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In the Hebrides
Chapter 2


FROM CAMPBELTON TO OBAN

"The Isles, where dewy morning weaves
Her chaplet, with the tints that twilight leaves;
Where late the sun, scaree vanished from the sight,
And his bright pathway graced the short-lived night."

Isles of Gigah and Islay—Meaning of Tarbert—Legend of the Whirlpool—Isles of Elachnave, Oronsay, and Oolonsay—Oban—Dunolly—DunetaffnageSeals—Old Tombs—White Stones—A Lake Village—Serpent-shaped Mound—American and other Reptile-shaped Mounds--Gaelic Serpent Lore.

Real Argyle8hire rain! Drenching, pouring, soaking, pitiless rain I How it did rain!

After such a spell of sunshine, why should it have chosen this very morning to begin this cruel work, just as we started for a forty- six mile drive, first across the hills to Campbelton, and thence to Tarbert, along a coast whose beauty we had already proved, and with which we had vainly hoped to refresh our memories? Our conveyance was the lumbering old coach which still runs between Campbelton and Tarbert, and it was suggested that we should go inside; but, thinking the remedy worse than the disease, we preferred testing our good and trusty waterproofs; a panoply without which they would be rash indeed who could venture to set foot in the dominions of His Hieland Glory, the great MacCailian Mor; and brave his lawless rain.

It was some consolation that the worthies at the various stages, for once, allowed that it was something more than a" fine saft day," and condescended to take refuge under their own roofs, and leave drowned understrappers to do all the work; while good John, our gentle Jehu, whose aversion to the whip was as great as that of our host at Losset, soothed and coaxed obedience out of the most unpromising quadrupeds. "Steady, my wee pet," to a great rawboned brute, with a wicked eye. "Noo, my bonnie lassie," to a long-legged, clumsy old cow. A very master in the art of kindly flattery, is this master of the ribbons.

As we drove along the coast, we had a farewell peep of the little isle of Gigah, the burial-place of the Macneils, a meet haven for these turbulent island lords, with the wildest sea-waves for ever guarding their rest. On several of the old tombs we can still trace the rudely-carved two-handed sword, half hidden by a coating of warm dark moss.

Some relics, too, there are, of yet more ancient days. Great cairns, near which stand tall rough monoliths, once, doubtless, suggesting names that in their day were deemed immortal, but of which all tradition has long since been lost. At one place there is a group of three such old cairns, and one great monolith, which has been carved into the semblance of a cross, by some zealous Christian of old. Near this is a well, which the Macneils of yore had only to stir, if they were wind-bound, and straightway a favourable gale arose, to speed them on their course.

A little further lie the low shores of the large island of Islay, rich in traces of old ecclesiastical buildings, no less than fourteen chapels having been founded by the Lords of the Isles. In the churchyard of Kil-arrow there is a remarkable gravestone, with the figure of a warrior with a conical head-dress, and a tunic reaching to the knees. At his aide is a dirk, and in his hand a sword. Near this stone is another bearing a large sword, and a garland of leaves—a Hebridean equivalent for a laurel crown.

The burial-ground of Kildalton is marked by two large rudely- sculptured stone crosses.

Of more ancient interest is the tomb of Yla, or Ella, a Danish princess, who has bequeathed her name to the island, and also to some of its daughters. A high conical green hill above the Bay of Knock, seemed a fitting tumulus of nature's own building, so here the Danish lady was buried, and the spot is marked by two great upright stones, called "The Stones of Islay."

Cairns and barrows have been excavated in various parts of the isle, and treasures of the usual sort, such as brass fibul, stone celts, and flint arrow-heads have go to enrich museums.

Here, too, on the brink of the river Laggan, "Brian of fla" was buried, standing upright, and holding in his hand a spear, such as that which he used to dart at the salmon. The ruling passion, you see, was strong in death. In Islay, beside Loch uinlagan, one (or more) of the old Lords of the Isles held his court; and standing on • big stone seven feet square, received the homage of all his vassals, • ceremony graced by the sanction of the Church; "for," isays the old chronicle, "the Bishop of Argyle and seven priests did anoint and crown him king of the Isles, placing his father's sword in his hand, whereupon he swore to protect the Islesmen, and do justice to all his subjects."

It is curious to note the strange quibble by which this peninsula of Cantyre came to be included among the Hebrides. A very narrow neck of land, such as that which connects this with the mainland, is generally called Tarbat or Tarbert, from two old words: Tarruing, to draw, and Bata, a boat; because in some cases it saved both time and trouble to drag the boats across the isthmus, rather than sail round the land. This was especially true of the Mull of Cantyre, whose difficult navigation and fearful storms were so dreaded, that vessels of nine or ten tons were frequently drawn by horses out of the west loch to that on the east (a distance of barely a mile), thus avoiding the long and dangerous sail all round the peninsula. This fact was taken advantage of by the Norwegian king, Magnus, "the barefoot king," when Donald-Bane of Scotland was forced to cede to him the Western Isles, including all places that could be surrounded in a boat. Placing himself in the stern of a boat, he held the rudder, was drawn over this narrow track, and thus took possession of the Mull.

In olden days the isles were quite independent of the mainland, and were ruled by such piratical chiefs, that at length Harold Hearfager determined to annex them all, as far south as the Isle of Man. They continued nominally subject to Norway till 1226, when they were transferred to Scotland (not, however, as a very peaceful possession, as it is somewhere about this time that we hear of the King of Man making over the Sudereys to Somerled). About eighty years late; the whole were seized by one chief, whose private property they continued for 200 years, when James V. finally reconquered them.

Well, it poured without intermission till we reached Tarbert, where there still remain the ruins of a castle built by the Bruce. Thence we took the steamer to Lochgilphead, where a smaller steamboat was waiting to take us through the Crinal Canal, and we sat on the deck to catch a glimpse of Qid Duntroon Castle,—but it looked grey and cold and wet, and not a bit like the same place where we used to sail, or row, or scramble in the sunny summer evenings.

At Crinan we again changed steamers, and still the rain poured on: "It was never weary." We knew that on our left lay the Islands of Scarba and Jura, between which rush the mighty tides, which swirl and roar round a hidden reef in mid-channel, whence shelving rocks on every side, project far under the water, and so create the whirlpool of Corrievreckan, "The cauldron of the foaming tide," which boils and ferments as the impetuous currents meet, till the waves are heaped up like pyramids, which break and spout in dashing spray. Sometimes this wild ferment makes the whole sea white with foam, and then the people say that the Caillach (the old hag) has put on her kerchief, and any ship rash enough to approach would meet its certain doom.

The legend of these tumultuous waters tell that the word Bhreacan (Corrie-Bhreacan), which some have translated as "foaming stream," was really the name of a brave young Danish prince, who loved a daughter of the Lord of the Isles, and desired to woo and win her. Her father did not favour his suit, yet, not willing to offend the King of Lochlin, he answered craftily, that the prince should indeed have his daughter, providing he would prove his courage and his skill as a seaman, by anchoring his galley for three days and three nights in the dread whirlpool.

The young prince, nothing daunted, returned to Lochlin to consult with his wise men as to the best means of safety. They bade him take three cables,—one of hemp, one of 'wool, and one of woman's hair. The hempen cable and the woollen one were easy to find, but as to the third, every hair of which must come from the head of a maiden of spotless fame, it demanded such sacrifice as few damsels would care to make. However the prince was beloved, and the fame of his beauty and of his brave deeds in love and war, had reached the bower of many a Danish maid. So the daughters of the land cut off their long fair looks, and a cable was woven thereof, which should resist the mightiest tempest that ever raged in that seething cauldron.

Then the prince returned to the father of his love and announced his readiness to do his will. He anchored In the whirlpool. The first day the hempen cable broke. The second day the woollen one parted. The third day came, and the gift of the maidens of Lochlin still held its ground. The young prince was full of gladness, for his triumph seemed nigh at hand. But alas! for that law which makes the strength of the mightiest cable equal only to its weakest link. There was one fair tress binding him to the anchor of his hope which had been shorn from the head of one whose fame was no longer without blemish. So the resistless might of unspotted purity was not there to bind the raging waters, and the last rope parted, and the ship was sucked down in the mad whirling vortex,—down, down, down, to the unfathomable depths of ocean.

But the body of the prince was brought to land by his faithful dog, and dragged to a cave that bears his name, where a little cairn still marks the spot where Bhreaean was buried. The dog returned to the water, doubtless seeking some other friend, and he perished in a lesser whirlpool between the Isles of Scarba and Lunge, and that Sound is still known as the Grey Dog's Slap.

To the north-west of Scarba lies the little island of Elachnave, where there remain traces of some of the very earliest monastic buildings, situated near an ancient cemetery where the graves are only marked by roughest wave-worn rocks, one of which bears a rudely graven cross. There are also two beehive cells of slate, covered with grass, perhaps the humble homes of holy men of old.

Beyond Jura he the sister isles, which, in memory of St. Columba and his companion St. Oran, bears the names of Oronsay and Colonsay, their respective sizes bearing due proportion to the fame of the two men, Colonsay being much the larger island of the two. Both are hilly, though of no great height, and are noted for the richness of their pasture. Next to Iona, these isles possess more extensive remains of religious houses than any others in the Hebridean group. They have also vestiges of prehistoric times, as Oronsay has several tumuli. The ruins are those of ecclesiastical buildings, founded by the Lords of the Isles about the fourteenth century. On Oronsay stood a monastery, of which there remain some cloisters of a very peculiar angular character. Within the priory are several sculptured tombs, and a little apart stands a tall round-headed cross.

The abbey connected with this monastery stood on the larger isle of Colonsay, but it has been entirely destroyed, though the ruins of some smaller chapels remain. St. Oran's cell has disappeared within the memory of persons still living. To him was dedicated the Church of Killouran. Unfortunately the four hundred inhabitants of the isle have not been endowed with a due reverence for these sacred ruins, which have been treated as a convenient quarry. Oronsay, on which there is but one inhabited house, fares better, and its multitudinous rabbits are no foes to antiquarians, so the old ruins are here left to the slow progress of calm decay.

After the Reformation multitudes of these small churches were allowed to fall into ruin, and a very irregular system of Church services was substituted. Thus, in the more distant isles, the minister, on his occasional visits, would celebrate the marriages and baptisms of perhaps two or three years. On these occasions it was very important to have the lads baptized before the lassies, for should this order be accidentally inverted, the lassie who was christened out of her turn was certain to grow a beard I Till very recent years this was firmly believed, so far south as Stiringshire, where, within my own memory, it was alleged by the church officer, as a reason why the laird's infant daughter must on no account be baptized till after several collier laddies. So strongly was this separation of the sexes insisted on, that I know of one old font belonging to the church at Birnie near Elgin, which was actually divided in two by a plate of iron let into the stone, that the water for the baptism of males, might not be mixed with that for females. This old font having been discarded in favour of the modern bason, was for many years left lying neglected in We kirkyard, but I do not know whether it proved treasure-trove to any antiquarian.

The minister's greetings from these unbaptized little heathens were sometimes striking. One child on being sprinkled with cold water exclaimed passionately, "De'il be in your fingers!" which, you will allow, was a stronger form of remonstrance, than the stick of, barley-sugar, which we occasionally see employed in infantile resistance to the means of grace! It was, however, well in keeping with the character given to a West Highland village by its new pastor. "Eh! it's a pitiful thing to see children that can neither waalk nor taath, running about the streets, cursing and swearing!" It sounds as if he must have had a dash of the Emerald Isle, but he was described as being "just as Highland as a peat."

In these remote corners of the earth, Church ceremonies are sometimes considerably affected by wind and weather. There are many cases when one minister has charge of several small flocks, and has to divide his care of them as best he can; sometimes he has to row across a dangerous ferry or a sea-loch, against wind and tide, to reach the congregation awaiting him on the other side. Sometimes all the efforts of the strong arms that row him are unavailing, and after battling for hours without being able to effect a landing, they have to make the best of their way back to the island whence they started, leaving the little flock to disperse at their leisure. Even where no arm of the sea intervenes between the minister and his parochial work, a swollen river will prove quite as effectual a barrier, and I have heard stories that reminded me forcibly of the form of baptism practised by St. Francis Xavier, when, sailing up the Indian river, he sprinkled holy water with a long pole on the astonished people, who assembled on either bank to see him pass.

Dr. Chalmers told a story of a Highland minister having been summoned to baptize an infant, whose parents lived on the other side of a small stream. When he reached the burn, he found it was in spate, and there were no means of getting across. He therefore shouted to the father to come down to the burn-side, and hold the infant (as the custom is, in Scotland). He, himself, procured a wooden scoop, which he dipped in the burn, and flung the water across, aiming at the bairn's face. But the stream was so wide that he repeatedly fell short of the mark; and the shout of "Weel! has it gotten any yet!" was reiterated again and again, before a satisfactory answer enabled him to conclude the service! This I believe to be a fact of the present century.

All this time we were passing through scenery which we believed to be bewilderingly lovely, if we could but have seen it, instead of the sheets of grey rain, which poured down incessantly from the heavy clouds. But towards evening, as we neared Oban—" the quiet little harbour," as its name implies,—the dark storm drifted away, and the sun shone forth in penitent beauty, changing the whole face of nature. Instead of earth, sea, and sky being all of one leaden hue, the scene was now flooded with tender rainbow-coloured light; fairy islands in the far distance seemed to float ethereally on the opal-tinted sea, and the great hills of Mull appeared as if rising from the waves, like some pale spirit, faintly visible through the tremulous evening light.

Just beyond the town rises the stern old Castle of Dunolly, perched on a grey projecting Craig, which, rising abruptly from the shore, commands the harbour on either side; a strong tower ot defence in olden days, and one which no foeman's galley could approach unseen. Now a picturesque garden nestles round the base of the Craig, adding gem-like touches of colour to the flush of heather which lies in every cranny of the grey rock, while a background of green and gold foliage serves as a rich setting to the whole.

Near the base of the cliff one huge rock-boulder stands upright, as if placed there by some giant hand. This is known as the Dog's Stone, for here it was that Fingal was wont to tie his faithful dog Bran, in ages long before Macdougals or Campbells had taken possession of the land. You know this grim old fortress of Dunolly was the eerie where the Macdougals of Lorn, eagle-like, built their nest overhanging the waves. They were lineal descendants of the first Dougal, Lord of the Isles, son of the great Somerled, whose place of burial we noted at Saddeil. The old castle is now in ruins, later generations having preferred to build themselves a modern home in a more sheltered nook, where, among other family treasures, they still retain the far-famed brooch of Lorn, snatched from the Bruce, by their ancestor John of Lorn.

Resolved to make the most of so beautiful an evening, we wandered along the shore in the direction of Gallanach, by far the most lovely, and yet the least frequented, road in the neighbourhood of Oban, winding beneath grey crags, close to the sea; and disclosing at every turn, some fresh vision of beauty,—dreamy isles, or the nearer mainland.

The dewy freshness of a sweet spring morning tempted us forth betimes, to explore another fine old ruin,—the Castle of Dunstaffnags, a far more imposing mass of building than Dunoily, though lacking the grandeur of its rocky ramparts. But the low grassy shore on which it stands, is washed all round by the blue sea-loch, 80 that at high tide it is in fact an island, and the waters, coming close in shore, serve as a mirror to reflect the grey weather-beaten fortress, only rendering its image in mellower tones than the stern walls ever wear in reality.

Nor is its beauty lessened, when the receding waters expose the dark rocks fringed with golden sea-weed,—rocks on which you may sometimes surprise a whole family of seals basking in the warm sunshine,—a grey old grandmother surrounded by her children and grandchildren, the latter dark in colour as the dry wrack on which they lie. Occasionally the family-party includes a nursing mother and her baby! These little additions to the family only occur once a year, and rarely exceed one at a time, though twins are not unknown. The mother-seal seeks the most secluded spot she can discover, and then comes ashore to give birth to her little one, which almost immediately takes to the water, swimming bravely. This happy family will slip shyly into the water at your approach, but perhaps you may wile them 'back with some plaintive song, for they have keen ears for music, and will brave even the dreaded human presence for the sake of some favourite melody. Often, while sailing on this very loch, we have tested this curious fact, and watched the black shining heads appearing from time to time, as these music-loving creatures swam in the wake of our galley, attracted by the sound of songs, or of old Scotch tunes played on an accordion.

Talking of "grey old grandmothers," I remember one patriarchal seal, who, in her old age, had turned so silvery white, that as she lay on the rocks close in shore, we all with one accord agreed that it must be a sheep which had fallen from the cliffs overhead. As we sailed nearer, the likeness seemed to increase, even to the experienced eyes of our older sportsmen; so we determined to put off a boat and rescue the poor sufferer who lay so still and apparently helpless, only from time to time, turning her head uneasily at our approach. It was not till we were within easy shot (a shot which, of course, was never fired) that the old lady condescended to lift herself up, look down on us in calm surprise, and with a wriggle and a plunge, disappeared into the cool clear waves, leaving the invaders very much astonished at their own lack of discrimination.

In a cool shady glade, a stone's throw from the castle, stands a ruined chapel, ivy-clad, where many a carved stone tells of the sleepers who have here found so calm a resting-place after life's turmoil—a lonely spot, seldom trodden by human foot, but haunted by white-winged sea-birds that float spirit-like in mid air, sometimes alighting on the hallowed ground, and peering about inquisitively, as they walk solemnly over tombs of Vikings and Chiefs of old.

Apart from the exceeding natural beauty which lends such a charm to all this coast, there is the special interest of countless old legends, which connect not only these grey ruins, but all the country round, with the successive holders of the soil,—.those divers races who by turns have swept over the land, each leaving their little mark behind them.

The very name of this district—Beregonium—falls strangely on the ear, accustomed rather to the sound of Celtic or of Norse than to such classic old Latin, and reminds us of the days when Roman invaders, having driven out the earlier settlers, seem to have recognized the importance of this position as a key alike to the Hebrides and the western coast. Here, in the massive headland (which, jutting into the sea, commands both plain and ocean), they found a position so strongly fortified by Nature's ramparts of rugged rock, as to require but small aid from human skill to convert it into an impregnable encampment.

Of the original inhabitants, little is of course known, but this spot is believed to have been one of the principal settlements of the Dairiads, if not the capital of their kingdom. Certain it is, that many of the oldest 'legends of Ossian cluster round this immediate neighbourhood, where Fingal is said to have held his court and shared with his warriors in wild feasts and frays.

From Dunstaffnage we overlook a desolate tract of wide flat moorland, known as Loch Nell Moss, lying between the blue waters of Loch Etive and the broad Atlantic.

Here various traces have recently been discovered of the homes and graves of our Pagan ancestors, suggesting dim and shadowy visions of their life in far remote ages. Half way across the Moss rises a large cairn, built of rounded water-worn stones, and surrounded by stunted trees. This has recently been excavated; and in the heart of the tumulus were found two megalithic chambers, containing human remains and urns. Also divers white quartz stones, such as various Pagan nations were wont to bury with their dead—possibly as emblems of immortality and of sin forgiven or cancelled, as when the Greeks of old symbolized a release from some obligation by the giving or receiving of a white stone,—a custom probably alluded to in the book of Revelation in the promise, "To him that overcometh.... I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written."

In the present, instance, the white atones were arranged in pairs, on a ledge of rock projecting above the urns, a single stone being placed at each end of this double row; another single white pebble was found inside one of the urns.

A considerable number of similar pebbles of white quartz have recently been discovered in various old British tombs on the Isle of Cambrae, as also within the Sacred Circle on the Isle of Man; a circle, by the way, which from time immemorial has been held in such reverence, that to this day the Parliament of the island is there convened. These pebbles were also found in most of the old tombs recently excavated in the neighbourhood of Dundee, in fact, so frequent was their presence, that it was common for the workmen employed in excavating to exclaim, "Here are the two stones! now we will get the bones." Rock crystal is sometimes found in lieu of the white quartz.

Akin to these pebbles, in their symbolic connection with the religious and funereal rites of our ancestors, are the conical masses of white quartz found entombed with human remains in tumuli at Inverary, Dundee, Letcombe Castle in Berks and Maiden Castle near Weymouth—precisely similar to those found in excavations at Nineveh (now to be seen in the British Museum), with this exception, that on the latter are carved representations of serpents, and of the sun and moon.

Turning from these dwellings of the dead, to the sunny shores of Loch Etive, we next come on traces of a lake village, of considerable size, and in fair preservation. Here, on removing accumulations of peat-moss, which would seem to have been the growth of twenty, or perhaps thirty centuries, a series of oval palings were found, still surrounded by wooden stakes, which doubtless once supported conical thatched roofs, like those dwellings of the old Gauls described by Strabo as circular, with lofty tapering roofs of straw.

However suggestive to the initiated, are these slight remains of the homes of their ancestors, they offer small attraction to the general public, compared with the hints of the ancestral worship, recently discovered in Glen Feochan in the rival district of Loch Nell, which (though bearing the same name as the Moss aforesaid), lies about three miles on the other side of Oban—a lonely lake, on whose brink lies a huge Serpent-shaped Mound.

The carriage-road winds along the shore, and through broken hummocky ground, in some places clothed with grass, in others with heather and bracken. But for the presence of one of the few initiated, who had fortunately accompanied us, we should assuredly have passed close below the heathery mound which forms the Serpent's tail (in fact the road has been cut right across the tip of it), without ever suspecting that it differed from the surrounding moorland.

Nevertheless it is a very remarkable object, and one, moreover, which rises conspicuously from the flat grassy plain, that stretches for some distance on either side, with scarcely an undulation, save two artificial circular mounds, in one of which lie several large stones, forming a cromlech. These circles are situated a short distance to the south, to the right of the Reptile, but too far to be shown in the sketch.

Finding ourselves thus unconsciously in the very presence of the Great Dragon, we hastened to improve our acquaintance, and in a couple pf minutes had scrambled on to the ridge which forms his back-bone, and thence perceived that we were standing on an artificial mound three hundred feet in length, forming a double curve like a huge letter S, and wonderfully perfect in anatomical outline. This we perceived the more perfectly on reaching the head, which lies at the western end, whence diverge small ridges, which may have represented the paws of the reptile. On the head rests a circle of stones, supposed to be emblematic of the solar disc, and exactly corresponding with the solar circle as represented on the head of the mystic serpents of Egypt and Phoenicia, and in the great American Serpent Mound.

Previous to 1871 there still remained in the centre of this circle, some traces of an altar, which, thanks to the depredations of cattle and herd-boys, have since wholly disappeared. The people of the neighbourhood have an old tradition that in remote ages this was a place of public execution, and from various analogies in the customs of other nations, it seems likely enough that this was the case, and that this wild glen, may have been to many, the valley of the shadow of death, whether their lives were taken judicially or offered in sacrifice.

The circle was excavated on the 12th October, 1871, and within it were found three large stones, forming a chamber, which contained human bones, charcoal, and charred hazel-nut8. Surely the spirits of our Pagan ancestors must rejoice to see how faithfully we, their descendants, continue to burn our hazel-nuts on Hallowe'en, their old autumnal Fire Festival, though our modern divination is practised only with reference to such a trivial matter as the faith of sweethearts! A flint instrument was also found, minutely serrated at the edge; nevertheless, it was at once evident, on opening the cairn, that the place had already been ransacked, probably in secret, by treasure-seekers, as there is no tradition of any previous excavation for scientific purposes having been made here.

On the removal of the peat-moss and heather from the ridge of the serpent's back, it was found that the whole length of the spine was carefully constructed with regularly and symmetrically-placed stones at such an angle as to throw off rain; an adjustment to which we doubtless owe the preservation, or at least the perfection, of this most remarkable relic. To those who know how slow is the growth of peat-moss, even in damp and undrained places, the depth to which it has here attained (though in a dry and thoroughly exposed situation and raised from seventeen to twenty feet above the level of the surrounding moss), tells of many a long century of silent undisturbed growth, since the days when the Serpent's spine was the well-worn path daily trodden by reverent feet.

The spine is, in fact, a long narrow causeway, made of large stones, set like the vertebrae of some huge animal. They form a ridge sloping off in an angle at each side, which is continued downwards with an arrangement of smaller stones, suggestive of ribs. The mound has been formed in such a position that the worshipper standing at the altar would naturally look eastward, directly along the whole length of the Great Reptile, and across the dark lake, to the triple peaks of Ben Cruachan. This position must have been carefully selected, as from no other point are the three peaks visible.

This reverence for some Triune object, whether a triple-pointed hill, the junction of three rivers, or the neighbourhood of three lakes, seems to have been a marked characteristic of almost every ancient faith, and we may well believe that the Druids were not likely to pass by a great mountain, with its threefold summit towering heavenward, as if to draw thither the eyes and hearts of a race who were careful to consecrate all such natural types in their worship of Nature's GOD.

Attention was first called to this mound by Mr. Phone, and it was a knowledge of this tendency that first led him to examine minutely all the least-trodden glens in the neighbourhood of any such natural features, as for instance round the Eildon and Arran hills—seeking for traces which should mark the spot as sacred; and in each case, among other so-called Druidic remains, he has found just such mounds of reptile form as he was in search of— none, however, so remarkable as this strange old Serpent, which for so many centuries has lain here undisturbed, as if guarding the valley.

All of these are more or less akin to the Reptile Mounds discovered in Ohio and Wisconsin by Messrs. Squier and Lapham, always in connection with sacrificial or sepulchral remains. One of these in particular is of an unmistakably serpentine form; and the position of the altar in the circle or oval at the head of the Serpent is identical with that of this Argyleshire mound, the head in each case lying towards the west. The American mound is, however, on a larger scale than its Scotch cousin, being altogether a thousand feet long. It points towards three rivers, thus indicating the reverence for the triple symbol,—another instance of which occurs on the hill known as Lapham's Peak, on whose lofty summit three artificial mounds were found, carefully constructed or stone and earth,—materials which must have been transported thither with very great labour.

Whatever may have been the origin of these huge serpent- shaped mounds, their existence seems to suggest a clue to the meaning of various ancient legends concerning enormous serpents which covered acres of land; the very fact of their dimensions being given in terms of land-measurement seeming to imply that the writers merely alluded in poetic terms to Ophite or Draconito temples where these symbols were worshipped.

Thus we hear of Dragons in Mauritania so great that they were covered with grass. Alexander the Great was taken to see a Sacred Dragon five acres in extent, lying in a low valley, surrounded by a high wall: to it the Indians offered sacrifices of flocks and herds. Strabo mentions two such Dragons in India, one measuring eighty cubits in length, the other a hundred and forty. And on the plains of Syria, near the land of Snake-adoring Hivites, lay a Serpent about an acre in length, of such bulk that two horsemen riding on either side could not see each other, while its mouth was so great that a man might ride in thereat—an experiment not likely to be tried were the reptile a living creature!

But all these are dwarfed by the legendary Dragon of Damascus, which is described as a serpent covering fifty acres of land! a description which Bryant interprets as including a grove and garden round the Ophite temple. He also quotes Ovid's account of the serpent Python, as covering several acres, alluding surely, not to the serpent itself, but to that temple of Delphi which Apollo built with great atones on the spot where he had slain the Python —a temple which Stukeley infers to have been similar to our own great temple of Avebury or Aubury in Wiltshire, i. e. two small double circles within one large circle whence started two wavy serpentine avenues, forming the Ophite symbol; and although his theories on this subject are now commonly held in ridicule, it should at least be remembered that the form was far more perfect in his day (1723) than it now is, many great stones having been broken up by farmers in his time, and this ruthless work of destruction, still continuing mercilessly when Deane wrote in 1830, so that where Stukeley counted a hundred upright stones, Deane saw only eight, and similar devastation was everywhere evident.

In our own British Isles comparatively few traces of Serpent- worship are to be found; yet, considering how commonly the adoration of Sun and Serpent are linked together—that both are said to have been reverenced by the Druids—and that in all countries where the worship of the Serpent has prevailed (as in Greece, Italy and Hindostan) he was, or is, always recognized as a Corn-god, to whom special offerings must be made at seed-time and in harvest— it is worthy of note that, till within the last century all manner of customs for the good of the crops, were kept up, on the days which in olden times were observed as Sun-festivals.

Moreover, in the shadowy mythology of early Britain, we hear of a god Hu, who was worshipped as the Dragon-ruler of the world, and whose car was drawn by serpents: there was also a goddess Ceridwen answering to Ceres, who had a car similarly yoked with a serpentine.

An inference of the same sort may bedrawn from a very curious old Bardic poem, concerning Utber Pendrâgon, the Wonderful Dragon, descriptive of the religious rites of the early English, wherein the worshipper, while calling on Be!, the Dragon King, describes himself as making the orthodox turn sunwie, first round the consecrated lake, then round the sanctuary, whereon is depicted the gliding king; while within the sacred circle of huge stones, the Great Dragon (evidently a living serpent) moves round over the vessels containing the drink-offering—whence it may be inferred that the British Druids, like the Syrian Ophites, and Egyptian worshippers of Isis and Bacchus, encouraged the serpent to glide over the gifts on the altar.

Mr. Deane notices, as a curiouscoincidence, that the word draig, here translated dragon, signifies also the Supreme God. Also that, in one of these poems the priest enumerates his own titles as a Druid, a Prophet, a Serpent. Hence it seems probable, that the numerous legends which tell of the early Christian saints having conquered serpents (as when St. Hilda changed all the Yorkshire snakes into Ammonites, when St. Patrick banished them from Ireland, and St. Columba from Ions, while St. Keyna changed those of Somersetshire into upright stones), had reference to the conversion or expulsion of their worshippers.

It may be, that the great mound lying before us, beside the dark mountain tarn, may have been just such a temple as this old bard describes, and that within the circle of stones, a living serpent may in truth have glided over the offerings of a people, taught by these priests of an Oriental faith to unite this worship with that of the great Day Star; a people who day by day gathered round this strange altar, while watching for the first streak of dawn in the, eastern sky—the first glowing ray which, gilding Ben Cruachan's triple peak, told them that the great Life-giving Sun-god had once more arisen to gladden the earth.

Perhaps we ought rather to say Sun-goddess, inasmuch as Sun and Mountain are alike feminine in the Gaelic tongue.

It is a strange vision that rises before us, as our fancy pictures this gloomy valley beside the dark waters, not silent and solitary as now, but thronged with worshippers, congregating from every remote corner of hill and valley to witness the awful sacrifices which white-robed priests with shaven crowns, offered upon the mystic altar, in presence of the Mountain and the Dragon.

Whatever may have been the true origin of this snake reverence in Britain, certain it is that in countless old Gaelic legends of the West Coast and of the Hebrides, the serpent holds a place of such importance, as we can hardly imagine to have been acquired by such puny representatives of the race as are to be found on British moors, though we are bound to confess that Ben Cruachan does give shelter to an unwonted multitude of small adders. And although Hugh Miller tells of the existence of fossil Sauriana in the Isle of Eigg, we can hardly give our ancestors credit for pushing their geological researches so far, or for tracing their traditions from such pre-Adamite sources.—It certainly is remarkable that almost all these legends are also to be found in the folk-lore of India and Persia.

Thus the story of how Fraoeh, for the sake of his golden-haired love, fought with, and killed, and was killed by, a terrible water- snake which infested Loch Awe, has its counterpart in the history of Krishna, the Indian Sun-god, who for love of the pretty milkmaids, fought a terrible battle a l'outrance with the black water- serpent, which poisoned the blue waters of the sacred Jumna, coming up thence to devour the herds which pastured between Muttra and Bindrabund. More fortunate than Fraoch, Krishna slew his foe without receiving dire injury himself, though his heel was bitten in the conflict.

When the dragon was dead, his carcass dried up, and became a mountain, whereon children played in peace, a happy termination to the story, and one which possibly alluded to some serpent or dragon-shaped mound, which may have existed on the shores of the Jumna, just as this does here, on the brink of Loch Nell. The Indian story goes on to tell that men and animals afterwards sought refuge with Krishna within the serpent's head—a story which seems to refer to some custom of sacrifice, or possibly of self-immolation, and which tallies curiously with the Gaelic tradition before alluded to, which points out the Argyleshire Serpent Mound as an ancient place of execution or sacrifice.

Very remarkable is the place of the Serpent in the Medicinal lore of almost all lands. In Cashmere, for instance (where in bygone times the worship of the Naga—the Divine-Snake—was formerly so prevalent, that in the time of Akbar, A.D. 1560, there were in that kingdom forty-five temples devoted exclusively to his service, while in seven hundred others there were carved images of him, which received due share of adoration), the descendants of the Naga tribes are to this day remarkable for their medical skill, and possession of healing arts and nostrums, which their ancestors (in common with Esculapius), received from the health-giving Serpent.

The same skill in healing, is attributed to him, by many nations. The Celts acquired their medical lore by drinking serpent-broth; the Mexicans hung snake-bones round the neck of the sick; in Pegu, at the birth of a child, a snake's tongue is tied within a tiny bell and hung round the baby's neck as a preventive of sickness and harm. And in many parts of India it is customary, in cases of illness, to make a serpent of clay or metal, literally a brazen serpent, and offer sacrifice to it on behalf of the sufferer.

In various Gaelic legends a white snake figures in this connection. Thus, when a nest of seven serpents is discovered, containing six brown adders and one pure white one, the latter caught and boiled, confers the gift of omniscience, on the first man who tastes of this serpent "bree" (broth), and who thereafter, becomes the wisest of doctors. This identical story occurs also in the German folk-lore. 1 have also heard it asserted that to this day both Arabs and Hindoos eat the heart and liver of serpents, hoping thereby to acquire a knowledge of the language of animals.

In all old Gaelic legends great reverence was always due to the White Snake, which was described as the king of snakes. it is believed by some of the old Highlanders still to exist in the land— a faith which is occasionally confirmed by the appearance of a silvery gray specimen. in Ceylon a silvery white snake is sometimes found, which the natives likewise recognize as the King of the Cobras, and venerate exceedingly. I have myself seen one of these, the sanctity of which was duly impressed on me. The Arabs of Mount Ararat have also a story of a great white snake, and of a royal race of serpents, to which all others do homage.

One after another these quaint legends rose to our minds as we looked down on the grim old Guardian of Glen Feochan, revealing himself alternately as a thing of darkness and of light, in every changing aspect of the hour. Now and then a sharp sudden shower swept over the hills, casting deep cloud-shadows on land and loch; then the sun once more burst forth, shedding a golden glory over the purples, browns, and golds, of the many-tinted moorland.

But the dragon cared neither for sun nor showers. He lay still in his place, couching by the waters, and keeping ceaseless vigil, as he had already done for centuries untold, and as doubtless he will continue to do, till some mighty convulsion shall shake the strong foundations of the earth, and bury him beneath the tumbled fragments of the hills.


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