For instance, the God who inflicted the vengeance on him was not one of the urbane Olympian community: he was perhaps the oddest deity that you could find anjrwhere in my extensive dominions, or out of them, for that matter, a God of whom no image is in eiustence, whose name his devout worshippers are for- bidden to pronounce (though in his honour they clip their foreskins and practise many other curious and barbarous rites) and who is said to live alone, at Jerusalem, in an ancient cedar chest lined with badger-skins dyed blue and to refuse to have anything to do with any other deities in the world or even to acknowledge the existence of such.
I was about to extend the Roman citizenship to large numbers of out more civilized French allies, but the one element in Northern France that was checking the orderly progress of civilization there was the Druidical cult, a magical religion which was still kept alive, in spite of all that we could do to . discourage or suppress it, by Druidical training-colleges in Britain from where it had originally been imported. Young Frenchmen went to Britain for their magical education as naturally as young Spaniards go to Rome to study law, or young Romans to Athens to study philosophy, or young Greeks to Alexandria to study surgery. Druidism could not readily be reconciled with Greek or Roman religious wor- ship, involving as it did human sacrifices and necromancy, and the Druids therefore, though they were not warriors themselves but only priests, were always fomenting re- bellion against us. Another reason for war was that the golden reign of Cymbeline was over. Togodumnus and Caractacus were, I learned, about to be involved in a struggle with their north-eastern neighbours, the Icenians, and with two subject tribes on the south coast; so that regular trade with Britain would be interrupted for some time if I did not intervene. I could now count on the help of the Icenians and the other tribes, not to mention the cross-Channel mer- chants, so the opportunity seemed too good to miss. It would be as well to give here in brief an account of the main features of Druidism, a religion which seems to be a fusion of Celtic and aboriginal beliefs. I cannot guarantee that the details are true, for reports are conflicting. No Druidical lore is allowed to be consigned to writing and a terrible fate is threatened to those who reveal even the less important mysteries. My account is based on the statements of prominent apostates from the religion, but these include no Druidical priests. No consecrated Druid has ever been persuaded to reveal the inner mysteries even under torture. The word ^Druid’ means 'Oak-man’, because that is their sacred tree. Their sacred year begins with the budding of the oak and ends with the falling of its leaves. There is agod called Tanams whose symbol is the oak. It is he who with a flash of lightning generates the mistletoe on the oak- tree branch, which is the sovereign remedy against witch- craft and all diseases. There is also a sun-god called Mabon whose symbol is a white bull And then there is Lug, a god of medicine, poetry and the arts, whose symbol is the snake. These are all, however, the same person, a God of Life-in- Death, worshipped in different aspects, like Osiris in Egypt. As Osiris is yearly drowned by a god of waste waters, so this triple deity is yearly killed by the God of Darkness and Water, his uncle Nodons, and restored to life by the power of his sister Sulis, the Goddess of Healing who corresponds to Isis. Nodons manifests himself by a monstrous wave of water, twelve feet high, that at regular intervals comes run- ning up the mouth of the Severn, chief of the western rivers, causing great destruction to crops and huts as far as thirty miles inland. The Druidical religion is not practised by the tribes as such, for they are fighting units commanded by kings and noblemen, but by thirteen secret societies, named after various sacred animals, the members of any one of which belong to a variety of tribes; because it is the month in which one is born — they have a thirteen-month year — which decides the society to which one is to belong. There are the Beavers, and the Mice, and the Wolves, and the Rabbits, and the Wild Cats, and the Owls and so on, and each society has a particular lore of its own and is presided over by a Druid. The Arch-Druid rules over the whole cult. The Druids take no part in fighting, and members of the same society who meet in tribal battles on opposite sides are pledged to run to each other’s rescue. The mysteries of the Druidical religion are concerned with a belief in the immortality of the human soul, in support of which many natural analogies are offered. One of these is the daily death and daily rebirth of the sun, another is the yearly death and yearly rebirth of the leaves of the oak, another is the yearly cutting of the corn and the yearly springing up of the seed. They say that man when he dies goes westward, like the setting sun, to live in certain sacred islands in the Atlantic ocean, until the time shall come for him to be born again. All over the island there are sacred altars known as dolmens’, one flat stone laid on two or more uprights. These are used in the initiation ceremonies of the societies. The initiation is at once a death and a re- birth. The candidate lies on the lintel stone and a mock- sacrifice is then performed. By some magical means the Druid who performs it seems to cut off the man’s head, which is exhibited bleeding to the crowd. The head is then joined to the trunk again and the supposed corpse is placed underneath the dolmen, as in a grave, with mistletoe between its lips; from which, after many prayers and charms, the new man comes forth as if he were a child emerging from the womb and is instructed in his new life by god-parents. Besides these dolmens there are upright stone altars, devoted to phallic rites; for the Celtic Osiris resembles the Egyptian one in this respect too. Rank in the societies is decided by the number of sacrifices a man makes to the Gods, standing on the lintel stone of his ancestral dolmen, by the number of enemies he kills in battle and by the honours he wins in the annual religious games as charioteer, juggler, wrestler, poet or harper. Rank is shown by the masks and head-dresses which are worn during the ceremonies and by the blue designs executed in woad (a marsh plant) with which their whole bodies are painted. The Druid priesthood is recruited from young men who have attained high rank in their secret societies and to whom certain marks of divine favour have been given. But twenty years of hard study at the Druidical college are first called for and it is by no means every candidate who suc- ceeds in passing through the necessary thirty-two degrees. The first twelve years are spent in being initiated in turn into all the other secret societies, in learning by heart enormous sagas of mythological poetry and in the study of law, music and astronomy. The next three years are spent in the study of medicine. The next three are spent in the study of omens and magic. The tests put upon candidates for the priest- hood are immensely severe. For example, there is a test of poetical composition. The candidate must lie naked all night in a coffin-like box, only his nostrils protruding above the icy water with which it is filled, and with heavy stones laid on his chest. In this position he must compose a poem of considerable length in the most difficult of the many difficult bardic metres, on a subject which is given him as he is placed in the box. On his emergence next morning he must be able to chant this poem to a melody which he has been simultaneously composing, and accompany himself on the harp. Another test is to stand before the whole body of Druids and be asked verse-questions in riddling form which must be answered in further riddles, also in verse. These riddles all refer to obscure incidents in the sacred poems with which the candidate is supposed to be familiar. Besides all this he must be able to raise magic mists and winds and perform all sorts of conjuring tricks. I will tell you here of my only experience of Druidical magic. I once asked a Druid to show me his skill. He called for three dried peas and put them in a row across the palm of my outstretched hand. He said: ‘Without moving your arm, can you blow away the middle pea and not blow away the outer ones?’ I tried, but of course I could not: my breath blew all three peas away. He picked them up and laid them in a row across his own palm. Then he held down the outer ones with the forefinger and little finger of the same hand and blew the centre one away easily. I was angry at being fooled. ‘Anyone could do that,’ I said. ‘That’s not magic.’ He handed me the peas again. ‘Try it,’ he ordered. I began to do what he had done, but to my chagrin I found that not only could I not command enough breath to blow away the pea — ^my lungs seemed suddenly tightened — but that when I wanted to straighten out my bent fingers again I could not. They were tightly cramped against my palm and the nails were gradually driving into my flesh so that it was with difficulty that I refrained from crying out. The sweat was pouring down my face. He asked, Is it so easy to do?’ I answered ruefully: ‘Not when a Druid is present.’ He touched my wrist and my fingers recovered from their cramp. The candidate’s last test but one is to spend the longest night of the year seated on a rocking-stone called the Terilous Seat’ which is balanced over a deep chasm in a mountain somewhere in the west of the island. Evil spirits come and talk to him all night and try by various means to make him lose his balance. He must not answer a word, but address prayers and hymns of praise to the Gods. If he escapes from this ordeal he is permitted to take the final test, which is to drink a poisoned cup and go into a death trance, and visit the Island of the Dead, and bring back from there such proofs of his visit as will convince the examining Druids that he has been accepted by the God of Life-in- Death as his priest. There are three ranks of Druid priests. There are those who have passed all the tests, the true Druids; then come the Bards, those who have passed in the bardic tests but have not yet satisfied the examiners in soothsaying, medicine and magic; then come those who have satisfied the examiners in these latter tests, but have not yet taken their bardic degree — they are known as the Ovates or Listeners. It needs a bold heart to enter for the final tests, which result in the death of three candidates out of every five, I am informed, so most men are content enough with the degree of Bard or Ovate. The Druids, then, are the law-givers and judges and the controllers of public and private religion, and the greatest punishment that they can inflict is to interdict men from the holy rites. Since this excommunication is equivalent to sentencing men to perpetual extinction — ^for only by taking part in these rites can they hope to be reborn when they come to die — ^the Druids are all-powerful, and it is only a fool who will dare to oppose them. Every five years there is a great religious cleansing — like our five-yearly census —and in expiation of national sins human victims are burned alive in great wicker cages built to resemble men. The vic- tims are bandits, criminals, men who have revealed religious secrets or have been guilty of any similar crime, and men whom the Druids accuse of having unlawfully practised magic to suit their private ends and of having blighted crops or caused a pestilence by doing so. The Druids at that time outlawed any man who had embraced the Roman religion or allied himself by marriage with a family that had done so. That, I suppose, they were entitled to do; but when it came to burning such people alive, then they had to be taught a lesson. They have two peculiarly holy places. The first is the island of Anglesey on the west coast, where their winter quarters are, among great groves of sacred oaks, and the sacred oak-log fire is kept burning. This fire, kindled originally by lightning, is distributed for the cremation of corpses, to ensure their reincarnation. The other sacred place is a great stone temple in the middle of Britain, con- sisting of concentric rings of enormous trilithic and mono- lithic altars. It is dedicated to the God of Life-in-Death, and from the New Year, which they reckon from the spring equinox, until midsummer, they hold their annual religious Games there. A red-haired young man is chosen to repre- sent the God and is dressed in marvellous robes. While the Games last he is free to do exactly as he pleases. Everything is at his disposal, and if he takes a fancy to any jewel or weapon, the owner counts himself honoured and gives it up gladly. All the most beautiful girls are his playmates, and the competing athletes and musicians do everything they can to win his favour. Shortly before midsummer, however, he goes with the Arch-Druid, who is the representative of the God of Death, to an oak on which mistletoe grows. The Arch-Druid climbs the oak and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, taking care that it does not touch the ground. This mistletoe is the soul of the oak, which then mysteriously withers away. A white bull is sacrificed. The young man is wrapped in leafy oak branches and taken to the Temple, which is so oriented that at dawn on Midsummer Day the sun strikes down an avenue of stones and lights up the principal altar where the young man is laid, fast bound, and where the Arch-Druid sacrifices him with the sharpened stem of the mistletoe. I cannot discover what eventually happens to the body, which for the present remains laid out on the stone of sacrifice, showing no sign of decay. But the priestess of Sulis, from a western town called the ‘Waters of Sulis’, where there are medicinal springs, comes to claim it at the autumn festival of farewell and the Goddess is then supposed to restore it to life. The God is said to go by boat to the western island where Nodons lives and to conquer him after a fierce fight. The winter storms are the noise of that fight. He reappears next year in the person of the new victim. The withered oak tree provides new logs for the sacred fire. At the autumn festival of farewell each society sacrifices its tribal animal, burning a wicker cage full of them, and all ritual masks and head-dresses are burned too. It is at this stone temple that the complicated initiation cere- mony for new Druids takes place. It is said to involve the sacrifice of newly-born children. The temple stands in the centre of a great necropolis, for all Druids and men of high religious rank are buried here with ceremonies that ensure reincarnation. There are British battle-gods and goddesses too, but they have little connexion with the Druid religion and sufficiently resemble our own Mars and Bellona to make no description necessary. In France the centre of Druidism was at Dreux, a town lying to the west of Paris, some eighty miles from the Channel coast. Human sacrifices continued to be per- formed there just as if Roman civilization did not exist. Imagine, the Druids used to cut open the bodies of victims whom they had sacrificed to the God Tanarus and examine their entrails for auspices with as little compunction as you or I would feel in the case of a ram or sacred chickeni Augustus had not attempted to put down Druidism; he had merely forbidden Roman citizens to belong to secret societies or to attend Druidical sacrifices. Tiberius had ventured to publish an edict dissolving the Druidical order in France; but this edict was not intended to be literally obeyed, only to withhold Roman official sanction from any decisions arrived at or penalties imposed by a Druidical council. The Druids continued to cause us trouble in France, though many tribes now abandoned the cult altogether, and adopted our Roman religion. I was determined, as soon as I had conquered Britain, to strike a bargain with the Arch- Druid: in return for permission to conduct his religion in Britain in the customary way (though abstaining from any unfriendly preaching against Rome) he must refuse to admit French candidates for initiation into the Druidical order and must allow no British Druids to cross the Channel. With- out priests the religion would soon die out in France, where I would make illegal any Druidical ceremony or festival involving human sacrifice, and charge with murder all who were found to have taken part in one. Eventually, of course, Druidism would have to be stamped out in Britain too; but that need not be thought about yet.