Plate

Gaulish Coins

1. Coin of the Senones, showing on one side two animals opposed, and on the reverse a boar and a wolf (?) opposed (cf. Plates II, n, XXIV).

2. Gaulish coin, with man-headed horse and bird, and, below, a bull ensign (cf. Plates II, 3-5, 9, IX, B, XIX, 1, 6, XX, B, XXI).

3. Coin of the Remi, showing squatting divinity with a torque in the right hand (cf. Plates VIII, IX, XXV), and on the reverse a boar and S-symbol or snake.

4. Armorican coin, with horse and bird.

5. Coin of the Carnutes, with bull and bird.

6. Gaulish coin from Greek model, with boar.

7. Gaulish coin of the Senones, with animals opposed.

great soul died, the atmosphere was affected and pestilences were caused. Demetrius does not say whither the soul went, either to the islands or elsewhere, but islands named after gods and heroes suggest the Irish divine Elysium, and this is confirmed by what Demetrius adds, and by what Plutarch reports in another work. On one of the islands Kronos is imprisoned, and Briareos keeps guard over him,28 along with many deities (Saí/iova?) who are his attendants and servants. What Celtic divinities or heroes lurk under these names is unknown, but the myth resembles traditions of Arthur in-Avalon-(EIyr sium), or of JionjLxiiiArthur sleeping in a hollow hill, waiting to start up at the hour of their country's need. Elsewhere Plutarch speaks of an island in which the barbarians say that Kiquqs. is imprisoned by Jupiter in. a cavern. There Kronos sleeps, fed by birds with ambrosia, while his son lies beside him as if guarding him. The surrounding sea, clogged with earth, appears to be solid, and people go to the island, where they spend thirteen years waiting on the god. Many remain, because there is no toil or trouble there, and devote their time to sacrificing, singing hymns, or studying legends and philosophy. The climate is exquisite, and the island is steeped in fragrance. Sometimes the god opposes their departure by appearing to them along with those who minister to him, and these divine min-istrants themselves prophesy or tell things which have been revealed to them as dreams of Saturn when they visit his cave. Plutarch's alleged informant had waited on the god and studied astrology and geometry, and before going to another island he carried with him golden cups.29 In this latter story the supposed studies and ritual of the Druids are mingled with some distorted tradition of Elysium, and the reference to cups of gold carried from the island perhaps points to the myth of things useful to man brought from the land of the gods.30

The sixth century Byzantine historian Procopius has a curious story about the island of "Brittia," which was divided by a wall from north to south. West of the wall none could live, so foul was the air, so many the vipers and evil beasts; but in its inhabited part dwelt Angles, Frisians, and Britons. The island lay between Britannia and Thule. Thule is probably Scandinavia; Britannia, which is, strictly speaking, Britain, is confused with the region lying between Brittany and the mouths of the Scheldt and Rhine. Brittia is Britain; the wall is the Roman Wall, shown on Ptolemy's map running north and south at the present Scottish border, because Scotland was represented as lying at right angles to England. The region beyond the wall, mountainous, forest-clad, and inaccessible, was easily conceived as a sinister place by those who heard of it only vaguely. Procopius then says that on the coast of the Continent fishermen and farmers are exempt from taxation because it is their duty to ferry souls over to Brittia, doing this in turn. At midnight they hear a knocking at their door and muffled voices calling; but when they reach the shore, they see only empty boats, not their own. In these they set out and presently perceive that the boats have become laden, the gunwale being close to the water; and within an hour Brittia is reached, though ordinarily it would take a day and a night to cross the sea. There the boats are invisibly unladen, and although no one has been seen, a loud voice is heard asking each soul his name and country.31 The Roman poet Claudian, writing toward the close of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century of our era, had perhaps heard such a story, though he confuses it with that of Odysseus and the shades.32 At the extremity of the Gaulish coast is a place protected from the tides, where Odysseus by sacrifice called up the shades. There is heard the murmur of their complaint, and the inhabitants see pale phantoms and dead forms flitting about.33 This strictly concerns the Homeric shades, for Classical testimony to the Celtic other-world, as well as Irish stories of the return of the dead, never suggests "pale phantoms." Claudian may have heard some story like that of Procopius, though it is by no means certain that the latter is reporting a Celtic belief for other peoples than the Celts dwelt in his time opposite Britain. Possibly, however, the Celts believed that the dead went to distant islands. Even now the Bretons speak of the "Bay of Souls" at Raz, at the extreme point of Armorica, while folk-lore tells how the drowned are nightly conveyed by boat from Cape Raz to the isle of Tevennec.34 If the Celtic dead went to an island, this may explain the title said by Pliny, quoting Philemon (second century b. c.), to have been given by the Cimbri to the northern sea, Morimarusam = Mortuum Mare or possibly Mortuorum Mare ("Sea of the Dead") — the sea which the dead crossed. The title may refer, however, to an unchangeably calm sea, and such a sea has always been feared, or to the ice-covered sea, which Strabo 35 regarded as an impassable spongy mixture of earth, water, and air. The supposed Celtic belief in an island of the dead might also explain1 why, according to Pliny, no animal or man beside the Gallic/ ocean dies with a rising tide 36 — a belief still current in Brit-» tany; the dead could be carried away only by an outflowing tide. But whether or not the Celts believed in such an island, it is certain that no Irish story of the island Elysium connects that with them, but associates it only with divine beings and favoured mortals who were lured thither in their lifetime.

In Wales and Ireland, where Roman civilization was unknown, mythology had a better chance of survival. Yet here, as in Gaul, it was forced to contend with triumphant Christianity, which was generally hostile to paganism. Still, curiously enough, Christian verity was less destructive of Celtic myths than was Roman civilization, unless the Insular Celts were more tenacious of myth than their Continental cousins. Sooner or later the surviving myths, more often fragments than finished entities, were written down; the bards and the filid (learned poets) took pride in preserving the glories of their race; and even learned Christian monks must have assisted in keeping the old stories alive. Three factors, however, played their part in corrupting and disintegrating the myths. The first of these was the dislike of Christianity to transmit whatever directly preserved the memory of the old divinities. In the surviving stories their divinity is not too closely descried; they are made as human as possible, though they are still superhuman in power and deed; they are tolerated as a kind of fairy-folk rather than as gods. Yet they are more than fairies and they have none of the wretchedness of the decrepit, skin-clad Zeus of Heine's Gods in Exile. Side by side with this there was another tendency, natural to a people who no longer worshipped gods whose names were still more or less familiar. They were regarded as kings and chiefs and were brought into a genealogical scheme, while some myths were reduced to annals of supposititious events. Myth was transmuted into pseudo-history. This euhemerizing 37 process is found in all decaying mythologies, but it is outstanding in that of the ancient Irish. The third factor is the attempt of Christian scribes to connect the mythical past and its characters with persons and events of early Scriptural history.

These factors have obscured Irish divine legends, though enough remains to show how rich and beautiful the mythology had been. In the two heroic cycles — those of Cuchulainn and Fionn respectively — the disturbance has been less, and in these the Celtic magic and glamour are found. Some stories of the gods escaped these destructive factors, and in them these delectable traits are also apparent. They are romantic tales rather than myths, though their mythical quality is obvious.

Two mythical strata exist, one older and purely pagan, in which gods are immortal, though myth may occasionally have spoken of their death; the other influenced by the annalistic scheme and also by Christianity, in which, though the unlike-ness of the gods to humankind is emphasized, yet they may be overcome and killed by men. The literary class who rewrote the myths had less simple ideals than even the Greek mythog-raphers. They imagined some moving situations and majestic episodes or borrowed these from the old myths, but they had little sense of proportion and were infected by a vicious rhetorical verbosity and exaggeration. Many tales revel monotonously in war and bloodshed, and the characters are spoiled by excessive boastfulness. Yet in this later stratum the mytho-poeic faculty is still at work, inasmuch as tales were written in which heroes were brought into relation with the old divinities.

The main sources for the study of Irish mythology are the documents contained in such great manuscripts as the Book of Leinster and the Book of the Dun Cow (Leabhar na hUidhre),38 written in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but based on materials of older date. Later manuscripts also contain important stories. Floating tales and traditions, fairy- and folklore, are also valuable, and much of this material has now been published.39

Among the British Celts, or those of them who escaped the influence of Roman civilization, the mythological remains are far less copious. Here, too, the euhemerizing process has been at work, but much more has the element of romance affected the old myths. They have become romantic tales arranged, as in the Mabinogion, in definite groups, and the dramatis personae are the ancient gods, though it is difficult to say whether the incidents are myths transformed or are fresh romantic inventions of a mythic kind. Still, the Welsh Mabinogion is of great 1 importance, as well as some parts of Arthurian romance, the poems about Taliesin, and other fragments of Welsh literature. The euhemerizing process is still more evident in those portions 1 of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History which tell of the names and • deeds of kings who were once gods.

Thus if materials for Irish and British mythology are copious, they must be used with caution, for we cannot be certain that any one story, however old, ever existed as such in the form of a pagan myth. As the mountain-peaks of Ireland or Wales or the Western Isles are often seen dimly through an enshrouding mist, which now is dispersed in torn wisps, and now gathers again, lending a more fantastic appearance to the shattered crags, so the gods and their doings are half-recorded and half-hidden behind the mists of time and false history and romance. Clear glimpses through this Celtic mist are rare. This is not to be wondered at when we consider how much of the mythology has been long forgotten, and how many hands have worked upon the remainder. The stories are relics of a dead past, as defaced and inexplicable as the battered monuments of the old religion. Romancers, would-be historians, Christian opponents of paganism, biographers of saints, ignorant yet half-believing folk, have worked their will with them. Folk-tale incidents have been wrought into the fabric, perhaps were originally part of it. Gods figure as kings, heroes, saints, or fairies, and a new mythical past has been created out of the debris of an older mythology. There is little of the limpid clearness of the myths of Hellas, and yet enough to delight those who, in our turbulent modern life, turn a wistful eye upon the past.

To make matters worse, modern writers on Celtic tradition have displayed a twofold tendency. They have resolved every story into myths of sun, dawn, and darkness, every divinity or hero into a sun-god or dawn-goddess or ruler of a dark world. Or those with a touch of mysticism see traces of an esoteric faith, of mysteries performed among the initiate. In mediaeval Wales the "Druidic legend" — the idea of an esoteric wisdom transmitted from old priests and philosophers — formed itself among half-crazv enthusiasts and has been revived in our own time by persons of a simjlai-genus. Ireland and the West Highlands have always been remarkably free of this nonsense, though^om£_Celts with a turn for agreeing with their interlocutor seem to have persuaded at least one mystic that he was on the track of esoteric beliefs and ritual there.40 He did not know his Celt! The truth is that the mediaeval and later Welsh Druidists were themselves in the mythopoeic stage — crude Blakes or Swedenborgs — and invented stories of the creed of the old Druids which had no place in it and are lacking in any document of genuine antiquity, Welsh or Irish. This is true

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