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The Pagan Faith of Scotland


I

To most minds the chief interest, even of so beautiful and picturesque a country as Scotland, is not the natural scenery itself, but the life which was formerly lived within it. Round feudal castle and grey motehill and earthen camp the pedestrian pictures to himself pageants long past of strange and tragic meaning. Out of a place-name alone sometimes he conjures a picture-beholds the eager figure of some long-forgotten missionary saint, mingles in the fierce details of old barbaric onset, or pauses with the plaided victors of some stern clan feud as they turn at nightfall to cleanse their weapons at "the washing-place of swords." Every foot of the "north countrie" keeps some memory of its own, crystallised in place-name or tradition, and a slight effort of imagination only is needed to realise again the living drama of the past.

Few, however, pause to consider how closely and by what familiar means the remote past links itself to the present hour. Nothing, indeed, appears more unlikely than that the staid citizen of to-day should, all unconsciously, be using in constant practice many of the heathen rites and precepts of primeval savage ancestors. The fact, nevertheless, appears capable of clear proof, and a few instances may suggest to the most incredulous, not only that the past lives in the present, but that Scotland to-day is largely ruled by ancient pagan usage and belief.

Among the most curious of extant evidences of the ancient pagan faith of these isles are those which declare our ancestors to have followed a form of sun-worship. Some of our commonest acts stand anion g these evidences. Not one person in a thousand, probably, who deals out a pack of playing cards, reflects that his method of doing so forms a silent acknowledgment of the ancient worship of Baal. The cards, as every one knows, are invariably dealt from left to right opposite the dealer-in other words, the way of the sun; and though the invention of playing cards is a comparatively modern affair, there can be little doubt that the order of dispensing them followed what was by immemorial belief considered the proper, or lucky, direction. The other way, from right to left - "withershins," as the Scots word has it-has always been deemed unlucky. So in the well-known ballad, "The Lowlands o' Holland," the lady, describing her lover's tragic fate, sings:

My love then and his bonnie ship
Gaed withershins about.

It might, perhaps, be too much to say that. every time a joiner puts in a screw-nail he is governed by the ancient rules of sun-worship; but there can be little question that the first maker of screws was influenced in his manner of turning the "thread" by an inherited idea of the proper direction, and thus unconsciously followed the ordering of the ancient ritual of fire. This method, indeed, has become so engrained by ancient sanction and many generations of use that to muscle and eye alike it now appears the natural one, while the other---the withershins direction-seems both unnatural and awkward.

This theory has sufficient solid evidence to support it. So late as the end of last century there remained in Scotland ample testimony that the method of circling from left to right was deliberately regarded as the method sanctioned by the spiritual powers. In the "Statistical Account" of 1794 the minister of Callander furnishes some instances of this belief. "When a Highlander goes to bathe," he says, "or to drink water out of a consecrated fountain, he must always approach by going round the place from east to west on the south side, in imitation of the apparent diurnal motion of the sun. When the dead are laid in the earth the grave is approached by going round in the same manner. The bride is conducted to her future spouse in the presence of the minister, and the glass goes round a company in the course of the sun. This is called in Gaelic going round the right, or the lucky way."

Many of the "superstitions" current to the present hour in Scotland remain obvious and direct relics of the old worship of Baal and Ashtaroth. Every one has been told, for instance, some time or other, on seeing the new moon rise, to bow three times and wish a wish; and every one has heard that if, on first beholding the new moon, lie turns the silver in his pocket three times round, lie shall not want for money during all that month. What are all such axioms but survivals of ancient acts of worship of the moon-goddess, the queen of heaven, that fair Istar, Ashtaroth, Astarte, or Aphrodite, whose silver rising from the sea has impressed the minds of race after race with feelings of strange awe, reverence, and adoration?

Similarly, the burning of nuts, pulling of kail-stocks, and other practices which still go on among the lads and lasses of every country-side at Hallowe'en can only be accounted for as lingering relics of the early faith. According as the pair of nuts spurt away from each other or burn peacefully together in the corner of fire into which they are dropped, the village lass foretells that her path of love shall be rough or smooth. And according as the kail-stock torn up in the dark prove straight or crooked, short or long, sweet or bitter, with "erd" on its root, or bare, she pictures the personal appearance, disposition, and wealth of her future spouse. Doubtless these same rites, or something like them, were practised in early Scotland for the same purposes by the priests of Baal. At any rate we know from Diodorus Siculus, an eye-witness, that the rites of divination had a place in the ancient pagan worship of these islands, and some of the details given by him correspond with surviving practices. Moreover, the date of Hallowe'en, the 30th of October, corresponds with what we know to have been one of the great Druid festivals. On that night, in pre-Christian times, the people gathered about their great stone altars to wait for the sunrising and the descent of the sacred flame, the gift of their god, from which they might rekindle their household fires for another year. To the present hour, according to the author of "Prehistoric -Man in Ayrshire" (London, 1896), in the parish of Kilwinning the day which then dawned, the 1st of November, is known as Bel's Day.

Divination rites, again, of pagan origin, adapted for special circumstances, appear to have been practised in Scotland till a recent date. One of these, it will be remembered, is recounted by Scott in the episode of Brian the Hermit, in "The Lady of the Lake," when the white bull was slain with mystic observances and the seer wrapped himself in the gory hide to procure a foresight of his clan's fate. Of kindred nature, doubtless, were the means employed by Ailean nan Creach, Allan of the Forays, the Cameron chief of the fifteenth century, when he came to Tor Castle, above Loch Linnhe, to consult the Tigh Gairm, or familiar spirit of his house. And of the same sort and origin, it may be believed, were the rites and incantations for the practice of which three hundred years ago many a poor old "witch" was burned. The worship of one age becomes the devilry of the next, and what was the pious proceeding of a Druid priesthood becomes a service of Satan in the hands of sixteenth-century crones.

Still another Druid festival survives in Hogmanay. The peculiar ceremony of sitting up to "bring in the year" remains to represent the essential feature of Baal-worship - the watch for the rising of the sun. There is also the curious custom of "first-footing," with the ideas of good or ill luck for the year being the result respectively of a fair or a dark visitor crossing the threshold first. And above all, there is the mystic mistletoe to identify the observance with the Druid festival of Yule. We are all familiar with the ceremony, described by Pliny, of the Druid cutting down the green branch with a golden sickle in the sacred grove. This mistletoe, the soul of Avallenau, the Apple-tree, as the Druids thought it, and as it was sung by the pagan Merlin in the sixth century, keeps thus to the present hour something of its ancient reverence in the eyes of men.

Even the great summer festival of the Baalworshippers has left remains in the folk-custom of the country, though it has not had the advantage, like Hallowe'en and Hogmanay, of coinciding in date with any more modern observance. The chief seat of the festival in Scotland was probably the great central mountain which is still known as Ben Ledi, the Hill of God. On the west side of the summit of Ben Ledi it is possible even yet to make out traces of the earthen galleries from which , the people watched for the rising of the Baltein, or Sun-fire, on the actual summit, the mountain altar a few yards on their east. The day which then dawned, the 2nd of May, is still known in Scotland as Beltane Day. It is perpetuated locally by occasions like the Beltane Fair at Peebles, by place-names like Tilliebeeltane in Perthshire, and by survivals of certain curious and unmistakable customs, to be referred to on another page.

Next to the survival of actual customs belonging to the pagan past, probably the most significant traces of our fire-worshipping traditions are to be found in place-names throughout the country. few such place-names of common occurrence, may be mentioned.

Gallowgate or Gallowhill, names common, enough in towns like Glasgow and Aberdeen, contain, there is some room to believe, direct evidence of pagan origin. In the opinion of certain archaeologists Gallowgate and Gallowhill are not necessarily mere contractions for Gallowsgate and Gallowshiill. By coincidence, indeed, they may have acquired a connection with that comparatively modern means of judicial execution, the gallows. But it appears just possible that Gallowgate represents the "gate" or way to the gea-lia, or sorcery stone.

The "laws," again, which abound throughout the country, such as Dundee Law, North Berwick Law, and the Lomond Law in Fife, come, it is said, from the same root. A popular notion, it is true, runs that these eminences were the spots on which the rulers of early times held courts of legislature on justice. Justice of a kind, no doubt, was administered there, but at that early date it was not known by the name of law. On or near these hills, there is stronger reason to believe, stood the menhir or cromlech of the Druid, and from this fact the hills took their name as places of the lia or sacred stone.

Among other place-names with a pregnant meaning none is perhaps more common than clachan,. In its first meaning the Gaelic word signifies nothing more or less than "the stones." Until recent times, however, Highland hamlets were mainly built of turf, only the church being a stone erection. It was the church, therefore, which gave its descriptive name to the clachan. Almost to the present day, according to Jamieson's "History of the Culdees," to go to the clachan and to go to worship were synonymous expressions in the Highlands. And so the editors of the Gaelic dictionary of 1831 define a clachan as "a village or hamlet in which a parish church is situate." It was pointed out, however, by the late Dr. Wylie, in his "History of the Scottish Nation," that "in many of these collations there is not now, nor ever was, a parish church or place of Christian worship of any sort," and further, that " these hamlets have held the rank of clachan from a date when there was not a stone house in them, and their inhabitants dwelt in mud huts or in fabrics of wattles." The explanation of the name, the historian avers, is to be found in the fact that on these spots stood the circle of unhewn stones, the grey sun-temple of the Druid.

It is also possible to point, as evidence of Druid survival, to the various alteins, liateins, and liasteins, or "stones of fire," which in such various corrupted forms as Alten, Hilton, Leyton, and Liston, exist in Scotland at the present day. At each of these spots stands some great conspicuous stone to which immemorial tradition has assigned a sacred or uncanny character. There is the stone of Liston, nine and a half feet high, standing to the east of the mansion-house of Old Liston, in the neighbourhood of the stone-circled tumulus known as the Huly Hill. And a mile to the west of the Cathedral of Aberdeen stands the Hilton Stone-a great granite column ten feet high and three feet square, on each side of which, till 1830, stood a massive Druid circle of monoliths. The latter stone, it appears, stands on ground which has always been church property, and from it the city which has grown around has no doubt derived the name by which it is still sometimes called in Gaelic - Altein-e-Aberdeen, the Stone of Fire at the mouth of the Black River commonly corrupted in English to Aul' Toun o' Aberdeen.

With such profuse survivals in place-names, festival customs, and traditional habits, who shall say that the people of Scotland have got rid entirely of the pagan character of their sun-worshipping ancestors?

II

AT the Reformation, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, John Knox and his fellow churchmen exerted themselves vigorously to abolish, not only the feasts and usages of the Church of Rome, but all traditional customs which appeared to them to be without express sanction of Holy Writ. Many examples of their efforts might be quoted. Bishop Carswell, in 1576, in the preface to his Gaelic translation of Knox's "Forms of Prayer and Catechism," declaims with pious severity against histories then extant and popular in the Highlands " concerning warriors and champions, and Fingal, the son of Comhal, with his heroes." Two years later the Wedderburns of Dundee, in the title-page of their " Gude and Godlie Ballates," state their work to consist of pious compositions "changed out of prophaine Sangis, for avoyding of sinne." In December, 1583, Glasgow Kirk Session ordered five persons to make public repentance "because they kept the superstitious day called Yuil"; and, later still, in the days of William of Orange, the magistrates of Glasgow, found it necessary to forbid " going throw the toun in the night tyme, maskerading or serenading in companie with violls or other instruments of musick in any numbers. Anything like idle song, dancing, and mirth was anathema in the eyes of these reformers, and Yuletide revelry and May-day festival were rank service of the powers of evil. So effectively did they carry out their crusade against everything that savoured of carnal amusement that they not only "plat down" the practices of the church against which they warred, but even altered to a strange degree the national character. Previous to that time, if we are to believe the ancient literature of the country-poetry like "Christ's Kirk on the Green," and the works of Dunbar and Sir Richard Maitland, and prose descriptions like those of Froissart, AEneus Sylvius, Pedro de Ayala, and "The Complaynt of Scotland" - the people of this "north countrie" were a gay, light-hearted, amorous race. But by the efforts of John Knox and his followers, in the sixteenth century, most of this was changed-the temper and manners of the people took that air of sombre and ascetic seriousness which is painted for us in the writings of men like John Howie of Lochgoin and the present-day chroniclers of Thrums and Drumtochty.

In this crusade of the Reformers no doubt many an interesting custom of the pagan past, surviving in the form of quaint country usage and festival observance, must have been suppressed. But the destroyers were not completely successful. A hundred years later, in 1649, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland found it advisable to take steps to destroy popular reverence for certain relics of heathen worship. Certain "superstitious" practices, it appears, were in common vogue among the people. One of these was the preservation, unfilled and untouched from immemorial time, of certain plots of land spoken of as "the good man's land" and "the guid man's fauld," reputed to be the haunt and special possession of spirits able to foretell the future to those who sought them with suitable rites. At the instance of the commission, farmers were compelled to plough these sacred fields, and yoke their cattle on the ancient festivals, and housewives were obliged to keep their ingles alight on Beltane no less than on other eyes.

Not even the rigours of kirk sessions and clerical commissions, however, in their most rigorous time, could utterly abolish usages which had the sanction of such ancient observance, and down into the present century, strange though it may seem, there still have been practised arts of distinct and avowed worship of the Druid deities, Baal and Ashtaroth. Already on a previous page reference has been made to the common observances of Beltane, Hallowe'en, and Hogmanay. Besides these, however, many isolated customs still extant, or extant till a recent date, possess curious interest.

It is only some seventy or eighty years, for instance, since the Black Stones of Iona were destroyed by a maniac. The stones were each composed of a single block of dark-coloured granite, curiously carved, five feet in height and two broad. On them, down to a recent period, the Highland chiefs made oaths of offence and defence, considered of all oaths the most binding and terrible ; and even yet, if the writings of Miss Fiona Macleod are to be considered circumstantial, an oath is sometimes taken on the Black Stones. There can be little doubt that these stones were relics of the pagan faith, of which Iona was a centre. Other relics of that faith still remain in superstitions such as those connected with the Wells of the Winds and the Well of Age on Dun I. Before leaving on a voyage sailors used to repeat a formula at the Well of the Wind they specially desired ; and the aged had only to perform a rite at the Well of Age in order to find their youth renewed. A unique but significant tradition is that of the Angel Hills of Iona. On these mounds, it is said, the angels were wont to alight on their visits to earth. The reference to angels makes it appear a Christian tradition, but probability carries the legend to an earlier date, and makes it refer most reasonably to a detail of sun-worship, the "angel hills" being the spots which most obviously catch the early rays of the sun. At heart, indeed, to the present hour Iona remains far more pagan than Christian.

It seems to have been the policy of the early Christian missionaries in Scotland to establish themselves near headquarters of the older pagan worship. They did this at Iona and Glasgow, and the same thing seems to have been done on the Holy Loch in the Firth of Clyde. Here, as in Iona, something of pagan custom has lived through• the Christian centuries, and survives to the present day. The late "Crimean Simpson," describing the burial-place of the Argyle family at Kilmun in the Daily News of 4th June, 1878, wrote as follows:-- On the south side of this Loch Seante, as this small inlet of water is called in Gaelic, at the village of Sandbank, there is an interesting old cromlech known in the region as Adam's Grave. Unfortunately the tradition that Adam was buried at this place does not find confirmation from any source. The probable origin of this curious myth may be that the sound of the Gaelic name led to it. It is called Ardnadam. This word is supposed to be a corruption of Ardan-na-tuam, the `height of the grave.' Lovers come from all parts of Cowal to make their vows at this old shrine. The lady has to creep into the recess formed by the stones, and hold the hand of the gentleman, who, stands at the entrance, while he repeats in Gaelic a curious oath, and the spot is considered so sacred that a terrible fate is believed to befall any one who should prove unfaithful to the froth thus plighted."

Till quite recently, before a ship set sail from the port of Gourock on the Clyde, the sailors thought it necessary to walk seven times round a menhir on a point of land, known as the Kempoch Stane.

But most striking, perhaps, of the pagan customs remembered in the country are those connected with the great summer festival of the Druids. Particularly interesting is a custom practised within the last hundred years in the district of Menteith. It is described in the "Statistical Account of Scotland." "Upon the first day of May," says the writer, " which is called Beltan or Bal-tein day, all the boys in a township or hamlet meet on 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 portions, 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 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 in sustenance for man and beast. There is little doubt," continues the narrator, "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 act the ceremonies of this festival are closed."

An account almost similar is given by an eyewitness, the Rev. Alexander Hislop, of Arbroath, in " The Two Babylons " (Edinburgh, 1862). In this case the custom described was practised on Beltane Eve in the neighbourhood of Crieff. The exact location of the rite was a Druid circle where the ceremony had probably taken place annually in unbroken succession from pagan times. Within the circle it was the custom for a number of men and women to assemble. "They light a fire in the centre," says the narrator; "each person puts a bit of oatcake in a shepherd's bonnet; they all sit down, and draw blindfold a piece from the bonnet. One piece has been previously blackened, and whoever gets that piece has to jump through the fire in the centre of the circle, and pay a forfeit. This is, in fact, the ancient worship of Baal. Formerly the person on whom the lot fell was burned as a sacrifice. Now passing through the fire represents the burning, and the payment of a forfeit redeems the victim."

Still another instance of the survival of Beltane observance is furnished by Dr. Eadie in his wellknown "Biblical Cyclopaedia." "A town in Perthshire," he says, "on the borders of the Scottish Highlands, is called Tilliebeltane - that is, the eminence, or rising ground, of the fire of Baal. An enclosure of eight upright staves is made where it is supposed the fire was kindled, and a well in the vicinity is held in great veneration. After drinking from it the people pass round the temple nine times in a procession. In Ireland," Dr. Eadie continues, "Beltein is one of the festival days, and the fires are made early on the tops of the hills, and all the cattle are made to pass through them. This, it is supposed, secures them from contagion and disease for that year." At Mauchline, in Ayrshire, up almost to the present time, it may be added, there was an observance of this sort carried on.

Again, in Maclachlan's "Early Scottish Church" (1866), it is stated that "there are places in Scotland where, within the memory of living man, the teine eigin, or `forced fire,' was lighted once every year by the rubbing' of two pieces of wood together, while all fires in the neighbourhood were extinguished in order that they might be lighted anew from this sacred source."

The festal character of Beltane Day in the country in the sixteenth century is commemorated in the opening lines of James V.'s famous poem:

At Beltane quhen ilk bodie bownis
To Peblis to the play.

The sports of Beltane, indeed, were celebrated at Peebles till a recent date, when a market was established, known as the Beltane Fair.

It may be interesting here to note, for its similar character, that the 24th of June is still kept as a fire festival in several parts of German, and in Denmark on St. John's Eve, 23rd June, fires are made "to burn out the witches."

Of the many interesting customs of obviously pagan origin still practised throughout Scotland at Hallowe'en, something has already been said on a previous page, and they are not likely to be forgotten so long as Scotsmen delight in the poetic descriptions of Burns. The common traditional observance of Hogmanay and the rites of the Druid mistletoe have also been alluded to. But it may surprise some readers to know that the ancient Druid festival of Yule is still observed in more than one locality in Scotland with something of the ancient ritual of fire.

At a recent meeting of the Anthropological Section of the British Association, Mr. Lawrence Gomme referred to one typical instance of survival of this fire custom. At Biggar in Lanarkshire it appears, on the last day of the old year, the villagers used to collect a quantity of fuel. About nine o'clock the heap was lighted, each person deeming it a duty to throw a fagot into the flames. The fire was kept alight till well into New-Year's Day, and from it the villagers relit their own extinguished hearths.

A still more interesting custom survives at Burghead on the coast of the Moray Firth. The Burning of the Clavie, as the ceremony is called, was the subject, some years ago, of a striking picture by a Scottish artist, Mr. J. Lochhead ; and a writer in the Illustrated London News of 16th February, 1895, referring to the picture (now in the possession of Sir. Hugh W. Young of Burghead), described the observance as follows:- "The burning of the Clavie is a mysterious ceremony, of which the origin is absolutely lost in the night of prehistoric tradition. Similar rites are said to be celebrated in the remote parts of Russia, and even in Brittany; but how far they coincide with those still observed at Burghead cannot be determined. The ceremony has been referred to a Roman, a Scandinavian, and even to a Druidical origin ; while others insist that it is a survival of the worship of Baal, which, as is well known, was practised among the Gauls down to comparatively recent times. The last night of the year, old style, is the anniversary of the custom. A huge tar barrel is carried up to the old fortifications, which are of unknown antiquity-Roman or Cyclopean. The tar barrel is there sawn into two unequal halves, the larger half and a small herring barrel are then broken up and placed inside the smaller half, with an abundance of tar, and become known as 'the Clavie.' This is now fixed upon a prop, about five feet long, by means of an iron nail, driven home by a smooth stone, for no hammer is allowed to be used. When all is completed, the contents of the filled Clavie are set on fire with a burning peat, nothing sulphureous being permitted to approach. Formerly the Clavie was carried round every vessel in the harbour, and a handful of grain thrown into each boat. This is now abandoned, and the burning Clavie is borne down to the town, to the junction of its two principal streets, followed by cheering crowds of Burgheadians, who vie with each other in plucking burning brands from the mass, the possession of such a token being a sure safeguard against ill-luck. The Clavie is then carried to a small hill (the Dourie Hill) at the northern extremity of the town, where there still stands a freestone pillar in which some have recognised an ancient altar. In a socket in this altar the Clavie is set. Fresh fuel is added, and when half-burnt out the Clavie is lifted from the socket and thrown down the western slope of the hill. The blazing embers are followed by the excited crowd, and speedily gathered as charms, or scattered to the winds for luck." It should be added that only those youths who can claim descent from the original inhabitants of the village are allowed to take part in the ceremony.

This striking custom may, as some hold, be the remnant of a Viking signal, or it may be the memorial of ancient witch-burnings, like the memorials of the witch-burnings at Dornoch, or the burning of the Braham seer at Chanonry Point in the Black Isle, both not far away. But the carrying home of the burning brands, as well as the date of the observance, 'seems to point to an origin in fireworship. In his paper read before the Anthropological Section of the British Association, Mr. Lawrence Gomme declared the ceremony a distinct survival of sun-worship.

No doubt it might be possible to gather from different districts of the country many other lingering instances of such rites. But enough has probably been said to suggest to what a surprising extent, notwithstanding the lapse of ages and the destroying processes of newer faiths, the inhabitants of Scotland remain true to the teaching of the ancient priests of Baal.

III

BESIDES the evidences of ancient Baal worship to be found in existing Scottish customs, there are witnesses of another sort as impressive as they are silent and tine-worn. These do not, it is true, testify to any modern usage, but not the less do they stand for evidence that in an elder time within these islands our ancestors bowed down in the worship of sun and moon. In every district of Britain these memorials are to be found, but nowhere, perhaps because of the wilder nature of the country, so numerously as among the moors and mountains of Scotland. Stennes in Orkney, and Stonehenge and Avebury in England, remain at once the greatest and best known of the monuments. But after these the menhirs, cairns, cromlechs, and stone circles to be found on every moor of the North, from Yarrow and Arran to Aberdeen and the Isle of Lewis, remain probably the most striking examples.

Century after century these strange memorials have been the subject of awe and speculation, the centre of local superstitions, and the fountainhead of uncanny beliefs. It is only within recent years that their true meaning and purpose have been in part made out. The remains, for instance, at Tormore and in other parts of the island of Arran were only explored by the late Dr. Bryce in 1863. The results of his examination are given in his book on Arran, written for the visit of the British Association to the island in that year. Some of the tumuli and cairns on the Arran moors were also explored by the late Dr. Hately Waddell, his discoveries being detailed in his interesting volume on "Ossian and the Clyde."

By the excavations of both of these enthusiastic antiquarians it was shown that the Arran cairns and circles alike were, for one thing, the burying-places of the dead. From the "lie" of the remains deposited within them - in a direction uniformly north and south-it also appeared that the monuments dated from before Christian times, for with Christian burial came a custom of laying the dead to their long sleep in the direction of east and west. As a further proof of pre-Christian date it appeared, moreover, that the bodies buried there had been burned with fire.

But besides acting as places of burial, the stone circles throughout the country have been shown to be calculated for another purpose. In Mr. Bain's "History of Nairnshire" it is made clear that the cairn-circles of Clava, near Culloden, for instance, have been arranged to act as dials of the time of year and day. Within more than one of the circles are certain pavements, and by astronomical observations taken on the spot it was found that the shadow of a particular stone, known as the pointer, came into relations with these pavements at the spring and autumn equinoxes respectively, thus indicating, perhaps, the exact times for sowing and for harvest. Similarly it has been remarked at Stonehenge that ,Cat the summer solstice the sun would be seen by one standing on the altar-stone to rise over the summit of the bowing-stone."

About the Clava cairns, however, a more suggestive thing has yet to be told. It was discovered by Mr. Bain that if measurements were taken respectively of the distances from the centre of the cairn chamber to its wall, from that wall to the circle of stones at the outer edge of the cairn, from that circle to the next, and so to the outmost circle, these distances were found to correspond relatively to the distances between the sun and planets of our solar system. In other words, it would appear that the builders of these rude stone monuments two thousand j-ears ago or more were aware of that mathematical relationship of the planetary bodies which, under the name of Kepler's Law, has been counted among the greatest astronomical discoveries of the present century.

Perhaps most interesting, however, of all the purposes served by these ancient circles and cromlechs was that of worship. No doubt whatever can exist of the fact that the great circles of Stonehenge and Avebury, each with its stately earthen avenue leading to a massive altar, and its vast surrounding terraces for the accommodation of thousands of spectators, were temples for the worship of some tremendous faith. The same belief applies to the smaller circles and cromlechs scattered throughout the country. A typical example of these stands in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. It lies a few miles to the north of the city, on Craigmaddie Moor, and though it has never received very much attention from archaeologists, it must be considered one of the most impressive and suggestive monuments of prehistoric times which have been preserved to us. [It was the subject of a paper read before the Glasgow Archeological Society in 1867, and has recently been the subject of some correspondence in newspaper columns.] The "Auld Wives' Lifts," as it is locally called, consists of three immense stones, two of wedgeshape lying on the ground, and the third, the largest of the three, measuring eighteen feet by eleven by seven, laid table-wise on the top. Tradition accounts for the presence of the stones by a story of three old wives and the devil, which is at once amusing and preposterous. But the name of the cromlech itself-Cragmaddie, the Rock of God tells an unmistakable history, and no one can look at the huge memorial in its banked and terraced theatre of the moors without recognising at once an altar of the hoary past.

Regarding the details of actual worship which went on within these stone circles and around these dolmen altars many conjectures have been made. It is unfortunate that no written ritual of the Druids has come down to us. Toland, in his history of that mysterious priesthood, states that they left many writings. But whether or not Toland was himself acquainted with any of these in Ireland in his time, it does not appear that any now exist, except, perhaps, the curious Ogums or Oghams. whose decipherment remains to the present day one of the chief puzzles of archeologists. Caesar explicitly states that the Druids did not think it right to commit their knowledge to writing. This rule, he says, they made for two reasons - first, because they did not wish their knowledge to become common property; and, secondly, because they feared that if written records were trusted to the powers of memory would be less cultivated. Nevertheless, something more than mere conjecture remains to throw light upon the Druid worship.

To begin with, the circular shape of the worshipping places is enough to suggest that they were shots for the worship of sun and moon. But the stones themselves have a further tale to tell, which is clear as it is startling. Although cairn and cromlech and menhir contain no writing which it has yet been found possible to interpret, they present cities by which it seems possible to attach to them a literature which makes their story clear enough. There is reason to believe that many poems of the Gael or Irish Scot, extant at the present day, are actual relics of Druid times.

A single point of evidence brings this hypothesis vividly home.

Whenever in one of these old poems a hero is about to die, he calls for his "deer's horn." The meaning of this demand was a mystery, even to the repeaters of the Gaelic poems themselves, down to the end of last century. The verses conveying the demand had remained, by force of tradition and rhythm, in the poems, but the early rite of which they recorded the observance had passed from memory. In 1764, however, Macpherson of Benchar, in excavating two tumuli near the church of Alves, in Badenoch, found in them human remains, and with these, lying at right angles above them, a red deer's horn. (Highland Society's Report on Ossian, 1805.) Dr. Bryce also, unconscious of the bearing of his discovery, has left it on record that within the cists opened by him in Arran in 1863 he found flint weapons, urns, human remains, and portions of deers' horns. The conclusion is obvious. Within these stone circles in Arran and these tumuli in Badenoch, buried and forgotten for two thousand years, lay the sole explanation to certain allusions in the poetry. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that that poetry was made by the people who worshipped and who buried their dead within these mossy shrines. Now, whatever may be thought of the poems of Ossian in the form in which some of them were given to the world by James Macpherson, there exists no doubt whatever that even Macpherson's versions had an authentic basis, and no suspicion of any kind is attached to the authenticity of other collections of Gaelic poetry which are in existence. Among such collections may be mentioned the twelfth-century Book of Leinster, the sixteenth-century Dean of Lismore's Book, the SeanDana of Dr. Smith, of Campbeltown, and the collections of the late Dr. Cameron, of Brodick.

Again, it is matter of history, set forth in early records like the writings of Gildas and Nennius and the "Annales Cambriae," that the supremacy of the pagan faith of the country was finally overturned at the great battle of Arthuret, near Carlisle, in the year 573. Among the survivors of the vanquished faction in that battle, we are told authentically, was the prince and bard Merlin. Escaping to the Caledonian Forest, about the springs of Ettrick and Tweed, he put into verse his lament for the fallen faith. Much of his poetry is preserved to the present day; it is to be found translated in Skene's "Four Ancient Books of Wales." His "Avallenau" or "Song of the apple-tree," indeed, may be looked on as the swan-song of Druidism.

Here, to go no farther, appears ample material for our purpose. In the songs of Ossian and Merlin is to be found authentic light upon the mind and manners, the deeds and memories, of the people who worshipped at Tormore and on Craigmaddie Moor, at Stonehenge and Avebury, at Stennes in Orkney, and at Dreux in France. Of these people, our ancestors, we of the present hour, who still name the first days of the week Sun Day and Moon Day, inherit in blood and custom more than is dreamt of in the general philosophy.

But most striking of all is the information arrived at by another clue.

Within recent years it has been remarked by discoverers in the East that the monuments of prehistoric Scotland find an exact counterpart in remains extant on the Syrian and Assyrian hills. One district in particular has been noted by workers under the Palestine Exploration Fund as rich in these memorials. It lies opposite Jericho and on the east of the Jordan, just before that river falls into the Dead Sea. There, round the sides of Mount Nebo, have been found hundreds of dolmens and stone circles exactly similar in character to the stone circles of Arran and the dolmen on Craigmaddie Moor. The inference seems inevitable: these rude temples and altars in both countries were the places of worship of believers in the same faith. What that faith and its rites exactly were there remains a whole literature to describe.

IV

BALL, Bel, or Belus, the sun, the lord of heaven, is well known to have been worshipped with fire and sacrifice by the ancient peoples of Carthagena, Phoenicia, Babylon, Assyria, and others. The name is incorporated in such cognomens as Hannibal, Jezebel (the modern Isabel), Belshazzar, and Beelzebub, in the same way as the Jewish Jah or Jehovah appears in names like Elijah and Isaiah. Hardly less an object of worship was the moon goddess, the queen of heaven, known by different races under the names of Ashtaroth, Istar, Astarte, and Aphrodite. Only the other day an inscribed stone of Nabonidas, last of the Babylonian kings, discovered in the neighbourhood of Babylon by Pere Victor Scheil, was found to relate the destruction and restoration of the temple of Istar of Erech - "a golden shrine supported by seven lions" - in the year 604 BC.

Upon the nature of the rites with which these gods were worshipped in the East illumination is thrown by many a Bible reference. Of about the date of the restoration of the temple of Istar, mentioned above, is the impassioned lamentation of Ezekiel (xxviii. 11-14) over the Phoenician king- "Thou wast in Eden the Garden of God, thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire." There is also the memorable description of the scene on Carmel (1 Kings xviii. 26), when Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to show the power of their god. "And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal, saying O Baal, hear us! And they leaped about the altar which was made. And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lances, till the blood gushed out upon them." Not less interesting is the description given in Numbers xxii.-xxv. It is believed to have been about the year 1452 B.C. when the occasion of the narrative befell. The children of Israel were approaching the end of their desert wanderings. Amorites and Ammonites had been defeated by the strange dark people from the wilderness, and Og, King of Bashan, had been overthrown and slain. The wandering tribes were encamped at last on the narrow plain by the Jordan. Before them, westward, across the river, lay the "promised land," with Gilgal and the rich city of Jericho in sight. And behind them rose the dark heights of the Abarim mountains, with their summits, Nebo, Pisgah, and Peor, towering against the sky. It was while they lay there, expecting any day the command to strike their black camel-skin tents and cross the river, that they beheld a strange sight. High on the mountain-side above them, three separate times, in the dusk of dawn, they beheld the summits circled with a coronet of fire. These were the fires kindled by Balak, the Ring of Moab, in his frantic fear, at the instance of Balaam, his prophet, whom he had sent for to curse e people in the "city of black tents" at his feet. "And it came to pass in the morning that Balak took Balaam and brought him up into the high places of Baal, and he saw from thence the utmost parts of the people. And Balaam said unto Balak, 'Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rains. ' And Balak. did as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a rain. And Balaam said unto Balak, 'Stand by thy burnt-offering, and I will go. Peradventure the Lord will come to meet me, and whatsoever He showeth me I will tell thee.' And he went to a bare height."

In Elten's "Origins of English History " three separate allusions are quoted from the account of a voyage by Pythias the Carthaginian about the Year 350 B.C. The descriptions of Pythias refer to certain Celtic islands lying to the north-west of France. In one place lie found the natives worshipping, with shrill music and noisy rites, certain earth goddesses of the nature of Ceres and Proserpine. On another island, near the mouth of the Loire, were women who worshipped a barbarous god with fearful and bloody orgies. And, again, on the isle of Ushant the voyagers came upon a temple where nine virgin priestesses tended an oracle and kept alive a perpetual fire. Martin, in his "History of France" (i. 63), considers " all these rituals to have belonged to convents of Druidesses engaged in the service of Koridwen, the White Fairy, or moon goddess, to whose cult the Celtic priestesses were said to be devoted."

Hecataeus of Abdera, the Thracian traveller and historian, who flourished in the year 300 B.C., makes a reference to Britain and Stonehenge and the worship there, which, as quoted by Diodorus Siculus (ii. 47), appears explicit enough. Opposite the coast of Gaul, he declares, in a grassy island the size of Sicily, lay a great forest and a goodly temple, round in shape and highly enriched, where the priests of the island daily sang hymns and worshipped Apollo (the sun).

Perhaps, however, the fullest of all early descriptions of the worship carried on in these Druidic temples is given by Caesar ("De Bell. Gall.," vi. 13-17). "In many communities of these people," he says, "in their sacred places, are to be seen raised sacrificial mounds." The whole Celtic race, lie proceeds, was given over to religion, and it was the custom for those afflicted with grievous sicknesses, and those engaged in battles and dangerous enterprises, either to sacrifice other men as victims, or to vow themselves to the sacrifice. At these oblations the Druids were the ministers. They judged it impossible to appease the gods for the life of one man except by offering up the life of another. Sacrifices of this kind were publicly offered. Some of the tribes were in the habit of weaving wicker images of huge size. These were filled with living persons, fire was kindled below, and the whole reduced to ashes. Such sacrifices they deemed highly pleasing to the immortal gods. The sacrificed were generally persons taken in the act of murder or theft, but when 'these proved scarce they even made use of innocent people. The Druids, Caesar further declares, worshipped many gods, in each of whom lie finds a likeness to some god of Rome-Mercury, Jupiter, Apollo, Minerva, or Mars. The priests acted both as the judges and teachers of the people. Among other doctrines they taught that the souls of men did not perish, but passed at death from one body to another-a belief which spurred the warriors to the greatest bravery and brought them to scorn the terrors of death. To the young, the historian adds, they taught many things besides concerning the stars and their movement, the universe, and the size of worlds, natural history, and the strength and powers of the immortal gods.

A few years later than Caesar, Diodorus Siculus, a historian who is said to have visited personally every place lie describes, throws further light on the subject. In his History he details how the priests of the north practised the arts of divination. They watched the entrails of sacrifices for signs of good or ill fortune to the offerers; studied for similar purposes the flight of birds, the cry of fowls, the fall of lots, the look of growing things, and the appearance of storms and comets ; and decided the actions of chiefs on great occasions by the contortions of a man slain at a single blow. (" Bibliotheca Historica," v. ch. 24-32.)

Pomponius Mela also, the Spanish geographer who flourished about the year of the Christian era, has left some notice of the matter. The Celtic priests, he declares (" De Situ Orbis," iii. 2), taught one thing above all-that the soul of man is immortal, and has a life beyond the grave. Their motive for this teaching, he states, was that the people might be bolder in war. But the motive must have had a deeper root than this, for he adds that when they burned their dead they buried along with the ashes the notes of affairs and account of moneys owed to the deceased, in order that in the next world they might exact their dues.

Three-quarters of a century later still occur the accounts of Tacitus and the elder Pliny. Tacitus probably visited the north in the conquering train of his father-in-law Agricola, and witnessed the great battle at the foot of the Grampians which he describes. He states (Germania, ix.) that the gods of these northern tribes were not confined within buildings nor represented by images in human form, but were of a spiritual nature, beheld only by the spiritual eyes of the worshippers, who devoted to them, and called by their names, certain groves and sacred places. Pliny declares, in his "Natural History" (xvi. 44, xxx. 1), that the Druids worshipped a supreme eternal Being, the creator and ruler of the universe, who might be known only by the mind, and of whom no graven image could be made. He adds later that the people of Britain in his time were greatly given to the arts of divination, practising them with much solemnity and religious ceremonial. And among their rites he describes the cutting down of the mistletoe - Sacerdos, candida veste cultus, arborem scandit, demetit.

From such references a good deal is to be gathered regarding the ceremonies which were engaged in round the stone memorials still standing on our moors. As for the belief itself of the worshippers of early Scotland, it appears to have been of a more spiritual nature than is generally attributed to the faiths of heathendom. Julius Caesar and Pomponius Mela, as we have seen, state that the Druids believed the soul to be immortal ; while Tacitus and Pliny place on record that the god of the Druids was a being to be perceived only by the mind, and of whom no image could be made. The latter statement finds support in a peculiar fact. In no part of Scotland, in cairn, stone circle, or burial mound, has there ever been found anything of the nature of an idol or carved image. The idea is borne out also by the native poetry of that early time, the verse of Ossian, Merlin, and Taliesin alike conveying the impression of a sublime, though indeed a mournful, faith.

One other point of possible significance may be noted. In the building of the Temple of Solomon, we read, no sound of an iron tool was heard. No explanation of the rule is given, but it seems just possible that the Jews copied it or had it forced upon them by some religious custom of the nations among whom they dwelt. The architect of Solomon's temple, it will be remembered, was a Phoenician and fire-worshipper. It seems to have been a Phoenician rule to hew their temple stones at a distance ; the remains of the Phoenician Temple of Aphrodite at Old Paphos show this. (See Prof. Dyer's " Gods in Greece," pp. 306, 307.) Now, the stone temples upon our moors would seem to have been raised under similar conditions. Their rugged outlines bear no sign that they have ever been touched by mallet or chisel. Whatever its value, the theory receives some support from the rule observed at the ceremony of burning the Clavie at Burghead, described on a previous page, that no iron hammer must be used in the proceeding.

Suggestions are not wanting on which a theory might be based that the pagan faith of Scotland was one of the earliest of all known beliefs. The mistletoe, one of its symbols, rendered sacred the groves of oak on which it grew. -Now, we find in the earliest records of other religions the oak- grove appearing as already a. sacred spot. Abraham and the Jewish patriarchs worshipped in groves of oak (Gen. xviii. 1, 4, 8; xxi. 33; Judges vi. 11; 1 Kings xiii. 14; I Chron. x. 12), the sanctuary was set under an oak (Joshua xxiv. 26), and the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon "under an oak" (Judges vi. 11). Jove, again, was born under an oak, and uttered his oracles out of one, while Hercules planted a sacred grove, and the nymph Egeria gave her counsels to Numa in a wood. Perpetual fire, too, was adopted by many religions, probably from the primeval faith, as a sacred sign (Leviticus vi. 13) -" The fire shall be ever burning upon the altar : it shall never go out." And the Vestal Virgins of Rome, we remember, tending an undying fire.

Baal worship appears to have been practised in Scotland down to the time when Christianity was introduced in the fourth century. The "lives" of the early saints bear plentiful testimony to the fact. Indeed, as has been already remarked, Columba planted his church expressly to compete with the pagan faith in that faith's holiest place, Iona; St. Mun founded his church on the shore of what was a "Holy Loch" before his time; and Kentigern set up his cell at Glasgow to counteract the worship at the neighbouring great pagan temple on Craigmaddie Moor. We find, too, that after the manner of all apostles, the early Christian missionaries found it necessary to discredit the machinery of the older faith. They in-vented the legend that the mistletoe, for having supplied the wood for the Cross, was degraded from a tree to a parasite. And we have the historical testimony already referred to that the supremacy of the pagan faith was only finally destroyed at the battle of Arthuret in 573.

From all this what is to be gathered? The Celtic tribes, we know from their language and the teaching of philology, we're an early wave of the great Indo-European race which flowed westward from Asia in a bygone age, and covered Europe. Little is known of the circumstances of that far-off migration. It would appear, however, as if the tribes had brought with them in that early time the remains of a civilisation infinitely greater than anything that has hitherto been credited to them. In their marvellous mechanical and astronomical knowledge, and their worship, by means of fire, of a Spiritual God, may be identified something akin to that Chaldean lore, the memory of which has survived with a dim awe in the tradition of all ages. The Druid faith of Caledonia appears even 'to have been of a purer and elder branch than its cousin in Chaldea; and the Chaldean monuments lately exhumed by American explorers at Nipur, and by M. de Sarzee at Lagash, date as far back as the year 4000 B.C.

It would almost seem, indeed, as if the worship practised around these menhirs, cromlechs, and circles of Scotland worship of which fragments remain in the practice of all of us to the present day were a remnant of some primeval knowledge owned by the earliest fathers of our race on the Shinar Plain.


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