crumbling, huge and hollow. And Osseo, when he saw it, Gave a shout, a cry of anguish, Leaped into its yawning cavern, At one end went in an old man, Wasted, wrinkled, old, and ugly; From the other came a young man, Tall and straight and strong and handsome. 'Thus Osseo was transfigured, Thus restored to youth and beauty; But, alas for good Osseo, And for Oweenee, the faithful! Strangely, too, was she transfigured. Changed into a weak old woman, With a staff she tottered onward, Wasted, wrinkled, old, and ugly! And the sisters and their husbands Laughed until the echoing forest Rang with their unseemly laughter. 'But Osseo turned not from her, Walked with slower step beside her, Took her hand, as brown and withered As an oak-leaf is in winter, Called her sweetheart, Nenemoosha, Soothed her with soft words of kindness, Till they reached the lodge of feasting, Till they sat down in the wigwam, Sacred to the star of evening, To the tender star of woman. 'Wrapt in visions, lost in dreaming, At the banquet sat Osseo; All were merry, all were happy, All were joyous but Osseo. Neither food nor drink he tasted, Neither did he speak nor listen, But as one bewildered sat he, Looking dreamily and sadly, First at Oweenee, then upward At the gleaming sky above them. 'Then a voice was heard, a whisper, Coming from the starry distance, Coming from the empty vastness, Low and musical and tender; And the voice said, "O Osseo! O my son, my best beloved! Broken are the spells that bound you, All the charms of the magicians, All the magic powers of evil; Come to me; ascend, Osseo! '"Taste the food that stands before you; It is blessed and enchanted, It has magic virtues in it, It will change you to a spirit. All your bowls and all your kettles Shall be wood and clay no longer; But the bowls be changed to wampum, And the kettles shall be silver; They shall shine like shells of scarlet, Like the fire shall gleam and glimmer. '"And the women shall no longer Bear the dreary doom of labour, But be changed to birds, and glisten With the beauty of the starlight, Painted with the dusky splendours Of the skies and clouds of evening!" 'What Osseo heard as whispers, What as words he comprehended, Was but music to the others, Music as of birds afar off, Of the whippoorwill afar off, Of the lonely Wawonaissa Singing in the darksome forest. 'Then the lodge began to tremble, Straight began to shake and tremble, And they felt it rising, rising, Slowly through the air ascending, From the darkness of the tree-tops Forth into the dewy starlight, Till it passed the topmost branches; And behold! the wooden dishes All were changed to shells of scarlet! And behold! the earthen kettles All were changed to bowls of silver! And the roof-poles of the wigwam Were as glittering rods of silver, And the roof of bark upon them As the shining shards of beetles. 'Then Osseo gazed around him, And he saw the nine fair sisters, All the sisters and their husbands, Changed to birds of various plumage. Some were jays, and some were magpies, Others thrushes, others blackbirds; And they hopped and sang and twittered, Perked and fluttered all their feathers, Strutted in their various plumage, And their tails like fans unfolded. 'Only Oweenee, the youngest, Was not changed, but sat in silence, Wasted, wrinkled, old, and ugly, Looking sadly at the others; Till Osseo, gazing upward, Gave another cry of anguish, Such a cry as he had uttered By the oak-tree in the forest. 'Then returned her youth and beauty, And her soiled and tattered garments Were transformed to robes of ermine, And her staff became a feather, Yes, a shining silver feather! 'And again the wigwam trembled, Swayed and rushed through airy currents, Through transparent cloud and vapour, And amid celestial splendours On the evening star alighted, As a snow-flake falls on snow-flake, As a leaf drops on a river, As the thistle-down on water. 'Forth with cheerful words of welcome Came the father of Osseo, He with radiant locks of silver, He with eyes serene and tender. And he said, "My son, Osseo, Hang the cage of birds you bring there, Hang the cage with rods of silver, And the birds with glistening feathers, At the doorway of my wigwam." 'At the door he hung the bird-cage, And they entered in and gladly Listened to Osseo's father, Ruler of the star of evening, As he said, "O my Osseo! I have had compassion on you, Given you back your youth and beauty, Into birds of various plumage Changed your sisters and their husbands; Changed them thus because they mocked you In the figure of the old man, In that aspect sad and wrinkled, Could not see your heart of passion, Could not see your youth immortal; Only Oweenee, the faithful, Saw your naked heart and loved you. '"In the lodge that glimmers yonder, In the little star that twinkles Through the vapours, on the left hand, Lives the envious Evil Spirit, The Wabeno, the magician, Who transformed you to an old man. Take heed lest his beams fall on you, For the rays he darts around him Are the power of his enchantment, Are the arrows that he uses."
'Many years, in peace and quiet On the peaceful star of evening Dwelt Osseo with his father; Many years in song and flutter, At the doorway of the wigwam, Hung the cage with rods of silver, And fair Oweenee, the faithful, Bore a son unto Osseo, With the beauty of his mother, With the courage of his father. 'And the boy grew up and prospered, And Osseo, to delight him, Made him little bows and arrows, Opened the great cage of silver, And let loose his aunts and uncles, All those birds with glossy feathers, For his little son to shoot at. 'Round and round they wheeled and darted, Filled the evening star with music, With their songs of joy and freedom; Filled the evening star with splendour, With the fluttering of their plumage; Till the boy, the little hunter, Bent his bow and shot an arrow, Shot a swift and fatal arrow, And a bird, with shining feathers, At his feet fell wounded sorely. 'But, O wondrous transformation! 'Twas no bird he saw before him, 'Twas a beautiful young woman, With the arrow in her bosom! 'When her blood fell on the planet, On the sacred star of evening, Broken was the spell of magic, Powerless was the strange enchantment, And the youth, the fearless bowman, Suddenly felt himself descending, Held by unseen hands, but sinking Downward through the empty spaces, Downward through the clouds and vapours, Till he rested on an island, On an island, green and grassy, Yonder in the big sea-water. 'After him he saw descending All the birds with shining feathers, Fluttering, falling, wafted downward, Like the painted leaves of autumn; And the lodge with poles of silver, With its roof like wings of beetles, Like the shining shards of beetles, By the winds of heaven uplifted, Slowly sank upon the island, Bringing back the good Osseo, Bringing Oweenee, the faithful. 'Then the birds, again transfigured, Resumed the shape of mortals, Took their shape, but not their stature; They remained as little people, Like the pigmies, the Puk-Wudjies; And on pleasant nights of summer, When the evening star was shining, Hand in hand they danced together On the island's craggy headlands, On the sand-beach low and level. 'Still their glittering lodge is seen there, On the tranquil summer evenings, And upon the shore the fisher Sometimes hears their happy voices, Sees them dancing in the starlight!'"
MONARCHS, PRIESTS, PHILOSOPHERS, AND SUPERSTITION.
Generality of Superstition—Commencement of Monarchy in Scotland—King Fergus I. crowned on the Fatal Stone of Destiny—Signs, Assistance of Spirits, Magicians, and Fortune-tellers—Natholocus sends a Friend to consult a Cunning Woman—Her Prediction verified—Constantine and Maxentius—A Heavenly Cross—A Famous Standard—Queen Guanora's Grave—Fear of St. Martin—The Church's Belief in the Intercession of Departed Saints—Relics venerated—King bewitched by Witches of Forres—Evil Signs during Elthus Alipes's Reign—Sea Monster in the Don—Kenneth III. killed by an Infernal Machine—Virtue of Precious Stones—Weird Sisters—Consulting a Pythoness—Predictions by Druids—Domitian's Death foretold by Astrologers—Simon Magus—A Platonic Philosopher charged with Sorcery—The Emperor Julian instructed in Magic.
In speaking of superstition, it may be truly said, "As with the people, so with the priest; as with the subjects, so with the monarch." In the humble cot the peasant is deluded and overawed by superstition; in the church the priest lays claim to supernatural power; and crowned heads have played a not unimportant part among the believers in and performers of the occult science, which has so long held the souls of men in bondage. We have it on record that a monarch has been made to tremble by the sayings of an old woman, supposed to be in league with the prince of darkness. A king and his army have been kept from battle by the movements of a harmless quadruped, or by the flight of a bird, unaware that before sunset it would be the eagle's portion. Other sovereigns have supported their tyranny over a down-trodden people by an arrogant pretension to an authority derived in a mysterious manner from another world.
Ancient historians date the commencement of monarchy in Scotland from Fergus I., who was crowned according to the superstitious custom of the age in which he reigned. He was seated on the fatal stone of destiny, to be afterwards described. Both before and after the introduction of Christianity into Scotland, not a freebooting excursion was undertaken before seeking a sign; not a friend was to be gained without asking the assistance of a generous spirit or fairy; and not an enemy to be overcome till the magicians and fortune-tellers secured the aid of unearthly creatures, either good or bad. When Natholocus's cruelty and oppression excited an insurrection, he had recourse to cunning people, supposed to be in league with Satan. He sent one of his particular friends to a distant island to an old woman, said to be skilled in necromancy, to inquire whether any of his courtiers were seeking his destruction. The sorceress, having consulted her familiar spirits, answered that Natholocus would die a violent death by the hand of one of his most intimate friends. On being pressed to disclose by whose hand the blow would be struck, she replied, "By thine own." The messenger reproached the woman, and told her that he entertained the greatest friendship for his master. He was afraid to tell Natholocus what the fortune-teller had said, and therefore entertained him with such false predictions as he knew would inspire confidence. For what reason we are not informed, but this is certain that the servant's friendship turned into hatred, and before long he verified the witch's prophecy.
Constantine, the son of Constantius Chlorus, being proclaimed his father's successor, caused Maxentius to declare war against Constantine. The latter, although a heathen, implored the true Deity to assist him. His prayers were heard. As he was marching with his army, about mid-day, he, and all who were with him, beheld in the heavens a bright cross of light, with an inscription over it, "By this, conquer." Constantine was greatly surprised at the vision, and the troops were equally astonished. On the following night a holy being appeared to him, and ordered him to make a representation of what he had seen in the sky, and use it for an ensign in battle. Next morning he called workers of fine material, and instructed them to make a standard according to tracings he prepared. It was made, adorned with gold and sparkling precious stones; and we scarcely require to say that Constantine was victorious when he fought under such a famous standard.
Queen Guanora, widow of Arthur, was, after the king's fall, about the middle of the sixth century, taken prisoner, and kept as such during the remainder of her life at Dunbar. She was buried at Meigle; and, if tradition can be trusted, every female walking over her grave is doomed to perpetual sterility. Speaking of the grave reminds us of a son of Clotaire, who was desirous of executing vengeance against his enemy Bason. He was prevented from doing so by the latter fleeing to St. Martin's Church for sanctuary. The prince, fearing that an invasion of the church would displease the saint, wrote a letter, and placed it on the glorified individual's tomb, requesting to be informed if he would be guilty of an outrage against religion were he to drag Bason from the church. For reasons best known to the saint, he did not return an answer. This mode of obtaining information may now be considered ridiculous; but it was not considered so, even in the Church, in the eighth century. After due inquiry and consideration, the second Council of Nice, in the year 787, declared that the Church had always believed it lawful and useful to invoke the intercession of departed saints, and to venerate their relics.
Duff, the son of Malcolm, having established Culen, son of Indulph, Prince of Cumberland, set out for the Hebrides, where great predatory disorders prevailed. He summoned the thanes of the isles to appear before him, and swore that if any of them should oppress the poorer inhabitants, he would visit the actors with condign punishment. His threats not being enough to deter the depredators, active measures were taken to punish the offenders. Meantime the king fell into a languid sickness, which baffled the skill of his physicians. A rumour was circulated that he was suffering under the incantations of certain far-famed witches at Forres. The report reaching the king's ears, he caused certain confidential servants to investigate the case secretly. Donevald, master of the fort at Forres, having learned that the bonne amie of a soldier there was the daughter of a witch, apprehended the damsel, and learned from her the whole secret concerning a diabolical plot to torture his Majesty. Means were taken to secure the wretches concerned when engaged in their devilish art. So carefully were the faithful servants' plans laid, that they could tell what part each traitorous one performed. While one of them turned, upon a wooden spit before the fire, a wax image of the king, fashioned as was supposed by Satan, another of them sang her charms, and poured a liquid slowly upon the image. According to the interpretation of these wicked women, the vocal charm kept his Majesty awake; that while the effigy was exposed to the fire and moistened with the liquor, he would sweat and consume away; and that when the image dissolved away, the king would cease to exist. The women declared they had been hired by the nobles of Murray—who were highly displeased at their king for oppressing them and compelling them to betake themselves to labour unsuitable to their rank—to perform the cruel acts. The implements of enchantment were destroyed, the witches burned, and the king recovered. This was but a mere respite to his Majesty: the friends upon whom he relied turned their hands against him, and before long his mangled body lay buried in the bed of the river Findhorn.
Elthus Alipes, or Swiftfoot, being a worthless prince, was confined in prison to the day of his death. Historians record many evil signs seen during his short reign—two years. An ominous comet, and shoals of monstrous fishes resembling human beings, swimming with half their bodies above the water, and having black skin covering their heads and necks, were among the portentous appearances. Spalding, in his history of the troubles of Scotland in his own time, describes a sea monster seen in the river Don in the month of June 1635. It had, says the historian, a head like a great mastiff dog, hands, arms, and breast like a man, short legs and a tail. Spalding concluded that the appearance of such a monster did not come as a sign of good to Aberdeen.
Kenneth III. became a victim to revenge, an inordinate taste for magnificence, and superstition. Kenneth, it appears, for reasons well pleasing to the Church, visited the shrine of St. Palladius at Fordun; and on returning home he fell into a snare laid for him. Around the castle of Fettercairn were grounds well stocked with beasts of chase, and there the king intended to indulge in the manly exercise of hunting. The owner of that place, Lady Fenella, a relative of Constantine and Grime, having a long deep-rooted hatred against Kenneth, conceived the design of bringing him to an untimely end. With this object in view, she built a grand tower, containing an infernal machine for throwing javelins or sharp-pointed lances at any one who should handle a golden apple, set with precious stones, held in the hand of a bronze statue of Kenneth that stood in the centre of a room. She invited him to become her guest—an invitation he accepted. After dinner, the perfidious woman conducted him into the tower, professedly to see and admire the exquisite furnishings with which it was decorated. In his fondness for grandeur, he lingered to admire the elegant figures and flowers; the rich tapestry, interwoven with gold; and the statue with its golden apple. Just at the moment the king's eyes rested on the statue, Fenella stepped forward and said, "Sire, this is a statue of your Majesty; I have given it the most adorned place in my castle, that all may perceive in what veneration I hold you. The apple you behold is intended as a present to you, beloved monarch—unworthy indeed of your acceptance, yet an expression of the good-will of the donor. The inserted gems are an emerald, a hyacinth, a sapphire, a topaz, a ruby, an azure, emitting an antidote against pestilence and deadly poison." Having thus excited the king's curiosity, she abruptly left the apartment, seemingly with the intention of bringing some other strange article for his inspection. Meantime Kenneth, left alone and charmed with the apple, commenced handling it. In an instant the secret machinery, being set in motion, discharged a shower of deadly darts against the king, who fell mortally wounded on the floor. The traitorous Fenella, rejoicing at her bloody cruelty, mounted a swift steed and fled far away before her act of treachery became known. Had she remained in Scotland, a cruel death would have been her doom, but she escaped to Ireland, and was lost sight of.
Fenella is reported as pointing out to the king pretended special virtues, to be found in the gems that ornamented the golden apple. And no doubt the credulous monarch believed what she said, because we have it on record, that not only in the tenth century, but long before and after it, both pagans and professing Christians believed that precious stones possessed greater virtues than even that which she ascribed to the settings of her golden apple.
The story of Macbeth and the three witches, noticed in chapter XVII., does not require to be repeated. Greater men than Macbeth were wont to consult fortune-tellers. A Druid told Alexander Severus that he would be unhappy. Vopiscus relates that the prince, having consulted the Gaulish Druids whether the empire should remain in his family, received the answer, that no name would be more glorious in the empire than that of the descendants of Claudius.
Titus Flavius Domitian, who commanded himself to be called by the names by which the Most High is known, and who passed the greatest part of his time in catching flies and killing them with a bodkin, became suspicious of his best friends, and his fears were increased by the predictions of astrologers. He was so frightened, that, to prevent sudden surprise, he caused a wall of shining stones to be built round the terrace where he usually walked, that he might perceive, as in a looking-glass, whether any one was approaching him. His precautions were unavailing: he perished by the hand of an assassin, as was foretold.
It is reported that St. John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, by order of the Emperor Domitian, but that he came out unhurt. He was then at Rome, and from thence he was banished to the Isle of Patmos.
Lucius Apuleius, a Platonic philosopher of the second century, having married a lady of fortune against the wish of her relatives, they pretended that he had made use of sorcery to gain her heart and money. He was dragged before Claudius Maximus, on the charge of being a magician. In his defence he said, "Do you wonder that a woman should marry again after living thirteen years a widow? It is much more wonderful that she did not marry sooner. You think that magic must have been employed to induce a widow of her age to marry a young man; on the contrary, this very circumstance shows how little occasion there was for magic." He continued: "She was neither handsome nor young, nor such as could in any way tempt him to have recourse to enchantments." He also took notice of many inconveniences which attended the marrying of widows, and spoke highly of the advantages of a maid over a widow. "A handsome virgin," said he, "let her be ever so poor, is abundantly portioned; she brings to her husband a heart quite new, together with the flowers and first fruits of her beauty. It was with great reason," he argued, "that husbands set so great value upon virginity; all the other goods which a woman brought her husband were of such a nature that he might return them if he had a mind, but the flowers of virginity could not be given back; they remained in the possession of the first husband." Through his eloquence he escaped punishment, and the odium of being branded a sorcerer.
Maximus, the celebrated cynic philosopher and magician of Ephesus, instructed the Emperor Julian in magic. Certain historians say it was through his teaching that the apostacy of Julian originated. When the emperor went in search of conquests, the magician promised him success, and even predicted that his triumphs would be more numerous and brilliant than those of Alexander. After the death of Julian, Maximus was nearly sacrificed by the soldiers, but his friends succeeded in saving his life. He retired to Constantinople. Subsequently he was accused of magical practices before the Emperor, and beheaded at Ephesus in the year 366.
Louis XI. and the Astrologer—A King's Enchanted Cap—David I. and the Mysterious Stag—Merlin the Magician—Prophecies concerning Queen Elizabeth and Mary—Merlin's Mother—His mysterious Birth—Dragon Caverns—Predictions of Evil—Strange Sights and Sounds in the Air—Changing a King's Love—The Holy Maid of Kent—Nobles put to Death for keeping company with Sorcerers—James I. of England and the Witches—His Queen in Danger—Marriage of the King and Queen—Tranent Witches and Warlocks—Wise Wife of Keith—Engagements to serve the Devil—Satan's Respect of Persons—Two Hundred Witches sailing in Sieves—Mischief at Sea—Raising Storms at Sea—Witch and Warlock Convention at Newhaven—Meeting of Witches at North Berwick—Dead Men's Joints used for Magical Purposes—Witches tortured in Holyrood—The Devil's Mark—Strange Confessions—Bothwell's Fortune told—Witches and their Associates burned.
An astrologer told Louis XI. that a lady to whom he was fondly attached would die in a few days, and the prediction was fulfilled. The king caused the astrologer to be brought before him in an upper chamber, and commanded the royal servants to throw the prophet out of the window on a certain signal being given. As soon as the astrologer was dragged before the king, the latter said, "You who pretend to be a foreteller of events, and know so exactly the fate of others, tell me instantly when and in what way your end will come." "Sire," replied the astrologer, knowing he had much to fear, but without displaying alarm, "I shall die just three days before your Majesty." On hearing this the king's countenance changed from rage to concern, if not alarm; and instead of giving the signal of death, he dismissed the astrologer in peace, heaped honours on him, and took special care to prolong his life.
King Erricus of Sweden publicly confessed that he was a magician. He had an enchanted cap, which he pretended enabled him to control spirits, and to turn the wind into any direction he pleased. So firmly did his subjects believe in his supernatural powers, that when a storm arose they would exclaim, "Ah! the king has got on his magic cap."
David I. founded the abbey of Holyrood. By tradition we are informed that, in the year 1128, he, while out hunting in the royal forest near Edwinsburg, was miraculously delivered from a stag at bay by the interposition of an arm, wreathed in smoke, brandishing a cross of the most dazzling brilliancy. At the sight of it the stag fled. The cross remained as a celestial relic in the royal hand. In consideration of this deliverance, strengthened by a vision, the foundations of Holyrood were laid. The same tradition further tells us that the miraculous cross was enshrined in silver, and placed on the high altar, where it remained until the fatal battle of Durham, when David II. was captured with his cross and crown.
Merlin was a noted magician and astrologer, who prophesied many things that came to pass in England hundreds of years after his death. Prophesying of the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and Mary, he says:
"Then shall the masculine sceptre cease to sway, And to a spinster the whole land obey; Who to the Papal monarchy shall restore All that the Ph[oe]nix had fetched thrice before. Then shall come in the faggot and the stake, And they of convert bodies bonfires make; Match shall this lioness with Caesar's son, From the Pontific sea a pool shall run, That wide shall spread its waters, and to a flood In time shall grow, made red with martyrs' blood. Men shall her short unprosp'rous reign deplore, By loss at sea, and damage to the shore; Whose heart being dissected, you in it May in large characters find Calice writ."
Those acquainted with the history of Queen Mary's time, can have no difficulty in discovering the circumstances to which the several prophetic sayings refer; nor can they fail to be satisfied that the following lines apply to Queen Elizabeth, and the state of England at the time she swayed the sceptre:
"From th' other ashes shall a Ph[oe]nix rise, Whose birth is thus predicted by the wise; Her chief predominant star is Mercury, Jove shall with Venus in conjunction be. And Sol, with them, shine in his best aspect; With Ariadne's crown, Astrea deckt, Shall then descend upon this terrene stage: (Not seen before since the first golden age). Against whom all the Latian bulls shall roar, But at Jove's awful summons shall give o'er. Through many forges shall this metal glide, Like gold by fire re-pured, and seven times try'd, Her bright and glorious sunbeams shall expel The vain clouds of the candle, book, and bell. Domestic plots, and stratagems abroad, French machines, and the Italianated god, The Spanish engine, Portuguized Jew, The Jesuitic mine, and politic crew Of home-bred vipers: let their menaces come By private pistol, or by hostile drum; Though all these dogs chase her with open cry, Live shall she, lov'd and fear'd, then sainted die."
Merlin's early history was as strange as his prophecies were singular. For reasons best known to herself, his mother refused to reveal his father's name. She was daughter of King Demetrius, who reigned about two hundred years after Christianity was introduced into England. King Vortigern was obliged to fly into Wales from the fury of Hengist, and, fearing that he would be pursued thither, commenced building a stronghold on the Welsh soil. Though the ground appeared to be firm, it turned out that every stone laid sank suddenly into the ground. With the intention of discovering the cause of this mystery, the king sent for his wizards and bards. After consultation, the wise men informed him that his castle could never be built until the stones were cemented with the blood of a male child begotten without a father. The king, believing what he was told, sent his servants to search for such a child. On their way the messengers arrived at Marlborough, where they observed two boys fighting. One of these was young Merlin, whom they heard taunted by his youthful antagonist of being an imp that never had a father. This was enough: Merlin and his mother were seized and carried before the king.
In answer to the king's inquiries, the mother, not knowing the danger to which she was exposing little Merlin, told him that her boy never had a father. Her tale was believed; but Vortigern had compassion on the youth, who was fair and comely, and not only spared his life, but took him into his house. When Merlin learned all the particulars regarding the mysterious disappearance of the foundation stones, and the charm proposed by the wizards and bards, he told the king that his wise men were alike destitute of learning and natural penetration. "Know," said he, "that under the ground where your Majesty intends to build your castle is a deep lake, which has swallowed up all your building materials, and that under the water there are two stone caverns which contain two dragons. Dig deep into the earth, and you will discover that what I have said is true," concluded Merlin. The king commanded that a search, such as the youth had recommended, should be commenced under his (Merlin's) directions. Means were taken to drain the lake, which was discovered without difficulty, and, true enough, two horrible dragons were found. On the caverns being opened, the monsters, one red and the other white, rushed at each other. A terrible conflict took place between them, ending in the red dragon's death.
Merlin, in reply to the king's inquiries as to what all this portended, informed his Majesty that evil days were drawing near—that the time was not far distant when the Britons would be compelled to fly before the Saxons, and seek refuge among the caves and mountains of the earth, and that many of them would perish, for the red dragon signified the Britons, and the white monster the Saxons. But he assured the king that the Saxons would not always triumph, as a boar would come from the forest and devour the white dragon. Merlin predicted for Vortigern disappointments, defeats, and at last a miserable death, all of which came to pass.
It is reported of Merlin, that after King Vortigern was driven from power, he sought to amuse him in his solitude by bringing strange sights before his eyes, and causing pleasant sounds to salute his ears. The king supposed he heard melodious music in the air, and imagined that shepherds and shepherdesses, in rustic costume, danced before him. At times eagles and falcons were seen pursuing their prey; and whatever bird the king wished for his dinner, fell down dead, as if shot by a fowler. Hares and hounds were also made to appear in the clouds, for the king's amusement. On his castle-tower he could stand and watch a stag hunt with all the vividness of an ordinary chase. Merlin professed to have the power of transforming a man into a beast, and of making a man or woman look like a wild animal.
In the year 1474 the Duchess of Bedford was charged with having, by the aid of an image of lead made like a maid, turned the love of King Edward IV. from Dame Elianor Butteler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, to whom he was affianced, and transferred the royal affections to her own daughter.
The Holy Maid of Kent, a nun of great sanctity, having, according to common belief in the time of Henry VIII., the gift of prophecy, and the power of working miracles, pronounced the doom of speedy death against that monarch for his marriage with Anne Boleyn. She was attainted in Parliament, and, along with several accomplices, executed. So extraordinary were her miracles, and her predictions so striking, that even Sir Thomas More believed in her.
In the year 1521 the Duke of Buckingham was put to death in consequence of certain actions he was guilty of in conjunction with a magician; and in 1541 Lord Hungerford was beheaded for inquiring at fortune-tellers how long Henry VIII. would be king. In 1562 the Earl and Countess of Lennox were found guilty of treason, and of holding intercourse with sorcerers.
The story of King James VI. of Scotland and I. of England, and the witches who attempted to drown him and his queen at sea, enables us to judge of the credulity of the age in which this Solomon lived. The king having resolved to marry, sought the hand of Princess Anne of Denmark. In the month of July 1589 the Earl Marischal was despatched to Copenhagen with a suitable retinue to conclude the match. He found the Court of Denmark ready to listen to his proposals, and the lady so willing to comply, that little time was lost in arranging the match. Hasty preparations were made, and the marriage was solemnised by proxy. A fleet of twelve sail was fitted out to convey the young queen to Scotland. Through unforeseen circumstances, the queen's departure was long after the time originally intended. At last the fleet sailed; and it encountered such a fearful storm, that the ships were driven back to the coast of Norway. Owing to the lateness of the season, and the disabled state of the vessels, it was resolved that the queen should not again expose herself to the dangers of an angry sea that season.
When news reached the king of his queen's unfortunate misadventure, he resolved to proceed on a voyage of discovery in search of her. On the 22nd of October he embarked at Leith, taking with him his chancellor, chaplain, and a few courtiers. After a stormy passage of five days the king landed at Upsal, where the queen was waiting. On the 23rd of November the king and princess were married in a more solemn manner than they had been some time previously by proxy, and they went to Copenhagen to spend the winter. In Denmark the king spoke learnedly to the great men of the state, whom he convinced of his superior knowledge: he disputed on predestination and other favourite topics. After six months delay, he departed for his kingdom, and on May-day 1590, he, his youthful bride, and splendid train arrived in Leith.
The coronation ceremony, performed with great solemnity, was gone through on the 17th of May at Holyrood House. After three sermons, the queen's shoulders and part of her breast were uncovered, and the holy oil poured thereon, subsequent to which the crown was put on her head. On the Tuesday following the queen made her public entrance into Edinburgh, where she was received with extraordinary marks of rejoicing. At the city gate a municipal orator greeted her Majesty with an address in Latin, and then from a gilded globe, resting over the gate, a little fellow, representing an angel, descended and delivered to the queen the keys of the city.
James was convinced that the storms which kept him and his queen so long from meeting were the results of diabolical agencies. After his return to Scotland, suspicion fell on a dangerous gang of witches and warlocks at Tranent, and the king resolved to inquire into the whole case, with the laudable design of getting rid of such wicked subjects should he find them guilty. A man named David Seytoun, who held the appointment of deputy bailiff of Tranent, had a young female servant named Geillis Duncan, celebrated among the town's people for her skill in curing diseases. Seytoun, becoming suspicious that she was in league with Satan, questioned her closely without receiving satisfactory answers. Not to be defeated, he first put her to the torture, which he thought he had a right to do in virtue of his office, and then searched her person for devil's marks. One of those sure tokens of witchcraft being found on her throat, she was committed to prison. There she made a full confession, in which many persons were implicated. She admitted that the cures effected by her were brought about by means of witchcraft.
Of those said to have been associated with this woman in her guilty deeds, the most noted were Dr. John Fian, sometimes called John Cunningham, and three women, named Agnes Sampsoun, Euphame Mackalzeane, and Barbara Napier. Fian was a schoolmaster at Tranent, a small town on the south side of the Firth of Forth, and about nine miles east of Edinburgh. He admitted that he was an agent of the evil one. One night, he said, the devil appeared to him, and induced him to become his servant, under the promise that he would never want if he served him faithfully and well. The offer being tempting, the unscrupulous doctor became an instrument of evil. That there might be no mistake about the bargain, the devil put his mark on Fian's person. From that time the doctor was a sorcerer: he was often carried away in the night to visit distant places of the world, and was present at, and took part in, all the nightly meetings of witches held in the Lothians. He rose so high in the devil's favour, that he was appointed registrar and secretary of the conventions. One night Fian was carried through the air to North Berwick, where he found a number of witches and sorcerers assembled listening to Satan preaching to them from a pulpit. He implored them to give up all slavish fears of him; promised them great rewards so long as they were his servants, and assured them, that so long as they had hairs on their bodies they would receive no injury. He exhorted them to do all the evil they could, and to eat and drink and be merry. One night when Fian was riding home along a dreary road, in danger of losing his way, Satan came to his assistance, and put four candles on the horse's ears, which enabled the traveller and his servant to see as well as if it were day.
The three women mentioned occupied good places in society. Agnes Sampsoun was known as the wise wife of Keith; she, too, had knowledge of the healing art. In her confession she said that, after her husband's death, the devil appeared to her and offered her great riches if she would abandon all that was good, and serve him, the lover of evil. At times Satan appeared as a man, but more frequently like a black dog. On one occasion, when she was attending Lady Edmestoune, who was unwell, the devil came to her at night in the shape of a dog, and informed her that the lady would die. He then inquired where the lady's daughters were, for he wanted to have one of them. The witch, however, protested against such an outrage as the carrying away of a dying lady's daughter, and the dog went away howling into a well in the garden. At a later hour that night, when the young ladies were walking in the orchard, the evil one, disguised as before, rushed at them, seized one of them, and attempted to drag her into the well. Agnes, seeing this, laid hold of the lady, and sent the dog away howling. On another occasion Agnes and other witches wanted assistance from Satan at the bridge of Faulstruther, and, to secure this, they threw a cord into the river while some magical words were being repeated. Presently the devil seized the end of the cord that was in the water, and they drew him to land. After an assurance from them that they had been good servants to him, he gave them a charm by which they could perform wonderful works.
Euphame Mackalzeane was the daughter of Lord Cliftounhall. It would appear that when this lady bore her first child, she consulted Agnes Sampsoun as to how she could best get rid of her pains, which she dreaded much. Agnes, willing to relieve the amiable lady of every pang nature was prone to, transferred the pains to a dog. Time passed on, and another child was about to be brought into the world by Euphame Mackalzeane. Agnes was again called in, and the pains were conveyed to a cat.
Barbara Napier was of a respectable family also, but nearly all the other associates in their guilt were in poverty. Satan, like human beings on earth, made more of the rich than of the poor; for while he assigned exalted places to Dr. Fian and the ladies of birth, he appointed a poor peasant, called Grey Meal, to be doorkeeper at the witches' meetings.
More than one of the witches said that on Hallow-eve upwards of two hundred witches went to sea in riddles or sieves, and that, notwithstanding their perforated vessels, they were quite dry and comfortable, faring on the best food, and drinking the richest wines. At another time, Dr. Fian, Agnes Sampsoun, one Robert Griersoun, and others, left Prestonpans in a boat, proceeded to a ship at sea, went on board and made merry on good wine, after which they sank the vessel with all her crew. Dr. Fian stated, on being put to the torture, that Satan had told him and others, before the event, that he would make a hole in the queen's ship on the way from Denmark, and force her to return to her own country. Having intelligence that the queen was at sea, they held a meeting at Broomhills, where it was resolved they should go out to the ocean and raise a storm, to endanger her Majesty's life. They took steps accordingly, and threw a dog into the water, whereby the wind became boisterous, the sea rose, and the ships were damaged. Other diabolical means were resorted to, to endanger the queen's fleet. A meeting of witches was held at Prestonpans, when the following ceremonies were gone through:—First, one of the witches held a finger on the one side of the chimney crook, and another witch put one of her fingers on the other side; then they put a cat three times through or under the links of the crook; they next tied four joints of dead men's fingers to the four feet of the cat; and then the animal was conveyed to Leith pier and thrown into the water. Cats were also thrown into the sea at other places on the Firth of Forth. By these means a dreadful storm was raised, which wrecked many ships—amongst them the ferry-boat sailing between Leith and Kinghorn, with all on board. The fiendish crew, disappointed at the safety of the queen, determined to endeavour to drown the king. More cats were cast into the sea during his Majesty's voyage to Denmark; but all infernal arts proved ineffectual, as the king had a charmed life. Prior to their Majesties' return, another convention was held, at which Satan himself was present. He promised to raise a mist when the royal ships were coming home, which would cause them to land in England. According to Dr. Fian, the devil threw something like a foot-ball into the sea. This caused a dense fog to rise; yet, in spite of all their plans, James and his queen arrived safe in Leith.
Not long afterwards, more plots were entered into with the view of doing harm to the king. On Lammas-eve a grand convention was held at the Fairyhills, Newhaven, at which were present thirty of the principal witches and sorcerers in the country. The devil, the presiding genius, expressed a fear that their designs would be frustrated unless unusual measures were resorted to. He promised to give them an image of wax; and directed them to hang up and roast a toad, and then to lay the drippings of the toad mixed with wine, an adder's skin, and a certain part of the forehead of a newly-foaled foal, in the way where the king was to pass, or to hang the preparation in a position where it might drop on his body. These plans again miscarried; for the king escaped the dangers of them all.
At Hallow-eve of the year 1590 there was a meeting of witches and sorcerers, including those already named, in the church of North Berwick. According to all accounts, three hundred women and a few men were present. They danced across the churchyard; and when they reached the church door the women first paid their homage, turning six times round widderschinnes, and, following them, the men performed the same ceremony nine times. The devil, it was seriously asserted, took his place in the pulpit, around which old-like men, holding black candles in their hands, stood. Satan appeared as a black man, with a beard like that of a goat and a nose resembling a hawk's beak, and having on a black gown, and a black skull-cap on his head, and he read from a black book the names of those summoned to the meeting. The names, however, were not the real or proper names of the persons, but nicknames, by which they were known in the gang. The devil exhorted his hearers to pursue a course of evil, and assured them that the more mischief they did to mankind, the better he would be pleased with them. After their master's address, loud revelling was indulged in. Graves were opened, and the joints of two dead men taken out for magical purposes.
When information reached the king's ears of the doings of this wicked crew, he resolved to inquire into the case himself. Dr. Fian and a good many witches were tortured in Holyrood House, in presence of James, who took great delight in listening to their forced false confessions. Agnes Sampsoun was stripped naked, that the devil's mark might be discovered; but as it could not at first be seen, her body was shaved, that what was looked for might not pass unnoticed. Of course it was found, and the unfortunate woman confessed her guilt. She said that Bothwell had consulted her as to the length of time the king was to live. She had a spirit that regularly attended her in the form of a dog, and it told her that in consequence of his Majesty's piety and wisdom he was proof against incantations. The notorious sorcerer Richard Graham confessed that the Earl of Bothwell had asked him for supernatural assistance to hasten the king's death. He said Bothwell had informed him that it had been predicted by a necromancer in Italy that he (Bothwell) would become rich and powerful; that he would slay two men; and would be accused before the king for two capital crimes, but would be forgiven for the one, but not for the other. Bothwell was satisfied that up to the time he consulted Graham the prophecy was fulfilled; and now, he said, the time was come for either him or the king being despatched. Barbara Napier, a witch against whom James had a bitter feeling, was acquitted, on her trial, by the jury, very much to the king's annoyance. Dr. Fian, Agnes Sampsoun, Euphame Mackalzeane, and many of their associates in supposed guilt, after mock trials, were burned.
Cromwell in league with the Devil—Cromwell consulting Astrologers—Memorable Days in the Life of Cromwell—Singular Narrative—Duke of Hamilton warned of his Fate—Peden's Predictions—Traditions concerning Peden—John Brown the Martyr—Linlithgow Loch Swans—Hereford Children—Great Comet—Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter at Eventful Periods—Solomon's Power over Evil Spirits and over the Beasts of the Field.
Fabulous relations are given in connection with the career of Cromwell. We are told he was in league with the devil, to whom he sold himself for a brief period of power among a people whom he ruled with a rod of iron, and trampled their rulers under his feet. That Cromwell used to consult astrologers, there can be little doubt. He was accustomed to obtain advice from Lilly, the wizard, before entering into any important engagement. In particular, he sought the assistance of Lilly before he entered Parliament, and when he besieged Dunkirk. The 3rd of September was a memorable day in the life of Cromwell, for on a 3rd of September he fought his two most famous battles, and on a 3rd of September he yielded up the ghost—circumstances that gave colour to the reports circulated concerning the help and protection he received from Satan. Colonel Lindsay was responsible for the extraordinary stories spread abroad affecting the character of the dictator. From the colonel's statement, it appears that on the morning of the 3rd September 1651, the day on which the battle of Worcester was fought and the forces of Charles II. were routed, Cromwell and Lindsay entered a dark wood near the battlefield. Lindsay, unaware of the object Cromwell had in view in being in such a gloomy place, and thinking he perceived something strange in the appearance of his leader, was seized with horror and trembling, which prevented him going farther. Cromwell proceeded a short distance alone. He was met by an old man with a roll of parchment in his hand, which he gave to Cromwell, who perused it carefully. An altercation took place between Cromwell and the old man or devil, during which Lindsay heard Cromwell say, "This is but for seven years; I was to get twenty-one." The being to whom he spoke, replied that only seven years could be given. Cromwell, modifying his demands, craved fourteen years, but the old man was inexorable. "Seven years, and no more," he sternly replied. And the document, whatever was its real meaning or tendency, was signed by the two parties, with the "seven years" undeleted. As soon as the signatures were adhibited, Cromwell hastily returned to Lindsay, standing in amazement, and said with great emotion, "Now the battle is ours!" Cromwell and Lindsay were soon at their posts in the field, the former resolute and hopeful, the latter dismayed and irresolute. To retain his proper place in the field was Lindsay's intention; but after the first charge his courage forsook him, and he fled as fast as his charger could carry him, although no man pursued. The king's troops were beaten, leaving Cromwell master of the position. Prior to the result of the day's engagement being communicated by mortal man to Lindsay, he made known to a clergyman what had taken place in the morning, finishing his statement in these words: "I am sure the king's forces are beaten, and I am certain Cromwell will die this day seven years, for he has sold himself to the devil, who will not fail to claim him then."
Ever after this memorable day, Cromwell regarded the 3rd of September auspicious to him, as well he might; for in addition to the events at Worcester, it was on the same day of that month, in 1650, that he gained the battle of Dunbar. Years rolled on, in the course of which Cromwell encountered numerous dangers, and escaped conspiracies and plots, provoked by serious crimes, yet he survived to breathe his last on downy pillows, on the anniversary of his great triumphs at Dunbar and Worcester. Neither the clang of swords nor the roar of guns disturbed his last moments, but a dreadful commotion raged all around. Nature seemed to have lashed itself into a rage: a high wind, such as had never been heard before by the oldest inhabitants, unroofed houses on land, and caused wrecks at sea. In the midst of the tempest were heard shrieks, not of men, but of spirits revelling in the gale, as it carried destruction and death over the country. Notwithstanding Cromwell's body being embalmed and put into a leaden coffin, the stench therefrom became so insufferable, that the remains had to be immediately consigned to the grave, and afterwards the funeral ceremonies were performed over an empty coffin,—so at least says Echard, on whose authority we give the foregoing particulars concerning the Lord Protector. Though Cromwell's dust was interred in Westminster, it was not permitted to rest there. In January 1661, on the anniversary of the death of Charles I., his decayed body was disinterred and conveyed to Tyburn, where it was hanged on a gallows, then cut down, and the trunk cast into a pit, while the head was set up on a pole at Westminster Hall.
The Duke of Hamilton, who was executed in the year 1649, was warned of his fate by a witch. She said the king would be put to death, and that he would be his successor. This prediction being delivered somewhat ambiguously, Hamilton misunderstood its meaning. His impression was that he was to obtain the crown (which led him to act treacherously towards his Majesty), whereas the beldam meant that he would succeed the king on the scaffold.
Peden, one of the celebrated Covenanters, who was persecuted for righteousness' sake, foretold many of the woes that Scotland would pass through before the Church could have peace. The good old man died a natural death in his bed, and his bones were decently interred by the Boswells of Auchinleck in their family vault, under the deep shadows of wide spreading plane-trees. This honour coming to the ears of the soldiers in the garrison of Sorn, forty days after the interment, they cruelly rifled the tomb of its dead. There is a tradition in the district to the present day, that when the soldiers burst open the coffin and tore off the shroud, there came a sudden blast like a whirlwind, though the day had previously been without a breath of stirring air, which caught up the shroud, and twisted it round a large projecting branch of one of the plane-trees. From that day the branch withered away, and remained, for ages like a black shrivelled arm uplifted to heaven, as a protest against the sacrilegious crime. This is only one of the many wondrous tales concerning Peden, who was known far and wide as "The Prophet." Peden's remains were carried to the hill above Cumnock, where the common gallows stood, and there, in spite of the remonstrances of the Boswells and the Countess of Dumfries, suspended on the gibbet. When cut down, the body was interred, like that of a felon, at the foot of the gallows-tree. At that time the churchyard of Cumnock was in the town, but the old residenters, generation after generation, on seeing their end approaching, desired to be buried beside the old prophet. Thus the gallows-hill of Cumnock became the ordinary burying-ground of the town. Two old thorn bushes mark the spot where the prophet's ashes rest, in the midst of the remains of those he loved while in the land that groaned under the despotic sway of relentless tyrants.
Though Peden died, as we have stated, a natural death, he suffered great persecution in his life on account of his religion. His persecutors, who often pursued him as a beast of prey, at last seized him, confined him a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle, immured him in a dungeon on the Bass Rock, and sentenced him, along with sixty others, to banishment in America, then a penal settlement. Chained together, Peden and his companions were marched to Leith, and conveyed on board a ship for London, from thence to be taken to Virginia. Seeing his companions in bonds dejected, Peden shouted out to them, in presence and hearing of their guard, "Fear not, brethren, the ship is not yet built that will take us either to Virginia or any foreign plantation." Uneasiness was felt on board the ship, in consequence of a report being spread among the prisoners that thumbkins and other instruments of torture were to be used to them as implements of punishment. Peden assured his fellow-passengers that their fears were groundless, for, said he, neither thumbkins nor bodkins would hurt them. A tedious voyage of a fortnight brought them to London. When they were about to be put on board the vessel that was to carry them to Virginia, the captain of the foreign ship, discovering the character of those intended to be banished, declared that no authority in the world would compel him to go to sea with them. As another ship could not be procured, the prisoners were set at liberty, as Peden predicted. Fortunately for the discharged persons, they were befriended by Lord Shaftesbury, an ancestor of the present Lord Shaftesbury, who, along with other friends, provided for their immediate wants.
One morning, while Peden was at his devotions, a young girl fourteen years old began to mock him. The good man, turning an eye of pity on her, said, "Poor thing, thou laughest and mockest, but a sudden and surprising judgment on thee will soon stay the laughter of many." This was when he was in confinement on the Bass Rock. Shortly afterwards a swift gust of wind swept her into the sea, where she was lost.
Alexander (this was his Christian name) Peden said to a brother and sister during his last illness, "You will all be displeased at the place where I shall be buried at last. I could have wished to lie in the grave of my beloved Richard Cameron; but I shall not be allowed to rest where you lay me, though my bones shall at last be glorified."
Peden foretold the early and violent death of the martyr John Brown. Addressing Mrs. Brown one day, he said, "Isabel, you have got a good man to be your husband, but you will not enjoy him long; prize his company, and keep linen beside you for his winding sheet, for you will need it when you are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one." Brown had a presentiment, too, that his end would be a tragical one. The end did come early. Claverhouse, who had been searching for him as well as for several other Covenanters, suddenly surprised him one morning, and ordered the dragoons to bring him in front of his (Brown's) house, where stood his weeping wife and helpless children. "Go to your prayers," shouted Claverhouse, "for immediately you shall die." Mrs. Brown exclaimed, "This is the day I have expected;" and Brown, while addressing a few farewell words to his beloved spouse, said calmly, "Isabel, this is what I told you of before we were married." Mrs. Brown was dragged from the side of her husband, who stood resigned to his fate. "Fire!" cried Claverhouse, and instantly the martyr fell, pierced through by half a dozen bullets.
According to Wodrow, the Scottish historian, the swans which were on Linlithgow Loch when the English obtained the mastery in Scotland, disappeared. On the king's return, the swans came back. Their flight was considered to foreshadow evil to the royal family, and their reappearance was regarded as a happy omen.
So great was the consternation caused about the middle of the seventeenth century by prodigious apparitions, that lamentations were heard in every dwelling. Women who were with child brought forth prematurely. At Hereford the town-clerk's wife bore three children at a birth, who, we are told, had all teeth, and spoke immediately after they were born. One said, "The day is appointed that no man can shun;" another asked, "Who will be sufficient to bury the dead?" and a third predicted that "there will not be enough of corn to feed the hungry." Each having thus expressed himself, expired.
In the year 1680 a great comet appeared, striking every beholder with awe. The terror partly arose from the fact that Kepler, the astronomer, had calculated that the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Leo, which happens only once in eight hundred years, and which took place at the time of the appearance of this comet, would have an evil influence on the Romish Church. The consternation was increased by mathematicians declaring that the comet was six times longer than that which portended the death of Pope Alexander VII. These conjunctions were believed to have been always attended with important circumstances on earth. Tycho Brahe reckoned them thus:—The first, he said, was under Enoch; the second under Noah; the third under Moses; the fourth under Solomon; the fifth under a greater than Solomon; the sixth under Charlemagne, when the Romans were subdued; and the seventh conjunction was at the time first mentioned. Those who have made themselves acquainted with the cruel persecutions in the year 1680 and subsequent years, will not refuse to admit that, whether Kepler did or did not know beforehand through astronomical calculations what dire calamities were to take place on account of truth, his words prepared many for coming danger, and emboldened them to struggle on until Protestantism triumphed over Papacy.
In the Day of Rest for September 1877 we find the following statement relative to Solomon:—"Eastern traditions inform us that Solomon possessed the secret power of expelling demons; that he composed spells by which diseases were removed; and that he left behind him exorcisms by which devils were driven away, never to return. In wild exaggerated stories in the Talmud, Solomon is credited with having dominion over the wild beasts, and over the birds of heaven, and over the creeping beasts of earth, and over all devils and spirits of darkness. He understood the languages of them all, and they understood him. On one occasion, proceeds the legend, when the wise king's heart was influenced with wine, he commanded that all the wild beasts, birds, and creeping things of earth, and also the devils and spirits of darkness, should be gathered together, that they might dance before him. And what is most wonderful, if the Rabbis lie not, every one that was summoned appeared before Solomon, and took part in the great dance."
Druids laid claim to Supernatural Power—Functions exercised by Druids—Representations of the Sun and Moon—Belief of Druids—Beltane Feasts—Arkite and Sabian Superstition—Dancing to the Song of the Cuckoo—Holy Liquor—Initiation into the Druidical Mysteries—The Goodmane's Land and the Guidman's Fauld—Places frequented by Fairies—Good Manes gave Plentiful Crops—Offerings to Demi-gods—Propitiating Beasts of Prey—Sacred Cairns—Trees dedicated to Demons—Law forbidding Worship of the Sun, Moon, Fire, Rivers, Wells, Stones, or Forest Trees—Extracts from Kirk-Session Records—Land dedicated to Satan—Midsummer and Hallow Fires forbidden—Yule-day, how kept—Order of the General Assembly as to Druidical Customs at the Fires at Beltane, Midsummer, Hallow-e'en, and Yule—Old Customs ordered to be discontinued.
In our introduction to The Poets and Superstition we noticed briefly particular classes of Druids—the Bardi and Vates. We now proceed to give fuller details of the Druids, a class of people who played a not unimportant part among the nations in olden times. There were male and female Druids; the latter generally called Druides. Both the men and women laid claim to supernatural power and knowledge.
The Druids were expert at legerdemain, and, by their astonishing exploits, sustained among an ignorant people a reputation of being magicians. They devoted much time to the study of astrology, observing closely the heavenly bodies, through which they pretended they could predict events kept secret from ordinary mortals. The Druids exercised the functions of magistrates, priests, teachers, and physicians. As judges, their authority was unlimited; they desired the people to believe that not only had they the power of imposing punishment in this world, but that they might sentence offenders to torment in the world beyond the grave.
The Arch-Druid wore a gold chain round his neck, from which was suspended a gold plate, having engraved thereon, "The gods require sacrifice," and on the front of the Druid's cap was a golden representation of the sun, and a silver representation of a half moon.
They believed in one supreme being; supposed that the soul was immortal; and thought the spirit of man began to exist in the meanest insect, and that it proceeded through the lower orders of existence, rising at every new birth until it reached the human body. When the soul animated the human form, a knowledge of good and evil dawned upon the being, who then became responsible for the thoughts and actions of life. If one chose evil instead of good, the soul, it was asserted, went after death into an inferior grade of animal life, low in proportion to the sinfulness of that existence. Those who chose the better part became at last so exalted that evil had no power over them, and they were happy for ever and ever. It was also believed that the beatified soul retained the love of its country and relations, and that the spirits of the good sometimes returned to earth, and became prophets among mankind, that they might assist in teaching divine things, and oppose the evil one.
The Druids were worshippers of Bel, Beal, Bealan, from whence come the Beltane or Bealteine feasts, of which they observed four of considerable importance every year, viz. those of May-eve, Midsummer-eve, and of the eve of the 1st of November, and of the eve of the 10th of March. With Druidical religious rites were blended Arkite and Sabian superstition. Dancing round the May-pole, old authors say, took its rise from the Druidical custom of dancing on the green to the song of the cuckoo. Taliesin, the Druidical bard, informs us that those who joined in the mystical movements went according to the course of the sun, as they attached much importance to the ceremony of going three times round their sacred circle from the east to west. At the celebration of sacred mysteries there was a caldron for the preparation of a decoction from plants held in high esteem. This liquor being holy, possessed rare virtues, one of which was the power of inspiring those who partook thereof, or to whom it was applied. The caldron was kept boiling a year and a day. During this time, at certain hours and under particular planets, plants possessed of peculiar properties were collected and added to the caldron's contents.
Not only did the sacred liquor, properly applied, enable one to see into futurity, but it was supposed to confer immortality on those who bathed in it. Further, by its application, the dead might have been brought to life again. All the sacred utensils and the company assembled at mystical feasts were purified with the decoction.
Initiation into the Druidical mysteries was something dreadful. None but those of strong nerve could successfully pass through the ordeal, all of which took place at night. Every one admitted into the fraternity bound himself by a solemn oath, like a freemason, not to commit to writing or divulge the secrets revealed to him.
In various parts of the country there were "the goodmane's land and the guidman's fauld," to cultivate which it was supposed would be followed by dire calamities. These places were, according to popular opinion, frequented by fairies and other supernatural beings. Music was often heard, and dancing seen, at such places. There, too, people are reported to have been enticed into subterranean abodes, and retained for years. Places dedicated to gods and demi-gods lay uncultivated, though the surrounding ground bore good crops. For these acts of self-denial in permitting ground to remain waste which might have been producing good fruit, "the good neighbours" sent untold-of blessings. To secure prosperity, goodmanes attached themselves to deserving persons and families, making their crops plentiful, causing their cows to have calves, and giving milk in abundance. We have an account of how offerings were presented to those demi-gods at stated occasions. The people made a circle on the ground, in which they kindled a fire, and then cooked a mess, consisting of milk, butter, eggs, and meal, for the beings whose favour they desired to secure for the first time, or whose continued good service was wished. Cakes were baked and offered to the manes in this manner: piece after piece was broken off the cake or bannock and thrown over the left shoulder, while the desire was expressed aloud, that those to whom the offering was made would preserve the cattle, horses, and other animals and substance from the power of evil spirits. In the same way, or after a fashion somewhat similar, beasts of prey were propitiated.
Then there were sacred cairns, consisting of stones thrown together by passers by, every one adding his stone. If any one removed these cairns, or part thereof, superstitious people predicted evil to the spoiler. The late Rev. James Rust, in his Druidism Exhumed, mentions that circles stood on the spot where one of the extensive manufactories at Grandholm, near Aberdeen, has been built. The people, shocked at the removal of the Druidical works, predicted retributive justice to those who disturbed the sacred relics. For a long time every misadventure to the company, or to individuals connected therewith, was attributed to the sacrilegious action.
Trees were sometimes dedicated to demons. The people worshipped such trees, holding them in the highest esteem that any earthly thing could be regarded. It was a capital offence to cut off a branch or shoot from one of them. King Cnut passed a law forbidding the worship of the sun, moon, fire, rivers, wells, stones, or forest trees of any kind.
Mr. Rust gives the following extracts from the Kirk Session records of the parish of Slains, which bear upon Druidical superstitions:—
"18th November 1649.—The sd day the Minister and Elderis being conveinit in Sessione ... the Minister askit at ye Elderis for delationes, and desyrit them to try if yer was aney hallowe fyres set on be aney of the parochiners upon a hallarse evine. The sd day the Minister requirit of the Elderis if they knew aney peices of land within the paroche that was calit the goodmane's land or fauld, or dedicated to Satane, or lattine by unlabourit. They sed yer was ane peice land in Brogane calit Garlet or guidman's fauld, within Andrew Robes tak that was not labourit this manie yeires, for quhat respect they knew not. The Minister desyrit them to try qrfr it lay unlabourit."
"25th November 1649.—... Intimat that yr be no Midsumer, no hallow fyres, under the paine of the haveris of them to be condinglie punishit."
"Sessione the 30th December 1649.—The sd day the Minister and Elderis being conveinit in Sessione ... compeirit Thomas Patersone, and confessit that yr was a peice land in his rowme calit the goodmane's fauld, quhilk was this long time unlabourit. He is ordainit to labour it, and promist to do so efter Whitsonday, qn it was for faching. The sd day the Minister did inquyr of the Elderis that knew of aney that superstitiouslie keipit Yoolday. They did all report that it was not keipit, that they did not yoke yr pleuches, but yokt their work-horses."
In the same year (1649) the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland appointed a commission of their own number to report to the next General Assembly as to the Druidical customs observed at the fires at Beltane, Midsummer, Hallow-e'en, and Yule. All the old customs were ordered to be discontinued, and the people warned against kindling fires for superstitious purposes.
Dr. Stuart On the Druids—Their Deities—Augury—Human Victims—Nature of the Gods—Gauls descendants of Dis—Funeral Rites—Slaves and Clients burned—What Pliny says—Tallies used in making known the Will of Heaven—Walking through the Fire—Barbarous mode of discovering Future Events—Wonder-working Eggs—Colours of Eggs, and by whom worn—Virtue of Globule of Ink—Easter Eggs represent Druidical Eggs—Origin of the Druids dated from the Dispersal of Babel—Arch-Druid of the Mountains—Wise Men of the East were probably Druids—Island of Iona—Druidical Cairns—Stones of Judgment—Mr. Rust's Opinion—Misletoe regarded as a Charm—Rings worn as Preventatives against Witchcraft—Legend concerning Stonehenge—A Famous General—Merlin the Magician—Stones brought from Africa by Giants—Graves of British Lords.
Dr. Stuart, writing of the Druids, says their chief deity was Mercury, of whom they have many images. They also worship Apollo and Mars, and Jupiter and Minerva. They held a meeting at a certain time of the year in a consecrated spot. They used rites of augury from the slaughter of human victims. According to Strabo, three classes of persons were much venerated among the Gauls—the Bards, Druids, and Soothsayers.
Caesar, from whom Dr. Stuart largely borrows, tells us that the whole of the Gallic nation was exceedingly superstitious. People of distinction who laboured under the more fatal diseases, and those who engaged in battles and other dangerous undertakings, either immolated human beings, or vowed that they would immolate themselves. They employed the Druids as their ministers at those sacrifices. It was thought the divine nature of the immortal gods could not be propitiated but by human life being substituted for human life. There were, Caesar continues, effigies of immense magnitude, interwoven with osiers, filled with living men. Then these former being ignited, the latter perished in the flames. The people thought that the sacrifices of guilty human victims, apprehended in the act of theft, robbery, or any other crime, were more agreeable to the immortal gods than those of innocent persons; but when the supply of culprits failed, non-guilty victims were sacrificed. All the Gauls boasted that they were descended from Dis as their father—a tradition communicated to them by the Druids. Funeral rites, considering the culture of the Gauls, were magnificent and sumptuous. Everything dear to the deceased, when alive, was carried into the fire. Even the animals did not escape; and, to manifest high esteem for a person of note, his slaves and clients who were beloved by him, were cremated together after the obsequies demanded by justice had been performed.
Pliny writes that the Druids exhibited the herb vervain in the exercise of their rites. They had tallies, consisting of sprigs lopped from a fruit-bearing tree, marked in a particular manner, thrown into a garment or covered with a veil, and drawn out by chance, through which means, it was supposed, the will of heaven was made known.
From various sources of information we know that the Druids had recourse to sortilege by fire. It was customary for a nobleman to take the entrails of a sacrificed animal in his hands, to walk barefooted three times through the embers of an expiring fire, and then carry them to a Druid performing at the altar. If the nobleman escaped unhurt, it was reckoned a good omen, but if injured, it was deemed unlucky to the country and himself. When a victim was put to death by the sword, the Druids who investigated the deed, pretended to discover future events by the manner in which he fell, the flavouring of the reeking blood, and the quivering of the body in the agonies of death.
The wonder-working eggs possessed by the Druids were insignia of a sacred character, set in gold, and worn suspended from the neck.
The Rev. John B. Pratt, in his work on the Druids, says: "These eggs were wholly artificial. Some of them were blue, some white, a third sort green, and a fourth regularly variegated with all these colours. They are said to have been worn by different orders—the white by the Druids; the blue by the presiding bards; the green by the Vains; and those with the three colours blended were pendants of the disciples. That the secret of manufacturing these amulets was totally unknown in Britain, except to the Druids, is thought most probable; and the secret of discovering things by looking into a globule of ink, which, it is asserted by some, the Egyptian jugglers still possess, may be a remnant of the ancient sortilege by means of the Druid's egg." Probably the coloured eggs children play with at Easter were anciently intended to represent the Druidical eggs.
Mr. Pratt concludes, that if it be true that the Druids came from the East, and that the traces of their existence there run back, as some suppose, into the remotest antiquity, "it is not altogether preposterous," he continues, "to suppose that their origin is to be dated from the dispersion at Babel.... Balaam, the Eastern magician, was probably the Arch-Druid of the mountainous country in which he lived. The offerings he made were at the high places of Baal, and for the purpose of enchantments, although he was not ignorant of the Most High.... The magi, or wise men of the East, probably were Druids, who, from their knowledge of astronomy, at once detected the star which indicated the fulfilment of Balaam's prophecy."
The earliest name borne by the island of Iona, so far as known in modern times, was Innis-nan Druidneach, or Isle of the Druids. The Druids retained their power not only in Iona until the year 563 or 564, but also on the mainland and in the islands. Mullingar is supposed to have been the last place in Ireland where the Druids had a residence. In the beginning of the last century a number of gold coins, found on the hill Karn Bre, near Truro, were thought to be Druidical coins. Some of them, Mr. Davies thinks, were impressed with rude hieroglyphics, symbolical of Ceridiven. Objects of different kinds are combined in one compound figure. To an arc or half moon is added the head of a bird, probably symbolical of the mother of the mystical egg. On other coins found there, magical ceremonies are represented, and on others the mystical sow appears sketched out.
In Druidical times there were rocking stones, or stones of judgment. They were large, some of them weighing fifty tons, and having sharp edges, on which they stood nicely balanced. A rocking stone of judgment, says Mr. Rust, "had been intended to test difficult questions, which could not be proved, disproved, or solved in the ordinary way, or for want of evidence, or which required the divine interposition of some particular deity, likely a bloodthirsty one; for as they had different deities, different temples, and different altars, they had also different judgment stones attached to them, and different ordeals through which the tried individuals, whether devotees, criminals, or captives, had to pass. These judgment stones had been anciently very common." According to the number of times a stone oscillated or refused to oscillate, the Druids determined to convict or acquit the suspected person.
Of the misletoe, and the esteem in which it was held by the Druids, we have written in page 127. This parasitical plant was regarded as a charm of no ordinary virtue. But the misletoe was only one of many articles they had possessing occult virtue.
Glass rings, manufactured by Druidical priests, were worn by the ancient Britons, as preventatives against witchcraft and the machinations of evil spirits.
A ridiculous legend is told concerning Stonehenge, the supposed Druidical temple near Salisbury. Aurelianus Ambrosius, a famous general of the ancient Britons, of Roman extraction, was, at the request of the Britons, sent over with ten thousand men to assist them against the Saxons, whom Vortigern had invited into Britain. Ambrosius had such successes against the Saxons that the Britons chose him for their king, and compelled Vortigern to give up to him all the western parts of the kingdom divided by the Roman highway, called Watling Street. Ultimately Ambrosius became sole monarch of Britain. Geoffrey says that this monarch built Stonehenge. Ambrosius, we are told, coming to a monastery where lay buried three hundred British lords who had been massacred by Hengist, resolved to perpetuate the memory of this action by raising a monument over their remains.
By the advice of Tremounus, Archbishop of Caerleon, Ambrosius consulted Merlin, the celebrated magician, as to how he should proceed. Merlin recommended him to send to Ireland for certain great stones, called chorea gigantum, the giant's dance, placed in a circle on a hill called Killaci, which had been brought there by giants from the farthest borders of Africa. A strong force was, in accordance with this advice, sent to Ireland, but the king of that country derided the folly of the Britons in undertaking such a ridiculous expedition, and opposed them in battle. The Irish king was vanquished, and, by the direction and assistance of Merlin, who had accompanied the expedition, the wonderful stones were conveyed to Salisbury, and, by order of Ambrosius, placed over the graves of the British lords. These gravestones are what are now called Stonehenge. Such stories, as may be expected, are discredited by historians, but our best antiquaries disagree as to the origin of these monuments of antiquity.
Gale, Dickenson, and others say the Druids borrowed their philosophy and religion from the Jews and Eastern heathen nations. Our older antiquarians believe that cromlechs are Druidical altars, in imitation of older heathen altars—a theory supported by reference to the stones called Petroma, near the temple of Eleusinian Damater in Arcadia: The Philistines pointed to the Deluge in their hieroglyphics of the serpent and mundane egg, the history which the serpent is supposed to designate being that of Noah, and the egg being reckoned an emblem of the ark, from the circumstance of it containing the rudiments of future life. The serpent is not unfrequently represented when reference is made to the betrayal of Eve.
People making acknowledgment to the gods for continual benefits, surrendered part of their increase for the service of the altar. Egyptian offerings consisted of fruits and herbs, while shepherds offered firstlings of their flocks. For this cause the Egyptians disliked shepherds almost with the cruel hatred Cain bore his brother Abel.
As the oak and misletoe were sacred to the Druids, so were they to the Israelites in their days of declension. And in Greece we find the famous oracle of Jupiter at the oaks of Dodona. To the ancient inhabitants of Italy the misletoe was a sacred emblem; and the golden branches of Virgil were none other than those of the misletoe.
As the Druids studied the heavenly bodies as a book (so says Origen), the heathen learned through the discovery of a new star the birth of a great person. From Virgil, it appears, it was commonly imagined the gods sent stars to point the way to their favourites in perplexity. The Jews entertained similar opinions.
According to Suckford, the ancients believed that heroes and other great men were transferred at death to some bright planet. In consequence of such belief, eminent persons were deified. Julius Caesar was canonised, because it was thought he was translated to a new star, discovered at the hour of his death.
First Ideas of Demonology—Rabbinical Tradition—Adam's Marriage—The Wicked Lilith—Demons—Egyptian Tradition—Arabian Worship of Genii—Christians' Opinions of Demons—Forms assumed by Evil Spirits—Demoniacal King—Duty of Inferior Demons—Task of Benign Spirits—Schools of Magic—What was taught in them—Circassian Opinions—Belief of Indians—Situation of Hell—Men's Actions recorded—Rewards and Punishments—How to frighten Demons—Treatment of the Sick—Condemning Spirits to Everlasting Punishment—Attendant Angels—Worship of Gods—Foretelling Future Events—Small-pox propagated by an Evil Genius—Souls of Deceased Persons—Dread of Evil Spirits—Effect of Charms.
To the Chaldeans we are indebted for the first ideas of demonology. From Chaldea the notions of demonology spread to Persia, Egypt, and Greece; but, as stated in another part of these pages, a belief in spirits or genii and of witchcraft prevailed at an early period of man's existence. There is an ancient Rabbinical tradition, no doubt very absurd, but illustrative of early notions of superstition, that Adam was first married to a sorceress named Lilith, or the mother of devils. She refused submission to Adam, and disregarded commandments conveyed to her by angels. She persisted in her disobedience; and having one day, in a more than ordinary state of impiety, invoked the name of Jehovah, according to the rules of the Cabala, she ascended into the air and disappeared. Lilith was feared by divers nations. When children died of diseases not properly understood, their deaths were attributed to Lilith, who was supposed to carry out her wicked purposes as an aerial spectre. Newly married pairs were accustomed to inscribe the names of angels on the inside partitions of their houses, and the names of Adam and Eve and the words "Begone, Lilith," on the outside walls. The name Lilith was given to women suspected of holding intercourse with demons. The legends of Lilith were transmitted from people to people until they came down to the Jews, who believed them. This people were wont to inscribe on their bed-posts the words, "Et zelo Chuizlilith," that the sleepers might be delivered by Lilith from dreams.
Demon was a term applied by the Greeks and Romans to certain genii or spirits who made themselves visible to men, with the intention of doing them either good or harm. The Jews and early Christians ascribed a malignant nature to demons, the former endeavouring to trace their origin to intercourse between man and supernatural beings, and the latter maintaining that they were the souls of departed human beings, permitted to visit the earth to assist those they favoured, and punish persons against whom they or their favourites had a grudge. Certain spirits were supposed to be celestial, others watery, some airy, and not a few of them fiery. Tertullian said: "Spirits flew through the air faster than any winged fowl. Unless commissioned to act, they remained passive, neither doing good nor evil; but the evil spirits went and came at the devil's command, and both classes of spirits were at man's service if he only knew how to summon them into his presence."