Catharism – a late flowering of pagan doctrine in Europe?

The ‘Cathar’ religion reached its height of popularity and notoriety in southern France, parts of Germany and northern Italy between the 12th and 14th centuries. It was founded on a belief in two gods – God in Heaven and a God of the Earth. Essentially Christian, it held that the good Heavenly God represented the redeeming god of the New Testament, whereas the bad Earthly God was that of the Old Testament – the angry creator of the world, who Cathars identified with the evil principle – Satan! If you are familiar with my breakdown and interpretation of ancient Atlantic European (‘Atlantean’) paganism so far, you might recognise this Cathar dualism as being largely similar to what I have proposed, albeit in a Christian guise!

The movement believed that souls were those of Angels who were destined to be continually reincarnated in corrupt, evil worldly flesh until they could attain a state of religious perfection, when they might be released from the cycle and go to Heaven! Catharisms leaders were the ‘Perfects’ who had attained such a state while in the earthly form, and when the  Catholic church sought to eradicate the movement (the Albigensian Crusade from 1209-1229) observers were amazed at how willingly adherents accepted death, echoing the observations of Romans when fighting the Atlantean Celts of Gaul and Brittania 1200 years before. They rejected baptism, the sacraments, the eating of meat, and the swearing of oaths (which they might inadvertently break in another life, denying them perfection).

Catharism’s origins are usually traced by historians and commentators back to the Paulician and Bogomil dualist christian movements based on the older doctrine of Manicheanism from Eastern Europe and the Near East. This opinion demands revision, as it is based largely upon the apparent similarity with these branches of the Christian faith. Of greater interest are the similarities between the religion’s doctrines and those of pagan Atlantic Europe that I have been examining. Catharism can speculatively be proposed as a resurgent interest in certain ideas of the old Atlantic paganism which had developed Christian clothes (in fact as much as with many aspects of Roman Catholicism!). It was identified as an emerging movement in its heyday, which coincided with the medieval Renaissance of classical pagan learning in Europe, as well as upwellings in popular fads and cultures in religion and the  arts. For its inception to have been an attempt by a shadowy group of aristocratic pagans to reignite the pre-christian worldview of ancient northwest Europe, would be one possibility; after all it was supported by such networks. More reasonable though, was that it was a case of a good idea that wouldn’t die so easily. The reason to consider all of this is the popularity at the time of the telling of Europe’s old pagan stories – the Arthurian romances and tales of Parsifal, Siegfrid etc – many of which were riding the wave of popular troubadour culture that emerged from the Cathar lands in and around Occitania in southern France! Pagan conspiracies by shadowy aristocratic groups to kick out Christians were not unheard of (take the Vikings, for instance), and in the 15th and 16th centuries there was a good deal of official paranoia about such conspiracies among ordinary people which led to the infamous witchhunts. In fact, churchmen had been preoccupied with this issue for a good deal longer – right back to the time of first Christianisation. To the church, the social elites had always been unhealthily preoccupied with ‘pagan’ knowledge and traditions and complied with religion only where it suited them; Conversely, the obedient and thankfully illiterate peasantry dutifully accepted what the Church served to them, but their ‘ignorance’ meant that they continued to entertain pagan magical practices and beliefs. Catharism seemed to unite both groups in its heresy, and was therefore eventually annihilated with violence by the Church.

Boand – Water Goddess of the Boyne

I have already mentioned in recent posts that there were legendary connections between the Atlantic Goddess and water: For starters she is represented in the constellation Orion, standing on the banks of the great white river of the Milky Way as it arches across the winter sky. As ‘Tehi Tegi‘ in the Isle of Man, she conveyed the souls of the dead across the land until they reached the rivers or the sea and were able to enter the realm of the Otherworld. The Cailleach traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Wales tell of her role in creating Lochs and other floods by neglecting to close off springs, and as the Bean Nighe she sat near water washing the garments and effects of the dead.. In Brittany she is represented by the oceanic fairy queen known as the ‘Gro’ach‘ and as a Moura Encantada in Portugal and Gallicia she is a guardian of springs. Archaeologists across Atlantic Europe recognise the association of springs with pagan goddess-worship.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the rivers of Ireland have associations with pagan female entities preserved in their legendary lore. A good example of such stories are from the onomastic explanations of placenames found in medieval literature, often produced by Christian monks. These texts – published in compiled form in the early 20thC as the ‘Metrical Dindshenchas‘ (taken from the mss. the Book of the Dun Cow, the Book of Leinster, the Rennes Manuscript, the Book of Ballymote, the Great Book of Lecan and the Yellow Book of Lecan) – has the following (from Vol.3)  to say about the origin of the River Boyne (under ‘Boand 1’), the most prominent river of the Irish midlands, and one associated with a rich mythology and archaeology:

Sid Nechtain is the name that is on the mountain here,

the grave of the full-keen son of Labraid,

from which flows the stainless river

whose name is Boand ever-full.

Fifteen names, certainty of disputes,

given to this stream we enumerate,

from Sid Nechtain away

till it reaches the paradise of Adam.

Segais was her name in the Sid

to be sung by thee in every land:

River of Segais is her name from that point

to the pool of Mochua the cleric.

From the well of righteous Mochua

to the bounds of Meath’s wide plain,

the Arm of Nuadu’s Wife and her Leg are

the two noble and exalted names.

From the bounds of goodly Meath

till she reaches the sea’s green floor

she is called the Great Silver Yoke

and the White Marrow of Fedlimid.

Stormy Wave

from thence onward

unto branchy Cualnge;

River of the White Hazel

from stern Cualnge

to the lough of Eochu Red-Brows.

Banna is her name from faultless Lough Neagh:

Roof of the Ocean as far as Scotland:

Lunnand she is in blameless Scotland —

or its name is Torrand according to its meaning.

Severn is she called through the land of the sound Saxons,

Tiber in the Romans’ keep:

River Jordan thereafter in the east

and vast River Euphrates.

River Tigris

in enduring paradise,

long is she in the east, a time of wandering

from paradise back again hither

to the streams of this Sid.

Boand is her general pleasant name

from the Sid to the sea-wall;

The poet who wrote this account is effusive in his descriptions of the great river, comparing it (or perhaps more accurately actually identifying it) with the other great rivers of the known world, including the River Severn, the Tiber, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Jordan etc. It was believed that the oceans were made up of all the world’s rivers in the era of authorship – an idea born of classical antiquity and beyond. What is more important is the author implies that the river actually runs from Sid Nechtain to the ‘paradise of Adam’, being a direct allusion to a christianised  telling of the pagan Irish belief in an Otherworld at the Ocean’s End, and to the Garden of Eden, where Christians believe life begins! This almost tells of a former belief in rebirth… The passage also implies that the river is regenerated from the East and returns to Sid Nechtain to flow again by some unspecified route.

Quite amazing.

The compiled texts go on to describe the mythological origin of the River of Boand:

I remember the cause whence is named

the water of the wife of Labraid’s son.

Nechtain son of bold Labraid whose wife was Boand, I aver;

a secret well there was in his stead,

from which gushed forth every kind of mysterious evil.

There was none that would look to its bottom

but his two bright eyes would burst:

if he should move to left or right,

he would not come from it without blemish.

Therefore none of them dared approach it

save Nechtain and his cup-bearers: —

these are their names, famed for brilliant deed,

Flesc and Lam and Luam.

Hither came on a day white Boand (her noble pride uplifted her),

to the well, without being thirsty to make trial of its power.

As thrice she walked round about the well heedlessly,

three waves burst from it, whence came the death of Boand.

They came each wave of them against a limb,

they disfigured the soft-blooming woman;

a wave against her foot, a wave against her perfect eye,

the third wave shatters one hand.

She rushed to the sea (it was better for her) to escape her blemish,

so that none might see her mutilation;

The authors relate a typical Irish Christian rescension of the pagan tale of the woman and the water. The passage also tells of the practice of circling a well or spring three times, which any folklorist who has studied Celtic traditions will recognise. The tale of Boand therefore acts on a number of levels: Firstly as a poetic figurative description of the river as a woman, secondly as descriptive account of the Boyne replete with onomastic and pseudo-historical details, and thirdly it seems to contain a warning to the ungodly of the fate which will meet them if they emulate the legendary magical female… Of particular interest is the manner in which the water harms Boand: It causes the ‘wounds’ of the Cailleach – the ‘fairy stroke’ of withering in one eye, one arm, one leg. Such ‘wounds’ are given to other magical females at rivers or fords or shorelines in other Irish myths from medieval works, including that of the Christian ‘St Brighid‘…

Medieval Irish tales with pagan themes usually contain a Christian footnote in their third part…

The End of Reincarnation

The ultimate fate of Bran and his party in the medieval Irish tale Imram Brain maic Febail (‘The Voyage of Bran Mac Febal’) is that upon attaining the otherworld, when they try to return to the land of the living a great age has passed and the party are unable to set foot in the land without crumbling to dust. In other words, the Christian narrator denies them access to reincarnation. Bran is only allowed to pass on his story and then fade into legend, the narration finishing with the lines:

And from that hour his wanderings are not known.

The motif of immortality’s end appears in a modified form in the other famous Irish medieval legendary tale of the ‘Children of Lir’, who were transformed into immortal swans and cursed to travel Ireland for hundreds of years until ‘released’ by the coming of Christianity. The ‘Voyage of Bran’ leaves the state of Bran and his party indefinite, but the Children of Lir resume a withered mortal form or crumble to dust, though not usually before receiving christian confession and going to the Christian afterlife.

There are other Irish accounts of very long-lived members of ancient races receiving similar treatment. Some of these, such as in the pseudo-historical Christian narrative of the Lebor Gabála Érenn or ‘Book of Invasions’, and other related historical legends written in the middle ages, contain accounts of ‘Fintan’, one of the first settlers in Ireland who legends and stories claimed lived on in various animal and human forms until the coming of christianity. The Welsh medieval author Walter Map (De Nugis Curialum) left us the tale of King Herla which was based on similar themes as that of Bran, Finn and Caílte. The Middle Irish tale of mad pagan King Suibhne (‘Sweeney’) who literally flies around in a semi-animalistic form until released to heaven by a saint may also continue the Irish Christian tradition which told stories designed to counter a pagan belief in reincarnation.

The theme of submission of the pagan order to that of christianity occurs most strongly in the middle irish manuscript tales of the Acallam na Senórach (‘Colloquy of the Ancients’ or ‘Tales of the Elders of Ireland’ etc) which contains the majority of the ancient tales dealing with Finn and his band. It is set within a Christian framework in which the ancient giant warrior Caílte mac Rónáin (Finn’s nephew) relates tales of Finn and of the Tuatha Dé Danann to an interested St Patrick: By implication Caílte is exchanging the reality of an otherworldly existence in the pagan time frame with a Christianised legendary life in the hearafter.

All of these tales are careful to create a linkage between the old and new religious orders, again demonstrating conformity with the principles of the Christianised reformed laws of the Roman Empire propounded by Theodosius and his successors during the late classical period, during which time christianity was setting up shop in the Atlantic West of Europe. It was a theme of peaceful cohabitation of old and new which formed the skeleton of many medieval narrative and literary traditions, and managed to preserve the tenets of paganism, which after all seemed to explain everything which christianity could not and would continue to influence the folk traditions and beliefs down to modern times.

Fairies as ancestors in the Isle of Man

Right at the centre of Europe’s Atlantic archipelago, in the sea between Ireland and Britain and guarding the southern approaches to the Hebrides and west of Scotland, sits the Isle of Man – smallest of the surviving ‘Celtic’ nations. Although falling under successions of external rulers from Ireland, Scandinavia, Scotland and England since the middle ages, it has managed to maintain an independent cultural identity and language (Manx Gaelic, a version of Irish). Due to its insular nature, fertile geology, habitable geography, and because it has faced relatively little major warfare and social or political upheaval in its history, it has managed to maintain a good deal of its ancient traditions down to quite a recent period, traditions which elsewhere would otherwise have been lost.

The_Isle_of_Man_svg

When a man called George Waldron (a commissioner for the British government) was working there in the early 1700s, he wrote a treatise on the island’s history, geography and economy embellished with some interesting sketches of the beliefs, traditions and stories of some of the locals. His purpose was, no doubt, to portray islanders as credulous, superstitious and backward, but you can tell from some of the stories that Waldron’s own credulity was being cheekily tested. Nevertheless, the book he wrote: A Description of the Isle of Man (published posthumously in 1731 following his untimely death) stands as one of the late Early Modern period’s most valuable ethnographic tracts dealing with fairy belief in the Celtic/Atlantic world. Along with Martin Martin’s A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1703) and Robert Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth (1691) it was to inspire generations of future writers such as Sir Walter Scott, and fuel the romanticisation of what ‘progress’ was rapidly destroying. In fact it may have been indirecctly responsible for a great deal of the tourism the Isle of Man experienced during the 19th century!

Of the Manx belief in fairies Waldron had this to say:

Some hundred years, say they, before the coming of our Saviour, the Isle of Man was inhabited by a certain species called fairies, and that everything was carried on in a kind of supernatural manner; that a blue mist hanging continually over the land, prevented the ships that passed by from having any suspicion there was an island. This mist, contrary to nature, was preserved by keeping a perpetual fire, which happening once to be extinguished, the shore discover’d itself to some fishermen who were then in a boat on their vocation, and by them notice was given to the people of some country, (but what, they do not pretend to determine) who sent ships in order to make a further discovery: that on their landing they had a fierce encounter with the little people, and having got the better over them, possess’d themselves of Castle Russin (Ed – Castle Rushen, at Castletown in the south of the island), and by degrees, as they received reinforcements, of the whole Island. These new conquerors maintained their ground some time, but were at length beaten out by a race of giants, who were not extirpated, as I said before, till the reign of Prince Arthur, by Merlin, the famous British enchanter. They pretend also that this Island afterward became an asylum to all the distress’d princes and great men in Europe, and that those uncommon fortifications made about Peel Castle were added for their better security…

Waldron’s account that some Manx people in the 18th century apparently believed that their land was first inhabited by fairies and giants would have gained snorts of derision from the enlightened, rational coffee-sipping intellectuals of the day. He continues warming to his theme later in the text:

I know not, idolisers as they are of the clergy, whether they would not be even refractory to them, were they to preach against the existence of fairies, or even against their being commonly seen: for, tho’ the priesthood are a kind of gods among them, yet still tradition is a greater god than they; and as they confidently assert that the first inhabitants of their Island were fairies, so do they maintain that these little people have still their residence among them. They call them the good people, and say they live in wilds and forests, and on mountains, and shun great cities because of the wickedness acted therein; all the houses are blessed where they visit, for they fly vice. A person would be thought impudently profane who should suffer his family to go to bed without having first set a tub, or pail full of clean water, for these guests to bathe them selves in, which the natives aver they constantly do, as soon as ever the eyes of the family are closed, wherever they vouchsafe to come.

He paints a picture of a local belief in fairies not dissimilar to that of Robert Kirk, of which there is ample support in the Island’s folklore records, which show that the Manx had fairy-seers, believed that fairies prognosticated events, and that they interfered with the ‘substance’ or quintessence of humanity. He also demonstrates a belief in them as representing the souls of forebears who continue to live as spirits among the living, and are welcomed into their homes at night. Waldron paints a picture of fairies as moral agents who bestow a blessing upon correct deeds and living – a distinctly religious aspect to the belief, existing in parallel to Christianity.

Writing in 1845, following on from a renewed and somewhat more sympathetic romantic interest in fairies and the rapidly disappearing old world, Joseph Train published his Historical and Statistical Account of the Isle of Man in Two Volumes in which he noted the following custom:

” On New Year’s eve, in many of the upland cottages, it is yet customary for the housewife, after raking the fire for the night, and just before stepping into bed, to spread the ashes smooth over the floor with the tongs, in the hope of finding in it, next morning, the track of a foot ; should the toes of this ominous print point towards the door, then, it is believed, a member of the family will die in the course of that year ; but, should the heel of the fairy foot point in that direction, then, it is firmly believed, that the family will be augmented within the same period.” Volume 2, p. 115, (1845).

The implication here is that it was believed that fairies entering the house portended deaths and births, linking these spirits to the process of genesis and decay. In fact the hearth seems to have been the focus of the domestic fairies in the Isle of Man, as supported by numerous other Manx traditions: leaving bowls of water and food near the hearth for fairies, the traditional curse was a damnation of hearthside empty of ‘root, branch and seed’, ‘Saint’ Bridget’s bed being made here on the 1st of February, planting an Elder (‘Tramman’) tree at the hearth gable end of the house for the fairies to live in, rebuilding houses but maintaining the hearth etc etc. Waldron had commented that it was the custom of the people to never allow their hearth fire to be extinguished, citing the legend of the fairies’ perpetual fire going out, implying this was a superstition against calamity. The original Celtic New Year appears to have been Samhain or the night of October 31st (November 10th in the original Julian calendar) and it is probable that Train’s account refers to this, as throughout the Atlantic/Celtic world Samhain was a time to look for these prognostications. A similar belief in the ‘fairy footprint’ was recorded in Ireland during the same century by Lady Wilde, and in 1932, Manx folklorist William Walter Gill elaborated on Train’s observation of nearly 100 years before, saying that the Manx believed the fairy footprint to be like that of a bird – the crow (W.W. Gill – A Second Manx Scrapbook; Pub. Arrowsmith Bristol 1932).

‘The Secret Commonwealth’

As promised here are my transcriptions of the relevant chapters from Robert Kirk’s ‘Secret Commonwealth’. The spelling is Kirk’s own and I have endeavoured to explain archaic words where appropriate:

Chapter 1:

THESE Siths, or FAIRIES, they call Sleagh Maith, or the Good People, it would seem, to prevent the Dint of their ill Attempts, (for the Irish use to bless all they fear Harme of;) and are said to be of a midle Nature betuixt Man and Angel, as were Dæmons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidious Spirits, and light changable Bodies, (lyke those called Astral,) somewhat of the Nature of a condensed Cloud, and best seen in Twilight. Thes Bodies be so plyable thorough the Subtilty of the Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear att Pleasure. Some have Bodies or Vehicles so spungious, thin, and delecat, that they are fed by only sucking into some fine spirituous Liquors, that peirce lyke pure Air and Oyl: others feid more gross on the Foyson or substance of Corns and Liquors, or Corne it selfe that grows on the Surface of the Earth, which these Fairies steall away, partly invisible, partly preying on the Grain, as do Crowes and Mice; wherefore in this same Age, they are some times heard to bake Bread, strike Hammers, and do such lyke Services within the little Hillocks they most haunt: some whereof of old, before the Gospell dispelled Paganism, and in some barbarous Places as yet, enter Houses after all are at rest, and set the Kitchens in order, cleansing all the Vessels. Such Drags goe under the name of Brownies. When we have plenty, they have Scarcity at their Homes; and on the contrarie (for they are empow’red to catch as much Prey everywhere as they please,) there Robberies notwithstanding oft tymes occassion great Rickes of Corne not to bleed so weill, (as they call it,) or prove so copious by verie farr as wes expected by the Owner.

THERE Bodies of congealled Air are some tymes caried aloft, other whiles grovell in different Schapes, and enter into any Cranie or Clift of the Earth where Air enters, to their ordinary Dwellings; the Earth being full of Cavities and Cells, and there being no Place nor Creature but is supposed to have other Animals (greater or lesser) living in or upon it as Inhabitants; and no such thing as a pure Wilderness in the whole Universe.

Chapter 2:

WE then (the more terrestriall kind have now so numerously planted all Countreys,) do labour for that abstruse People, as weill as for ourselves. Albeit, when severall Countreys were unhabitated by us, these had their easy Tillage above Ground, as we now. The Print of those Furrous (Ed: ‘Runrig’ furrows) do yet remaine to be seen on the Shoulders of very high Hills, which was done when the champayn Ground (Ed: ‘Countryside’) was Wood and Forrest.

THEY remove to other Lodgings at the Beginning of each Quarter of the Year, so traversing till Doomsday, being imputent and impotent of staying in one Place, and finding some Ease by so purning (Ed: packing up) and changing Habitations. Their chamælion-lyke Bodies swim in the Air near the Earth with Bag and Bagadge; and at such revolution of Time, SEERS, or Men of the SECOND SIGHT, (Fæmales being seldome so qualified) have very terrifying Encounters with them, even on High Ways; who therefoir uswally shune to travell abroad at these four Seasons of the Year, and thereby have made it a Custome to this Day among the Scottish-Irish to keep Church duely evry first Sunday of the Quarter to sene or hallow themselves, their Corns and Cattell, from the Shots and Stealth of these wandring Tribes; and many of these superstitious People will not be seen in Church againe till the nixt Quarter begin, as if no Duty were to be learned or done by them, but all the Use of Worship and Sermons were to save them from these Arrows that fly in the Dark.

THEY are distributed in Tribes and Orders, and have Children, Nurses, Mariages, Deaths, and Burialls, in appearance, even as we, (unless they so do for a Mock-show, or to prognosticate some such Things among us.)

Chapter 3:

THEY are clearly seen by these Men of the SECOND SIGHT to eat at Funeralls & Banquets; hence many of the Scottish-Irish will not teast Meat at these Meittings, lest they have Communion with, or be poysoned by, them. So are they seen to carrie the Beer (Ed: Bier) or Coffin with the Corps among the midle-earth Men (Ed: people of our world) to the Grave. Some Men of that exalted Sight (whither by Art or Nature) have told me they have seen at these Meittings a Doubleman, or the Shape of some Man in two places; that is, a superterranean and a subterranean Inhabitant, perfectly resembling one another in all Points, whom he notwithstanding could easily distinguish one from another, by some secret Tockens and Operations, and so go speak to the Man his Neighbour and Familiar, passing by the Apparition or Resemblance of him. They avouch that every Element and different State of Being have Animals resembling these of another Element; as there be Fishes sometimes at Sea resembling Monks of late Order in all their Hoods and Dresses; so as the Roman invention of good and bad Dæmons, and guardian Angells particularly assigned, is called by them an ignorant Mistake, sprung only from this Originall. They call this Reflex-man a Co-walker, every way like the Man, as a Twin-brother and Companion, haunting him as his shadow, as is oft seen and known among Men (resembling the Originall,) both before and after the Originall is dead, and wes also often seen of old to enter a Hous, by which the People knew that the Person of that Liknes wes to Visite them within a few days. This Copy, Echo, or living Picture, goes att last to his own Herd. It accompanied that Person so long and frequently for Ends best known to it selfe, whither to guard him from the secret Assaults of some of its own Folks, or only as ane sportfull Ape to counterfeit all his Actions. However, the Stories of old WITCHES prove beyond contradiction, that all Sorts of People, Spirits which assume light aery Bodies, or crazed Bodies coacted by forrein Spirits, seem to have some Pleasure, (at least to asswage from Pain or Melancholy,) by frisking and capering like Satyrs, or whistling and screeching (like unlukie Birds) in their unhallowed Synagogues and Sabboths. If invited and earnestly required, these Companions make themselves knowne and familiar to Men; other wise, being in a different State and Element, they nather can nor will easily converse with them. They avouch that a Heluo, or Great-eater, (Ed: either a reference to diabetics, or people who always eat but never seem to fatten) hath a voracious Elve to be his attender, called a Joint-eater or Just-halver, feeding on the Pith or Quintessence of what the Man eats; and that therefoir he continues Lean like a Hawke or Heron, notwith standing his devouring Appetite: yet it would seem that they convey that substance elsewhere, for these Subterraneans eat but little in their Dwellings; there Food being exactly clean, and served up by Pleasant Children, lyke inchanted Puppets. What Food they extract from us is conveyed to their Homes by secret Paths, as sume skilfull Women do the Pith and Milk from their Neighbours Cows into their own Chiefe-hold thorow a Hair-tedder, at a great Distance, by Airt Magic, or by drawing a spickot fastened to a Post which will bring milk as farr of as a Bull will be heard to roar. The Chiefe made of the remaineing Milk of a Cow thus strain’d will swim in Water like a Cork. The Method they take to recover their Milk is a bitter chyding of the suspected Inchanters, charging them by a counter Charme to give them back their own, in God, or their Master’s Name. But a little of the Mother’s Dung stroakit on the Calves Mouth before it suck any, does prevent this theft.

Chapter 4:

THEIR Houses are called large and fair, and (unless att some odd occasions) unperceaveable by vulgar eyes, like Rachland, and other inchanted Islands, having fir Lights, continual Lamps, and Fires, often seen without Fuel to sustain them. Women are yet alive who tell they were taken away when in Child-bed to nurse Fairie Children, a lingering voracious Image of their being left in their place, (like their Reflexion in a Mirrour,) which (as if it were some insatiable Spirit in ane assumed Bodie) made first semblance to devour the Meats that it cunningly carried by, and then left the Carcase as if it expired and departed thence by a naturall and common Death. The Child, and Fire, with Food and other Necessaries, are set before the Nurse how soon she enters; but she nather perceaves any Passage out, nor sees what those People doe in other Rooms of the Lodging. When the Child is wained, the Nurse dies, or is conveyed back, or gets it to her choice to stay there. But if any Superterraneans (Ed: people of our world) be so subtile, as to practice Slights for procuring a Privacy to any of their Misteries, (such as making use of their Oyntments, which as Gyges’s Ring makes them invisible, or nimble, or casts them in a Trance, or alters their Shape, or makes Things appear at a vast Distance, &c.) they smite them without Paine, as with a Puff of Wind, and bereave them of both the naturall and acquired Sights in the twinkling of ane Eye, (both these Sights, where once they come, being in the same Organ and inseparable,) or they strick them Dumb. The Tramontains (Ed: nomadic highland cattle drovers or gypsies/peddlars) to this Day put Bread, the Bible, or a piece of Iron, in Womens Beds when travelling, to save them from being thus stollen; and they commonly report, that all uncouth, unknown Wights are terrifyed by nothing earthly so much as by cold Iron. They delyver the Reason to be that Hell lying betwixt the chill Tempests, and the Fire Brands of scalding Metals, and Iron of the North, (hence the Loadstone causes a tendency to that Point,) by ane Antipathy thereto, these odious far-scenting Creatures shrug and fright at all that comes thence relating to so abhorred a Place, whence their Torment is eather begun, or feared to come hereafter.

Chapter 5:

THEIR Apparell and Speech is like that of the People and Countrey under which they live: so are they seen to wear Plaids and variegated Garments in the Highlands of Scotland, and Suanochs therefore in Ireland. They speak but litle, and that by way of whistling, clear, not rough. The verie Divels conjured in any Countrey, do answer in the Language of the Place; yet sometimes the Subterraneans speak more distinctly than at other times. Ther Women are said to Spine (Ed: Spin) very fine, to Dy (Ed: Dye), to Tossue (Ed: Tissue), and Embroyder: but whither it is as manuall Operation of substantiall refined Stuffs, with apt and solid Instruments, or only curious Cob-webs, impalpable Rainbows, and a fantastic Imitation of the Actions of more terrestricall Mortalls, since it transcended all the Senses of the Seere to discerne whither, I leave to conjecture as I found it.

Chapter 6:

There Men travell much abroad, either presaging or aping the dismall and tragicall Actions of some amongst us; and have also many disastrous Doings of their own, as Convocations, Fighting, Gashes, Wounds, and Burialls, both in the Earth and Air. They live much longer than wee; yet die at last or least vanish from that State. ‘Tis ane of their Tenets, that nothing perisheth, but (as the Sun and Year) every Thing goes in a Circle, lesser or greater, and is renewed and refreshed in its Revolutions; as ’tis another, that every Bodie in the Creation moves, (which is a sort of Life;) and that nothing moves, but as another Animal moving on it; and so on, to the utmost minutest corpuscle that’s capable to be a Receptacle of Life.

Chapter 7:

THEY are said to have aristocraticall Rulers and Laws, but no discernible Religion, Love, or Devotion towards God, the blessed Maker of all: they disappear whenever they hear his Name invocked, or the Name of JESUS, (at which all do bow willinglie, or by constraint, that dwell above or beneath within the Earth, Philip. 2. 10;) nor can they act ought at that Time after hearing of that sacred Name. The TABHAISVER, or Seer, that corresponds with this kind of Familiars, can bring them with a Spel to appear to himselfe or others when he pleases, as readily as Endor Witch to those of her Kind. He tells, they are ever readiest to go on hurtfull Errands, but seldome will be the Messengers of great Good to Men. He is not terrified with their Sight when he calls them, but seeing them in a surpryze (as often he does) frights him extreamly. And glaid would he be quite of such, for the hideous Spectacles seen among them; as the torturing of some Wight, earnest ghostly stairing Looks, Skirmishes, and the like. They do not all the Harme which appearingly they have Power to do; nor are they perceaved to be in great Pain, save that they are usewally silent and sullen. They are said to have many pleasant toyish Books; but the operation of these Peices only appears in some Paroxisms of antic corybantic Jolity, as if ravisht and prompted by a new Spirit entering into them at that Instant, lighter and mirrier than their own. Other Books they have of involved abstruse Sense, much like the Rosurcian (Ed: ‘Rosicrucian’) Style. They have nothing of the Bible, save collected Parcells for Charms and counter Charms; not to defend themselves withall, but to operate on other Animals, for they are a People invulnerable by our Weapons; and albeit Were-wolves and Witches true Bodies are (by the union of the Spirit of Nature that runs thorow all, echoing and doubling the Blow towards another) wounded at Home, when the astrial assumed Bodies are stricken elsewhere; as the Strings of a Second Harp, tune to ane unison, Sounds, though only ane be struck; yet these People have not a second, or so gross a Bodie at all, to be so pierced; but as Air, which when divyded units againe; or if they feel Pain by a Blow, they are better Physicians than wee, and quickly cure it. They are not subject to sore Sicknesses, but dwindle and decay at a certain Period, all about ane Age. Some say their continual Sadness is because of their pendulous State, (like those Men, Luc. 13. 2. 6.) as uncertain what at the last Revolution will become of them, when they are lock’t up into ane unchangeable Condition; and if they have any frolic Fitts of Mirth, ’tis as the constrained grinning of a Mort-head, or rather as acted on a Stage, and moved by another, ther cordially comeing of themselves. But other Men of the Second Sight, being illiterate, and unwary in their Observations, learn from those; one averring those subterranean People to be departed Souls, attending awhile in this inferior State, and clothed with Bodies procured throwgh their Almsdeeds in this Lyfe; fluid, active, ætheriall Vehicles to hold them, that they may not scatter, or wander, and be lost in the Totum, or their first Nothing; but if any were so impious as to have given no Alms, they say when the Souls of such do depairt, they sleep in an unaictve State till they resume the terrestriall Bodies again: others, that what the Low-countrey Scotts calls a Wreath, and the Irish TAIBHSHE or Death’s Messenger, (appearing sometimes as a little rough Dog, and if crossed and conjured in Time, will be pacified by the Death of any other Creature instead of the sick Man,) is only exuvious Fumes of the Man approaching Death, exhal’d and congeal’d into a various Likness, (as Ships and Armies are sometimes shapt in the Air,) and called astral Bodies, agitated as Wild-fire with Wind, and are neather Souls or counterfeiting Spirits; yet not a few avouch (as is said,) that surelie these are a numerous People by them selves, having their own Polities. Which Diversities of Judgments may occasion severall Inconsonancies in this Rehearsall, after the narrowest Scrutiny made about it.

Chapter 8:

THEIR Weapons are most what solid earthly Bodies, nothing of Iron, but much of Stone, like to yellow soft Flint Spa, shaped like a barbed Arrow-head, but flung like a Dairt, with great Force. These Armes (cut by Airt and Tools it seems beyond humane) have something of the Nature of Thunderbolt subtilty, and mortally wounding the vital Parts without breaking the Skin; of which Wounds I have observed in Beasts, and felt them with my Hands. They are not as infallible Benjamites, hitting at a Hair’s-breadth; nor are they wholly unvanquishable, at least in Appearance.

THE MEN of that SECOND SIGHT do not discover strange Things when asked, but at Fits and Raptures, as if inspyred with some Genius at that Instant, which before did lurk in or about them. Thus I have frequently spoke to one of them, who in his Transport told he cut the Bodie of one of those People in two with his Iron Weapon, and so escaped this Onset, yet he saw nothing left behind of that appearing divyded; at other Times he out wrested some of them. His Neibours often perceaved this Man to disappear at a certane Place, and about one Hour after to become visible, and discover him selfe near a Bow-shot from the first Place. It was in that Place where he became invisible, said he, that the Subterraneans did encounter and combate with him. Those who are unseened or unsanctified (called Fey) are said to be pierced or wounded with those People’s Weapons, which makes them do somewhat verie unlike their former Practice, causing a sudden Alteration, yet the Cause thereof unperceavable at present; nor have they Power (either they cannot make use of their natural Powers, or ask’t not the heavenly Aid,) to escape the Blow impendent. A Man of the Second Sight perceaved a Person standing by him (sound to others view) wholly gored in Blood, and he (amazed-like) bid him instantly flee. The whole Man laught at his Airt and Warning, since there was no appearance of Danger. He had scarce contracted his Lips from Laughter, when unexpectedly his Enemy leapt in at his Side, and stab’d him with their Weapons. They also pierce Cows or other Animals, usewally said to be Elf-shot, whose purest Substance (if they die) these Subterraneans take to live on, viz. the aereal and ætherial Parts, the most spirituous Matter for prolonging of Life, such as Aquavitæ (moderately taken) is among Liquors, leaving the terrestrial behind. The Cure of such Hurts is, only for a Man to find out the Hole with his Finger; as if the Spirits flowing from a Man’s warme Hand were Antidote sufficient against their poyson’d Dairts.

Chapter 9:

As Birds and Beasts, whose Bodies are much used to the Change of the frie and open Air, forsee Storms; so those invisible People are more sagacious to understand by the Books of Nature Things to come, than wee, who are pestered with the grosser Dregs of all elementary Mixtures, and have our purer Spirits choaked by them. The Deer scents out a Man and Powder (tho a late Invention) at a great Distance; a hungry Hunter, Bread; and the Raven, a Carrion: Ther Brains, being long clarified by the high and subtil Air, will observe a very small Change in a Trice. Thus a Man of the Second Sight, perceaving the Operations of these forecasting invisible People among us, (indulged thorow a stupendious Providence to give Warnings of some remarkable Events, either in the Air, Earth, or Waters,) told he saw a Winding-shroud creeping on a walking healthful Persons Legs till it come to the Knee; and afterwards it came up to the Midle, then to the Shoulders, and at last over the Head, which was visible to no other Persone. And by observing the Spaces of Time betwixt the severall Stages, he easily guessed how long the Man was to live who wore the Shroud; for when it approached his Head, he told that such a Person was ripe for the Grave.

Chapter 10:

THERE be many Places called Fairie-hills, which the Mountain People think impious and dangerous to peel or discover, by taking Earth or Wood from them; superstitiously beleiving the Souls of their Predicessors to dwell there. And for that End (say they) a Mote or Mount was dedicate beside every Church-yard, to receive the Souls till their adjacent Bodies arise, and so become as a Fairie-hill; they useing Bodies of Air when called Abroad. They also affirme those Creatures that move invisibly in a House, and cast hug great Stones, but do no much Hurt, because counter-wrought by some more courteous and charitable Spirits that are everywhere ready to defend Men, (Dan. 10. 13.) to be Souls that have not attained their Rest, thorough a vehement Desire of revealling a Murther (Ed: murder) or notable Injurie done or receaved, or a Treasure that was forgot in their Liftyme on Earth, which when disclos’d to a Conjurer alone, the Ghost quite removes.

IN the nixt Country to that of my former Residence, about the Year 1676, when there was some Scarcity of Graine, a marvelous Illapse and Vision strongly struck the Imagination of two Women in one Night, living at a good Distance from one another, about a Treasure hid in a Hill, called SITHBHRUAICH, or Fayrie-hill. The Appearance of a Treasure was first represented to the Fancy, and then an audible Voyce named the Place where it was to their awaking Senses. Whereupon both arose, and meitting accidentallie at the Place, discovered their Designe; and joyntly digging, found a Vessell as large as a Scottish Peck, full of small Pieces of good Money, of ancient Coyn; which halving betuixt them, they sold in Dish-fulls for Dish-fulls of Meall to the Countrey People. Very many of undoubted Credit saw, and had of the Coyn to this Day. But whither it was a good or bad Angell, one of the subterranean People, or the restless Soul of him who hid it, that discovered it, and to what End it was done, I leave to the Examination of others.

Chapter 11:

THESE Subterraneans have Controversies, Doubts, Disputs, Feuds, and Siding of Parties; there being some Ignorance in all Creatures, and the vastest created Intelligences not compassing all Things. As to Vice and Sin, whatever their own Laws be, sure, according to ours, and Equity, natural, civil, and reveal’d, they transgress and commit Acts of Injustice, and Sin, by what is above said, as to their stealling of Nurses to their Children, and that other sort of Plaginism in catching our Children away, (may seem to heir some Estate in those invisible Dominions,) which never returne. For the Inconvenience of their Succubi, who tryst with Men, it is abominable; but for Swearing and Intemperance, they are not observed so subject to those Irregularities, as to Envy, Spite, Hypocracie, Lieing, and Dissimulation.

Chapter 12:

As our Religion oblidges us not to make a peremptory and curious Search into these Obstrusenesses, so that the Histories of all Ages give as many plain Examples of extraordinary Occurrances as make a modest Inquiry not contemptable. How much is written of Pigme’s, Fairies, Nymphs, Syrens, Apparitions, which tho not the tenth Part true, yet could not spring of nothing! Even English Authors relate Barry Island, in Glamorganshire, that laying your Ear into a Clift of the Rocks, blowing of Bellows, stricking of Hammers, clashing of Armour, fyling of Iron, will be heard distinctly ever since Merlin inchaunted those subterranean Wights to a solid manuall forging of Arm’s to Aurelius Ambrosius and his Brittans, till he returned; which Merlin being killed in a Battell, and not coming to loose the Knot, these active Vulcans are there ty’d to a perpetuall Labour. But to dip no deeper into this Well, I will nixt give some Account how the Seer my Informer comes to have this secret Way of Correspondence beyond other Mortalls.

THERE be odd Solemnities at investing a Man with the Priviledges of the whole Mistery of this Second Sight. He must run a Tedder of Hair (which bound a Corps to the Bier) in a Helix about his Midle, from End to End; then bow his Head downwards, as did Elijah, 1 Kings, 18. 42. and look back thorough his Legs untill he sie a Funerall advance till the People cross two Marches; or look thus back thorough a Hole where was a Knot of Fir. But if the Wind change Points while the Hair Tedder (Ed: tether) is ty’d about him, he is in Peril of his Lyfe. The usewall Method for a curious Person to get a transient Sight of this otherwise invisible Crew of Subterraneans, (if impotently and over rashly sought,) is to put his Foot, and the Seer’s Hand is put on the Inquirer’s Head, who is to look over the Wizard’s right Shoulder, (which hes ane ill Appearance, as if by this Ceremony ane implicit Surrender were made of all betwixt the Wizard’s Foot and his Hand, ere the Person can be admitted a privado to the Airt;) (Ed: the viewer puts his foot on that of the seer and the seer places his hand on the head of the viewer) then will he see a Multitude of Wight’s, like furious hardie Men, flocking to him haistily from all Quarters, as thick as Atoms in the Air; which are no Nonentities or Phantasms, Creatures proceiding from ane affrighted Apprehensione, confused or crazed Sense, but Realities, appearing to a stable Man in his awaking Sense, and enduring a rationall Tryall of their Being. Thes thorow Fear strick him breathless and speechless. The Wizard, defending the Lawfullness of his Skill, forbids such Horror, and comforts his Novice by telling of Zacharias, as being struck speechless at seeing Apparitions, Luke, 1. 20. Then he further maintains his Airt, by vouching Elisha to have had the same, and disclos’d it thus unto his Servant in 2 Kings, 6. 17. when he blinded the Syrians; and Peter in Act, 5. 9. forseing the Death of Saphira, by perceaving as it were her Winding-sheet about her before hand; and Paul, in 2nd Corinth. 12. 4. who got such a Vision and Sight as should not, nor could be told. Elisha also in his Chamber saw Gehazi his Servant, at a great Distance, taking a reward from Naaman, 2d Kings, 5. 26. Hence were the Prophets frequently called SEERS, or Men of a 2d or more exhalted Sight than others. He acts for his Purpose also Math. 4. 8. where the Devil undertakes to give even Jesus a Sight of all Nations, and the finest Things in the World, at one Glance, tho in their naturall Situations and Stations at a vast Distance from other. And ’tis said expresly he did let sie them; not in a Map it seems, nor by a phantastick magicall jugling of the Sight, which he could not impose upon so discovering a Person. It would appear then to have been a Sight of real solid Substances, and Things of worth, which he intended as a Bait for his Purpose. Whence it might seem, (compairing this Relation of Math. 4. 8. with the former,) that the extraordinary or Second Sight can be given by the Ministery of bad as weill as good Spirits to those that will embrace it. And the Instance of Balaam and the Pytheniss make it nothing the less probable. Thus also the Seer trains his Scholler, by telling of the Gradations of Nature, ordered by a wise Provydence; that as the Sight of Bats and Owls transcend that of Shrews and Moles, so the visive Faculties of Men are clearer than those of Owls; as Eagles, Lynxs, and Cats are brighter than Mens. And again, that Men of the Second Sight (being designed to give warnings against secret Engyns (Ed: ‘machinations’)) surpass the ordinary Vision of other Men, which is a native Habit in some, descended from their Ancestors, and acquired as ane artificiall Improvement of their natural Sight in others; resembling in their own Kynd the usuall artificiall Helps of optic Glasses, (as Prospectives, Telescopes, and Microscopes,) without which ascititious Aids those Men here treated of do perceive Things that, for their Smallness, or Subtility, and Secrecy, are invisible to others, tho dayly conversant with them; they having such a Beam continuallie about them as that of the Sun, which when it shines clear only, lets common Eyes see the Atomes, in the Air, that without those Rayes they could not discern; for some have this Second Sight transmitted from Father to Sone thorow the whole Family, without their own Consent or others teaching, proceeding only from a Bounty of Providence it seems, or by Compact, or by a complexionall Quality of the first Acquirer. As it may seem alike strange (yet nothing vicious) in such as Master Great-rake (Ed: Valentine Greatreakes, a 17thC prodigy and celebrity healer), the Irish Stroaker, Seventh-sons, and others that cure the King’s Evill, and chase away Deseases and Pains, with only stroaking of the affected Pairt; which (if it be not the Reliques of miraculous Operations, or some secret Virtue in the Womb, of the Parent, which increaseth until Seventh-sons be borne, and decreaseth by the same Degrees afterwards,) proceids only from the sanitive Balsome of their healthfull Contsitutions; Virtue going out from them by spirituous Effluxes unto the Patient, and their vigorous healthy Spirits affecting the sick as usewally the unhealthy Fumes of the sick infect the sound and whole.

Lucan on metempsychosis

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (d.65 CE) – otherwise known as Lucan – was a poet and author with close ties to the imperial court of Rome. He is best known for his description of the Roman Civil War in the 1stC BC, albeit more for its poetic rather than historical merit. Like Caesar, he commented on the druidic belief in the transmigration of souls:

While you, ye Druids, when the war was done,
To mysteries strange and hateful rites returned:
To you alone ’tis given the gods and stars
To know or not to know; secluded groves
Your dwelling-place, and forests far remote.
If what ye sing be true, the shades of men
Seek not the dismal homes of Erebus
Or death’s pale kingdoms; but the breath of life
Still rules these bodies in another age —
Life on this hand and that, and death between.
Happy the peoples ‘neath the Northern Star
In this their false belief; for them no fear
Of that which frights all others: they with hands
And hearts undaunted rush upon the foe
And scorn to spare the life that shall return.
(Translation by J.D. Duff: “Lucan: The Civil War”, Loeb Classics Library, London, 1928.)

It is possible he was quoting from Julius Caesar, yet almost a century after Caesar’s murder it still appears that the apparently core druidical doctrine of metempsychosis was contentious to Romans such as Lucan. The politics of the day was that the focus of the druidic religion had been pushed back into the Atlantic islands of Britannia and Hibernia, and Rome was in the process of its campaign of subjugating the former. Both Caesar and Lucan’s attitude towards the reincarnation doctrine was mirrored by other Roman writers such as Pomponius Mela (De Situ Orbiis c.43CE) who (like Lucan and Seneca) was from Roman Spain. These authors, along with Pliny the Elder, provided rhetorical accounts unkind to the religion of the druids during the period that Rome’s armies were pushing up through Britannia. A political reason to attack the core doctrine was that it was perceived that it rendered believers fearless of death.

Romans had no objection to the veneration of native gods in the territories they conquered, and must have actually created many as they went. The large number of remaining inscriptions and statuary items dedicated to these ‘Romano-Celtic’ deities in Britain is proof of this. It is a matter of conjecture, though, if these represented ancient original cults, especially as Roman historians and literary commentators during the first 100 years of Roman subjugation in Atlantic Europe indicated a Roman campaign against fundamental tenets of this style of religion, particularly the doctrine on metempsychosis.

It is quite likely that Romano-Gallic and Romano-British ‘deities’ were the result of an active campaign of interpretatio romanum designed to change the fundamental nature of local pagan belief to match one acceptable to the Mediterranean mindset of Rome (centred around their idea of ‘proper veneration’ of the ‘eternal gods’) and to the (often non-Roman) troops and auxiliaries it employed to do its dirty work in frontier provinces.

In Lucan’s time (middle of the 1stC CE) Ireland and the western and northern reaches of the ‘Britannic Isles’ would still have followed the doctrines that Julius Caesar wrote of after he had started to purge them in the 1stC BCE.