text size

Description of Book the Second of the Veil of Isis or Mysteries of the Druids

Top comments

{{ annotation.praises_count }} Likes
{{ annotation.creator_alias }}
{{ annotation.creator_score }}

There are no comments yet. Be the first to start comment or request an explanation.

THE north of the island was inhabited by wild hordes of savages, who lived upon the bark of trees, and upon the precarious produce of the chase; went naked, and sheltered themselves from the weather under the cover of the woods, or in the mountain caves. The midland tribes were entirely pastoral. They lived upon the flesh and milk which their flocks afforded them, and clothed themselves in their skins. While the inhabitants of the south, who had been polished by intercourse with strangers, were acquainted with many of the arts of civilization, and were ruled by a priesthood which was second to none in the world for its learning and experience. They manured their ground with marl, and sowed corn, which they stored in thatched houses, and from which they took as much as was necessary for the day and having dried the ears, beat the grain out, bruised it, and baked it into bread. They ate little of this bread at their banquets, but great quantities of flesh, which they either boiled in water, or broiled upon the coals, or roasted upon spits. They drank ale or metheglin, a liquor made of milk and honey, and sat upon the skins of wolves or dogs. They lived in small houses built in a circular form, thatched with rushes into the shape of a cone; an aperture being left by which the smoke might escape. Their dress was of their own manufacture. A square mantle covered a vest and trousers, or a deeply-plaited tunic of braided cloth; the waist was encircled by a belt, rings adorned the second finger of each hand, and a chain of iron or brass was suspended from the neck. These mantles, at first the only covering of the Britons, were of one color, with long hair on the outside, and were fastened upon the breast by a clasp, with the poorer classes by a thorn. The heads were covered with caps made of rushes, and their feet with sandals of untanned skin; specimens of which are still to be met with-of the former in Wales, of the latter in the Shetland Isles. The women wore tunics, wrought and interwoven with various colors, over which was a loose robe of coarser make, secured with brazen buckles. They let their hair flow at freedom, and dyed it yellow like the ladies of ancient Rome; and they wore chains of massive gold about their necks, bracelets upon their arms, rings upon their fingers. They were skilled in the art of weaving, in which, however, the Gauls had obtained a still greater proficience. The most valuable of their cloths were manufactured of fine wool of different tints, woven chequer-wise, so as to fall into small squares of various colors. They also made a kind of cloth, which, without spinning or weaving, was, when worked up with vinegar, so hard and impenetrable, that it would turn the edge of the sharpest sword. They were equally famous for their linen, and sail-cloths constituted a great part of their trade. When they had finished the linen in, the loom, they had this curious method of bleaching it: The flax having been whitened before it was sent to the loom, the unspun yarn was placed in a mortar where it was pounded and beaten into water; it was then sent to the weaver, and when it was received from him made into cloth, it was laid upon a large smooth stone, and beaten with broad-headed cudgels, the juice of poppies being mingled with the water. For scouring cloths, they used a soap invented by themselves, which they made from the fat of animals and the ashes of certain vegetables. Distinct from these southern tribes, were the inhabitants of the Cassiterides, who wore long black garments, and beards falling on each side of their mouths like wings, and who are described by Pliny as "carrying staves with three serpents curling round like Furies in a tragedy." It is probable that the nudity of the northern nations did not proceed from mere barbarous ignorance. We know that savages are first induced to wear clothing, not from shame, but from vanity; and it was this passion which restrained them from wearing the skins of beasts, or the gaudy clothes of their civilized neighbors. For it was their custom to adorn their bodies with various figures by a tedious and painful process. At an early age, the outlines of animals were impressed with a pointed instrument into the skin; a strong infusion of woad, (a Gallic herb from which a blue dye was extracted) was rubbed into the punctures, and the figures expanding with the growth of the body retained their original appearance. Like the South-Sea Islanders they esteemed that to be a decoration which we consider a disfigurement, and these tatooings (which were used by the Thracicans and by the ancient inhabitants of Constantinople, and which were forbidden by Moses, Levit. xix. 28.) were only displayed by Southern races as a kind of war-paint. Like the Gauls, who endeavored to make their bright red hair rough and bristly not for ornament, but as a terror to their enemies, these Britons on the day of battle flung off their clothes, and with swords girded to their naked sides, and spear in hand, marched with joyful cries against their enemies. Also upon certain festivals they, with their wives and children, daubed themselves from head to foot with the blue dye of the woad and danced in circles bowing to the altar. But the Picts, or painted men, as the Romans named them, colored themselves with the juice of green grass. Hunting was their favorite exercise and sport, and Britain which was then filled with vast swamps and forests afforded them a variety of game. The elephant and the rhinoceros, the moose-deer, the tiger and other beasts now only known in Eastern climes, and mammoth creatures that have since disappeared from the face of the earth made the ground tremble beneath their stately tread. The brown bear preyed upon their cattle, and slept in the hollow oaks which they revered. The hyenas yelped by night, and prowled round the fold of the shepherd. The beaver fished in their streams, and built its earthen towns upon their banks. And hundreds of wolves, united by the keen frosts of winter, gathered round the rude habitations of men and howled from fierce hunger, rolling their horrible green eyes and gnashing their white teeth. Their seas abounded with fish, but since they held water sacred they would not, injure its inhabitants for they believed them to be spirits. I will now consider the primeval state of trade in Britain, now the greatest commercial country in the world. It was periodically visited by the Phœnicians, a crafty and enterprising nation whose commerce embraced the whole of the known world, from the frozen borders of Scythia to the burning coasts of Africa and Hindostan; whose vessels like the Spanish galleons and our own East Indiamen of old were equipped equally for trade or war; who robbed the weak with their drawn swords, and the strong with their cunning arts; who traded with Arabia for spices and precious stones; with Damascus for the Mesopotamian white wool, and for wine of Aleppo, a beverage so costly that it was drunk by kings alone: with Judœa for fruits of the soil, corn, grape-honey, oil and balm; with Armenia for mules and chariot-horses, flocks and herds; with the shores of the Baltic for amber; with Spain for minerals; with the Euxine for tunny-fish; with India for the cinnamon of Ceylon, for cotton garments and for steel which sold in Arabia for twice its weight in gold, and of which the Damascus blades so celebrated in the middle ages were made. It was not long before they discovered the lead and tin mines of Cornwall and the Cassiterides, which would appear (from several flint-headed tools called celts lately discovered within them) to have been worked by the Britons themselves. And as they were wont to exchange the pottery of Athens for the ivory of Africa, and live Jews for the gold and jewels of the Greeks, so they bartered salt, earthenware and brazen trinkets with the Britons for tin, lead, and the skins of wild beasts. It was the policy of the Phœnicians (in which they were afterwards imitated by the Dutch) to preserve their commercial secrets with the greatest jealousy, and to resort to extremes in order to protect their interests. Although they had supplied tin and amber for several years to the Greeks, Herodotus, who had visited Tyre, could only obtain very vague accounts as to the countries from which they had been obtained, and on making inquiries respecting cinnamon and frankincense, was explicitly informed that the first was procured by stratagem from the nests of birds built upon inaccessible crags, and the latter from a tree guarded by winged serpents. There-is also the story of the master of a Phœnician trader from Cadiz to the Cassiterides, who finding himself followed by a Roman ship ran his own vessel ashore preferring death to discovery. The Romans were also shipwrecked, and were drowned, but the patriot escaped to tell his tale at Tyre, and to receive from a grateful state the value of his cargo and an additional reward. In spite of these precautions, either by accident, or by the treachery of some renegade Phœnician, or from the colony of Phocians at Marseilles, the Greeks discovered the secret about three hundred years before the Christian era. Thus monopoly being ended, the commerce of the Britons was extended. and improved, and after the descent of the Romans they exported not only tin and lead, but also gold, silver, iron, corn, cattle, slaves hunting-dogs, pearls, and those wicker baskets which Martial has immortalized in his epigrams. It also appears that chalk was an article of their trade, by this inscription which was found with many others near Zeland, A. D. 1647- DEAE NEHALENNIAE OB MERCES RECTE CONSER VATAS SECVND SILVANVS NEGO X TOR CRETARIVS BRITANNICIANUS V. S. L. M. To the Goddess Nehalennia For his goods well preserved Secundus Silvanus A chalk merchant Of Britain Willingly performed his merited vow. Before describing the religion and superstitions of our earliest ancestors, which will bring me to the real purpose of this book, I will add a few remarks upon their manners and peculiarities. Curiosity, which is certainly the chief characteristic of all barbarous and semi-barbarous nations, was possessed by the Celts in so extraordinary a degree that they would compel travelers to stop, even against their wills, and make them tell some news, and deliver an opinion upon the current events of the day. They would also crowd round the merchants in towns with the same kind of inquiries. But the great failing of these Celts was their hastiness and ferocity. Not content with pitched battles against their enemies abroad, they were always ready to fight duels with their friends at home. In fact, the end of a British feast was always the beginning of a fray; two warriors would rise and fight each other with such sang-froid that Athenœus wrote in astonishment, Mortem pro joco habent, "They turn death into a joke;" and it was from these spectacles that the Romans conceived and executed the idea of gladiatorial entertainments. They feared nothing these brave men. They sang as they marched to battle, and perhaps to death. They shot arrows at the heavens when it thundered; they laughed as they saw their own hearts' blood gushing forth. And yet they were plain and simple in their manners; open and generous, docile and grateful, strangers to low cunning and deceit, so hospitable that they hailed the arrival of each fresh guest with joy and festivities, so warm-hearted that they were never more pleased than when they could bestow a kindness. Their code of morals, like those of civilized nations, had its little contradictions; they account it disgraceful to steal, but honorable to rob, and though they observed the strictest chastity, they did not blush to live promiscuously in communities of twelve. This extraordinary custom induced Caesar to assert that they enjoyed each other's wives in common; but in this he is borne out by no other authorities, and, indeed, there are many instances of this kind among barbarous nations, who love, apparently, to hide their real purity with a gross and filthy enamel. Richard of Circencester (probably alluding to Bath the aquœ solis of the ancients) mentions, however, some salt and warm springs used by the ancient Britons, from which were formed hot baths suited to all ages, with distinct places for the two sexes; a refinement which was unknown in Lacedœmon. And Procopius writes:-- "So highly rated is chastity among these barbarians, that if even the bare mention of marriage occurs without its completion, the maiden seems to lose her fair fame." Having thus briefly sketched the condition and employments of the early Britons--having proved that our ancestors were brave, and that their daughters were virtuous, I will now show you those wise and potent men of whom these poor barbarians were but the disciples and the slaves.

read all comments

1 Sara Di Diego = "This means "Tin Islands" in Greek.  When named it is traditionally assumed to refer to Great Britain, due to the tin reserves from Cornwall.  In fact the most prosperous era for Britain, the end of the War of Roses, was caused by the large amount of tin exports.Work Cited:Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weirhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassiterides"
2 Sara Di Diego = "Source:https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ad/Scythia-Parthia_100_BC.png/525px-Scythia-Parthia_100_BC.png"
3 Sara Di Diego = "This was a historical region of India, otherwise known as British India.Source:http://www.davidrumsey.com/rumsey/Size4/D0032/00324020.jpg"