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Sabian idolatry.” From these highly respectable authorities, we learn the nature of what was the primitive religion of Britain.
M. Pezron states, that the priests, among the ancient Britons, were the true successors of the Curetes, and preservers of their discipline. After intimating that he had traced the footsteps of one tribe of Gomerians, under the name of Sacæ, from the countries of Bactriana, as far as Armenia, and from hence into those parts of Cappadocia, bordering on the Euxine Sea, where this famous nation changed its name for that of Titans ; proceeds to mention particularly the Curetes, who were the sages and philosophers of that nation, and some of them of royal descent. The Curetes were the priests and sacrificers, who had the care of religious matters, and what belonged to the gods. They were considered as holding converse with the gods, by way of divination, soothsaying, and the art of magic, and hence called magicians, diviners, and enchanters. They were believed to have the knowledge of the stars, of the laws of nature, and so were denominated astronomers. They were acknowledged to be physicians, and to cure the sick by the use and virtue of herbs, and especially by enchantments. They were poets, and preserved the memory of their deified ancestors, their birth, succession, wars, and great actions, by verses and poems, composed by the ancients, and which they could repeat exactly from memory. They retired into the thickest woods, and most rugged mountains, and dwelt in caves and other recesses. They had the care of the education of youth, even of the children of kings and princes, in the same way as the Magi among the Parthians and Persians. In a word, their authority was so great, and so much
regarded, that frequently it exceeded that of their sovereign.
The priests, who taught the principles and performed the offices of religion among the ancient Britons, were called Druids, probably from the Greek word deus, an oak; or, from the Celtic or old British word dru or derw, oak, for which the Druids had a most- superstitious veneration. Major Wilford, speaking of the Druids, says, “ The little we know of their doctrine is perfectly conformable to that of the Hindus ; except their worshipping under the oak, which they called emphatically Dru, or the Tree. Dru, in Sanscrit, is a tree in general : it was so in Greek formerly; and it signifies a forest in Russian. It was afterwards restricted to the oak among the Greeks, and the Celtic tribes. There are no oaks in India, except in the mountains to the north: but the Hindus have other trees equally sacred, and the Goths had a peculiar regard for the ash-tree.” b
Mr. Davies intimates, that the name Druid seems to have extended only where that order was acknowledged. Cæsar states, that the Druidical institution, considered as to its peculiarity, originated in Britain, and passed from thence into Gaul; and so perfect was it deemed, that whosoever aspired to be complete adepts in this magical science, were wont to resort to Britain ; a fact which the Gallic Druids always had the honesty to admit. Speaking of the Druids, Toland says, they “ were so prevalent in Ireland, that to this hour their ordinary word for magician is Druid ;c the magic art is called Druidity;d and the wand, which was one of the badges of their profession, the rod of Druidism.
a Pezron's Antiq. of Nations, chap. 13. • Asiatic Researches, vol. xi. p. 129. c Diui. d Druidheacht. e Statnan Druidheacht.
The Druids were generally of the first families, often relatives or sons.of kings or princes. But they were not all of equal rank or dignity as to their office; one being chief or archdruid, in every country where the order prevailed, who acted as high-priest, and whose authority was absolute over the rest. Strabo distinguishes the whole order into three classes-Bards, Vates, (or Ovates,) and Druids. The Bards were the heroic, historical, and genealogical poets; who composed hymns in honour of the gods, which they sung to the music of their harps as well as other instruments, and at the sacred solemnities. The Vates were the sacred musicians, the religious poets, and the pretended prophets of all the Celtic nations. The Druids were the most numerous, and performed all the offices of religion peculiar to the priesthood.
Toland observes, that every Druid carried in his hand, as one of the badges of his profession, a wand or staff, had what was called the Druid's egg hung about his neck, enchased in gold. They all wore short hair, while the rest of the natives had theirs very long; and, on the contrary, they had long beards, while other people shaved all theirs but the upper lip. They likewise all wore long habits, as did the Bards and Vates ;
a The Rev. Jonathan Williams remarks, that Bardism was not a British, but an Oriental institution, and imported into this island by its first colonizers. The name, therefore, is not resolvable into the British, but into an Oriental language, which existed at the first formation of the order, and of which the Hebrew is the basis. Now the Hebrew verb “ Bahar,” signifies to light or kindle a fire. If this etymology be admitted, and there appears no just reason to doubt it, we derive from it a discovery of no small importance, and which was never so much as guessed at before. For we hereby ascertain the nature of the Bard's office, which, like that of the Jewish priest, was to kindle, if not to perpetuate, the hallowed fire, which blazed in the area of “ Cor-Gawr,” and in all the consecrated places of the Druids.
but the Druids had on a white surplice, whenever they religiously officiated, the emblem of purity and peace; the Bards, sky-blue, the emblem of truth; the Vates, green, the emblem of the verdant dress of nature, in the meads and woods. The Druids
Druids had their secret and their public doctrines. Some writers have asserted, and endeavoured to show, that the former much resembled primitive tradition—that, in addition to the unity of God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, they taught their disciples many things concerning the formation of man, his primitive innocence, the creation of angels, their expulsion from heaven, and the final destruction of the world by fire. However this be, it is certain that they held the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Mela has preserved one of the Triads, that bids the people remember
" To act bravely in war ;
And he says, that this secret doctrine they were allowed to publish, in order to render their hearers more brave and fearless in war.
Cæsar and Diodorus state, that they taught the Pythagorean doctrine of the Metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls into other bodies, which prevailed almost univerally in the East. This, if they really taught it, is thought to have been a public doctrine, addressed to the narrow conceptions of the vulgar. This is beautifully described by Lucan:
à Cluver. Germ. Antiq. lib. i. c. 32.
“ If dying mortals doom they sing aright,
Rowe's Lucan, book i. v. 796-811.
Others, however, represent them as teaching, that the soul after death ascended to some higher orb, and there enjoyed a more perfect felicity: which, perhaps, was one of their secret doctrines, and expressed their real sentiment.
Their public theology, probably, chiefly consisted of mythological fables, concerning the genealogies, attributes, offices, and actions of their gods; and included various superstitious methods of appeasing their anger, gaining their favour, and discovering their will. These doctrines, couched in verse, abounding with figures and metaphors, were delivered by the Druids, from little eminences. With this fabulous divinity, they intermixed moral precept, for regulating the manners of their auditors; and they zealously exhorted them to avoid doing injury to one another, and to fight valiantly in defence of their country. Diogenes Lærtius gives us the following Triad :
a Rowland's Mona Antiqua. Dio. Lær. in Prom.