In the days of Noah, and while the ark was being built, there dwelt in the forests by the banks of the Tigris, Bith, with his wife Birren, of the race of Cain. Near them lived their daughter, Kesara, whose husband, Finntan, was of the blood of Seth. Farther off was the wood-built habitation of their son Lara, and his wife, Blama. None of these paid adoration to the Creator but Finntan, and to him was revealed the approaching destruction of mankind by a universal deluge. He constructed a rudely-built vessel, and not until it was finished could he induce his relatives to escape with him from the impending danger. His unbelieving consort tenderly loved him, and though fearless of the coming danger, she determined to share his fate. The others joined them at the last hour; the bark went down the river, arid in one year from that day they were entering a bay on the west coast of the then uninhabited woody island, afterwards called Erinn.
They lived by hunting and fishing, and moved inland till they reached that mountain in the centre of the island, which has since borne the name of- Lara's wife, Blama. They were all in the prime of their age when they left the far-off eastern land, varying in age from four to five hundred years each. But now a couple of centuries seemed to have passed over their heads in one revolution of the year. Hardly had they reached the hill when Bith and Birren expired on the same day. Their sorrowing children had scarcely interred them, raised their pile, and sung their lamentation, when Lara and Blama followed them to the lone house. Now were Finntan and Kesdra the only dwellers on the island; and as they sat in woe by the side of the neighbouring loch, and looked on the cromlechs laid over their relatives, Kesdra burst into a wild passion of grief and reproaches against her gods and against the God worshipped by her husband. He spoke to her of a future state of rest and happiness for those who were submissive to the decree of the All-Wise and All-Good; but her fury only gathered strength. Just then a volume of white vapour arose from the dark loch. It went round and round, and at last wheeled out between the living pair; then in rapid whirls it sunk again on the lake, and Kesdra was left desolate on the brink. She cried out wildly on her husband not to abandon her; but seeing nothing but the wild hill round her, the grey sky over her, and the dark water beneath, she flung herself wildly below its quiet surface to find her partner or perish with him. To the bright land of Tirna-n-oge was Finntan conveyed, and there was he conscious of the great flood that submerged the island, of its loneliness for three hundred years, of the landing of the parricide Partholan, and the speedy destruction of his colony by a plague at Ben Edair. Then in succession came the clans of Nemidh, the Fomorian pirates, the Firbolgs, the learned Danaans, the warlike Milesians; and after a thousand years of their sway, worshipping the Host of Heaven, and the spirits of the seas, the lakes, the forests, and the hills, it was told at the Court of Laeré that a strange Druid, in flowered garments, with a two-pointed ornamented birredh on his head, and bearing in one hand a book inscribed with characters different from, the Oghuim, and in the other a double cross, was approaching from the country of Gallian (Wicklow, Wexford, &c.).
It was the Eve of the Sun's Fire (Beltiné), and the learned and the noble from every part of the island were assembled at Teamor, in the Midchuarta. In rows they took their seats, and five fleas in succession recited the deeds of dead heroes, the genealogies of the lines of Heber, Heremon, and Ith, and the different invasions of the island since the landing of Nemidh. The last orator had ceased, and a storm of applause burst over him from the assembled nobles. When silence fell on the benches, he again took up the theme. " More praise than we merit you have given to my brothers and myself. Alas! we have only preserved some of the inscribed staves on which the full chronicle of our country is engraved. There is only one to whom the whole story is known, Fionntuin, son of Bochna, son of Eathoir, son of Annadha, who, from the days of the great flood to this, has been preservpd in life in the land of youth. Whenever a filea, endowed with untiring zeal and all the knowledge that can be obtained, appeared among now dead poets, he has at some period of his career been favoured with a visit from this being in the deep dark silence before the dawn, and missing staves of the past chronicles supplied. [c] From the revelations of some of these we learn that his life shall endure till a white Druid, whose writings are made on folded parchments, and not on the corners-of staves, and who also bears a cross and wears a flowered garment, shall come to reveal to us a god whom we yet know not. This Druid of an unknown faith shall wash him from his earthly stains, and his freed spirit is then to depart [b] to some place, as much excelling the Land of Youth as that happy country surpasses this."
He was yet speaking, when every one in the vast hail was on a sudden seized with awe, united to a certain feeling of pleasure, as they Observed a venerable figure in long robes, and with long white hair falling on each side of his agreeable and majestic countenance, gliding from the entrance to the centre where the fileas were seated. He needed not to announce his name. Every one felt that he was in the presence of Fionntuin, son of Bochna, son of Eathoir.
"Kings, chiefs, and men of learning," said the vision, "great is my joy to see this happy day, and behold so many of my kind on whose souls divine light will soon dawn, and not only on them, but on all who rule within our seas. This light will come from one who is at hand, and to whom I leave the glorious task of instructing you in the heavenly scheme, which I only know in part, and which I am unfit to reveal. What I am permitted, I shall speak."
Then he proceeded in flowing words, while his hearers with their hearts flooded with pleasure, sat entranced, to announce that, before man was sent on earth, spirits created for happiness rebelled against the Master of sea, land, sun, moon, and stars; and that they were since that moment suffering pains not to be conceived. He then went on to describe the creation of man and woman, their pristine happiness, their fall through the wiles of the chief of the evil spirits, the after-wickedness of mankind, and the destruction (one family excepted) of the human race. The remainder of the oration chiefly related to the fortunes of the ancestors of those before him. He told of the preservation of letters after Babel; of the wanderings of the early Scots, and of their relations with Moses, when he was conducting the people of God from their thraldom. From the remainder of the discourse the fleas afterwards completed the full tale of their inscribed staves, soon to be changed for the characters and the rolls of vellum introduced by Patrick, and hence the perfect state of the annals of the Scots of Ireland compared with those of all nations that see the sun rise and set.
That evening, no fire or lamp was found burning through the length and breadth of the land, and all were watching in silence from the summits of the hills, in the direction of Teamor for a tongue of flame from the next hill that lay between Laeré, preparing to kindle the sacred fire in the great bawn of Teamor, whose flaming up was to set all the fires on all the hills in Erinn ablaze, was dismayed on beholding, a small distance to the east, a lamp suddenly enkindled, and a man of a most attractive and venerable countenance gazing by its light on the leaves of an open book.
This was the humble, the gentle, the fervent Apostle Patrick, who, being summoned to the royal presence, preached the Word of Life. Small was his difficulty to turn the hearts of his hearers (the king excepted) from the practice of idolatry. The ground had been prepared by Finntan, and the seed sown by Patrick at once struck root, and soon the land was white with the Christian harvest.
The practice of magic being resorted to for the acquisition of supernatural power, its form and nature must depend on the religion, true or false, which is supposed to influence the practitioner. And here we must take occasion to remark in what a satisfactory state our knowledge is with regard to the Teutonic, and how comparatively trifling and conjectural is our acquaintance with the Celtic, forms of belief before the light of Christianity dawned on the people. Soon after the Scandinavians became Christians, their Pantheon was epitomized in verse by Saemund, a priest; and about a hundred years later, the prose Edda, furnishing the adventures of the gods, the heroes, and the giants, was compiled by the turbulent and talented Snorro Sturlason.
Now, the great change among the Celtic peoples had taken place by the fifth century, and it happened that no Saemund or Sturlason was vouchsafed to them; or if vouchsafed, the writings left by him were early lost in the confusion attending the determined struggles between themselves and their dogged, troublesome neighbours of the Teuton stock.
Owing to this unfavourable state of things, our knowledge of the nature of religious usages among our ancestors is necessarily limited. It had been obtained from casual allusions in early Christian writers on serious subjects, and, to a greater extent, from ancient poems and romances, and the relics of their festivels--still celebrated, but changed in object, and devoted to honour events in the life of our Lord, or the memory of saints. We have already gone over this ground. The Sun and Moon; Mananan Lir, the sea deity, and peculiar patron of the Isle of Man; Dagdae, the Danaan chief; Morrigu, his spouse, the Celtic Bellona; Crom; and the spirits of the hills, streams, and forests, received worship from the heathen Scots. Their Elysiums were delightful islands in the Atlantic--alas! no longer visible--meadows of asphodel, sun-enlightened, below its waves, and the placid lakes of Erinn; and grottoes under the sepulchral mounds of old Danaan kings and sages. When cruelty, inhospitality, and treachery developed themselves to a monstrous extent in any individual, his thin, shivering ghost [d] suffered in the winds, and rains, and cold rigours of upper air, after its separation from the body. Besides the worship given to the divinities mentioned, it is conjectured by some ardent Celtic scholars that a fetich reverence was paid to some traditional bulls, cows, bears, and cats; even Dallans were not without reverence of some kind.
Everything of a magical character connected with the history or social state of the early inhabitants of Ireland, is traceable to the people called the Danaans, of whom we subjoin a brief sketch, claiming the same belief for its certainty as we could for the exploits of Romulus or Theseus.
[a] Fair Wave, Son of Ocean.
[b] The Oghuim writing of the Pagan Celts was commonly cut on thin staves.
[c] Soar would be more poetical than depart; but the filea knew his audience. The cold upper air, with its fogs, snows, and harsh Winds, Was the Celtic Tartarus.
[d] James M'Pherson was only imperfectly acquainted with even the oral literature of the Highland Gael. The ghosts of his good characters look complacently from their bright clouds of rest on the act ions of their former friends or their own brave descendants.