Rites and Institutions Possibly Retained in Forming the Masonic Society
Mr. Preston, in commencing his history of Masonry in England, asserts that there are convincing proofs that the science of Masonry was not unknown to the early Britons even before the time of the invasion of the Romans. Hence, he suggests the probability that the Druids retained among them many usages similar to those of Masons; but he candidly admits that this is a mere conjecture.[i]
Paine, who knew, by the way, as little of Masonry as he did of the religion of the Druids, dogmatically asserts that "Masonry is the remains of the religion of the ancient Druids, who, like the Magi of Persia and the priests of Heliopolis in Egypt, were priests of the sun."[iii]
Godfrey Higgins, whose inventive genius, fertile imagination, and excessive credulity render his great work, the Anacalypsis, altogether unreliable, says that he has "no doubt that the Masons were Druids, Culidei, or Chaldea, and Casideans."[v]
Dr. Oliver, it is true, denies that the Masons of the present day were derived from the Druids. He thinks that the latter were a branch of what he calls the Spurious Freemasonry, which was a secession from the Pure Freemasonry of the Patriarchs. But he finds many analogies in the rites and symbols of the two institutions which indicate their common origin from a primitive system, namely, the ancient Mysteries of the Pagans.
The theory of those who find a connection either in analogy or by succession between the Druids and the Freemasons accounts for this connection by supposing that the Druids derived their system either from Pythagoras or from the ancient Mysteries through the Phoenicians, who visited Britain at an early period for commercial purposes.
Before we can profitably discuss the relations of Druidism to Freemasonry, or be prepared to determine whether there were any relations whatever between the two, it will be necessary to give a brief sketch of the history and character of the former. This is a topic which, irrespective of any Masonic reference, is not devoid of interest. Of all the institutions of antiquity, there is none with which we are less acquainted than that of the Druidism of Britain and Gaul.
The investigations of recent archaeologists have tended to cast much doubt on the speculations of the antiquaries of the 17th and 18th centuries. Stokely, for instance, one of the most learned of those who have sought to establish out of the stone monuments of England a connected history of Druidism, has been said by Ferguson, in his work on Rude Stone Monuments, to have been indebted more to a prolific imagination than to authentic facts for the theory which he has sought to establish.
The skepticism of Ferguson is, however, not less objectionable in a critical inquiry than the credulity of Stokely. There is evidently a middle way between them. Ferguson cannot deny the existence of Druids in Gaul and Britain, since the fact is stated by Caesar. He supposes that there were two distinct races in the island; the original inhabitants, who were of Turanian origin, and, being more uncivilized, were driven by the other race, who were Celts, into the fastnesses of the Welsh hills long before the Roman invasion.
Among the former he thinks that the religion of Druidism, consisting of tree and serpent worship, may have been practiced. And he accounts for the error of the classical writers in describing the priests of the latter race as Druids by attributing it to the confounding of the two races by the "uncritical Romans.”[vi]
Very recently a bold and very skeptical theory has been advanced by Dr. Ignaz Goldziher, in his work on Mythology Among the Hebrews,[vii] which aims at a total annihilation of Druidism as a system of secret initiation among the ancient Britons, whose Druidism was only a national religion, and attributes its invention to the modern Welsh, who created it for the purpose of elevating and strengthening their own nationality in their rivalry with the English. He says:
The Cymri of Wales, becoming alive to the opposition in nationality between themselves and the English, felt the need of finding a justification of this opposition in the oldest prehistoric times. It was then first suggested to them that they were descendants of the ancient, renowned Celtic nation; and to keep alive this Celtic national pride they introduced an institution of New Druids, a sort of secret society like the Freemasons.
The New Druids, like the old ones, taught a sort of national religion, which, however, the people having long become Christian and preserved no independent national traditions, they had mostly to invent themselves. Thus, arose the so-called Celtic mythology of the god Hu and the goddess Ceridolu (Ceridwen), etc. - mere poetical fictions which never lived in popular belief."
The questions involved in this difference of opinion are as yet not critically decided, and I shall therefore content myself with giving the views of the history and religion of the Druids as they have been generally received and believed, without confusing the subject with the contending speculations which have been fostered by the credulity or the imagination of one side and impugned by the skepticism of the other.
The Druids, which word signifies magicians,[viii] were the priests of the religion of the ancient Britons, among whom they exercised almost unlimited influence and authority. They presided over and directed the education of the youths; they decided without appeal all judicial controversies; they were exempted from all taxes and legal impositions; and whoever refused to submit to their decisions on any question was subjected to excommunication, by which he was forbidden access to the altars or the performance of religious rites, and was debarred from all intercourse with his relatives, his friends, or his countrymen.
Hence, no superstition was ever more terrible than that of the priest-ridden Britons. The Druids were under the chief authority of an Archdruid, which office was for life, but originally elective. They were divided into three orders, the highest being the Druids, below which were the Prophets, and the Vatesor Bards.
They held an annual assembly, at which litigated questions were decided and new laws were made or old ones abrogated. They held also four quarterly meetings, on the days of the equinoxes and the solstices. They permitted none of their doctrines or ceremonies to be committed to common writing, but used a cipher for their concealment. This, Caesar says, consisted of the letters of the Greek alphabet; a statement by no means probable, since it would infer a knowledge by them of the Greek language, of which we have no evidence.
The opinion of Toland is more plausible - that the characters used were those of the Irish Ogumalphabet. Sir James Ware, who wrote in Latin, about the middle of the 17th century, a work on the Antiquities of Ireland, says that:
…the ancient Irish, besides the vulgar characters, used also various occult or artificial forms of writing, called Ogum, in which they wrote their secrets.
He adds that he himself was in possession of an ancient book or parchment filled with these characters.[ix] Their places of worship were, according to the contemporaneous authority of Caesar and Tacitus, in sacred groves.
Stokely and other antiquaries of his school suppose that the megalithic monuments found in Britain, such as at Stonehenge and Avebury, were Druidical temples, but Ferguson denies this, and asserts that "there is no passage in any classical author which connects the Druids either directly or indirectly with any stone temples or stones of any sort."[x]
The question remains un-adjudicated, but the position taken by Ferguson seems to be supported by better archaeological evidence. Their worship, like that of the ancient Mysteries, was accompanied by a secret initiation. Their doctrines were communicated only to the initiated, who were strictly forbidden to expose them to the profane. What were the precise forms of this initiation it is impossible to say. The Druids themselves, wedded to their oral system of instruction, have left no records. But Dr. Oliver, depending on inferences that he has drawn from the Welsh triads, from the poem of the ancient bard Taleisin, and some other Cambrian authorities, aided by the inventive genius of his own imagination, has afforded us a very minute, if not altogether accurate, detail of these initiatory ceremonies.
The account is entirely too long for reproduction, but a condensed view of it will not be uninteresting.[xi] Previous to admission to the first degree, or that of the Vates, the candidate was submitted to a careful preparation, which in especial cases extended to the long period of twenty years.
The ceremony of initiation began by placing the candidate in the Pastos, chest or coffin, in which he remained enclosed for three days, to represent death, and was liberated or restored to life on the third day.[xii] The sanctuary being now prepared for the business of initiation, the Druids are duly arranged, being appropriately clothed and crowned with ivy.
The candidate, representing a blind man, is then introduced while a hymn to the Sun is being chanted. He is placed under the care of an officer whose duty it is to receive him in the land of rest, and he is directed to kindle the fire under the cauldron of Ceridwen, the Druidical goddess. A pageant is then formed, and the candidate makes a circumambulation of nine times around the sanctuary, in circles from east to west by the south.
The procession is first slow and amid a death-like silence. At length, the pace is increased into a rapid and furious motion, accompanied with the tumultuous clang of musical instruments and the screams of harsh and dissonant voices reciting in verse the praises of those heroes who were brave in war, courteous in peace, and patrons of religion.[xiii]
This sacred ceremony was followed by the administration of an oath of secrecy, violation of which could be expiated only by death. Then succeeded a series of ceremonies in which, by means of masks, the candidate was made to assume the character of various animals, such as the dog, the deer, the mare, the cock, etc.[xiv] This, according to Oliver, concluded the first part of the ceremony of initiation.
The second part began with striking the candidate a violent blow on the head with an oar, and a pitchy darkness immediately ensued, which was soon changed into a blaze of light which illuminated the whole area of the shrine. This sudden transition from darkness to light was intended to shadow forth the same transition which Noah experienced on emerging from the gloom of the ark to the brightness of the renovated world.[xv]
Thus, it is contended that the Druids were Arkite worshippers - a concession by Oliver to the theories of Faber and Bryant. The light was then withdrawn, and the candidate was again involved in chaotic darkness. The most dismal howlings, shrieks, and lamentations salute his astonished ear.
Thus, the figurative death of Noah, typified by his confinement in the ark, was commemorated with every external mark of sorrow. Alarmed at the discordant noises, the candidate naturally sought to escape, but this was rendered impossible, for wherever he turned he was opposed by dogs who pursued him.
At length, the gigantic goddess Ceridwen seized him and bore him by main force to the mythological sea which represented the flood of waters over which Noah floated. Here he is supposed to have remained for a year in the character of Arawn, or Noah.[xvi]
The same appalling sounds continued, until at length, having emerged from the stream, the darkness was removed and the candidate found himself surrounded by the most brilliant coruscations of light. This change produced in the attendants corresponding emotions, which were expressed by shouts and loud paeans that testified their rejoicings at the resuscitation of their god.[xvii]
The aspirant was then presented to the Archdruid, who explained to him the design of the mysteries and imparted some portion of the secret knowledge of Druidism, and recommended to him the practice of fortitude, which was considered as one of the leading traits of perfection.
With the performance of these painful ceremonies, the first degree of initiation into the Druidical Mysteries was concluded. In the second degree, where the trials appear, from Oliver's description, to have been of a less severe character, the candidate underwent lustration, or a typical ablution, which was followed by his enlightenment.
He was now instructed in the morality of the order; taught that souls are immortal and must live in a future state; solemnly enjoined to the performance of divine worship and the practice of virtue; and was invested with some of the badges of Druidism.
Among these was the crystal, the unequivocal test of his initiation. This crystal, or talisman against danger, was manufactured exclusively by the Druids, and its color varied in the three degrees. In the first it was green, in the second blue, and in the third white. The one presented to the aspirant was a combination of these colors.[xviii]
Beyond the second degree very few advanced. The third was conferred only on persons of rank and consequence, and in it the aspirant passed through still more arduous ceremonies of purification.
The candidate was committed to secluded solitude for a period of nine months, which time was devoted to reflection and to the study of the sciences, so that he might be prepared more fully to understand the sacred truths in which he was about to be instructed. He was again submitted to a symbolic death and regeneration, by ceremonies different from those of the first degree.
He was then supposed to represent a new-born infant, and, being placed in a coracle or boat, was committed to the mercy of the waters. The candidate, says Oliver, was actually set adrift in the open sea, and was obliged to depend on his own address and presence of mind to reach the opposite shore in safety.[xix]
This was done at night, and this nocturnal expedition, which sometimes cost the candidate his life, was the closing act of his initiation. Should he refuse to undertake it, he was contemptuously rejected and pronounced unworthy of a participation in the honors to which he aspired and for which he was forever afterward ineligible.
But if he courageously entered on the voyage and landed safely, he was triumphantly received by the Archdruid and his companions. He was recognized as a Druid, and became eligible for any ecclesiastical, civil or military dignity.
The whole circle of human science was open to his investigation; the knowledge of divine things was communicated without reserve; he was now enabled to perform the mysterious rites of worship, and had his understanding enriched with an elaborate system of morality.[xx]
But little is known of the religion of the Druids, on which these ceremonies are supposed to be founded, and concerning that little the opinions of the learned greatly differ. Toland says:
Among those institutions which are thought to be irrecoverably lost, one is that of the Druids; of which the learned have hitherto known nothing but by some fragments concerning them out of the Greek and Roman authors.[xxi]
Hence the views relating to their true worship have been almost as various as the writers who have discussed them. Caesar, who derived his knowledge of the Druids, imperfect as it was, from the contemporary priests of Gaul, says that they worshipped as their chief god Mercury, whom they considered as the inventor of all the arts, and after him Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva.[xxii]
But the Romans had a habit of applying to all the gods or idols of foreign nations the names and qualities of the deities of their own mythology. Hence, his statement will scarcely amount to more than that the Druids worshipped a variety of gods. Yet Davies, who, notwithstanding his national prejudices and prepossessions, is, from his learning, an authority not to be contemned, concurs in the view of Caesar so far as to say that "it is an historical fact, that the mythology and the rites of the Druids were the same, in substance, with those of the Greeks and Romans and of other nations which came under their observation."[xxiii]
Dionysius, the Geographer, another writer of the Augustan age, says that the rites of Bacchus were celebrated in Britain,[xxiv] and Strabo, on the authority of Artemidorus, who wrote a century before Christ, asserts that in an island close to Britain (probably the isle of Mona, where the Druids held their principal seat) Ceres and Proserpine were venerated with rites similar to those of Samothracia.[xxv]
Bryant, who traced all the ancient religions, principally on the basis of etymology, to traditions of the deluge and the worship of the patriarch Noah, conceived, of course, that Druidism was but a part of this universal cult.[xxvi]
Faber, who followed in the footsteps of his learned predecessor, adopted the same hypothesis, and held the doctrine that the Druids were addicted to what he denominated Arkite worship, or the worship of Noah, and that all their religious rites referred to the deluge, death, and immortality being typified by the confinement of the patriarch in the ark and his subsequent emergence from it into a new and renovated world, the symbol of the future life.[xxvii]
It will be evident from the description already given of the Druidical initiations as portrayed by Dr. Oliver, that he concurred to a great extent in the views of Bryant and Faber. Stokely, one of the most learned of English antiquarians, believed that the Druids were addicted to tree and serpent worship, and he adduces as evidence of the truth of this theory the megalithic monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, in the arrangement of whose stones he thought that he had traced a serpentine form.
On the contrary, Mr. Ferguson[xxviii] scoffs, in language not always temperate, at the views of Stokely, and not only denies the serpentine form of the stone remains in England, as described by that antiquary, but repudiates the hypothesis that the Druids ever erected or had any connection with stone temples or monuments in any part of the world. But as Ferguson adduces nothing but negative arguments in proof of his assertion, and as he even casts some doubt upon the existence of Druids at all in Britain, his views are by no means satisfactory.
He has sought to demolish a palace, but he has not attempted to build even a hovel in its place. Repudiating all other theories, he has offered none of his own. If the Druids did not erect the stone monuments of Britain, who did? Until the contrary is conclusively proved, we have but little hesitation in attributing them to the Druids. But we need not enter into this discussion, which pertains more properly to the province of archaeology than of Freemasonry.
Some writers have held that the Druids were Sun-worshippers, and that the adoration of the solar orb constituted the national religion of the ancient Britons. Hence, these theorists are inclined to believe that Stonehenge and Avebury were really observatories, where the worshippers of the Sun might behold his rising, his diurnal course, and his setting.
Mr. Davies, in his Celtic Researches and in his Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, maintains that there was among them a mutilated tradition of the Noachic deluge,[xxix] as there was among all heathen nations.
The legend was similar to that of the flood of Deucalion, and was derived from Samothrace and the East, having been brought by a colony from one nation to another and preserved without interruption.[xxx]
Hu, the supreme god of the Druids, he therefore supposes to have been identical with Noah, and he bestows upon him the various attributes that were distributed among the different gods of the more prolific mythology of the Greeks and Romans, all of which, with Bryant and Faber, he considers were allusive to Sun-worship and to the catastrophe of the deluge. He therefore asserts that the Helio-Arkite god of the Britons, the great Hu, was a Pantheon (a collection of deities), who under his several titles and attributes comprehended the group of superior gods whom the Greeks and other refined nations separated and arranged in distinct personages.[xxxi]
In propounding his theory that the Druids were of Eastern origin, and that they had brought from that source their religion and their rites, Mr. Davies has been sustained by the opinions of more recent scholars, though they have traced the birthplace to a more distant region than the island of Samothracia.
It is now very generally believed that the Druids were Buddhists, and that they came into Britain with the great tide of emigration from Asia which brought the Aryan race westward into Europe.
If this be true, the religion of India must have greatly degenerated in the course of its migration. It is admitted that the Druids cultivated the art of magic, and in their rites, were accustomed to sacrifice human victims, both of which practices were repugnant to the philosophic spirit of Buddhism.
The fact is that, notwithstanding the authority of the Welsh Bards and the scanty passages in Caesar, Tacitus, and a few other Roman writers, we are entirely at sea in reference to everything connected with the religious system of Druidism. Almost all on this mysterious subject is guesswork and conjecture - extravagant theories, the only foundation of which is in the imaginations of their framers and bold assertions for the truth of which no competent authority can be given.
Much of the confusion of ideas in respect to the customs and manners of the ancient Britons has arisen from the ignorance of the old writers in supposing that the inhabitants of Britain, at the time of the Roman invasion and long before, were a homogeneous race. The truth is that the island was inhabited by two very distinct races. Those on the coast, derived from the opposite shores of Gaul, Germany, and Scandinavia, were a people who had made some progress in civilization.
The interior of the island was populated by the original natives, who were a very uncivilized and even barbarous race, and it was among these that the Druidical religion prevailed and its mystical and inhuman rites were practiced.
Mr. Ferguson, in his elaborate work on Tree and Serpent Worship, sustains this view. He says:
From whatever point of view the subject is looked at, it seems almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that there were two races in England - an older and less civilized people, who in the time of the Romans had already been driven by the Celts into the fastnesses of the Welsh hills, and who may have been serpent-worshippers and sacrificers of human victims, and that the ecumenical Romans confounded the two.[xxxii]
He is, however, in error in supposing that the Romans were ignorant of this fact, for Caesar distinctly alludes to it. He says in his Gallic War that "the interior part of Britain was inhabited by those who were natives of the island," thus clearly distinguishing the inhabitants of the interior from those who dwelt on the coast and who, he states, "had passed over from Belgium."
In another place, he speaks of them as a rude and barbarous race, who in one of their embassies to him describe themselves as a savage and unpolished people wholly unacquainted with Roman customs. In speaking of the ancient Gauls, M. Thierry, in his history of that people, makes the following remarks, every one of which may be equally attributed to the ancient Britons. He says:
When we attentively examine the character of the facts concerning the religious belief of the Gauls, we are enabled to recognize two systems of ideas, two bodies of symbols and superstitions altogether distinct - in a word, two religions. One of these is altogether sensible, derived from the adoration of the phenomena of nature; and by its forms and by its literal development it reminds us of the polytheism of the Greeks.
The other is founded upon a material pantheism, mysterious, metaphysical, and sacerdotal, and presents the most astonishing conformity with the religions of the East. This last has received the name of Druidism, from the Druids who were its founders and priests.[xxxiii]
To the former religion, M. Thierry gives the name of Gaulish polytheism. A similar distinction must have existed in Britain, though our own writers do not seem generally to have carefully observed it. In no other way can we attempt, with any prospect of success, to reconcile the contending traditions in relation to the religion of the ancient Britons.
The Roman writers have attributed a polytheistic form of religion to the people of the coast, derived apparently from Greece, the gods having only assumed different names. But this religion was very far removed in its character from the bloody and mysterious rites of the Druids, who seem to have brought the forms and objects, but not the spirit of their sanguinary and mysterious worship from the far East.
The Masonic writers who have sought to trace some connection between Druidism and Freemasonry have unfortunately too much yielded their judgment to their imagination. Having adopted a theory, they have, in their investigations, substituted speculation for demonstration and assumptions for facts.
By a sort of Procrustean process of reasoning, they have fitted all sorts of legends and traditions to the length required for their preconceived system. Preston had said that "the Druids retained among them many usages similar to those of the Masons," and hence he conjectured that there might be an affinity between the rites of the two institutions, leaving his readers, however, to determine the question for themselves.
Godfrey Higgins - of all writers not claiming to write fiction, the most imaginative and the most conjectural - goes a step further and asserts that he has "no doubt that the Masons were Druids," and that they may be "traced downward to Scotland and York." Of this he thinks "the presumption is very strong."[xxxiv] Hutchinson thinks it probable that some of the rites and institutions of the Druids might be retained in forming the ceremonies of the Masonic society.[xxxv]
The theory of Dr. Oliver connected Druidism and Freemasonry in the following way. The reader must be aware, from what has already been said, that the Doctor held that there were two currents of Masonry that came contemporaneously down the stream of time. These were the Pure Freemasonry of the Patriarchs, that passed through the Jewish people to King Solomon and thence onward to the present day, and a schism from this pure system, fabricated by the Pagan nations and developed in the Ancient Mysteries, which impure system he called the Spurious Freemasonry of antiquity. From this latter system, he supposes Druidism to have been derived.
Therefore, in support of this opinion, he collates in several of his works, but especially in his History of Initiation, the rites and ceremonies of the Druids with those of the Eleusinian, Dionysian, and other mysteries of the Pagan nations, and attempts to show that the design of the initiation was identical in all of them and the forms very similar.
But, true to his theory that the Spurious Freemasonry was an impure secession or offshoot from the Pure or Patriarchal system, he denies that modern Freemasonry has derived anything from Druidism, but admits that similarity in the design and form of initiation in both which would naturally arise from the origin of both from a common system in remote antiquity.
We have therefore to consider two theories in reference to the connection of Druidism and Masonry. The first is that Freemasonry has derived its system from that of the British Druids. The second is that, while any such descent or succession of the one system from the other is disclaimed, yet that there is a very great similarity in the character of both which points to some common origin. I shall venture, before concluding this essay, to advance a third theory, which I think is far more reconcilable than either of the others with the true facts of history.
The second of these theories may be dismissed with the remark that it depends for its support on the truth of the theory that there was any kind of historical connection between the Mysteries of the Pagans and Freemasonry. But I think it has been conclusively proved that any similarity of form or design in these institutions is to be attributed not to any dependence or succession, but simply to the influences of that law of human thought which makes men always pursue the same ends by the same methods.
Dr. Oliver has gone so far in the attempt to sustain his theory of two systems of Masonry existing at the same time as to assert that at the time of the Roman invasion, and after the establishment of Christianity in the island, the True and the Spurious Freemasonry - that is, the Masonic system as now practiced and the impure Masonry of Druidism, "flourished at the same period and were considered as distinct institutions in Britain."[xxxvi]
Of the truth of this statement, there is not a scintilla of historical testimony. Even if we were to accept the doctrine of Anderson, that all great architects in past times were Freemasons, we could hardly dignify the rude carpenters of the early Britons and Anglo-Saxons with the title of Masonry.
The first of the theories to which I have alluded, which derives Freemasonry, or at least its rites and ceremonies, from Druidism, will require a more extended review. In the first place, we must investigate the methods by which it is supposed that the Greeks and Pythagoras communicated a knowledge of their mysteries to the Druids in their secluded homes in uncivilized Britain. It is supposed that the principal seats of the British Druids were in Cornwall, in the islands adjacent to its coast, in Wales, and in the island of Mona; that is to say, on the southwestern shores of the island.
It is evident that in these localities they were accessible to any of the navigators from Europe or Asia who should have penetrated to that remote distance for the purpose of commerce. Now, just such a class of navigators was found in the Phoenicians, an adventurous people who were distinguished for their spirit of maritime enterprise.
The testimony of the Greek and Roman writers is, that in their distant voyages in search of traffic the Phoenicians had penetrated to the southwestern shores of Britain, and that they loaded their vessels with tin, which was found in great abundance in Cornwall and the Scilly islands on its coast.
The theorists who suppose that the religious rites practiced by the Phoenicians at home were introduced by them into Britain are required, in proof of their theory, to show that the Phoenicians were missionaries as well as merchants; that they remained long enough in Britain, at each voyage, to implant their own religious rites in the island; that these merchant-sailors, whose paramount object was evidently the collection of a valuable and profitable cargo, would divert any portion of the time appropriated to this object to the propagation among the barbarians, whom they encountered in the way of business, of the dogmas of their own mystical religion.
That if they were so disposed, the Britons were inclined during these necessarily brief visitations to exchange their ancient religion, whatever it was, for the worship attempted to be introduced by the newcomers; and, finally, that the fierce and sanguinary superstition of the Druids, with its human sacrifices, bore any resemblance to or could have possibly been derived from the purer and more benign religion of the Phoenicians. For not one of these points is there a single testimony of history, and over every one of them there is cast an air of the greatest improbability.
History tells us only that the Phoenician merchants visited Britain for the purpose of obtaining tin. On this, the Masonic theorists have erected a fanciful edifice of missionary enterprises successfully ending in the implanting of a new religion. Experience shows us how little in this way was ever accomplished or even attempted by the modern navigators who visited the islands of the Pacific and other unknown countries for the purposes of discovery.
Nor can we be ignorant of how little progress in the change of the religion of any people has ever been effected by the efforts of professed missionaries who have lived and labored for, years among the people whom they sought to convert. They have made, it is true, especial converts, but in only a very few exceptional instances have they succeeded in eradicating the old faith of a nation or a tribe and in establishing their own in its place. It is not to be presumed that the ancient Phoenician merchants could, with less means and less desires, have been more successful than our modern missionaries. For these reasons, I hold that the proposition that Druidism was introduced from Greece and Asia into Britain by the Phoenicians is one that is wholly untenable on any principle of historic evidence or of probable conjecture.
It has also been asserted that Pythagoras visited Britain and instructed the inhabitants especially in the doctrine of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. There is, however, not the slightest historical evidence that the sage of Samos ever penetrated in his travels as far as Britain. Nor is it certain that the dogma of the transmigration as taught by him is of the same character as that which was believed by the Druids. Besides, it is contrary to all that we know of the course pursued by Pythagoras in his visits to foreign countries. He went to learn the customs of the people and to acquire a knowledge of whatever science they might possess. Had he visited Britain, which, however, he never did, it would have been to receive and not to impart instruction.
As to the further explanation offered by these theorists, of a connection between Druidism and Masonry, that the former acquired a knowledge of the Eleusinian and other rites in consequence of their communication with the Greeks, during the celebrated invasion of the Celts, which extended to Delphos, and during the intercourse of the Gauls with the Grecian colony of Marseilles, it is sufficient to say that neither of these events occurred until after the system of Druidism must have been well established among the people of Britain and of Gaul.
But the great argument against any connection of Druidism and Freemasonry is not only the dissimilarity of the two systems, but their total repugnance to each other. The sanguinary superstition of the Druids was developed in their sacrifice of human victims as a mode of appeasing their offended deities, and their doctrine of a future life was entirely irreconcilable with the pure belief in immortality which is taught in Freemasonry and developed in its symbols.
The third theory to which I have referred, and which I advanced in the place of the two others which I have rejected, traces Druidism neither to the Phoenicians, nor to Pythagoras, nor to the Greeks. It is that the ancient inhabitants of Britain were a part of the Celtic division of that great Cimmerian race who, springing from their Aryan origin in the Caucasian mountains, first settled for a time in the region of Asia which lies around the Euxine Sea, and then passed over into the north and west of Europe.
One detachment of them entered Gaul, and another, crossing the German Ocean, made their home in Britain. It is not at all improbable that these nomadic tribes carried with them some memories of the religious faith which they had learned from the original stock whence they sprung. But, there is no fact more patent in ethnology than that of the tendency of all nomadic races springing from an agricultural one to degenerate in civilization. It has been said that the Druids were Buddhists. This might be so, for Brahmanism and its schism, Buddhism, were the religions of the early Aryan stock whence the Druids descended. But it is very evident that in the course of their migrations the faith of their fathers must have become greatly corrupted.
Between Buddhism and Druidism, the only connecting link is the dogma of the transmigration of souls. Between the rites of the two sects there is no similarity. I suppose, therefore, that the system of Druidism was the pure invention of the Britons, just as the Mysteries of Osiris were the fabrication of some Egyptian priest or body of priests. What assistance the Britons had in the formation of their mystical system must have been derived from dim recollections of the dogmas of their fatherland, which, however, from the very dimness of those recollections, must have been greatly perverted. I do not find any authentic proof or any reasonable probability that they had obtained any suggestions in the fabrication or the improvement of their system of religious rites from the Phoenicians, from the Greeks, or from Pythagoras.
If, for the sake of argument, we accept for a time the theory that Freemasonry and the Mysteries originated from a common source, whence is derived a connection between the two, we cannot fail to see, on an examination of the doctrines and ceremonies of the Druids, that they bore no relation to those of the Mysteries of Egypt or of Greece. Hence the link is withdrawn which would connect Druidism with Freemasonry through the initiations of the East. But, the fact is that there is not in Druidism the slightest resemblance to Freemasonry, except in the unimportant circumstance that both have mystical ceremonies.
The voyages of the candidate in Druidism, after a period of long solitude and confinement, his pursuit by the angry goddess Ceridwen and her accompanying dogs, his dangerous passage in a coracle or small boat over the rough waters, and his final landing and reception by the Archdruid, may have referred, as Dr. Oliver thought, to the transmigration of the soul through different bodies, but just as probably symbolized the sufferings and vicissitudes of human life in the progress to intellectual and moral perfection.
But they bear not the slightest analogy to the mystical death in Freemasonry, which is the symbol of a resurrection to a future and immortal life. Hence, the bold assertion of Payne, in his frivolous Essay on the Origin of Freemasonry, that "it is derived from and is the remains of the religion of the ancient Druids," simply shows that he was a mere socialist in the subject of what he presumptuously sought to treat. Equally untenable is the proposition of the more learned Faber, when he says that "the Druids are probably the real founders of English Freemasonry."
[xvi] This detention of a year in the waters of the deluge was, I presume, like the fourteen days of interment in the Master Mason's degree, which period passes in the space of a few minutes - only a symbolic idea.
[xxvi] "Analysis of Ancient Mythology." Drummond says of him: "Mr. Bryant was a man possessed of much learning and talent, but his etymologies are generally untenable." - "Origins," vol. iii., p. 191.
- BROTHER ISAAC NEWTON
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