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The Long Glen
Chapter XII - The Worship of Baal


THE press of the spring work was over, and the people of the Glen were employed at the gart-ghlanadh, which literally means "the clearing of the gart, or enclosed land," but which practically included repairs of fences, drains, and many other things, besides the clearing of clover fields of stones, and the taking away of dead branches, flood leavings, and all other obstructions to the growth of vegetation, and dangers to scythe and sickle.

People cleared their own rigs and meadows first, and then all the families of the baile turned out together to clear the common meadows, woods, and pastures, and to repair the common dykes, fences, and drains.

Diarmad, with perhaps a score of others of both sexes and all ages, was engaged one day in the common land gart-ghlanadh, when Iain Og's grandson, Shonnie, from the next baile, came running towards them, and screaming while yet at a distance—

"Diarmad, we are going to Dun-an-teine on Beltane Day! We are going to have a Beltane fire and a Beltane bonnach, and lots of other things."

Now, Shonnie was carrying a basket, from which it was clear he was going to the shop with eggs. But he was swinging the basket forgetful of the eggs, until Diarmad cried to him to take care; and then Shonnie put the basket down, and fairly danced with joy about his Beltane Day plan.

"And who are going to this affair?" asked Ewan, who was raking away rubbish along with Mary Macintyre, his own sister, Jessie Cameron, and Diarmad, for in all common work these four always fell some way or other into the one company.

"I am going," said Shonnie, "and Shemmie Dalveich is going. Our Maggie is going, and Duncan's Maggie is going. I want Diarmad himself, and Jessie, and Mary, and you, and lots more to go."

Diarmad—"It is a crois-tarra business thou wishest to make of it."

Shonnie—"Yes, and mother is going to give eggs and all things for a right good bonnach."

"It is a stupid faoineis all and entirely," said Ewan.

"Thou art stupid thyself all and entirely," responded Shonnie. "What dost thou know about it whatever?"

"Why, this just. You go up in the morning with green branches and flowers to the circle on Dun-an-teine. You pile dry wood, birns, and anything else to make a quick blaze on the raised mound within the circle. Then, when the fire gets a bit low, you bake a bonnach-inid on it."

"No, it is not a bonnach-inid." corrected Shonnie.

"Well, no, nor anything half so good. By the bonnach-inid you spae your fortune, but this bonnach-bealltainn does not do for anything so good. It is broken into many bits. One bit is marked with a black cross. Ail the bits are put into a poke, and then you each put in a hand and take out a bit, and the one who gets the black cross bit is chased round the circle with lots of noise and slappings, and he gets no peace until he jumps three times clean over the fire."

Shonnie, with great contempt—"That is all thou knowest! My seanair says that when he was young they went up in the night, and made cake and chased the duine gointex before daybreak. But when the sun was just ready to rise they threw away the raven's feathers they wore on their heads before, and taking flowers and green branches they stood behind the fire with faces to the east, and when they saw the sun they bowed with hand to lip and hand to brow, and said words to it."

Diarmad—"Eh, laddie! does thy seanair know the words?"

Shonnie—"He says that the Kirk had put down the old words because they were not canny, and that in his time they said only 'failte' and 'ceud mile failte.'"

Diarmad—"It is never the right thing though to cover up the back trails of history. The Beltane and Halloween fires were the great festivals of the Druids. They were certainly sun-worshippers."

Mary Macintyre—"Did they not think that on Beltane morning the sun came back a conqueror from the yearly fight with the Dragon of the Black Abyss?"

Diarmad—"Yes, yes, that is the only explanation of the Druid creed which remains."

Shonnie—"But, Diarmad, thou must make words for us, and we'll go up in the night and do it all right."

Ewan—"It is just the beautiful plan."

Diarmad—"Especially if we can get old Duncan Ban and his fiddle to take care of us."

Shonnie—"That would be best of all. Thou must make right good words, and get old Duncan Ban and the yellow fiddle. And we'll take our breakfast, mother says, and cook it up there. And we'll go up in the night, and I know every bit of the way. Deeleman ! deeleman !"

Jessie Cameron—"If a girl should draw out the black-cross bit of the cake, surely she'll not be expected to jump over the fire ?"

Diarmad—"No, no. She will be represented by her champion. If thou shouldst happen to draw the gointe .bit, I'll do the running and jumping for thee, Jessie."Ewan—"And I'll do the same for thee, Mary."Shonnie—" But dost thou promise to make the words, Diarmad?"

Diarmad—"I should like to get hold of the old words. Well, we are going to the minister's peatmaking the morrow's morning, and I'll see Gilleasbuig Sgoilear. Yes, Shonnie, I'll make some words if I can't get any old ones. They must be rann and luinneag,2 for doubtlessly the Beltane hymn to the sun would be liturgical, the Druid priest saying the rann, and the people saying the chorus."

Shonnie—"And we must all learn the words before Beltane day. And, Diarmad, thou must make them soon, soon."

Diarmad—"Yes, for sure. Be off now to the shop and don't break the eggs."

All the Glen, at least most of its population fit for the work, turned out one day early in the season to make peats for the minister. At the gathering this year Diarmad used his opportunity to question Gilleasbuig Sgoilear about the lost words of the Beltane hymn to the sun. Gilleasbuig could not go further than Iain Og. The Kirk, he thought, long before the Reformation, had denounced this too striking remnant of the old worship. What was the meaning of the fountain at the foot of Schiechallion being called "fuaran na h-ighinne," or "spring of the maid," to which still the young people of three parishes went before midnight on Beltane eve? He thought it meant this, that the early Christian priests, perhaps the Culdees themselves, dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, and told the people to stop there and be blessed, and not to go up to the top of the ben to worship the sun like their forefathers. It was no wonder the words had perished when Culdees, and Romanists, and Reformers had been all determined to strike them out of the people's minds.

"But I have heard words on Dun-an-teine on Beltane Day," said Ealag of Craig, coming up to the bank with her 'barrow.

"You have, Ealag! And what were they?" asked Diarmad, much interested.

Ealag—"Just let me think a minute. Oh! I remember, they went this way " :—

Righ an t-soluis,
Failte!
Righ na beatha,
Failte!
Righ a chinneis,
Failte!
Armuinn threunmhor fhuair a bhuaidh
Air Dearc an clubh-aite,
Armuinn aluinn 's or-bhuidh gruaidh,
Ceud mile failte !

Diarmad—"Excellent, Ealag. More words, Ealag. Have you no more words?"

Ealag—"I remember no more, and the wonder is that such vanities should stick to my memory so long."

Diarmad—"Who said the words?"

Ealag—"Donnacha Dubh Brocairy said them, and made them, too. It was when he was after the daughter of Rob Mor, and I was a little lass then."

Diarmad—"Well, if the words are not old, they still keep a grip on the old story—the fight between Light and Darkness, between Life and Death. We shall have words like them rann and luinneag."

Ealag—"You ! Who may you be?"

Diarmad—"Why, I and a lot of others who are going to give the sun failte on Beltane morning."

Ealag—"Ah me ! What have I done ! Worshipping Baal in high places! What will the Elder Claon say?"

Diarmad—"There is no harm in welcoming the blessed sun, Ealag. As for the Elder Claon, why look you, does he not make medicine drinks for his sick cows by salt,. meal, and three old silver crossed coins, dipped thrice in fountain water?"

Ealag—"Nay, he never dips the old crossed coins in sick cows' drink. It is gath nathrach (serpent's fang) that he dips thrice in the water. They say that gath nathrach has medicine power over things venomous."

Diarmad—"Worse and worse. It is the Elder Claon that should, I think, be delated to the Session. Why, look you, the gath nathrach medicine means the worship of the Old Serpent, which is the Devil."

" Oh people!" exclaimed Ealag, rushing off with her barrow.

Then Gilleasbuig and Diarmad had a long discussion on the heathen faiths of the country in ancient times. Diarmad supposed that the duine gointe lot must have at first meant human sacrifice, but he argued that the victim was not offered to the Sun-God, but as a trap to divert the attention of the Dragon, so that the Sun-God might beat him. And Gilleasbuig thought the serpent worship belonged to the daoine fiadhaich whom the Gael found in the country, and whose last representatives seemed to be the "Uruisgs" and "Glaistigs" of legendary lore.

Diarmad, following Donnacha Dubh Brocair's lines to a certain extent, made liturgical words, which were learned by the others in secret; and it did not take very great pressing to persuade Duncan Ban that he and his fiddle were both required to look after the young people, and to^ amuse them. The sacrificial fire was lighted at midnight;.Duncan Ban, however, hinted that although the time was right the mode was wrong, since it should have been lighted by teine-eigin, or fire obtained by rubbing two pieces of wood together. The duine gointe lot fell on the elder's John, who jumped thrice over the fire without suffering detriment. With the dawn cloud-cleaving shimmer, raven's feathers gave place to flowery garlands, and hazel wands wreathed with primroses and anemones. And Diarmad officiating as Druid priest, and all looking to the east, the rising luminary was greeted with the following

BELTANE HYMN.

Chorus—Lord of Light, we hail thee !
Lord of Growth, we hail thee !
Giver of breath
And foe of Death—
Lord of Life, we hail thee !

 We take the foilowing paragraph from the account of the Parish of Callander, in the "Old Statistical Account of Scotland," which was written in 1794 by Mr, afterwards Doctor, Robertson, minister of the said parish : —

"Peculiar Customs.—The people of this district have two customs, which are fast wearing out, not only here, but all over the Highlands, and therefore ought to be taken notice of, while they remain. Upon the first day of May, which is called Beltan, or Bal-tein day, all the boys in a township or hamlet meet in the moors. They cut a table in the green sod. of a round figure, by casting a trench in the ground, of such circumference as to hold the whole company. They kindle a fire, and dress a repast of eggs and milk in the consistence of a custard. They knead a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard is eaten up, they divide the cake into so many por tions, as similar as possible to one another in size and shape as there are persons in the company. They daub one of these portions all over with charcoal, until it be perfectly black. They put all the bits of the cake into a bonnet. Every one, blindfold, draws out a portion. He who holds the bonnet is entitled to the last bit. Whoever draws the black bit is the devoted person who is to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favour they mean to implore, in rendering the year productive of the sustenance of man and beast. There is little doubt of these inhuman sacrifices having been once offered in this country, as well as in the east, although they now pass from the act of sacrificing, and only compel the devoted person to leap three times through the flames; with which the ceremonies of this festival are closed. The other custom is, that on All-Saints Even they set up bonfires in every village. When the bonfire is consumed, the ashes are carefully collected in the form of a circle. There is a stone put in, near the circumference, for every person of the several families interested in the bonfire ; and whatever stone is moved out of its place, or injured before next morning, the person represented by that stone is devoted or fey; and is supposed not to live twelve months from that day. The people received the consecrated fire from the Druid priests next morning, the virtues of which were supposed to continue for a year."

Druid—Ever young and ever bright,
Thou com'st with locks unshorn;
Victor from the lasting fight,
With night and Dearc forlorn !
Praise to the face that ne'er grows old,
Praise to the heart that ne'er grows cold,
Praise to the burnished locks of gold,
Praise from gach aite !

Chorus—Champion of right,
All fresh from the fight,
With the proofs of thy might,
Ceud mile failte.

Druid—When winter shrouds thee dim,
And hardly peers thy rim
Above the sea, above the ben—
What wail the sons of men?

Chorus—Lord of Light, we pray thee !
Lord of Growth, we pray thee !
Giver of breath,
And foe of Death,
 Lord of Life, we pray thee !—
Come back with cheering day;
Come back and drive away
The sorrow, gloom, and cold
That make the young feel old,
And heroes keep in hold.

Druid—Come back, we cry; come back, we pray,
With new-born hope and gladsome ray,
With flowers and songs and Beltane Day.

Chorus—The vernal hope,
The Beltane beam,
Life-powers give free scope,
And men a brighter dream.

Druid—The quickening ray on soil and soul
Blends darkest shadows with the whole,
Till we can say, with latest breath,
To our dread foe, grim-visaged Death—

"Come veil thy haughty presence;
Though half untold this tale of man,
Behind thy darkness we can scan
A life of higher essence !"

Chorus—Lord of Light, we hail thee !
Lord of Growth, we hail thee !
With hand to lip and hand to brow,
With bowing head and heart-felt vow,
Giver of breath,
And foe of Death,
Lord of Life, we hail thee !


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