Pillar Stones

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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There are Pillar Stones, indicating Phallic origin. That on Tara Hill was popularly known as Bod Thearghais, with especial reference to generative force. Several of them bore names connecting them with the Tuatha; as the Cairtedhe Catha Thuatha de Danann, their pillar stone of battle. The Ship Temple of Mayo was Leabha na Fathac, the Giant's Bed.

The Clochoer, or gold stone, at Oriel, Monaghan County, spoke like an oracle. So did the Lia Fail, the Ophite Stones of old, the anointed Betyles of Sanchoniathon. It is even reported of Eusebius, that he carried such in his bosom to get fresh oracles from them. Mousseaux calls some mad stones. Pliny notices moving stones. The old Irish had their rumbling stones. The Celtic Clacha-brath, or judgment stones, must have been gifted with sounding power. Yet La Vega has a simple way of accounting for these reverential objects, as—"the demons worked on them." One may credit priests with hypnotic power, or we may think, with a writer, that without magic there could have been no speaking stones.

Some holy stones had curious histories. The hallowed pillow-stone of St. Bute had been flung into the brain of Conchobar mac Nesse, where it stayed seven years, but fell out one Good Friday. Another stone was mentioned, in the Book of Leinster, as causing the death of an old woman, 150 years old, who, having been brought into a great plain, was so charmed with the sight, that she would never go back to her mountains, preferring death there by knocking her old head upon the stone.

Elf-shots—the stone arrow-heads of their ancestors—were long regarded with reverence. As with Western Islanders, they served as charms for the Irish—being sometimes set in silver, and worn as amulets about the neck, protecting the wearer against the spiritual discharges of elf-shots from malignant enemies. They were the arrows of fairies. They ought not to be brought into a house. In 1713 Llwyd found this superstition existing in the west.

Martin speaks of finding at Inniskea a rude-looking stone kept wrapped up in flannel, and only in the charge of an old woman, as formerly with a pagan priestess. On a stormy day it might be brought out, with certain magical observances, in the confident expectation of bringing a ship on shore, for the benefit of the wreck-loving Islanders. The Neevougi, as the stone was called, did service in calming the sea when the men went out fishing. It was equally efficacious in sickness, when certain charms were muttered over the stone. We have been privately shown, by an Australian aborigine, a similar sacred stone, a quartz crystal in that case, wrapped up in a dirty rag, protected from the eyes of women. Pococke, in 1760, saw pieces of a stone on Icolmkill used to cure a prevalent flux.

Walhouse regarded such superstitions as belonging "to the Turanian races, and as antagonistic to the Aryan genius and feeling." Gomme esteems "stone-worship as opposed to the general basis of Aryan culture." The unshapely stones worshipped in India belong to non-Aryan tribes.

Authors, then, contend that this Irish form of belief came not from the Celts, though accepted by them. Rhind amusingly talks of a "non-Aryan native of Ireland, who paid unwelcome visits to this country as a Scot; that Scot by and by learned a Celtic language, and insisted on being treated as a Celt, as a Goidel." As it was the non-Aryan, or Tartar race, that introduced magic and devils into Assyria, so may the same have been here the originators of Stone-worship, and other superstitions, long before the Celts reached these Islands.

As with other peoples, the Pluto and his attendants were believed to have been no less connected with celebrated stones than were the giants themselves.

The story told by a Welsh visitor into Ireland, seven hundred years ago, preserves an Irish tradition of stones—

"There was in Ireland, in ancient times, a pile of stones, worthy of admiration, called the Giants' Dance, because giants from the remotest parts of Africa brought them into Ireland, and on the plains of Kildare, not far from the Castle of the Vaase, as well by force of art as strength, miraculously set them up. Those stones, according to the British story, Aurelius Ambrosius, King of the Britons, procured Merlin, by supernatural means, to bring from Ireland into Britain."

This origin of Stonehenge was long accepted as history. If not holy stones, they were, at least, indebted for their rambling to the exercise of demoniacal or occult powers. They came not from heaven, as did those of Phrygia, Mount Ida, &c.

Various authors have contended that our ancestors in the British Isles were never so lost to common sense as to worship or reverence stones, though other peoples may have done so. O'Curry considers cromlechs "never were intended and never used as altars, or places of sacrifice of any kind; that they were not in any sense of the word Druidical." In this opinion he is opposed to Welsh, English, and Irish writers. But Arthur Clive declared—"Our Irish ancestors of Aryan race worshipped the air, stone, and fire."

Forbes Leslie conceives that many figures represented on stones "are disconnected from any Christian symbol." Certainly the Comb shape, so common upon inscribed stones, may be viewed on Indo-Scythian coins. The zigzag was a Gnostic sign. The double disc and sceptre symbol may refer to solar worship, as that of the crescent and sceptre to lunar worship.

A Buddhist origin is attributed to inscriptions by Dr. G. Moore. Dr. Longmuir considers them "the earliest existing records of the ideas" cherished in these Islands. Leslie looks at them as associated with old Oriental divination. Tate esteems them "to express some religious sentiments, or to aid in the performance of some religious rites." Not a few regard them as emblems of religious worship.

The meaning of the Cup symbol—observed on stones at Fermanagh, and in the west of Kerry—has puzzled the learned. In India it is frequently found both with and without grooves. The common observance upon kistvaens, and on mortuary urns, would seem to bear a religious significance. Professor T. J. Simpson imagines the emblem "connected in some way with the religious thought and doctrines of those who carved them." He saw no reason to doubt the origin of cup and ring being still earlier than even the age of the earliest Celts.

Vallencey, commenting upon the spiral marks at New Grange, fancifully says, "The three symbols (3 spirals) represent the Supreme Being or First Cause."

The most wonderful and deeply reverenced Irish stone was the Fâl, by some strangely enough identified with the Coronation Stone brought by King Edward from Scotland to Westminster Abbey. Arbois de Jubainville gives this account of it:—

Conn Cetchathach, chief King of Ireland, in the second century, accidentally put his foot on a magical stone called Fâl, which had been brought to Ireland by the Tuatha de Danann. It cried out, so that all in Tara heard it. Three Druids present were asked what the cry meant, where the stone came from, whither it would go, and who had brought it to Tara? They asked a delay of fifty-three days, when they answered all but the first question. They could only say that the stone had prophesied. The number of its cries was the number of the kings of the royal race, but the Druids could not tell their names. Lug then appears to them, takes Conn to his palace, and prophesies to him the length of his reign, and the names of his successors. A number of idle legends are attached to the Fâl stone.

As late as 1649, Commissioners were appointed by the Scottish General Assembly to dispel the popular superstitions respecting sacred stones. In Ireland the superstitious observances had a longer possession of people's minds.

As circles are known in Icelandic as domh-ringr, or doom rings of Judgment, it has been suggested that Stonehenge itself may have been a chief Seat of Judgment with the foreign colony, whose capital on Salisbury Plain may have been Sorbiodunum, afterwards Sarum.

Clemens Alexandrinus spoke of stones as images of God. Aurelius Antoninus brought to Rome a black stone, and paid homage to it. The Laplanders, until lately, sacrificed the reindeer to a stone. Lactantius records the worship of Terminus in the form of a stone. Damascius mentions consecrated stones in Syria. Black stones are still honoured at Mecca, Benares, and elsewhere. Herodian names one worshipped by the Phoenicians, since it fell from heaven. In a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, by our Neapolitan Minister, the antiquary Sir William Hamilton, there is an allusion to a standing stone at Isurnia, that was duly dedicated to Saints Cosmo and Domiano. Astle, F.R.S., in 1798, remarked—"The ancient practice of consecrating pagan antiquities to religious purposes has been continued to modern times."

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