The Religion of the Ancient Celts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 445 pages of information about The Religion of the Ancient Celts.

In Ireland and the Highlands, divination by looking into the shoulder-blade of a sheep was used to discover future events or things happening at a distance, a survival from pagan times.[873] The scholiast on Lucan describes the Druidic method of chewing acorns and then prophesying, just as, in Ireland, eating nuts from the sacred hazels round Connla’s well gave inspiration.[874] The “priestesses” of Sena and the “Druidesses” of the third century had the gift of prophecy, and it was also ascribed freely to the Filid, the Druids, and to Christian saints.  Druids are said to have prophesied the coming of S. Patrick, and similar prophecies are put in the mouths of Fionn and others, just as Montezuma’s priests foretold the coming of the Spaniards.[875] The word used for such prophecies—­baile, means “ecstasy,” and it suggests that the prophet worked himself into a frenzy and then fell into a trance, in which he uttered his forecast.  Prophecies were also made at the birth of a child, describing its future career.[876] Careful attention was given to the utterances of Druidic prophets, e.g.  Medb’s warriors postponed their expedition for fifteen days, because the Druids told them they would not succeed if they set out sooner.[877]

Mythical personages or divinities are said in the Irish texts to have stood on one leg, with one arm extended, and one eye closed, when uttering prophecies or incantations, and this was doubtless an attitude used by the seer.[878] A similar method is known elsewhere, and it may have been intended to produce greater force.  From this attitude may have originated myths of beings with one arm, one leg, and one eye, like some Fomorians or the Fachan whose weird picture Campbell of Islay drew from verbal descriptions.[879]

Early Celtic saints occasionally describe lapses into heathenism in Ireland, not characterised by “idolatry,” but by wizardry, dealing in charms, and fidlanna, perhaps a kind of divination with pieces of wood.[880] But it is much more likely that these had never really been abandoned.  They belong to the primitive element of religion and magic which people cling to long after they have given up “idolatry.”


[790] Caesar, vi. 16.

[791] Rh[^y]s, CB{4} 68.

[792] Justin, xxvi. 2; Pomp.  Mela, iii. 2.

[793] Diod.  Sic. xxii. 9.

[794] See Jullian, 53.

[795] Servius on AEneid, iii. 57.

[796] Caesar, vi. 16; Livy, xxxviii. 47; Diod.  Sic. v. 32, xxxi. 13; Athenaeus, iv. 51; Dio Cass., lxii. 7.

[797] Diod.  Sic, xxxiv. 13; Strabo, iv. 4; Orosius, v. 16; Schol. on Lucan, Usener’s ed. 32.

[798] Caesar, vi. 16; Strabo, iv. 4; Diod.  Sic. v. 32; Livy, xxxviii. 47.

[799] Mannhardt, Baumkultus, 529 f.

[800] Strabo, ibid. 4. 4.

[801] S. Aug. de Civ.  Dei, vii. 19.

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The Religion of the Ancient Celts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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