Immortality was adjudged to be a Druidic creed.
The Inverness Gaelic Society's Journal has this affirmation: "They looked for an immortality more substantial than the rewards of fame, in a heroic state in the far-off spirit land, to which the bards, it would appear, issued the passport --There lay the realms of mystery." Beyond that, however, was "the roofless house of lasting doom," to which illustrious spirits eventually passed. As a Skye tale implies, there was a happier region in the Beyond, from which there was no return. The ghosts, that appeared, came, as they are said by Spiritualists of our day still to come, from a sort of pleasant Purgatory, where they enjoyed awhile a free and easy condition of existence.
Ammianus Marcellinus recorded: "The Druids, who united in a Society, occupied themselves with profound and sublime questions, raised themselves above human affairs, and sustained the immortality of the soul." On the other hand, Archbishop Whately, and many more, maintained that there was no proof of immortality independent of revelation.
This idea of life had, however, a peculiar connection with pre-existence and transmigration. Thus, George Eliot refers to their finding "new bodies, animating them in a quaint and ghastly way with antique souls." So Wordsworth--
"Our life's star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from far."
The soul descended into the womb of nature to be re-born
in another body. Cæsar ascertained that Druids "are anxious to have it believed that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another." Troyon fancied men of the Stone Age accepted reincarnation; since they buried their dead crouching, to imitate the babe in the womb. Lord Brougham asserted that the ancients "all believed in the soul's pre-existence." Theosophists hold that Druids recognized the Karmic land. Mormons share the like faith. Morien refers to souls waiting in the Sea of Annwn, to be called up to inhabit new bodies. Taliesin sang, "My original country is the land of Cherubim."
What said the Irish upon immortality?
Their word Nullog, newbeily, implied regeneration. Their many tales of transmigration, or life under varied conditions, are well known. An old MS. has this of a ghost
"Fionn never slept a calm sleep
From that night to the day of his death."
This, says O'Kearney, "is a poetical licence, and evidently refers to the time when the spirit of Fionn, according to the Druidic doctrine of the transmigration of souls, should assume mortality in some other shape and character, and revisit the earth." The same author--noting the dialogue between St. Patrick and Oisin the Fenian, who had been three hundred years in the Land of Youth--observes, "It is doubtful if St. Patrick ever saw the real Oisin, but only some Druid or old Seanchaidhe who believed himself to be Oisin revived."
Donald Ross, taking the creed of the old Scots, said, "They held a modified form of Pythagorean metempsychosis; for the soul is represented as emigrating into the lower animals, and even into trees, stones, and other inanimate objects." Two versions are given of the lives of Tuan Mac Coireall one, that he lived 100 years as a
man, 300 as a deer, 300 as a boar, 300 as a bird, and 300 as a salmon; the other was, that he was zoo years a man, 20 a hog, 30 a stag, 100 an eagle, and 30 a fish. To this day butterflies are spoken of as souls of some deceased persons.
Dr. A. G. Richey, Q. C., when quoting from pre-Christian MSS., is careful to intimate that they were "not more historically credible or useful than the Hellenic--the Tain Bo than the Iliad." He gives the wonderful adventures of Fintan, who passed through many lives on earth, and appeared to St. Patrick. He was for a year beneath the waters of the Deluge, but in a fast sleep. A couple of verses of the poem will suffice.
"I was then in Ireland,--
Pleasant was my condition
When Partholon arrived
From the Grecian country in the East.
After that the Tuatha De arrived,
Concealed in their dark clouds;
I ate my food with them,
Although at such a remote period."
Dr. H. Waddell, dealing with the Druids, points out--"Purification by fire for body and soul, and assimilation thereby to the purest essence of the universe, were the fundamental ideas of their creed--the infallible means of the highest and most acceptable apotheosis." Rhys remarks--"That they believed in a dominant faith and transmigration is pretty certain."
"Irish transmigration," remarks O'Beirne Crowe, "means the soul's passing from man into other animals--man and all subordinate animals included. This is Irish transmigration, called by the Greeks, transformation of one body into another, while the Gaulish is transmigration of a soul into the body of another human being." He adds--"But is this transformation a Druidic doctrine? Most certainly
not; it is purely Pythagorean, and must have for many centuries preceded Druidism in this strange land of ours."
The revival of Reincarnation, by Madame Blavatsky, and the Theosophists under the eloquent Mrs. Besant, shows the persistency of the idea that so entranced the semi-civilized Irish long ago, and seemed so satisfactory a way to account for the existence of man after death.
Transmigration being found in Ireland, has led some to assert their conviction that Buddhist missionaries conveyed it thither. The Soc. des Antiquiaires de France had an article, from the pen of Coquebert-Montbret, advancing this opinion, relying upon the known ardour and extensive proselytism of early Buddhist missionaries. He knows the Irish deity Budd or Budwas, and asks if that be not Buddha. In the Hebrides, spirits are called Boduchs, and the same word is applied to all heads of families, as the Master. The Druids were, says one, only an order of Eastern priests, located in Britain, adoring Buddwas.
The St. Germain Museum has, in its Gaulish department, an altar, on which is represented a god with the legs crossed after the manner of the Indian Buddha. That relic is the fourth of the kind found in France. Anderson Smith, in his Lewisiana, writes reluctantly--"we must accept the possibility of a Buddhist race passing north from Ireland." This means, that Ireland is to be regarded as the source of so many Buddhist significations which are discovered on the west of Scotland, and in the Hebrides.
It has been generally accepted that Druidism was Celtic in origin and practice, because Cæsar found it in Gaul and Britain. But he records three races in Gaul itself--the Celtic, the German, and the Aquitani. The Britons were, to him, Belgæ, or of German connection. He knew nothing of Ireland or Wales, in which two countries he would have seen the fellows of his Aquitani, a darker
people than either Celt or German. Prof. Rhys, one of highest living authorities, was justified in thinking that Druidism was "probably to be traced to the race or races which preceded the Celts in their possession of the British Isles." The Iberians, with dark eyes and hair, belong to these Isles, as well as in north-west and south-west Germany. In Brittany, as in Wales, to this day, the Iberian and Celt may be seen side by side.
A discussion has arisen in French scientific journals to the apparently different views of Druidism in writings attributed to Pythagoras and to Cæsar. Hermand pointed out their contradiction. Lamariouze remarked--"One says there were in all Celtic lands neither temples statues; the other, on the contrary, would declare he had found the worship of Roman divinities, and consequently temples, statues, images." Pythagoras was told by a Druid that he believed "in one Divinity alone, who is everywhere since He is in all."
Lamariouze failed to see any decided difference in two authorities, saving the modification occasioned by Roman domination. He saw in one of the constituents and principles of the Gaulish religion the proscription temples and idols, recalling the well-known fact of the destruction of the temple of Delphi by the same people. He points out that Cæsar spoke of a likeness to Roman idols, not the idols themselves, especially in the relation so many of Mercury.
Of the Gaulish Druids, Lamariouze said--"Besides the purely spiritual beliefs, they permitted a material worship for the people. They permitted the adoration of God that which the ancients named the Elements."
Some hold that the Druids were either strangers from afar, or an esoteric body of the learned, who permitted the vulgar to indulge their heathenish practices, while they
themselves maintained loftier conceptions. The early Christian missionaries seemed to have adopted a like policy in allowing their converts considerable liberty, especially if safe-guarded by a change of names in their images. For instance, as Fosbroke's British Monarchism says, "British churches, from policy, were founded upon the site of Druidical temples."
The three rays of the Druids, three yods, fleur-de-lis, broad arrow, or otherwise named, may have represented light from heaven, or the male attributes, in the descending way, and female ones when in the reversed position. They may have been Buddhist, or even ancient Egyptian--and may have symbolized different sentiments at different times, or in different lands.
As Druids, like other close bodies, wrote nothing, we depend upon outside pagans, and Christian teachers, for what we know of their doctrines. Doubtless, as many Spanish Jews kept secretly their old faith after the enforced adoption of Christianity, so may some Irish monks have partly retained theirs, and even revealed it, under a guise, in their writings, since ecclesiastical authority shows that Druidism was not wholly extinct in the sixteenth century.
While some authorities imagined the Druids preceded the ordinary polytheistic religion, others taught that they introduced pantheism. Amédée Thierry, in Histoire des Gaulois, found it based on pantheism, material, metaphysical, mysterious, sacerdotal, offering the most striking likeness to the religions of the East. He discovered no historic light as to how the Cymry acquired this religion, nor why it resembled the pantheism of the East, unless through their early sojourn on the borders of Asia.
"The empire of Druidism," says he, "did not destroy the religion of exterior nature, which had preceded it. All learned and mysterious religions tolerate an under-current
of gross fetishism to occupy and nourish the superstition of the multitude."
Again he writes--"But in the east and south of Gaul, where Druidism had not been imposed at the point of the sword, although it had become the prevailing form of worship, the ancient religion preserved more independence, even under the ministry of the Druids, who made themselves its priests. It continued to be cultivated, if I may use the word, following the march of civilization and public intelligence, rose gradually from fetishism to religious conceptions more and more purified." Was it in this way that Druids found their way to Britain and Ireland?
Cæsar, who saw nothing of the religion among these islands, was told that here was the high seat of Druidism. His observations on religion were not so keen as those on the art of war. Thierry regarded Druidism as an imported faith into Gaul, and partly by means of force. Strabo heard that Druids spoke Greek. Tacitus may say our rude ancestors worshipped Castor and Pollux; but Agricola, who destroyed Druids in Mona, found no images in the woods.
Baecker remarked that "the Celtic history labours under such insuperable obscurity and incertitude, that we cannot premise anything above a small degree of verisimilitude." And Ireland's Mirror ventured to write--"On no subject has fancy roamed with more licentious indulgence than on that of the Druids and their Institutions. Though sunk in the grossest ignorance and barbarism, their admirers have found them, in the dark recesses of forests, secluded from mankind, and almost from day, cultivating the abstrusest sciences, and penetrating the sublimest mysteries of nature--and all this without the aid of letters or of experiments."
This is not the opinion of some modern devotees of
Druidism in these islands, who imagine, under Druidic control, the existence of a primal and exalted civilization.
O'Curry thought it probable "that the European Druidical system was but the offspring of the Eastern augury, somewhat less complete when transplanted to a new soil."