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The oak was to them the most sacred of all trees. On occasions of solemn ceremony they always crowned themselves with garlands of its leaves. The mistletoe, a parasitic plant, which takes root in the trunk of oaks, they regarded with peculiar veneration, and believed it to be a panacea for all the diseases of mankind. They always cut it with a golden knife. Black hellebore was another remedy much in use among them. None but Druids might gather it, and they must be sure to go barefooted, dressed in white. Before they plucked the sacred plant, they offered oblations of bread and wine, and covered the right hand with their robe. It was considered extremely efficacious to rub diseased people with juice of vervain. Sprinklings of it, accompanied by prayers, were supposed to reconcile hearts at enmity, and make the melancholy cheerful. They were careful to gather the herb at the rising of Sirius, or of the sun. The Lunaria, or Moon-Plant, was gathered only when the moon shone on it. Hindoo Sacred Books make reverent allusions to a Moon-Plant. Indeed the general resemblance between the Celtic and Hindoo religions is obseryable.
The Druids had schools in the forest, where youths committed to memory certain maxims in verse, inculcating the worship of the gods, bravery in battle, respect to the chastity of women, and implicit obedience to Druids, magistrates, and parents. These verses sometimes contained al. legorical meaning, which was explained, under an oath of secresy, to those educated for the higher orders of the priesthood. It was not allowable to commit them to writing; and even if they had been written, few could have spelled them out; for princes and warriors in those days did not know how to sign their names, and labouring people were almost in the condition of animals. The Druids were in full power in Gaul and Britain at the time of Julius Caesar's conquests, half a century before Christ. Our English ancestors at that period lived in huts and covered themselves with skins of beasts.
Women performed an important part in the Druidical religion. The highest order of priestesses were vowed to perpetual celibacy, and lived in consecrated places. A second order were allowed to live with their husbands on certain days, when their services were not wanted in religious ceremonies ; some say it was only one day in the year. A third order, attendants upon the others, resided with their families, and reared children for the priesthood. Among Asiatic nations, voluptuousness is the only feeling excited by women; and the female character is consequently feeble and shallow. Never allowed to think or act for themselves, the intellectual and high moral qualities of human nature slumber in complete inaction. The customs of Celtic tribes in Europe were remarkably the reverse of this. Men were themselves in a rude and barbarous condition, but such as it was, women were on the same level. Both sexes held consultation together in councils of state, and fought in battle with equal bravery. Among the Teutones, women were the only physicians. In Asia, there were always ten prophets to one prophetess. But Celtic nations believed that women were endowed with supernatural powers in a pre-eminent degree. Tacitus says: “The Germans suppose some divine and prophetic quality resident in their women, and are careful neither to disregard their admonitions nor neglect their answers." Strabo relates that the Cimbri were followed to war by venerable gray-haired prophetesses, barefooted, in white linen robes, fastened with clasps and girdles of brass. “These go with drawn swords through the camp, strike down the prisoners they meet, and drag them to a brazen kettle. The priestess ascends a platform above it, cuts the throat of the victim, and from the manner in which the blood flows into the vessel, she judges of future events. Others tear open the bodies of captives thus butchered, and from inspection of the entrails presage victory to their own party."
The Druids alone had power to determine whose blood would be most acceptable to the gods. They generally sacrificed captive enemies or convicted criminals; but sometimes innocent natives were chosen for that purpose,
and the dread of such a fate greatly increased the fear and reverence which the populace entertained toward priests and priestesses. In all cases where the life of a man was concerned, they supposed the deities could be appeased only by the life of a man. Thus, if one man had shed the blood of another, his own must be shed. If a man was in danger from desperate illness, or about to incur uncommon perils, they supposed the danger was incurred by sins, and that they might be atoned for by the sacrifice of another man. In sueh cases they made vows to the gods to sacrifice a human rietim, if their own lives were spared ; and such vows they were religiously bound to perform. Sometimes, to atone for national sins, or avert national calamities, they sacrificed whole hecatombs of human beings, as the Hindoos used to sacrifice a thousand horses at once, and the Greeks a hundred oxen. On such occasions, they made a huge image of basket-work, in the shape of a man, and filled it with men, women, and children. Then they surrounded it with combustibles, and they all perished in the flames. These vietims were generally captives and criminals, who were sometimes reserved for several years, till an occasion occurred to offer them all together. The cruelty of this custom was softened to their own minds by a belief that vietims offered to the gods were purified from all mortal stain by the process, and raised to an equality with superior natures.
It was the universal faith that all events happened according to unalterable laws of destiny, known only to the gods, and revealed by them to certain favoured mortals. They fully believed that criminals could be detected by subjecting suspected persons to ordeals, such as walking on red-hot metals, or plunging the arm into boiling oil. If they were guiltless, people believed that Good Spirits would interfere for their protection, and they would escape unharmed. Earthquakes, tempests, and other convulsions of nature, were supposed to be occasioned by the death of some great man.
Their morality was rather of an external character, but extremely strict in its laws. Bravery was the crowning virtue in men, and chastity in women. A high proud sense of personal honour was the restraining principle in both. Licentiousness was much detested, and of rare occurrence. Heroes, who died fighting for their country, were perfectly certain of passing at once into a paradise of eternal joy, whatever might be their character in other respects. This belief inspired men with wild and furious courage, and a reckless contempt of death. They gave strong proof of faith in a future existence; for they frequently loaned money on a solemn promise that it should be repaid to them in another world. It was likewise common to put letters in the hands of the dead, with the fullest belief that they would deliver them to departed souls, according to direction. If people killed themselves, from a wish to accompany deceased friends, it was supposed that their souls would dwell together. they became a portion of that empire; but they worshipped them according to their ancient fashion, in caverns, or groves, or on huge altars of stone reared in the open plain. Many vestiges of these old Druidical monuments remain in France and England. On the island of Anglesea are the ruins of a temple, that enclosed twenty-two acres; and a single one of the stones, when broken in pieces, made twenty cart-loads. The famous ruins at Stonehenge, in England, are supposed to have been an ancient Temple of the Sun. The masses of stone are so immense, that the neighbouring peasantry to this day believe they must have been brought together by agency of the devil. In some places, rocks of prodigious size are poised on small ones, in such a manner that they can be easily put in motion, though the strength of a giant could not destroy their balance. There were but few temples erected for this worship, and some of them are said to have resembled those of Hindostan. Another proof of the Asiatic origin of these tribes is found in the fact that the ancient language of Germany, called Teutonic, bears a very strong resemblance to Sanscrit.
Druids had the Persian feeling concerning statues. They never represented the gods by images. Their religious ceremonies were periormed in consecrated caverns and groves of the forest. They supposed such dark and solemn places were the favourite resort of powerful spirits, from whom oracular communications could be obtained by the performance of appropriate rites. Military standards were kept in the hallowed recesses of these sacred caverns. When the Druids delivered them to warriors going to battle, they pronounced terrible imprecations on the heads of their enemies, devoting them all as victims to Tuisco, god of war. The consecrated groves were approached with religious awe. Men would have been terrified with fears of vengeance from offended deities, if they had cut down one of the trees, even by mistake. They hung them with garlands and trophies, and the remains of victims that had been offered. On altars among the trees were placed oblations of fruit, grain, and flowers; and through thickly interwoven boughs rose the smoke of burnt-offerings; of men and animals sacrificed to propitiate the gods. Celtic nations adopted some of the Roman deities, after