Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Demonic Spirits of the Celts

Demonic Spirits of the Celts



While the greater objects of nature were worshipped for themselves alone, the Celts also peopled the earth with spirits, benevolent or malevolent, of rocks, hills, dales, forests, lakes, and streams and while greater divinities of growth had been evolved, they still believed in lesser spirits of vegetation, of the corn, and of fertility, connected, however, with these gods. Some of these still survive as fairies seen in meadows, woodlands, or streams, or as demonic beings haunting lonely places. And even now, in French folk-belief, sun, moon, winds, etc., are regarded as actual personages. Sun and moon are husband and wife; the winds have wives; they are addressed by personal names and reverenced.Some spirits may already have had a demonic aspect in pagan times. The Tuatha Déa conjured up meisi, "spectral bodies that rise from the ground," against the Milesians, and at their service were malignant sprites—urtrochta, and "forms, spectres, and great queens" called guidemain (false demons). The Druids also sent forth mischievous spirits called siabra. In the Táin there are 
references to bocânachsbanânaichs, and geniti-glinni, "goblins, eldritch beings, and glen-folk." These are twice called Tuatha Dé Danann, and this suggests that they were nature-spirits akin to the greater gods. The geniti-glinni would be spirits haunting glen and valley. They are friendly to Cúchulainn in the Táin, but in theFeast of Bricriu he and other heroes fight and destroy them. In modern Irish belief they are demons of the air, perhaps fallen angels.
Much of this is probably pre-Celtic as well as Celtic, but it held its ground because it was dear to the Celts themselves. They upheld the aboriginal cults resembling those which, in the lands whence they came, had been native and local with themselves. Such cults are as old as the world, and when Christianity expelled the worship of the greater gods, younger in growth, the ancient nature worship, dowered with immortal youth,
"bowed low before the blast
In patient deep disdain,"
to rise again in vigour. Preachers, councils, and laws inveighed against it. The old rites continued to be practised, or survived under a Christian dress and colouring. They are found in Breton villages, in Highland glens, in Welsh and Cornish valleys, in Irish townships, and only the spread of school-board education, with its materialism and uninviting common sense, is forcing them at last to yield.
The denunciations of these cults throw some light upon them. Offerings at trees, stones, fountains, and cross-roads, the lighting of fires or candles there, and vows or incantations addressed to them, are forbidden, as is also the worship of trees, groves, stones, rivers, and wells. The sun and moon 
are not to be called lords. Wizardry, and divination, and the leapings and dancings, songs and choruses of the pagans, i.e. their orgiastic cults, are not to be practised. Tempest-raisers are not to ply their diabolical craft. These denunciations, of course, were not without their effect, and legend told how the spirits of nature were heard bewailing the power of the Christian saints, their mournful cries echoing in wooded hollows, secluded valleys, and shores of lake and river. Their power, though limited, was not annihilated, but the secrecy in which the old cults often continued to be practised gave them a darker colour. They were identified with the works of the devil, and the spirits of paganism with dark and grisly demons. This culminated in the mediæval witch persecutions, for witchcraft was in part the old paganism in a new guise. Yet even that did not annihilate superstition, which still lives and flourishes among the folk, though the actual worship of nature-spirits has now disappeared.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Celtic Moon Worship

Celtic Moon Worship



Perhaps the most important object in nature to the early Celts as to most primitive folk was the moon. The phases of the moon were apparent before men observed the solstices and equinoxes, and they formed an easy method of measuring time. The Celtic year was at first lunar—Pliny speaks of the Celtic method of counting the beginning of months and years by the moon—and night was supposed to precede day{The festivals of growth began, not at sunrise, but on the previous evening with the rising of the moon, and the name La Lunade is still given to the Midsummer festival in parts of France. At Vallon de la Suille a wood on the slope where the festival is held is called Bois de la Lune; and in Ireland, where the festival begins on the previous evening, in the district where an ascent of Cnoc Aine is made, the position of the moon must be observed. A similar combination of sun and moon cults is found in an inscription at Lausanne—To the genius of the sun and moon.
Possibly sun festivals took the place of those of the moon. Traces of the connection of the moon with agriculture occur in different regions, the connection being established through the primitive law of sympathetic magic. The moon waxes and wanes, therefore it must affect all processes of growth or decay. Dr. Frazer has cited many instances of this belief, and has shown that the moon had a priority to the sun in worship, e.g. in Egypt and Babylon. Sowing is done with a waxing moon, so that, through sympathy, there may be a large increase. But harvesting, cutting timber, etc., should be done with a waning moon, because moisture being caused by a waxing moon, it was necessary to avoid cutting such things as would spoil by moisture at that time. Similar beliefs are found among the Celts. Mistletoe and other magical plants were culled with a waxing moon, probably because their 
power would thus be greater. Dr. Johnson noted the fact that the Highlanders sowed their seed with a waxing moon, in the expectation of a better harvest. For similar occult reasons, it is thought in Brittany that conception during a waxing moon produces a male child, during a waning moon a female, while accouchements at the latter time are dangerous. Sheep and cows should be killed at the new moon, else their flesh will shrink, but peats should be cut in the last quarter, otherwise they will remain moist and give out "a power of smoke."
These ideas take us back to a time when it was held that the moon was not merely the measurer of time, but had powerful effects on the processes of growth and decay. Artemis and Diana, moon-goddesses, had power over all growing things, and as some Celtic goddesses were equated with Diana, they may have been connected with the moon, more especially as Gallo-Roman images of Diana have the head adorned with a crescent moon. In some cases festivals of the moon remained intact, as among the Celtiberians and other peoples to the north of them, who at the time of full moon celebrated the festival of a nameless god, dancing all night before the doors of their houses. The nameless god may have been the moon, worshipped at the time of her intensest light. Moonlight dances round a great stone, with singing, on the first day of the year, occurred in the Highlands in the eighteenth century. Other survivals of cult are seen in the practices of bowing or baring the head at new moon, or addressing it with words of adoration or supplication. In Ireland, Camden found the custom at new moon of saying the Lord's Prayer with the 
addition of the words, "Leave us whole and sound as Thou hast found us." Similar customs exist in Brittany, where girls pray to the moon to grant them dreams of their future husbands. Like other races, the Celts thought that eclipses were caused by a monster attacking the moon, while it could be driven off with cries and shouts. In 218 B.C. the Celtic allies of Attalus were frightened by an eclipse, and much later Christian legislation forbade the people to assemble at an eclipse and shout, Vince, Luna! Such a practice was observed in Ireland in the seventeenth century. At an earlier time, Irish poets addressed sun and moon as divinities, and they were represented on altars even in Christian times