and
upon the precarious produce of the chase; went naked, and sheltered
themselves from the weather under the cover of the woods, or in the
The midland tribes were
entirely pastoral. They lived upon the flesh and milk which their flocks
afforded them, and clothed themselves in their skins. While the
inhabitants of the south, who had been polished by intercourse with
strangers, were acquainted with many of the arts of civilization, and were
ruled by a priesthood which was second to none in the world for its
learning and experience.
They manured their ground
with marl, and sowed corn, which they stored in thatched houses, and from
which they took as much as was necessary for the day and having dried the
ears, beat the grain out, bruised it, and baked it into bread.
They ate little of this
bread at their banquets, but great quantities of flesh, which they either
boiled in water, or broiled upon the coals, or roasted upon spits. They
drank ale or metheglin, a liquor made of milk and honey, and sat upon the
skins of wolves or dogs.
They lived in small houses
built in a circular form, thatched with rushes into the shape of a cone;
an aperture being left by which the smoke might escape. Their dress was of
their own manufacture. A square mantle covered a vest and trousers, or a
deeply-plaited tunic of braided cloth; the waist was encircled by a belt,
rings adorned the second finger of each hand, and a chain of iron or brass
was suspended from the neck. These mantles, at first the only covering of
the Britons, were of one color, with long hair on the outside, and were
fastened upon the breast by a clasp, with the poorer classes by a thorn.
The heads were covered with
caps made of rushes, and their feet with sandals of untanned skin;
specimens of which are still to be met with-of the former in Wales, of the
latter in the Shetland Isles.
The women wore tunics,
wrought and interwoven with various colors, over which was a loose robe of
coarser make, secured with brazen buckles. They let their hair flow at
freedom, and dyed it yellow like the ladies of ancient Rome; and they wore
chains of massive gold about their necks, bracelets upon their arms, rings
upon their fingers.
They were skilled in the
art of weaving, in which, however, the Gauls had obtained a still greater
proficience. The most valuable of their cloths were manufactured of fine
wool of different tints, woven chequer-wise, so as to fall into small
squares of various colors. They also made a kind of cloth, which, without
spinning or weaving, was, when worked up with vinegar, so hard and
impenetrable, that it would turn the edge of the sharpest sword.
They were equally famous
for their linen, and sail-cloths constituted a great part of their trade.
When they had finished the linen in, the loom, they had this curious
method of bleaching it: The flax having been whitened before it was sent
to the loom, the unspun yarn was placed in a mortar where it was pounded
and beaten into water; it was then sent to the weaver, and when it was
received from him made into cloth, it was laid upon a large smooth stone,
and beaten with broad-headed cudgels, the juice of poppies being mingled
with the water. For scouring cloths, they used a soap invented by
themselves, which they made from the fat of animals and the ashes of
Distinct from these
southern tribes, were the inhabitants of the Cassiterides, who wore long
black garments, and beards falling on each side of their mouths like
wings, and who are described by Pliny as "carrying staves with three
serpents curling round like Furies in a tragedy."
It is probable that the
nudity of the northern nations did not proceed from mere barbarous
ignorance. We know that savages are first induced to wear clothing, not
from shame, but from vanity; and it was this passion which restrained them
from wearing the skins of beasts, or the gaudy clothes of their civilized
For it was their custom to
adorn their bodies with various figures by a tedious and painful process.
At an early age, the outlines of animals were impressed with a pointed
instrument into the skin; a strong infusion of woad, (a Gallic herb from
which a blue dye was extracted) was rubbed into the punctures, and the
figures expanding with the growth of the body retained their original
appearance. Like the South-Sea Islanders they esteemed that to be a
decoration which we consider a disfigurement, and these tatooings (which
were used by the Thracicans and by the ancient inhabitants of
Constantinople, and which were forbidden by Moses, Levit. xix. 28.) were
only displayed by Southern races as a kind of war-paint. Like the Gauls,
who endeavored to make their bright red hair rough and bristly not for
ornament, but as a terror to their enemies, these Britons on the day of
battle flung off their clothes, and with swords girded to their naked
sides, and spear in hand, marched with joyful cries against their enemies.
Also upon certain festivals
they, with their wives and children, daubed themselves from head to foot
with the blue dye of the woad and danced in circles bowing to the altar.
But the Picts, or painted men, as the Romans named them, colored
themselves with the juice of green grass.
Hunting was their favorite
exercise and sport, and Britain which was then filled with vast swamps and
forests afforded them a variety of game. The elephant and the rhinoceros,
the moose-deer, the tiger and other beasts now only known in Eastern
climes, and mammoth creatures that have since disappeared from the face of
the earth made the ground tremble beneath their stately tread. The brown
bear preyed upon their cattle, and slept in the hollow oaks which they
revered. The hyenas yelped by night, and prowled round the fold of the
shepherd. The beaver fished in their streams, and built its earthen towns
upon their banks. And hundreds of wolves, united by the keen frosts of
winter, gathered round the rude habitations of men and howled from fierce
hunger, rolling their horrible green eyes and gnashing their white teeth.
Their seas abounded with
fish, but since they held water sacred they would not, injure its
inhabitants for they believed them to be spirits. I will now consider the
primeval state of trade in Britain, now the greatest commercial country in
It was periodically visited
by the Phnicians, a crafty and enterprising nation whose commerce
embraced the whole of the known world, from the frozen borders of Scythia
to the burning coasts of Africa and Hindostan; whose vessels like the
Spanish galleons and our own East Indiamen of old were equipped equally
for trade or war; who robbed the weak with their drawn swords, and the
strong with their cunning arts; who traded with Arabia for spices and
precious stones; with Damascus for the Mesopotamian white wool, and for
wine of Aleppo, a beverage so costly that it was drunk by kings alone:
with Juda for fruits of the soil, corn, grape-honey, oil and balm; with
Armenia for mules and chariot-horses, flocks and herds; with the shores of
the Baltic for amber; with Spain for minerals; with the Euxine for
tunny-fish; with India for the cinnamon of Ceylon, for cotton garments and
for steel which sold in Arabia for twice its weight in gold, and of which
the Damascus blades so celebrated in the middle ages were made.
It was not long before they
discovered the lead and tin mines of Cornwall and the Cassiterides, which
would appear (from several flint-headed tools called celts lately
discovered within them) to have been worked by the Britons themselves.
And as they were wont to
exchange the pottery of Athens for the ivory of Africa, and live Jews for
the gold and jewels of the Greeks, so they bartered salt, earthenware and
brazen trinkets with the Britons for tin, lead, and the skins of wild
It was the policy of the
Phnicians (in which they were afterwards imitated by the Dutch) to
preserve their commercial secrets with the greatest jealousy, and to
resort to extremes in order to protect their interests. Although they had
supplied tin and amber for several years to the Greeks, Herodotus, who had
visited Tyre, could only obtain very vague accounts as to the countries
from which they had been obtained, and on making inquiries respecting
cinnamon and frankincense, was explicitly informed that the first was
procured by stratagem from the nests of birds built upon inaccessible
crags, and the latter from a tree guarded by winged serpents.
There-is also the story of
the master of a Phnician trader from Cadiz to the Cassiterides, who
finding himself followed by a Roman ship ran his own vessel ashore
preferring death to discovery. The Romans were also shipwrecked, and were
drowned, but the patriot escaped to tell his tale at Tyre, and to receive
from a grateful state the value of his cargo and an additional reward. In
spite of these precautions, either by accident, or by the treachery of
some renegade Phnician, or from the colony of Phocians at Marseilles, the
Greeks discovered the secret about three hundred years before the
Thus monopoly being ended,
the commerce of the Britons was extended. and improved, and after the
descent of the Romans they exported not only tin and lead, but also gold,
silver, iron, corn, cattle, slaves hunting-dogs, pearls, and those wicker
baskets which Martial has immortalized in his epigrams. It also appears
that chalk was an article of their trade, by this inscription which was
found with many others near Zeland, A. D. 1647-
OB MERCES RECTE CONSER
VATAS SECVND SILVANVS
NEGO X TOR CRETARIVS
V. S. L. M.
To the Goddess Nehalennia
For his goods well preserved
A chalk merchant
Willingly performed his merited vow.
Before describing the
religion and superstitions of our earliest ancestors, which will
bring me to the real purpose of this book, I will add a few remarks upon
their manners and peculiarities.
Curiosity, which is
certainly the chief characteristic of all barbarous and semi-barbarous
nations, was possessed by the Celts in so extraordinary a degree that they
would compel travelers to stop, even against their wills, and make them
tell some news, and deliver an opinion upon the current events of the day.
They would also crowd round the merchants in towns with the same kind of
But the great failing of
these Celts was their hastiness and ferocity. Not content with pitched
battles against their enemies abroad, they were always ready to fight
duels with their friends at home. In fact, the end of a British feast was
always the beginning of a fray; two warriors would rise and fight each
other with such sang-froid that Athenus wrote in astonishment, Mortem pro
joco habent, "They turn death into a joke;" and it was from these
spectacles that the Romans conceived and executed the idea of gladiatorial
entertainments. They feared nothing these brave men. They sang as they
marched to battle, and perhaps to death. They shot arrows at the heavens
when it thundered; they laughed as they saw their own hearts' blood
And yet they were plain and
simple in their manners; open and generous, docile and grateful, strangers
to low cunning and deceit, so hospitable that they hailed the arrival of
each fresh guest with joy and festivities, so warm-hearted that they were
never more pleased than when they could bestow a kindness. Their code of
morals, like those of civilized nations, had its little contradictions;
they account it disgraceful to steal, but honorable to rob, and though
they observed the strictest chastity, they did not blush to live
promiscuously in communities of twelve.
This extraordinary custom
induced Caesar to assert that they enjoyed each other's wives in common;
but in this he is borne out by no other authorities, and, indeed, there
are many instances of this kind among barbarous nations, who love,
apparently, to hide their real purity with a gross and filthy enamel.
Richard of Circencester (probably alluding to Bath the aqu solis of the
ancients) mentions, however, some salt and warm springs used by the
ancient Britons, from which were formed hot baths suited to all ages, with
distinct places for the two sexes; a refinement which was unknown in
Lacedmon. And Procopius writes:--
"So highly rated is
chastity among these barbarians, that if even the bare mention of marriage
occurs without its completion, the maiden seems to lose her fair fame."
Having thus briefly
sketched the condition and employments of the early Britons--having proved
that our ancestors were brave, and that their daughters were virtuous, I
will now show you those wise and potent men of whom these poor barbarians
were but the disciples and the slaves.
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