Ancestral Welsh, Irish Druidism Preserved Tradition

Ancestral Welsh, Irish Druidism Preserved Tradition
© Illustration by Jeffrey Chen

Druidism has been of late years so persistently appropriated by the Welsh, that English, Scotch, and Irish have seemed to have no part in the property. Even Stonehenge has been claimed by the Welsh, on the very doubtful story of the Britons, Cæsar’s Teutonic Belgæ, being driven by Romans to Wales. The true Welsh–the Silures, or Iberians–were in the land before the Romans appeared. Gaels from Ireland, Cymry from Scotland and England, Belgæ from Germany, Bretons, Britons, Saxons, Normans, English, Irish, and Flemings go to make up the rest. We know nothing of ancient Welsh races.

Even allowing cromlechs, circles, and pillar-stones to be called Druidical, there are fewer of these stone remains in Wales than in Scotland, Ireland, England, or France. As to other antiquities, Ireland is more prosperous than Wales in all but Roman ruins.

It is hard upon Ireland that her Druids should have been so long neglected, and the honours of mystic wisdom become the sole possession of Wales. It is true, however, that the Irish have been less eager about their ancestral glory in that aspect, and have not put forward, as the Welsh have done, a Neo-Druidism to revive the reputation of the ancient Order. However, Ireland had its Druids, and traditionary lore testifies that country in the acknowledgement of those magi or philosophers.

The Welsh have a great advantage over the Irish in the reputed possession of a literature termed Druidical. They assume to know who the Druids were, and what they taught, by certain writings conveying the secret information. The Irish do not even pretend to any such knowledge of their Druids. The Welsh, therefore, look down with pity upon their insular neighbours and plume themselves on being the sole successors of people who were under true Druidical teaching, and whose transmitted records reveal those mysteries.

The revival of the ancient faith, in the organisation called Druids of Pontypridd,–having members in other parts of Wales, but claiming a far more significant number of adherents in America,–has given more prominence to Druidical lore. The fact of the late simple-minded but learned Archdruid, Myfyr Morganwg, a poet and a scholar, after thirty years’ preaching of Christianity, publicly proclaiming the creed of his heathen forefathers, has naturally startled many thoughtful minds. The writer can affirm, from personal knowledge of Myfyr, that he was no pretender, but an absolute believer in the tenets he taught; it is not therefore surprising that students of anthropology should inquire into this revival.

Such teaching is entirely different from the Neo-Druidism which arose a few years ago, and whose imaginative interpretation of writings in Welsh, under the names of Taliesin, etc., were endorsed by several distinguished ministers of the Christian religion. Neo-Druidism was brought forward at Eisteddfods, and works were written to show that Welsh Druidism was merely the truth as recorded in the biblical account of the Hebrew Patriarchs.

The Pontypridd Archdruid held quite another doctrine. He embraced within his fold not only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the promulgators of Hindooism, Buddhism, and all the ancient systems of so-called idolatry. He recognised his principles in them all, as they simply represented the forces of Nature, under the guise of personalities.

The mantle of the octogenarian leader has fallen upon Mr Owen Morgan, better known as Morien, long an able and voluminous writer for the Press. His version of Welsh Druidism can be studied in the recently published Light of Britannia. He assumes for his Druids the priority of learning. From the mountains of Britain proceeded the light which produced the wisdom of Egypt, Babylon, Persia, India, Phœnicia, Judea, and Greece.

They who deem this too large a draft upon faith for acceptance, will assuredly discover in that unique work a mass of curious facts bearing upon ancient science, and be constrained to admit that the Light of Britannia is not the product of unreasoning Welsh enthusiasm, but is among the most candidly expressed books ever printed.

It was Dr Lanigan who asserted, “The Christian missionaries early opened schools in opposition to Druids.” It was the opinion of Arthur Clive that much Druidism “blended with the Christian learning of the seventh and subsequent centuries.” The same might be affirmed of Welsh Druidism. Alluding to an astronomical MS. of the fourteenth century, Clive says, “I believe that it, or rather the knowledge which it contains, is a Druidic survival, a spark transmitted through the dark ages.” Gomme tells us, “that Druidism continued to exist long after it was officially dead can be proved.”

Dr Moran, Bishop of Ossory, in his Irish Saints, associates the Welsh Saint David with an Irish Druid. St. David was the son of an Irish Christian lady. He came to Menevia, on the Welsh promontory, made a fire on the shore, and its smoke filled the land. The Bishop then goes on to say: “The owner of the district was an Irishman, named Baya, a pagan and a Druid. He was one of those successful rovers who years before had carved out territories for themselves on the Welsh coast, and continued to hold them by the sword. He was filled with horror when he saw the smoke that arose from St. David’s fire, and cried out to those that were with him, ‘The enemy that has lit that fire shall possess this territory as far as the smoke has spread.’ They resolved to slay the intruders, but .their attempt was frustrated by a miracle. Seeing this, Baya made a grant of the desired site, and of the surrounding Country, to St. David, whose monastery quickly arose.”

Welsh patriotic zeal would receive a shock from Professor O’Curry’s statement. “It appears then that it was from Erinn that the Isle of Mona (Anglesey) received its earliest Colony; and that that colony was of a Druidical people.” This view has been supported by other testimony. The Welsh Cerrig Edris (Cader Idris) has been identified with the Irish Carrick. Carrick Brauda of Dundalk, like Carig Bradyn of Mona, was renowned for astronomical observations.

Owen Morgan, in the Light of Britannia, has brought forward authorities to support his theory that the Welsh, at any rate, could claim for ancestors the Druids of classical writers. But Leflocq declares the language of the so-called Welsh Druids of the early Christian centuries is modern; and that even Sharon Turner–“for the mythological poems dare not assign them to the sixth century, nor attribute them to Taliesin.” He considers the mystery of the Bards of Britain consists of a number of Christian sentences, interpreted according to the arbitrary system of modern mysticism; and concludes, “Such are the narrow bases of the vast pre-conceived system of our days as to the true religion of the Gauls.”

But Rhys in Celtic Britain asserts that “the Goidelic Celts appear to have accepted Druidism, but there is no evidence that it ever was the religion of any Brythonic people.” Again, “The north-west of Wales, and a great portion of the south of it had always been in possession of a Goidelic people, whose nearest kinsmen were the Goidels of Ireland.”–“The Brythonic Celts, who were polytheists of the Aryan type; the non-Celtic natives were under the sway of Druidism; and the Goidelic Celts, devotees of a religion which combined polytheism with Druidism.” He says the word Cymry “merely meant fellow-countrymen”; though, as he adds, “The Cymry people developed a literature of their own, differing from that of the other Brythonic communities.” He makes Carlisle the centre of their influence before coming down into Wales.

The assumptions of Welsh advocates may not be very satisfactory to scholars, and all we know of Irish Druids furnishes little evidence for romantic conclusions; but why should tradition hold so tenaciously to the theory? Making all allowance for the extravagance of views, and their variety, it is not easy to explain these early and particular accounts.

Although Welsh writers represent Welsh Druidism as being so different from the Gaulish, as pictured by French authors, or the Irish of Irish scholars, a few words may be allowed from the publication of the enthusiastic Morien of Wales.

Banshee, Ireland’s harbinger of death and dweller of the sidhe

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