Testimony of Paganism

[Note: This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz's The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]

‘As he spoke, he paused before a great mound grown over with trees, and around it silver clear in the moonlight were immense stones piled, the remains of an original circle, and there was a dark, low, narrow entrance leading therein. “This was my palace. In days past many a one plucked ere the purple flower of magic and the fruit of the tree of life. . .” And even as he spoke, a light began to glow and to pervade the cave, and to obliterate the stone walls and the antique hieroglyphics engraven thereon, and to melt the earthen floor into itself like a fiery sun suddenly uprisen within the world, and there was everywhere a wandering ecstasy of sound: light and sound were one; light had a voice, and the music hung glittering in the air .., “I am Aengus; men call me the Young. I am the sunlight in the heart, the moonlight in the mind; I am the light at the end of every dream, the voice for ever calling to come away; I am desire beyond joy or tears. Come with me, come with me: I will make you immortal; for my palace opens into the Gardens of the Sun, and there are the fire-fountains which quench the heart’s desire in rapture.” ‘
-A. E.

Inadequacy of Pygmy Theory - According to the theories concerning divine images and fetishes, gods, daemons, and ancestral spirits haunt megaliths - Megaliths are religious and funereal, as shown chiefly by Cenn Cruaich, Stonehenge, Guernsey menhirs, monuments in Brittany, by the circular fairy dance as an ancient initiatory sun-dance, by Breton earthworks, archaeological excavations generally, and by present-day worship at Indian dolmens - New Grange and Celtic Mysteries: evidence of manuscripts; evidence of tradition - The Aengus Cult - New Grange compared with Great Pyramid: both have astronomical arrangement and same internal plan - Why they open to the sunrise - Initiations in both - Great Pyramid as model for Celtic tumuli - Gavrinis and New Grange as spirit-temples.

IN this chapter we propose to deal with the popular belief among Celtic peoples that tumuli, dolmens, menhirs, and in fact most megalithic monuments, prehistoric or historic, are either the abodes or else the favourite haunts of various orders of fairies - of pixies in Cornwall, of corrigans in Brittany, of little spirits like pygmies, of spirits like mortals in stature, of goblins, of demons, and of ghosts. Interesting attempts have been made to explain this folk-belief by means of the Pygmy Theory of Fairies; and this folk-belief appears to be almost the chief one upon which the theory depends.  As was pointed out in the Introduction (p. xxiii), possibly one of the many threads interwoven into the complex fabric of the Fairy-Faith round an original psychical pattern may have been bequeathed by a folk-memory of some unknown, perhaps pygmy, races, who may have inhabited underground places like those in certain tumuli. But even though the Pygmy Theory were altogether accepted by us the problem we are to consider would still be an unsolved one; for how explain by the Pygmy Theory why the folk-memory should always run in psychical channels, and not alone in Celtic lands, but throughout Europe, and even in Australia, America, Africa, and India.

Archaeological researches have now made it clear that many of the great tumuli covering dolmens or subterranean chambers, like that of Mont St. Michel (at Carnac) for example, were religious and funereal in their purposes from the first; and therefore the Pygmy Theory is far from a satisfactory or adequate explanation. To us the inquiry is similar to an investigation into the reasons why ghosts should haunt a house, whereas the supporters of the Pygmy Theory forget the ghosts and tell all about the people who may or who may never have lived in the haunted house, and who built it. The megaliths, in the plain language of the folk-belief, are haunted by fairies, pixies, ‘corrigans, ghosts, and various sorts of invisible beings. Like the Psychical Research Society, we believe there may be, or actually are, invisible beings like ghosts, and so propose to conduct our investigations from that point of view.



To begin with, we shall concern ourselves with menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs, and certain kinds of tumuli - such as are found at Carnac, round which corrigans hold their nightly revels, and where ghost-like forms are sometimes seen in the moonlight, or even when there is no moon. M. Paul Sebillot in Le Folk-lore tie France  has very adequately described the numerous folk-traditions and customs connected with all such monuments, and it remains for us to deal especially with the psychical aspects of these traditions and customs.

The learned Canon Mahe in his Essai sur les antiquites du departement du Morbihan (p. 258), a work of rare merit, published at Vannes in 1825, holds that not only were the majestic Alignements of Carnac used as temples for religious rites, but that the stones themselves of which the Alignements are formed were venerated as the abodes of gods.  And quoting Porphyry, lamblichus, Proclus, Hermes, and others, he shows that the ancients believed that gods and daemons, attracted by sacrifice and worship to stone images and other inanimate objects, overshadowed them or even took up their abode in them. This position of Canon Mahe is confirmed by a comparative study of Celtic and non-Celtic traditions respecting the theory of what has been erroneously called ‘idol-worship’. All evidence goes to show that idols so called, are simply images used as media for the manifestation of ghosts, spirits, and gods: the ancients, like contemporary primitive races, do not seem ever to have actually worshipped such images, but simply to have supplicated by prayer and sacrifice the indwelling deity.  The ancient Egyptians, for example, conceived the Ka or personality as a thing separable from the person or body, and hence ‘the statue of a human being represented and embodied a human Ka’. Likewise a statue of a god was the dwelling-place of a divine Ka, attracted to it by certain mystical formulae at the time of dedication.  Though there might be many statues of the same god no two were alike; each was animated by an independent ‘double’ which the rites of consecration had elicited from the god. These statues, being thus animated by a ‘double’, manifested their will - as Greek and Roman statues are reported to have done - either by speaking, or by rhythmic movements. The divine virtue residing in the images of the gods was thought to be a sort of fluid, analogous to what we call the magnetic fluid, the aura, &c. It could be transmitted by the imposition of hands and by magic passes, on the nape of the neck or along the dorsal spine of a patient ;  and no doubt extraordinary curative properties were attributed to it.

Dr. Tylor has brought together examples from all parts of the globe of so-called fetishism, which is veneration paid to natural living objects such as trees, fish, animals, as well as to inanimate objects of almost every conceivable description, including stones, because of the spirit believed to be inherent or resident in the particular object; and he shows that idols originally were fetishes, which in time came to be shaped according to the form of the spirit or god supposed to possess them.  Mr. R. R. Marett, the originator of the pre-animistic theory, believes that originally fetishes were regarded as gods themselves, and that gradually they came to be regarded as the dwellings of gods.  Certain well-defined Celtic traditions entirely fit in with this theory :- e.g. Canon Mahe writes, ‘In accordance with this strange theory they (the Celts) could believe that rocks, set in motion by spirits which animated them, sometimes went to drink at rivers, as is said of the Peulvan at Noyal-Pontivy’ (Morbihan) ;  and I have found a parallel belief at Rollright, Oxfordshire, England, where it is said of the King Stone, an ancient menhir, and, according to some folk-traditions, a human being transformed, that it goes down the bill on Christmas Eve to drink at the river. In the famous menhir or pillar-stone on Tara to this day, we have another curious example like the moving statues in Egypt and the Celtic stones which move; for in the Book of Lismore the wonderful properties of the Lia fail, the ‘Stone of Destiny’, are enumerated, and it is said that ever when Ireland’s monarch stepped upon it the stone would cry out under him, but that if any other person stepped upon it, there was only silence.

In the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick it is said that Ireland’s chief idol was at Mag Slecht, and by name ‘Cenn Cruaich, covered with gold and silver, and twelve other idols  [were] about it, covered with brass’. When Patrick tried to place his crosier on the top of Cenn Cruaich, the idol ‘bowed westward to turn on its right side, for its face was from the South, to wit, Tara ... And the earth swallowed the twelve other images as far as their heads, and they are thus in sign of the miracle, and he cursed the demon, and banished him to hell ‘  Sir John Rhys points out that Cenn Cruaich means’ Head or Chief of the Mound’, and that the story of its inclined position suggests to us an ancient and gradually falling menhir planted on the summit of a tumulus or hill surrounded by twelve lesser pillar stones, all thirteen - itself a sacred number - regarded as the abodes of gods or else as gods themselves; and these gods are referred to as the demon exorcized from the place by Patrick. The central menhir or Cenn Cruaich probably represents the Solar God, and the twelve menhirs surrounding this probably represent the twelve months of the year.  In the Colloquy it is said that Patrick went his way ‘ to sow faith and piety, to banish devils and wizards out of Ireland; to raise up saints and righteous, to erect crosses, station-stones, and altars; also to overthrow idols and goblin images, and the whole art of sorcery ‘.  Welsh tradition says that St. David split the capstone of the Maen Ketti Cromlech (dobnen)  in Gower, in order to prove to the people that there was nothing divine in it.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Merlin constructed Stonehenge by magically transporting from Ireland the ‘Choir of the Giants’, apparently an ancient Irish circle of stones.  The rational explanation of this myth seems to be that the stones of Stonehenge, not belonging to the native rocks of South England, as geologists well know, were probably transported from some distant part of Britain and set up on Salisbury Plain, because of some magical properties supposed to have been possessed by them; and most likely ‘the stones were regarded as divine or as seats of divine power ‘.  And further (thereby admitting the sacred purpose of the group), Sir John Rhys sees no objection to identifying Stonehenge with the famous temple of Apollo in the island of the Hyperboreans, referred to in the journal of Pytheas’ travels.  According to Sir John Rhys’s interpretation of this journal, ‘the kings of the city containing the temple and the overseers of the latter were the Boreads, who took up the government in succession, according to their tribes. The citizens gave themselves up to music, harping and chanting in honour of the Sun-god, who was every nineteenth year wont himself to appear about the time of the vernal equinox, and to go on harping and dancing in the sky until the rising of the Pleiades.’

Two menhirs, roughly hewn to simulate the human form, are yet to be found in Guernsey, Channel Islands, and formerly there was a similar menhir in the Breton village of Baud, Morbihan. One of the Guernsey figures was dug up in 1878 under the chancel of the C‰tel Church, and then placed in the churchyard, so that in this instance it seems highly probable that the Christian Church was built on the site of a sacred pagan shrine where a cult of stones once existed. The second stone figure (a female), now standing as a gate-post in the churchyard of St. Martin’s parish, seems also to mark a spot where a pre-Christian sanctuary was christianized. The country-people of the district, up to the middle of the last century, considered it lucky to make floral and even food offerings to this stone; but in 1860 the churchwarden to destroy its sanctity had it broken in two, though now it has been restored.  A like stone image was the famous ‘Venus de Quinipilly’, near Baud, Morbihan. At its base was a stone trough, wherein until late into the seventeenth century the sick were cured by contact with the image, and young men and maidens were wont to bathe to secure love and long life.

Canon Mahe recorded: in 1825 that the folk-belief located ghosts and spirits of the dead round megalithic monuments, more especially those known to have been used for tombs, because the Celts thought them haunted by ancestral spirits ;  and what was true in 1825 is true now, for there is still in Brittany the association of ancestral spirits, corrigans, and other spirit-like tribes with tumuli, dolmens, menhirs, and cromlechs, and, as we have shown in chapter ii, a very living faith in the Legende de Ia Mort. In describing some curious dolmens and cromlechs (stone circles) on the summit of a mountain called the Clech or Mane er kloch, ‘Mountain of the bell,’ at Mendon, Arrondissement de Lorient, Morbihan, the same author gives it as his opinion, based on folk-traditions, that the cromlechs, like others in Brittany, were places in which the ancient Bretons practised necromancy and invoked the spirits of their ancestors, to whom they attributed great power. He then records a very valuable and interesting tradition concerning these monuments, which seems to indicate clearly a close relationship between the Poulpiquets (another name for corrigans), thought of as spirits by the peasants, and the magical rites conducted in the circles to invoke spirits or daemons :- ‘ The people call the stones which are found there the rocks of the Hosegueannets or Guerrionets (who are the same as the Poulpiquets); and they declare that at fIxed seasons they are in the habit of coming there to celebrate their mysteries, which would prove that the race of these dwarfs is not yet extinct, as I believed.’

When we hear how corrigans dance the national Breton ronde or ridee, at or in such cromlechs (themselves, like the dance, circular in form), which with other ancient stone monuments and earthworks are still believed to be the favourite haunts of these and kindred spirit-tribes, we seem to see, in the light of what Canon Mahe records, a psychical folk-memory about a goblin race who are now thought of as frequenting the very places where anciently such spirits are said to have been invoked by pagan priests for the purposes of divination. Further, it appears that at these sacred centres, as the quoted tradition indicates, in prehistoric times Brythonic initiations took place, like those still flourishing among a few surviving American Indian tribes (who also dance the circular initiation dance), and among other primitive peoples, as we shall more adequately show in the chapter on St. Patrick’s Purgatory. The Breton dance is, therefore, most likely the memorial of an ancient initiation dance, religious in character, and, probably, in honour of the sun, being circular in the same way that cromlechs dedicated to a sun-cult are circular. Stonehenge, the most highly developed type of the cromlech, was undoubtedly a sun-temple; and the dance anciently held in it, as described by Pytheas, in honour of the god Apollo, was no doubt circular like the Breton national dance, and, presumably, initiatory.  Through a natural anthropomorphic process, this circular initiation dance has come to be attributed to corrigans in Brittany, to pixies in Cornwall and in England, and to fairies in these and other Celtic countries. The idea of fairy tribes in such a special relation may result from a folk-memory of the actual initiators who, as masked men, represented spirits; and, if this be a plausible view, then fairies may be compared to the initiators of contemporary initiation ceremonies among primitive peoples and, following Dr. Gilbert Murray’s theory, to the Greek satyrs also.

A circular dance like the Breton one still survives among the peasantry in the Channel Islands, at least in Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark, being celebrated at weddings, but the revolution is now around a person instead of a stone, and to this person obeisance is paid. This tends to confirm our opinion that the dance is the survival of an ancient sun-dance, the central figure being typical of the sun deity himself, or Apollo; and if we design this dance thus Ë, we have the astronomical emblem still used in all our calendars to represent the sun, one which in itself preserves a vast mass of forgotten lore. Formerly in Guernsey, the sites of principal dolmens (or cromlechs) and pillar-stones were visited in sacred procession, and round certain of them the whole body of pilgrims ‘solemnly revolved three times from east to west ‘ - as the sun moves.

Again, according to Canon Mahe,  the bases and lower parts of the sides of four singular barrows at Coet-bihan blend in such a way as to form an enclosed court, and one of the barrows has been pierced as though for a passageway into this court. And he holds that it is more than probable that these ancient earthworks when first they were raised, and others like them in various Celtic lands, witnessed many mystic and religious rites and sacred tribal assemblies. The supposition that the Coet-bihan earthworks were originally dedicated to pagan religious usages is very much strengthened by the fact that in very early times a Christian chapel was erected near them. Mont St. Michel at Carnac is another example of a pagan tumulus dedicated to a Christian saint; and, as Sir John Rhy’s says, the Archangel Michael appears in more places than one in Celtic lands as the supplanter of the dark powers.  Not only were tumuli thus transferred by re-dedication from pagan gods to Christian saints, but dolmens and menhirs as well.

Thus, for example, at Plouharnel-Carnac (Morbihan) there is a menhir surmounted by a Christian cross, just as at Dol (Ille-et-Vilaine) a wooden crucifix surmounts the great menhir, and at Carnac there is a dolmen likewise christianized by a stone cross-mounted on the table-stone. Again, M. J. Dechelette in his Manuel d’Archeologie Prehistorique, Celtique et Gallo-Romaine (p. 380) describes a dolmen at Plouaret (Cotes-du-Nord) converted into a chapel dedicated to the Seven Saints, and another dolmen at Saint-Germainde-Confolens (Charente) likewise transformed into a place of worship. Miss Edith F. Carey thus explains the dolmens in the Channel Islands :- ‘ All our old traditions prove our dolmens to have been the general rendezvous of our insular sorcerers. In sixteenth and seventeenth century manuscripts I have found these dolmens described as “altars of the gods of the sea “. . . . One of our ancient dolmens retains its ancient name of De Hus, and a fifteenth-century “Perchage” of Fief de Leree tells us that a now destroyed dolmen on our western coast was dedicated to the same god, for Heus or Hesus was the War-God of ancient Gaul.’  The same writer describes excavations made at De Hus by Mr. Lukis, and that he found in a side chamber there two kneeling skeletons, one facing the north, the other the south. He considered them to have been of young persons probably interred alive as a funeral or propitiatory sacrifice to some tribal chief, or else to a presiding deity of the dolmen. Beside a tomb of the early bronze age at the bottom of a large tumulus near Mammarlef, in Skane, Dr. Oscar Montelius, the famous archaeologist of Sweden, discovered a circular stone altar on which reposed charcoal and the remains of a burnt animal offering, which undoubtedly was made to the dead.  Schliemann made a parallel discovery in an ancient tomb at Mycenae, Greece.  Curiously, in India to-day the Dravidian tribes, a pygmy-like aboriginal race,worship at the ancient dolmens in their forests and mountains, whether as at tombs and hence to ancestral spirits or to gods is not always clear; but the latter form of worship is probably more common, since Mr. Walhouse once observed one of their medicine-men performing a propitiatory service to the agricultural or earth deities. The medicine-man passed the night in solitude sitting ‘on the capstone of a dolmen with heels and hams drawn together and chin on knee ‘ - evidently thus to await the advent of the Sun-god.

All the above illustrations, mostly Celtic ones, tend to prove that menhirs, certain tumuli and earthworks, cromlechs, and dolmens were originally connected with religious usages, chiefly with a cult of gods and fairy-like beings, and, though less commonly, with the dead. We pass now to a special consideration of chambered tumuli, to show that the same apparently holds true of them.



Though, as Professor J. Loth and other eminent archaeologists hold, all tumuli containing chambers, and all allees couvertes of dolmens, should be considered as designedly funereal in their purposes, nevertheless certain of the greater ones, like New Grange and Gavrinis may also properly be considered as places for rendering worship or even sacrifice to the dead, and, perhaps, as places for religious pilgrimages and sacred rites. This, too, seems to be the opinion of M. J. Dechelette in his work on Celtic and Gallo-Roman archaeology, as he traces from the earliest prehistoric times in Europe the evolution of the cult of the dead according to the evidence furnished by the ancient megalithic monuments.

To begin with, let us take as a type for our study the most famous of all so-called Celtic tumuli, that of New Grange, on the River Boyne in Ireland.  In Irish literature New Grange is constantly associated with the Tuatha De Danann as one of their palaces, as our fourth chapter points out. Throughout our second section generally, the testimony indicates that the essential nature of these fairy-folk is subjective or spiritual. These two facts at the outset are very important and fundamental, because we expect to show even more dearly than we have just done in the case of menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs, and smaller tumuli, that the folk-belief under consideration is at bottom a psychical one, which has grown up out of a folk-memory of the time when, as has just been said, Celtic or pre-Celtic tumuli were used for interments, and probably certain ones among them as places for the celebration of pagan mysteries.

Mr. George Coffey, the eminent archaeologist in charge of the archaeological collections of the Royal Irish Academy, quotes from ancient Irish records in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre and other manuscripts to show that the early traditions refer to the Boyne country as the burial-place of the kings of Tara, and that sometimes they seem to associate Brughna-Boyne with the tumuli on the Boyne,  but, no exact identification being possible, it cannot be said with certainty whether any one of the three great Boyne tumuli is meant. Even though it could be shown conclusively that some mighty hero or king had actually been entombed in New Grange, as is likely, in the earth behind the chamber, under the chamber’s floor, or even within the chamber, still, as we have already pointed out, most of the great Irish heroes and kings were in popular belief literally gods incarnate, and, therefore (as commonly among all ancient peoples, civilized and non-civilized, who held the same doctrine), the tomb of such a divine personage came to be regarded as the actual dwelling of the once incarnate god, even though his bones were long turned to dust. The Book of Ballymole strengthens this suggestion: in one of its ancient Irish poems, by MacNia, son of Oenna, preceded by this mystical dedication, ‘Ye Poets of Bregia, of truth, not false,’ the wonders of the Palace of the Boyne, the Hall of the great god Daghda, supreme king and oracle of the Tuatha de Danann, are thus celebrated :-

Behold the Sidh before your eyes,
It is manifest to you that it is a king’s mansion,
Which was built by the firm Daghda;
It was a wonder, a court, an admirable hill.

It seems clear enough, from the old Irish manuscripts referred to by Mr. Coffey,  that the Boyne country near Tara was the sacred and religious centre of ancient Ireland, and was used by the Irish in very much the same way as Memphis and other places on the sacred Nile were used by the ancient Egyptians, both as a royal cemetery and as a place for the celebration of pagan mysteries. It is known that most of the Mysteries of Antiquity were psychic in their nature, having to do with the neophyte’s entrance into Hades or the invisible world while out of the physical body, or else with direct communication with gods, spirits, and shades of the dead, while in the physical body; and such mysteries I were performed in darkened chambers from which all light was excluded. These chambers were often carved out of solid rock, as can be seen in the Rock Temples of India; and when mountain caves or natural caverns were not available, artificial ones were used (see chapter x).

The places, like Tara and Memphis, where the great men and kings of the nations of antiquity were entombed, being the most sacred, were very often, on that account, also the places dedicated to the most magnificent temples and to the Mysteries, or among less advanced nations to the worship of the dead. On every side of sacred Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain is dotted with the burial mounds of unknown heroes and chieftains of ancient Britain; while in modern times, even though the Mysteries are long forgotten, Westminster Abbey, at the centre of the planet’s capital, has, in turn, become the hallowed Hall of the Mighty Dead for the vast British Empire. In view of all these facts, after a careful examination of the famous New Grange tumulus itself, and a study of the references to it in old Irish literature, we are firmly of the opinion that one cannot be far wrong in describing it as a spirit-temple in which were celebrated ancient Celtic or pre-Celtic Mysteries at the time when neophytes, including those of royal blood, were initiated; and as such it is directly related to a cult of the Tuatha De Danann or Fairy-Folk, of spirits, and of the dead. Nor are we alone in this opinion. Mr. Coffey himself, we believe, is inclined to favour it; and Mr. W. C. Borlase, author of The Dolmens of Ireland, who is quite committed to it, says that it is not necessary, as some do, to consider New Grange as an ancient abode of mortal men, for ‘the spirits of the dead, the fairies, the Sidhe, might have had their brugh, or palace, as well ‘  And he points out that in the old Irish manuscripts we have proof that it was supposed to be thus used. This proof is found in the Agallamh na Senorach or ‘Colloquy with the Ancients’ by St. Patrick, from the Book of Lismore, a fifteenth-century manuscript copied from older manuscripts and now translated by Standish H. O’Grady :- The three sons of the King of Ireland, by name Ruidhe, Fiacha, and Eochaid, leaving their nurse’s and guardian’s house, went to fert na ndruadh, i. e. ‘grave of the wizards’, north-west of Tara, to ask of their father a country, a domain; but he refused their request, and then they formed a project to gain lands and riches by fasting on the tuatha de Danann at the brugh upon the Boyne: ‘”Lands therefore I will not bestow on you, but win lands for yourself.” Thereupon they with the ready rising of one man rose and took their way to the green of the brugh upon the Boyne where, none other being in their company, they sat them down. Ruidhe said: “What is your plan to-night?” His brothers rejoined: “Our project is to fast on the tuatha de Danann, aiming thus to win from them good fortune in the shape of a country, of a domain, of lands, and to have vast riches.” Nor had they been long there when they marked a cheery-looking young man of a pacific demeanour that came towards them. He salutes the king of Ireland’s sons; they answer him after the same manner. “Young man, whence art thou? whence comest thou?” “Out of yonder brugh chequered with the many lights hard by you here.” “What name wearest thou?” “I am the Daghda’s son Bodhb Derg; and to the tuatha de Danann it was revealed that ye would come to fast here to-night, for lands and for great fortune.”’ Then with Bodhb Derg, the three sons of Ireland’s king entered into the brugh, and the tuatha de Danann went into council, and Midhir Yellow-mane son of the Daghda who presided said: ‘Those yonder accommodate now with three wives, since from wives it is that either fortune or misfortune is derived.’ And from their marriages with the three daughters of Midhir they derived all their wishes - territories and wealth in the greatest abundance. ‘For three days with their nights they abode in the sidh.’ ‘Angus told them to carry away out of fidh omna, i. e. “Oakwood,” three apple-trees : one in full bloom, another shedding the blossom, and another covered with ripe fruit. Then they repaired to the dun, where they abode for three times fifty years, and until those kings disappeared; for in virtue of marriage alliance they returned again to the tuatha de Danann, and from that time forth have remained there.’

Mr. Borlase, commenting on this passage, suggests its importance in proving to us that during the Middle Ages there existed a tradition, thus committed to writing from older manuscripts or from oral sources, regarding ‘the nature of the rites performed in pagan times at those places, which were held sacred to the heathen mysteries ‘.  The passage evidently describes a cult of royal or famous ancestral spirits identified with the god-race of Tuatha De Danann, who, as we know, being reborn as mortals, ruled Ireland. These ancestral spirits were to be approached by a pilgrimage made to their abode, the spirit-haunted tumulus, and a residence in it of three days and three nights during which period there was to be an unbroken fast. Sacrifices were doubtless offered to the gods, or spirit-ancestors; and while they were ‘ fasted upon’, they were expected to appear and grant the pilgrim’s prayer and to speak with him. All this indicates that the existence of invisible beings was taken for granted, probably through the knowledge gained by initiation.

The Echtra Nerai or the ‘Adventures of Nera’ (see this study, p. 287), contains a description like the one above, of how a mortal named Nera went into the Sidhe-palace at Cruachan; and it is said that he went not only into the cave (uamh) but into the sid of the cave. The term uamh or cave according to Mr. Borlase, indicates the whole of the interior vaulted chamber, while the sid of that vaulted chamber or uamh is intended to refer to ‘the sanctum sanctorum, or penetralia of the spirit-temple, upon entering into which the mortal came face to face with the royal occupants, and there doubtless he lay fasting, or offering his sacrifices, at the periods prescribed ‘.  The word brugh refers simply to the appearance of a tumulus, or souterrain beneath a fort or rath, and means, therefore, mansion or dwelling-place.  And Mr. Borlase adds :- ‘ I feel but little doubt that in the inner chamber at New Grange, with its three recesses and its basin, we have this sid of the cave, and the place where the pilgrims fasted - a situation and a practice precisely similar to those which, under Christian auspices, were continued at such places as the Leaba Mologa in Cork, the original Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg, and elsewhere. The practice of lying in stone troughs was a feature of the Christian pilgrimages in Ireland. Sometimes such troughs had served the previous purpose of stone coffins. It is just possible that the shallow basins in the cells at Lough Crew, New Grange, and Dowth may, like the stone beds or troughs of the saints,  have been occupied by the pilgrims engaged in their devotions. If so, however, they must have sat in them in Eastern fashion.’ 

Again, in the popular tale called The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainnè,  Aengus, the son of the Dagda, one of the Tuatha De Danann, is called Aengus-an-Bhrogha, and connected with the Brugh-na-Boinne. In the tale Finn says, ‘Let us leave this tulach, for fear that Aengus-an-Bhrogha and the Tuatha-De-Danann might catch us; and though we have no part in the slaying of Diarmuid, he would none the more readily believe us.’ Aengus is evidently an invisible being with great power over mortals. This is clear in what follows: he transports Diarmuid’s body to the Brugh-na-Boinne, saying, ‘Since I cannot restore him to life, I will send a soul into him, so that he may talk to me each day.’ Thus, as the presiding deity of the brugh, Aengus the Tuatha De Danann could reanimate dead bodies ‘and cause them to speak to devotees, we may suppose oracularly.’  In the Bruighion Chaorihainn or ‘Fort of the Rowan Tree’, a Fenian tale, a poet put Finn under taboo to understand these verses :-

I saw a house in the country
Out of which no hostages are given to a king,
Fire burns it not, harrying spoils it not.

And Finn made reply :- ‘ I understand that verse, for that is the Brugh of the Boyne that you have seen (perhaps, as we suggest, during an initiation), namely, the house of Aengus Og of the Brugh, and it cannot be burned or harried as long as Aengus (a god) shall live.’ As Mr. Borlase observes, to say that ‘no hostages are given to a king’ out of the Brugh is probably another way of saying that the dead pay no taxes, or that being a holy place, the Brugh was exempt.  This last evidence is from oral tradition, and rather late in being placed on record; but it is not on that account less trustworthy, and may be much more so than the older manuscripts. Until quite modern times the folk-lore of the Boyne country still echoed similar traditions about unknown mystic rites, following what O’Donovan has recorded; for he has said that Aenghus-an-Bhrogha was considered the presiding fairy of the Boyne till quite within recent times, and that his name was still familiar to the old inhabitants of Meath who were then fast forgetting their traditions with the Irish language.  And this tradition brings us to consider what was apparently an Aengus Cult among the ancient Celtic peoples.


Euhemeristic tradition came to represent the Great God Dagda and his sons as buried in a tumulus, probably New Grange, and then called it, as I found it called to-day, a fairy mound, a name given also to Gavrinis, its Breton parallel. The older and clearer tradition relates how Aengus gained possession of the Brugh of the Boyne, and says nothing about it as a cemetery, but rather describes it as ‘an admirable place, more accurately speaking, as an admirable land, a term which betrays the usual identification of the fairy mound with the nether world to which it formed the entrance ‘.  The myth placing Dagda at the head of the departed makes him ‘a Goidelic Cronus ruling over an Elysium with which a sepulchral mound was associated ‘.  The displacement of Dagda by his son makes ‘Mac Oc (Aengus), who should have been the youthful Zeus of the Goidelic world, rejoicing in the translucent expanse of the heavens as his crystal bower’, a king of the dead.

In Dun Aengus, the strange cyclopean circular structure, and hence most likely sun-temple, on Aranmore, we have another example of the localization of the Aengus myth. This fact leads us to believe, after due archaeological examination, that amid the stronghold of Dun Aengus, with its tiers of amphitheatre-like seats and the native rock at its centre, apparently squared to form a platform or stage, were anciently celebrated pagan mysteries comparable to those of the Greeks and less cultured peoples, and initiations into an Aengus Cult such as seems to have once flourished at New Grange. At Dun Aengus, however, the mystic assemblies and rites, conducted in such a sun-temple, so secure and so strongly fortified against intrusion, no doubt represented a somewhat different mystical school, and probably one very much older than at New Grange. In the same manner, each of the other circular but less important cyclopean structures on Aranmore and elsewhere in west Ireland may have been structures for closely related sun-cults. To our mind, and we have carefully and at leisure examined most of these cyclopean structures on Aranmore, it seems altogether fanciful to consider them as having been originally and primarily intended as places of refuge - duns or forts. Yet, because the ancient Celts never separated civil and religious functions, such probable sun-temples could have been as frequently used for non-religious tribal assemblies as for initiation ceremonies; and nothing makes it impossible or them to have been in times of need also places for refuge against enemies. We are led to this view with respect to Dun Aengus in particular, because the Aengus of Aranmore is known as Aengus, son of Um—r, and is associated with the mystic people called the Fir Bolg; and, yet, as Sir John Rhys thinks, this Aengus, son of Um—r, and Aengus, son of Dagda, are two aspects of a single god, a Celtic Zeus.  O’Curry’s statements about Dun Aengus seem to confirm all this; and there seems to have been a tale, now lost, about the ‘Destruction of Dun Oengusa’ (in modern Irish Dun Aonghuis), the Fortress of Aengus.

This sun-cult, represented in Ireland by the Aengus Cult, can be traced further: Sir John Rhys regards Stonehenge - a sun-temple also circular like the Irish dŸns and Breton cromlechs - as a temple to the Celtic Zeus, in Irish mythology typified by Aengus, and in Welsh by Merlin :- ‘ What sort of a temple could have been more appropriate for the primary god of light and of the luminous heavens than a spacious, open-air enclosure of a circular form like Stonehenge ? ‘  In Welsh myth, Math ab Mathonwy, called also ‘Math the Ancient’, was the greatest magician of ancient Wales, and his relation as teacher to Gwydion ab Don, the great Welsh Culture Hero, leads Sir John Rhys to consider him the Brythonic Zeus, though Merlin shares with him in I this distinction ;  and since the Gaelic counterpart of Math is Aengus, a close study of Math might finally show a cult in his honour in Wales as we have found in Ireland an Aengus Cult.  We may, therefore, with more or less exactness, equate the Aengus Cult as we see it in Irish myth connected chiefly with Dun Aengus and New Grange, with the unknown cult practised at Stonehenge, and this in turn with other Brythonic or pre-Brythonic sun-cults and initiations practised at Carnac, the great Celtic Jerusalem in Brittany, and at Gavrinis. All this will be more clearly seen after we have set forth what seems a definite and most striking parallel to New Grange, both as a monument erected by man and, as we maintain, as a place for religious mysteries-the greatest structure ever raised by human effort, the Great Pyramid.


Caliph Al Mamoun in A. D. 820, by a forced passage, was the first in modern times to enter the Great Pyramid, and he found nowhere a mummy or any indications that the structure had ever been used as a tomb for the dead. The King’s Chamber, so named by us moderns, proved to be a keen disappointment for its first violator, for in it there was neither gold nor silver nor anything at all worth carrying away. The magnificent chamber contained nothing save an empty stone chest without a lid. Archaeologists in Egypt and archaeologists in Ireland face the same unsolved problem, namely, the purpose of the empty stone chest without inscriptions and quite unlike a mummy tomb, and of the stone basin in New Grange.  Certain Egyptologists have supposed that some royal personage must have been buried in the curious granite coffer, though there can be only their supposition to support them, for they have absolutely no proof that such is true, while there is strong circumstantial evidence to show that such is not true. Sir Gardner Wilkinson in his well-known publications has already suggested that the stone chest as well as the Great Pyramid itself were never intended to hold a corpse; and it is generally admitted by Egyptologists that no sarcophagus intended for a mummy has ever been found so high up in the body of a pyramid as this empty stone chest, except in the Second Pyramid. Incontestable evidence in support of the highly probable theory that the Great Pyramid was not intended for an actual tomb can be drawn from two important facts :-  ‘the coffer-has certain remarkable cubic proportions which show a care and design beyond what could be expected in any burial-coffer ‘ - according to the high authority of Dr. Flinders Petrie;  the chamber containing the coffer and the upper passage-ways have ventilating channels not known in any other Pyramid, so that apparently there must have been need of frequent entrance into the chamber by living men, as would be the case if used, as we hold, for initiation ceremonies.

It is well known that very many of the megalithic monuments of the New Grange type scattered over Europe, especially from the Carnac centre of Brittany to the Tara-Boyne centre of Ireland, have one thing in common, an astronomical arrangement like the Great Pyramid, and an entrance facing one of the points of the solstices, usually either the winter solstice, which is common, or the summer solstice.  The puzzle has always been to discover the exact arrangement of the Great Pyramid by locating its main entrance. A Californian, Mr. Louis P. McCarty, in his recent (1907) work entitled The Great Pyramid Jeezeh, suggests with the most logical and reasonable arguments that the builders of the Pyramid have placed its main entrance in an undiscovered passage-way beneath the Great Sphinx, now half-buried in the shifting desert sands. If it can be shown that the Sphinx is the real portal, and many things tend to indicate that it is, the Great Pyramid is built on the same plan as New Grange, that is to say, it opens to the south-east, and like New Grange contains a narrow passageway leading to a central chamber. South-easterly from the centre of the Pyramid lies the Sphinx, 5,380 feet away, a distance equal to ‘just five times the distance of the “diagonal socket length” of the Great Pyramid from the centre of the Subterranean Chamber, under the Pyramid, to the supposed entrance under the Sphinx ‘  - a distance quite in keeping with the mighty proportions of the wonderful structure. And what is important, several eminent archaeologists have worked out the same conclusion, and have been seeking to connect the two monuments by making excavations in the Queen’s Chamber, where it is supposed there exists a tunnel to the Sphinx. In all this we should bear in mind that the present entrance to the Pyramid is the forced one made by the treasure-seeking Caliph.

This very probable astronomical parallelism between the great Egyptian monument and the Irish one would establish their common religious, or, in a mystic sense, their funereal significance. In the preceding chapter we have set forth what symbolical relation the sun, its rising and setting, and its death at the winter equinox, were anciently supposed to hold to the doctrines of human death and re-birth. Jubainvile, regarding the sun among the Celts in its symbolical relation to death, wrote, ‘In Celtic belief, the dead go to live beyond the Ocean, to the south-west, there where the sun sets during the greater part of the year.’  This, too, as M. Maspero shows, was an Egyptian belief ;  while, as equally among the Celts, the east, especially the south-east, where, after the winter solstice, the sun seems to be re-born or to rise out of the underworld of Hades into which it goes when it dies, is symbolical of the reverse - Life, Resurrection, and Re-birth. In this last Celtic-Egyptian belief, we maintain, may be found the reason why the chief megalithic monuments (dolmens, tumuli, and alignements), in Celtic countries and elsewhere, have their directions east and west, and why those like New Grange and Gavrinis open to the sunrise, and on the Greek temples also opened to the sunrise, and on the divine image within fell the first rays of the beautiful god Apollo.  In the great Peruvian sun-temple at Cuzco, a splendid disk of pure gold faced the east, and, reflecting the first rays of the rising sun, illuminated the whole sanctuary.’  The cave-temple of the Florida Red Men opened eastward, and within its entrance on festival days stood the priest at dawn watching for the first ray of the sun, as a sign to begin the chant and offering.  The East Indian performs the ablution at dawn in the sacred Ganges, and stands facing the east meditating, as Brahma appears in all the wondrous glory of a tropical sunrise.  And in the same Aryan land there is an opposite worship: the dreaded Thugs, worshippers of devils and of Kali the death-goddess, in their most diabolical rites face the west and the sunset, symbols of death.  How Christianity was shaped by paganism is nowhere clearer than in the orientation of great cathedral churches (almost without exception in England), for all of the more famous ones have their altars eastward; and Roman Catholics in prayer in their church services, and Anglicans in repeating the Creed, turn to the east, as the Hindu does. St. Augustine says :- ‘ When we stand at prayer, we turn to the east, where the heaven arises, not as though God were only there, and had forsaken all other parts of the world, but to admonish our mind to turn to a more excellent nature, that is, to the Lord. ‘  Though the Jews came to be utterly opposed to sun-worship in their later history, they were sun-worshippers at first, as their temples opening eastward testify. This was the vision of Ezekiel :- ‘And, behold, at the door of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the Altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east.’

All this illustrates the once world-wide religion of our race; and shows that sun-cults and sun-symbols are derived from a universal doctrine regarding the two states of existence - the one in Hades or the invisible lower world where the Sun-god goes at night, and the other in what we call the visible realm which the Sun-god visits daily.  The relation between life and death - symbolically figured in this fundamental conception forming the background of every sun-cult - is the foundation of all ancient mysteries. Thus we should expect the correspondences which we believe do exist between New Grange and the Great Pyramid. Both alike, in our opinion, were the greatest places in the respective countries for the celebration of the Mysteries. High up in the body of the Great Pyramid, after he had performed the long underground journey, typical of the journey of Osiris or the Sun to the Otherworld or the World of the Dead, we may suppose (knowing what we do of the Ancient Mysteries and their shadows in modern Masonic initiations ) that the royal or priestly neophyte laid himself in that strange stone coffin without a lid, for a certain period of time - probably for three days and three nights. Then, the initiation being complete, he arose from the mystic death to a- real resurrection, a true child of Osiris. In New Grange we may suppose that the royal or priestly neophyte, while he ‘fasted on the Tuatha De Danann for three days with their nights ‘,sat in that strange stone basin after the manner of the Orient.

The Great Pyramid seems to be the most ancient of the Egyptian pyramids, and undoubtedly was the model for all the smaller ones, which ‘always betray profound ignorance of their noble model’s chiefest internal features, as well as of all its niceties of angle and cosmic harmonies of linear measurement’.  Dr. Flinders Petrie says :- ‘ The Great Pyramid at Gizeh (of Khufu, fourth dynasty) unquestionably takes the lead, in accuracy and in beauty of work, as well as in size. Not only is the fine work of it in the pavement, casing, King’s and Queen’s chambers quite unexcelled; but the general character of the core masonry is better than that of any other pyramid in its solidity and regularity.’  And of the stone coffers he says :- ‘ Taking most of its dimensions at their maximum, they agree closely with the same theory as that which is applicable to the chambers; for when squared they are all even multiples of a square fifth of a cubit. . . . There is no other theory applicable to every lineal dimension of the coffer; but having found their proportion in the form of the Pyramid, and in the King’s Chamber, there is some ground for supposing that it was intended also in the coffer, on just one-fifth the scale of the chamber.’  And here is apparent the important fact we wish to emphasize; the Great Pyramid does not seem to have been intended primarily, if at all, for the entombment of dead bodies or mummies while ‘the numerous quasi-copies’ were ‘for sepulchral purposes ‘  without doubt. There appears to have been at first a clear understanding of the esoteric usage of the Great Pyramid as a place for the mystic burial of Initiates, and then in the course of national decadence the exoteric interpretation of this usage, the interpretation now popular with Egyptologists. led to the erection of smaller pyramids for purposes of actual burial. And may we not see in such pyramid-like tumuli as those of Mont St. Michel, Gavrinis, and New Grange copies of these smaller funeral pyramids ;  or, if not, direct copies, at least the result of a similar religious decadence from the unknown centuries since the Great Pyramid was erected by the Divine Kings of prehistoric Egypt as a silent witness for all ages that Great Men, Initiates, have understood Universal Law, and have solved the greatest of all human problems, the problem of Life and Death?


In conclusion, and in support of the arguments already advanced, I offer a few observations of my own, made at Gavrinis itself, the most famous tumulus in Continental Europe. After a very careful examination of the interior and exterior of the tumulus, an examination extending over more than twelve hours, I am convinced that its curious rock-carvings and those in New Grange are by the same race of people, whoever that race may have been; and that there is sufficient evidence in its construction to show that, like New Grange, it was quite as religious as funereal in its nature and use. The facts which bear out this view are the following. First, there are three strange cavities cut into the body of the stone on the south side of the inner chamber, communicating interiorly with one another, and large enough to admit human hands; if used as places in which to offer sacrifice to the dead or fairies, small objects could have been placed in them. In the oldest extant authentic records of them which I have found it is said of their probable purpose :-

‘Some people look on them as a double noose intended to strangle the [animal] victims which the priest sacrificed; for others they are two rings behind which the hands of the betrothed met each other to be married.’  Their purpose is certainly difficult enough to decipher, perhaps is undecipherable; but one thing about them is certain, namely, that a close examination round their exterior edges and within them also shows the rock-surface worn smooth as though by ages of handling and touching; and it is incontestable that this wearing of the rock-surface by human hands could not have taken place had the inner chamber been sealed up and used solely as a tomb. We suggest here, as Sir James Fergusson in his Rude Stone Monuments (p. 366) has suggested, that the inner chamber of Gavrinis was probably a place for the celebration of religious rites: he advances the opinion that the strange cavities were used to contain holy oil or holy water. There is this second curious fact connected with the tumulus of Gavrinis. On entering it - and it opens like New Grange to the sunrise, being oriented 43d 60m to the south-east  - one finds placed across the floor of the narrow passage-way as slightly inclined steps rising to the inner chamber three or four stones. Two of them, now very prominent, form veritable stumbling-blocks, and the one at the threshold of the inner chamber is carved quite like the lintel stone above the entrance at New Grange.  From what we know of ancient mystic cults, there was a darkened chamber approached by a narrow passage-way so low that the neophyte must stoop in traversing it to show symbolically his humility; and as symbolic of his progress to the Chamber of Death, the Sanctum Sanctorum of the spirit-temple, there were steps, often purposely placed as stumbling-blocks. The Great Pyramid, evidently, conforms to this mystical plan; and strikes one, therefore, all the more forcibly as the most remarkable structure for initiatory ceremonies ever constructed on our planet. Thus, Dr. Flinders Petrie says :- ‘ But we are met then by an extraordinary idea, that all access to the King’s chamber after its completion must have been by climbing over the plug-blocks, as they lay in the gallery, or by walking up the ramps on either side of them. Yet, as the blocks cannot physically have been lying in any other place before they were let clown we are shut up to this view.’  And as Egyptian tombs represented the mansions of the dead,  just so Celtic or pre-Celtic spirit-temples and place for initiations were always connected with the Underworld of the Dead; and save for such symbolical arrangements as we see in Gavrinis, and New Grange also, they were undistinguishable from tombs used for interments only.

It seems to us most reasonable to suppose that if, as the old Irish manuscripts show, there were spirit-temples or places for pagan funeral rites, or rites of initiation, in Ireland, constructed like other tumuli which were used only as tombs for the dead (because the ancient cult was one of ancestor worship and worship of gods like the Tuatha De Danann, and spirits), then there must have been others in Brittany also, where we find the same system of rock-inscriptions. Further, in view of all the definite provable relations between Gavrinis and New Grange, we are strongly inclined to regard them both as having the same origin and purpose, Gavrinis being for Armorica what New Grange was for Ireland, the royal or principal spirit-temple.





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