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ply their place with innocent persons. These dreadful sacrifices were offered by the Druids for the public good, on the eve of a dangerous war, or in a time of national calamity; and for particular persons of elevated rank, when such persons were afflicted with any dangerous disorder. By such acts of cruelty did the Britons of old endeavour to avert the displeasure of their deities and render them propitious. And in this they were not more stupid and cruel than the most polite and learned nations of the Heathen world; such as the Egyptians, Phænicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans, all of whom were guilty of the same superstitious barbarities. How thankful should we be for the light of Revelation, which by conveying to us the knowledge of the true God, and the way of worshipping him acceptably, has delivered us from this horrid darkness and superstition !
We learn from Pliny that the ancient Britons were, also, greatly addicted to divination, and excelled so much in the practice of all its arts, that they might have given a lesson to the Persians themselves. I cannot go into a minute and laborious detail of all those arts of divination. Let it suffice to observe that, besides all those that were practised by them in common with other nations, they had one of a very shocking nature, which is thus described by Diodorus Siculus :-“They have a great veneration for those who discover future events, either from the flight of birds, or the inspection of the entrails of victims; and all the people yield an implicit faith to their oracles. On great occasions they practise a very strange and incredible manner of divination. They take a man who is to be sacrificed, and kill him with one stroke of a sword above the diaphragm; and by observing the posture in which he falls, his different convulsions, and the direction in which the blood flows from the body, they form their predictions according to certain rules which have been left them by their ancestors.”* By such acts of religious worship did our forefathers, in those dark and benighted times, express their pious regards, and endeavour to gain the favour and discover the will of their gods. These acts of religion were performed by them at certain stated times, and in certain places which were esteemed sacred, and appropriated to religious purposes.
Diod. Sicul. lib. v. cap. 35.
The Britons certainly were not ignorant of the ancient and universal division of time into weeks of seven days each ; for several writers, of unquestionable veracity, assure us that this was known, not only to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, but to all the barbarous nations. It is not, however, so well known or so certain that one of these seven days was consecrated to religious purposes. The Britons divided their time by lunar months, reckoning neither from the change nor the full, but from the sixth day of one moon to the sixth day of another ; and the first day of every lunar month, according to their way of reckoning, or the sixth according to ours, was a religious festival. Pliny, speaking of one of their most sacred solemnities, says, “it is always done on the sixth day of the moon—a day so esteemed among them, that they made their months, and years, and even ages, which consist but of thirty years, to take their beginning from it. The reason of their choosing that day is, because the moon is by that time grown strong enough, though not come to the half of its fulness.” The same writer takes particular notice of an august solemnity which was observed annually among them, of cutting the misletoe from the oak, by the Archdruid, which he thus explains :—“The Druids hold nothing so sacred as the misletoe of the oak. As this is very scarce, and rarely to be found, when any of it is discovered, they go with great pomp and ceremony on a certain day to gather it. When they have got every thing in readiness under the oak, both for the sacrifice and the banquet which they make on this great festival, they begin by tying two white bulls to it by the horns. Then one of the Druids, clothed in white, ascends the tree, and with a knife of gold cuts the misletoe, which is received in a white sagum (sheet or blanket). This done, they proceed to their sacrifices and feastings.”*
This festival was observed as near as possible to their tenth of March, which was their New Year's day. The 1st of May was a great annual festival in honour of the sun, and on this day prodigious fires were kindled in all their sacred places, and on the tops of all their eminences, and many sacrifices were offered to that luminary, which now began to shine upon them with great lustre. Midsummer day and the first of November were likewise annual festivals--the one to implore the genial influences of heaven upon their fields, and the other to return thanks for the favourable seasons and the fruits of the earth. On these festivals, after the appointed sacrifices and other devotional exercises were despatched, the remainder of the time was spent in feasting, singing, dancing, and every species of diversion.*
* Pliny's Nat. Hist. b. 16, ch. 44.
It was an article in the Druidical creed, that it was unlawful to build temples to the deities; or to worship them within walls and under roofs. All their places of Worship, therefore, were in the open air, and generally on eminences, whence they could have the best view of the heavenly bodies, to which much of their blind adoration was directed. But, for their schools of instruction, they made choice of the deepest recesses of groves and woods. These groves were planted for that purpose in the most eligible situations, and with those trees in which they most delighted. The chief of these was the strong and spreading oak, for which the Druids had a superstitious veneration. Pliny tells us, “ The Druids have so high an esteem for the oak, that they do not perform the least religious service without being adorned with garlands of its leaves. These philosophers believe that every thing that grows upon that tree cometh from heaven; and that God hath chosen that tree above all others.”+
When the Romans first invaded this country they found neither idols, images, nor statues. It is true that they worshipped many fictitious deities, but they had no graven images at least none in the shape of men or other animals-in their sacred groves. Whether this proceeded from a religious principle, or from their ignorance of the art of sculpture, may be doubted; for, though they had no artificial statues, they had certain symbols, or emblems, of their gods. “All the Celtic nations,” says Maximus Tyrius, “worshipped Jupiter, whose emblem or representation among them was a lofty oak.” Gildas, indeed, speaks of images which were remaining in his time (A. D. 560) both within and without the walls of the ruinous heathen temples, but they, as well as the temples themselves, had been erected by the Romans, or by the Britons after they were conquered. I
* Toland's History of the Druids, p. 69, &c. + Plin. Nat. Hist. b. 16, ch. 44, Gildæ Hist. cap. iii.
IV. It only remains for me now to speak of the decline of the Druids, and of their religion. About the period of the birth of Christ, the Druids were in the zenith of their power and glory,
, enjoying an almost absolute authority over the minds and persons of their own countrymen, and they were greatly admired and resorted to by strangers. But, as the Romans gained ground in the island, the power of the Druids gradually declined, until it was nearly destroyed. There seems to have been something in the system exceedingly repugnant to the genius and policy of that victorious people, which drew upon the Druids and their religion a considerable degree of Roman animosity; for which two causes have been assigned. One is, that though the Romans still sacrificed millions of the human race to their ambition, and had formerly sacrificed great numbers of them to their gods, they now began to entertain a just abhorrence of those cruel rites, and to persecute the Druids and others who practised them. The other and principal cause of the hatred of the Romans against the Druids was of a political nature. These priests were not only the ministers of religion, but they were the judges, magistrates, legislators, and even sovereigns in their several countries. They were sensible that, if the Romans prevailed, it would be impossible for them to preserve their power ; they consequently employed all their influence in animating their countrymen to make a vigorous resistance against those invaders, inciting them also to frequent revolts, after they had submitted. On the other hand, the Romans were no less sensible that they could not establish their own authority, and secure the obedience of Gaul and Britain, without destroying the authority and influence of the Druids in these countries. With this view they obliged their subjects in these provinces to build temples, erect statues, and offer sacrifices, after the Roman manner-and made several laws against the use of human victims. They deprived the Druids of all authority in civil matters, and showed them no mercy when they found them transgressing the laws, or concerned in any revolt. By these means, the authority of the Druids was brought so low in Gaul, in the reign of the emperor Claudius, about the year of our Lord 45, that he is said, by his historian, to have destroyed them in that country.* About the same time they began to be persecuted in England, whence many of them retired into the isle of Anglesey, which was a kind of little world of their own. But they did not remain long undisturbed in that retirement. For Suetonius, who was governor of Britain under the Roman emperor Nero, A. D. 61, finding that the isle of Anglesey was the great seat of disaffection to the Roman government, and that it afforded an asylum to all who were forming plots against it, determined to subdue it.* Having conducted his army into the island, and defeated the Britons who attempted to defend it, though they were animated by the presence, the prayers, and the exhortations of a multitude of Druids and Druidesses, he made a very cruel use of his victory; for, not contented with cutting down their sacred groves, demolishing their temples, and overturning their altars, he burnt many of the Druids in those fires which they had kindled for the express purpose of sacrificing the Roman prisoners, should the Britons gain the victory. So many of the Druids perished on this occasion, and in the unfortunate revolt of the Britons under Boadicea, which happened immediately afterwards, that they never again made any considerable figure in England. Such of them as did not think fit to submit to the Roman government,
* Suetonius, in vita Claudii, cap. 55.
The following extract from Mr. Hume's History of England may perhaps be acceptable to some readers, as it embodies the substance of this Lecture :
“ No species of superstition was ever more terrible than that of the Druids. Besides the severe penalties which it was in the power of the ecclesiastics to inflict in this world, they inculcated the eternal transmigration of souls, and thereby extended their authority as far as the fears of their timorous votaries. They practised their rites in dark groves or other secret recesses; and, in order to throw a greater mystery over their religion, they communicated their doctrines only to the initiated, and strictly forbade the committing of them to writing, lest they should at any time be exposed to the examination of the profane vulgar. Human sacrifices were practised among them; the spoils of war were often devoted to their divinities; and they punished with the severest tortures whoever dared to secrete any part of the consecrated offering. These treasures they kept in woods and forests, secured by no other guard than the terrors of their religion ; and this steady conquest over human avidity may be regarded as more signal than their prompting men to the most extraordinary and most violent efforts. No idolatrous worship ever attained such an ascendant over mankind and the Romans, after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile the inhabitants to the laws and institutions of their masters, while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes ; a violence which had never, in any other instance, been practised by those tolerating conquerors.” History, Vol. I. ch. i.