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THE purpose of this chapter is to give a short account of the religion of the Gauls, that is to say the inhabitants of the district bounded by the Rhine, the Pyrenees, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean.

We have to gather our information about this religion from incomplete and vague documents which do not belong to Gaul strictly speaking: that is from the historians of Greece and Rome (Posidonius, Caesar, Strabo, Diodorus, Mela, Lucan, etc.). There are also monuments (bas-reliefs, bronzes, and inscriptions) dating from the time when Gaul already formed part of the Roman Empire, and had been influenced by Rome. Both these sources of information show us, not the pure and true Gallic religion, but this religion either as it was more or less correctly interpreted by strangers, or more or less transformed by imported beliefs.

Another difficulty arises from the fact that under the term Gallic, the ancients included both the original inhabitants of Gaul and other peoples of quite a different character. There were Aquitanians south of the Garonne, related to the Iberians or Cantabrians of Spain: Ligurians in the Alpine districts, and Germans in the Moselle and Meuse valleys. The rest really belonged to the so-called Gauls, and concerning them two things must be said: first that they fall into two groups, the Kelts between the Marne and the Garonne, who were the earlier settlers, and the Belgae, between the Marne and the Ardennes forest, more recent comers and less civilized. Secondly the Belgae and Kelts, or Gauls as they are sometimes called, do not represent a homogeneous people; but the name must be taken to cover both a very ancient race (usually known as Ligurians) and a smaller group of conquerors or immigrants, who were the Belgae or Kelts proper. This country of Gaul was then composed of as various elements as the Francia of the time of Clovis, and each of these groups of peoples doubtless possessed their own gods and rites. Therefore when the Gallic religion is referred to, it must be understood to imply the religion practised in a definite district, and not by a definite race.

The Gods

Concerning the gods; one type of divinity exists that was probably common to all these peoples, Ligurians, Germans, Gauls, and Aquitanians. That is the gods of the soil, or, as the Romans said, genii loci, meaning the gods who inhabited the visible and salient features of the earth; such as springs, brooks, lakes, rocks, mountains, forests, trees, and bogs. These gods were the most popular, ancient, numerous, and varied of all. Each possessed a distinct name, which was at the same time applied to the natural feature, whether it were stream or mountain, over which it presided.

Amongst these divinities, so numerous in Gaul (especially among the non-Gallic peoples on the frontier, such as the Aquitanians, Ligurians, and Germans), those that recur most frequently and that seem to have received the greatest share of devotion and fame were connected with springs, streams, and rivers. This I believe to be due to the important part played by springs in the economic life of families and villages. They give assurance of life to man and his cattle, and therefore — to quote Pliny the Naturalist — "They create towns and engender gods." Some of these stream-divinities, worshipped in spots destined to become the sites of fair towns, have won a still greater celebrity, as for instance Nemausus, the god-fountain or the god of the fountain of the great spring at Nimes, whose temple was consecrated in later times to Diana; Divona the spring of Burdigala (Bordeaux) sung by the poet Ausonius, to be discovered today in the stream of the Deveze; and Bibracte, the spring on Mont Beuvray, the celebrated Bibracte that was the capital city of the Aedui when Caesar fought them. Other Keltic towns which also owe their name and origin to stream-goddesses are Aventicum (Avenches in the territory of the Helvetii), and Arausio (Orange). Side by side with these must be placed the gods and goddesses of medicinal springs, which were worshipped so devoutly in Roman times, and doubtless also in the time of Gallic independence; such as Luxovius at Luxeuil, Borbo at Bourbon, and others at Greoulx, at Luchon, at Dax, at Mont-Dore, etc. In fact it would be necessary to name all the mineral waters of France to complete the list of gods of this description. There were also the deities of rivers, who had their sanctuaries later, sanctuaries rich in every kind of votive offering; of which the most famous in Roman times was that of the Seine springs. Such were the Dea Sequana the Seine, Icaunis the Yonne, Matrona the Marne; while the Classical authors show that the Rhine was looked upon as a supreme god. Closely related to these divinities, both as regards origin and attributes, were those of lakes and marshes; such as the god of the sacred lake of Toulouse, to whom thousands of ingots of gold and silver, spoils of the Roman proconsuls, were consecrated.

The gods of mountains, or rather of isolated peaks, were perhaps rather less numerous and popular, but were also very powerful. A few of them, by virtue of the majesty of the summit they inhabited, attained (like the Rhine) to the highest rank among the gods. The col of the Puy-de-Dome, Dumias, was accounted one of the greatest deities in Gaul, as were also Ventoux, Vintur in Provence, Donon in the Vosges, not to mention lesser heights. Indeed it appears that the true Gauls were more attracted by the worship of mountains than by that of springs.

On the other hand, the Ligurians, Aquitanians, and Germans seem to have cared more for that of forests and trees, though this statement must not be taken to refer to anything more definite than a preference for one rather than the other, since all the Gallic peoples were acquainted with the same gods. It is usually possible to distinguish between the gods and goddesses of the whole forest, most plentiful in the North, such as the Dea Arduenna of the Ardennes, and the Deus Vosegus of the Vosges, and the particular divinities which inhabited a single tree, or a clump of trees; such as the Deus Fagus "the god of the beech tree," or the Deus Sexarbores, which is the Roman version of the divinity inhabiting a group of six trees. Such gods might be found most frequently in the land of the Aquitanians north of the Pyrenees.

Worship of the Dead 

It remains yet to show in what manner these nature gods were represented and grouped. Sometimes they dwelt in solitude; in which case the stream or mountain only belonged to a single divinity, either male (e.g, Deus Nemausus) or female (e.g. Dea Sequana). This seems to have been the case specially in regions where Keltic or Iberian influence predominated. Sometimes the mystic properties of a spring were attributed to an indivisible group of gods, most of them composed of three, but occasionally of five divinities; called by the Romans "Mothers" or "Matronae" or "Nymphae" of the spring: for instance Matres Ubelnae the "Goddess-Mothers" of the Huveaune (a Provençal spring), but it is clear that the word Matres is only the translation of a native word, whose use must have been very ancient. This conception of the gods of springs was general between the Pyrenees and the Rhine, but appeared in a more fully developed form in Provence, the Ligurian districts, and the forest lands bordering on Germany.

It is impossible to attribute to one tribe more than to another the worship of the gods sprung from human life; by which is meant the cult of the dead. We have no trustworthy documentary evidence testifying to this cult before the Roman period. But monuments dedicated to the names of the departed are as common in every part of Gaul as in Italy and Greece, they show practically the same formulae, and they bear witness to the same rites and beliefs. Therefore it is safe to attribute to the Gauls or Ligurians that worship of the dead which was an essential element in Greek or Roman life, as Fustel de Coulanges has shown in La Cité Antique.


Above these local and human deities appear the great gods. In this respect more marked individuality is discernible amongst the different tribes, Kelts, Aquitanians, or Ligurians. They gradually gave distinctive characteristics to their superior gods, the more so since these deities were regarded as the protectors and representatives — not of places or men — as were those mentioned above, but of whole nations, states, and public societies. Naturally each of these societies, leading its individual life, attributed to its national god or tutelary deities a special character, corresponding to the chief characteristics of its own life. At the same time, in spite of the obvious differences which they display, these superior gods possess certain common features, which serve to recall the existence of the great sovereign and universal deities, older than the grouping of nations.

All the tribes mentioned, whatever their origin may have been, have this in common; that they all believed in the existence of a superior divinity, representing the virtue of the earth, which produces all and reaps all. We find this same divine principle appearing under a multitude of diverse forms in later times, such as the Earth, mother of the god of the Germans, Dispater, father of the Gauls, Earth again, from whom the indigenous Britons sprang, Vesta or Herecura (Juno Regina) known to us from the Roman inscriptions in Gaul and Germany; and Minerva of the tribes of the South. And if we find later that the Aquitanians of Lectoure and the Kelts of the Viennoise and the Three Gauls accepted with enthusiasm the cult of the Magna Mater brought to them from the Palatine at Rome and Pessinus in Asia, the explanation lies in the fact that they were accustomed to adore a chthonian divinity of the same nature.

Similarly Gauls, Ligurians, and Gallo-Germans worshipped the sun, moon, fire, and the stars; and in the more human figures which represented their gods in later times it is possible to see clearly traces of these ancient and primitive beliefs. Thus among the greatest of the Keltic gods was Taranis (or Taranus) whom Caesar reasonably considered as the equivalent of Jupiter, since his emblems were the thunderbolt, the S, and the wheel of the chariot of the Sun. By his side the same people worshipped Belenus, translated Apollo by the Romans, as being more correctly the Sun-god. They also possessed an equivalent for Diana, perhaps in the person of Sirona; while the appearance of stars on various Gallic monuments shows that the cult of the lesser stars was not foreign to them. Above all, these astral or heavenly gods kept their primordial importance among the non-Gallic tribes, the Aquitanians and Ligurians, and among the Gauls in the Belgic district. An examination of the symbols on coins of the period of independence, or the inscriptions of the Roman time, discloses the apparently incontrovertible fact, that in proportion as the Seine is left to the south, and the Ardennes and the Rhine are approached, astral symbols increase on coins, and figures connected with the heavens become more numerous on monuments. For there is no doubt that the symbol of a snake-footed giant supporting a triumphant cavalier, which is so often found in Belgium, may be interpreted as illustrating the episodes in the progress of the seasons or the stars. Also it may be observed that it was this same region that was most notable, in Imperial times, for the worship of the seven days of the week.

National Gods

The permanent and natural functions of these chthonian and astral gods prolonged their existence and stereotyped their characteristics until the time of the Roman conquest: thus it is easier to speak with certainty of these than of the merely political deities, for their sway was closely connected with the national life of the tribes; as was that of Capitoline Jupiter or Jahveh of the Israelites.

The Kelts, while they formed a federation of cities bearing the same name, owned as their political deity one that the writings of Lucan have made known to us as Teutates, and this name itself reminds us of his essential characteristic, which was to identify himself with his people (as did Jahveh with the Israelites), for the root "teut" appears to mean something approaching to "national" (patrius). It was this god that the Romans, following the example of Caesar, identified with Mercury; though it is probable that any other interpretation would have served equally well: for instance Mars, Saturn or Dispater, according as the Classical authors or the worshippers in the Imperial period may have preferred the intellectual, warlike, or creative attributes. For like all other national gods of ancient peoples, this deity seems to have been omnipotent. He probably led his people to battle, protected their merchants, taught them all the arts, while he was also the creator of mankind and the founder of the national name, as was Jehovah himself.

Besides this god, but still within the circle of their national deities, the Kelts worshipped Esus, who probably came into existence as a duplication or avatar of Teutates. He seems to have possessed the same attributes, though perhaps it is possible to discern in him more definitely and constantly the features of a warrior.

Besides these two, a feminine deity is found, more or less sprung from the earth goddess; she is also at the same time a warlike and intellectual deity, known by the Romans as Minerva or Victoria, perhaps also the mysterious Andarta of certain epigraphic writings. Yet further, there may possibly have been a fourth deity of this nature in the Gallic pantheon, a god of war and labour, of fire and the smithy, identified by the Romans as Vulcanus.

If only the tribes bearing the name of Gauls had lived in strict bonds of unity under one government, as did the Carthaginians and Romans, it is probable that the individual characters and special characteristics of the gods might have become permanently fixed. But the Gallic world, like the Greek, was frequently changed by scatterings and quarrels.

Thus each of the tribes worshipped, conceived of, and made combinations of the gods at its own pleasure, until Gaul may be said to have contained as many pantheons as cities; though the same fundamental principles can easily be traced in each.

In this way the Druidical federation which had its centre in the land of the Carnutes, kept as its sovereign gods Teutates and Esus associated with Taranis the thunder-god. Among the Vocontii of Dauphine the great national divinity appears to have been Andarta, Victory. The Allobroges appear to have consecrated themselves to two military divinities resembling the Roman Mars and Hercules. Perhaps the Arverni, who were for a long time the sovereign people among the Kelts, had with more piety maintained the worship of a single Teutates, to whom they raised the sanctuary that is found consecrated in Roman times to the Latin form of this god, Mercurius Dumias.

So far we have only dealt with the Gauls, amongst whom it is possible to discover the existence of political gods, presiding over a great federation or a single city. This type of god is far more difficult to study among the Aquitanians and Ligurians, because their national life was, to a surprising degree, less concentrated, and the tribal system preponderated. Even here, however, we occasionally discover a great god possessing the attributes of Mars, another resembling Hercules, or a third with feminine characteristics. The pacific and creative faculties which caused the Keltic Teutates to resemble Mercury are less clearly marked in the chief gods of this region.

Representation of the Gods

Another cause of the indefiniteness noticeable in the characters of all these gods is the fact that in all probability the Gauls had not yet reached the stage known as anthropomorphism. It must not be understood by this that they completely denied themselves any representation of the gods; for when Julius Caesar speaks of the simulacra of their Mercury, or Lucan mentions the simulacra of the gods of the Kelto-Ligurian peoples dwelling near Marseilles, they were doubtless thinking of images of the human figure. But these images, not a single one of which has survived for us, can only have been unformed trunks, rough-hewn pillars, a kind of sheath in wood or stone (ante carent, said Lucan) analogous to the most ancient xoana of the Greeks, without any of the features of a man or those fixed attributes which make it possible to distinguish a Zeus from an Apollo.

The image of the deity was as indefinite as his nature was vague and complex. At the same time, it appears that the religious image was not universally accepted; and that the priests, like those of Latium in the time of Numa, refused to give their authority to representations of the gods.

To the eyes of worshippers the gods were represented rather by emblems than figures, and before the time of Roman influence the Gallic religion was as rich in symbols as it was poor in images. We may study the Gallic coins struck in the second and first centuries BC, which are the only authentic witness to the period of independence, without finding a single representation of one of the native gods, either full-length or as a bust. On the other hand, attributes, symbols and emblems will be found in abundance, either of the objects which formed the equipment of a god, weapons or utensils, or signs which would be pointless except for the mysterious significance attached to them.

Thus the sign in the form of the letter S, which has given rise to many designs on coins, and to the fabrication of many metal amulets, appears to have been the symbol of Taranis; the same may be said of the wheel or little wheel. The hammer, according to the most reliable theory, was the attribute of Teutates, his changeless weapon.

Sacred Animals and Plants

Further, the gods possessed permanent companions, birds, beasts, trees and animals, which accompanied them during their lives or made manifest their actions. Amongst quadrupeds, the horse appears most often on coins; while of all the birds, the raven most certainly plays the principal part in divine matters in Gaul, as among so many peoples of the ancient world. A chatterer, ever restless with his varied cries, he was manifestly the interpreter of the wishes of the gods on earth, and their permanent oracle.

We are rather better informed on the subject of sacred plants, thanks to some of the writings of Pliny the Naturalist. It must not be forgotten, however, that he wrote more than a century after the loss of Gallic independence, and that the sacred plants had by then been more or less wrested from their divine functions by their transformation into mere magical agents. We know the most important to have been the mistletoe; not mistletoe found in any place, but mistletoe cut from an oak. It owed its great value to several circumstances: mistletoe is very rare on oaks, the oak was the most sacred tree among the Kelts, and the presence of a plant of mistletoe on an oak was therefore a proof that a god had chosen it for his dwelling. Further to explain the potency of mistletoe it must be remembered that its seed is spread by birds, its leaves face the earth, not the sky, and that it displays its perfect greenness at a time when all other vegetation seems dead in the cold winter weather. Thus it is possible that in it the Gauls beheld a symbol of immortality, but Pliny only speaks of it as a remedy for all ills.

Later, under the Roman domination, all these different beings and things comprised in the Gallic religion, gods, animals, plants and emblems, were combined and united to form groups of consecrated images, analogous to those at that time presented by the Graeco-Roman mythology. The sculptors of Roman Gaul continually reproduced and repeated the new conceptions of their belief. We have therefore a type of the thunder-god, clothed more or less like a Jupiter, armed above all with the wheel: a god with a hammer, accompanied by a dog and holding a goblet in his hand: a three-headed god, flanked by a serpent with a ram's horn: a horse-god, carried by the snake-footed giant: a goddess seated on a beast of burden (Epona, the goddess of horses): a horned god, and many others. But we hesitate before pronouncing these images to be the manifestations of unmixed Keltic thought. At the time when they appeared a century had elapsed since the Gauls had been independent in their thoughts and beliefs; they were no longer under the direction of their priests, and they were ceaselessly open to contact with Greek and Roman imagery, so that they often combined native emblems with copies of foreign symbols; they spoke no more of Teutates, but invoked Mercury in his place. All these images possess a real interest none the less, but it is necessary to guard against attri­buting to them an undue importance in the history of Gallic religion.

Sacred Buildings

What has been said of religious sculpture is still more true of architecture. All the temples and altars without exception, which were consecrated to Gallic gods, date from the period of the Roman Empire: and by that time the Roman architects and priests had invaded the land with their stereotyped buildings and their customs, the templum and ara. This does not imply that it is impossible to discover in these constructions a trace of indigenous survivals. Thus a great many temples in Gaul proper are constructed on a square plan (as for instance that of Champlien, in Normandy), and this architectural type is hardly to be found in the Graeco-Roman world, therefore it may possibly recall some sacred customs of the Gauls; but a complete inquiry on these lines has not yet been made. It is certain that in the time of independence, the Gauls possessed sacred places; and a few, like that of the Virgins of the Isle of Sein (in Armorica), must have been complete buildings, with walls and roofs. But these were doubtless made of wood (hence their complete destruction) and they were in the minority among sanctuaries. The majority of consecrated places were simply open spaces limited by ritual, but not by material boundaries; spaces where fragments of the precious metals, destined for the gods, were accumulated. There were also clusters of trees, spaces reserved in the great forests, or even lakes or marshes, like those of Toulouse, which have been mentioned already. When a spring was considered to be holy it is probable that offerings for the god of the place were thrown into the water ; the spring was at the same time both god and sanctuary. This theory explains the fact that when sites are excavated the springs often yield the largest crop of surprising discoveries.

All that has been said helps to show why it is still more difficult to penetrate far in the knowledge of doctrines; that is, the fashion in which the Gauls conceived of the destinies of man, the world, and the gods. But there remain a few indications of their beliefs in these matters, escaped from the total ruin which has befallen their religious poems. Further, it is always possible that the Greeks and Romans have not given a very exact interpretation even of what they were able to learn. At the time when they were writing on Gallic religion there was a fashion prevalent, owing its origin doubtless to Alexandria, of painting the wisdom and philosophy of the barbarians in glowing colours; so that quite possibly they may have endowed the Gallic dogmas with a purity and elevation really quite foreign to them.


The Keltic doctrine most highly praised by these writers is that of the immortality of the soul. They have not explained to us very clearly the nature of this immortality, but it is more than probable (if we examine the equipment of a Gaul in his tomb) that the Kelts imaged the next life as very similar to this, with more pleasures and with greater combats for him who died bravely on the battle-field. This type of immortality is traceable in the beliefs of most barbaric peoples; it has no special mark of nobility, and does not justify the frequent practice of deducing from it any particular glory for the Kelts.

Concerning the world, their religious poems spoke of the struggle between water, earth and fire, of the triumph of the two first-named elements, and of the submergence of all in a future cataclysm. Moreover, the world was later to emerge as victor over destruction. This is a sufficiently childish cosmogony, in which it is possible to trace all the usual elements.

The religious practices of the Gauls do not seem to offer any extraordinary features, either good or bad. Caesar and others tell us that they were the most religious of men, and performed no action without consulting their gods; in this they resembled the Greeks and Romans of primitive times, and if the contemporaries of Augustus were astonished at it, it was merely because at that time it was considered by educated Romans to be good taste to mock at the gods and to act independently of them.

The Gauls must be severely condemned for their human sacrifices, whether of those already sentenced to death, or of innocent persons whom they are said to have enclosed in large wicker hampers. Recently certain modern scholars, too ready perhaps (like the Alexandrians in the time of Posidonius) to admire the Gauls, have tried to deny or excuse these horrible ceremonies. This is only labour lost. We must accept their existence, not forgetting, however, that they were not peculiar to the Gauls, but that the Greeks and Romans themselves had their sacrifices of men and women. The ancients have insisted with equal vehemence on the Keltic practice of divination, and have cited many facts to show their passion for the art of the diviner, whether by means of birds, entrails of victims, decisions of augurs or dreams. Without doubt the Gauls had essayed all these means for discovering the future, but in this again they took the same course as the Greeks and Romans of earlier times; and if the raven was by them accounted the greatest of soothsaying birds, it held a similar position among the Greeks long before.

With regard to the magical practices of the Gallic world, the ancients have little to tell us. This may simply be due to chance, but possibly the Kelts were really inferior, in this respect, to the Italians and Carthaginians. Various indications (specially the relative scarcity of magical tablets under the emperors) seem to show that as far as magic is concerned, they were rather imitators than masters. Perhaps it was in their sacerdotal organisation that the Kelts (they alone can be dealt with in this connexion) shewed most originality; though it is necessary to add that we are only half-informed on the subject.


They called their chief priests Druids. This name (whatever its etymology may be) seems to have conveyed a more important meaning to them than did the words sacerdos or pontifex to the Romans. Nevertheless, the druids were not without some resemblance to the men who bore one or other of these titles at Rome. They also were drawn from the upper class of society; they were selected from the nobles, exactly as the pontifices of primitive Rome were chosen from the patrician ranks. The dignity of druid did not force its holder to withdraw himself from civil and political life. Caesar has told us of an Aeduan druid in his time, Diviciacus by name, who was, perhaps, the chief of all the Gallic druids. He was very rich, wielding great influence both in his own tribe and throughout Gaul, he was probably both married and the father of a family; he was allowed to ride and to wear arms; he accompanied Caesar on his first campaigns, and the Roman proconsul even entrusted the command of a corps of the army to him. His obligations, as a Gaul, do not seem to have differed from those of Caesar as a Roman, and he was pontifex maximus.

Two points remain, however, in which the druids do not resemble the priests of Classical antiquity, but rather recall those of the East. First, though each tribe in Gaul had its own druid or druids, all the druids were associated in a permanent federation, like priests of the same cult. Although they were not formally a clergy, they did form a church, like the bishops of the Catholic Church; and this church necessitated both a hierarchy and periodical assemblies.

At the head of the druids was a high-priest, who seems to have held his dignity for life. Since there was an organized hierarchy, the high-priest was succeeded by the man who held the post immediately below his own. If the succession should be disputed by rival claimants of equal rank, a decision was made by means of election, or sometimes by a duel with weapons, standing probably for some kind of divine judgment by the sword.

Every year all the druids of Gaul met in a solemn assembly in the territory of the Carnutes (Chartres and Orleans); this country was chosen because it was considered (and with considerable accuracy) to be the centre of the whole of Gaul. This assembly had at the same time a political, judicial and religious aspect. The druids formed themselves into a tribunal, and judged all cases submitted to their decision; such as those involving murder, disputed inheritance and boundaries. It is probable that this tribunal came into competition with the jurisdiction of the ordinary magistrates of the cities. The druids pronounced sentences which seem in the main to have consisted of formulae of composition or of excommunication. Those excluded by them from the sacrifices were, said Caesar, treated as scoundrels, and guilty of impiety, and no one dared approach them. It remains to be discovered to what extent this tribunal was attended, its sentences executed and its jurisdiction respected. It may be that in the last century of independence, these druidical assizes were but the survival of very ancient institutions, then falling more and more into desuetude—a form without much meaning. None the less, they are one of the strangest things found in Gaul, and even in the whole of the West.

The second original feature of druidism was that the priests were also the teachers of the Gallic youth. If it were said absolutely that they directed the schools, the expression would be unsuitable. But they gathered round them the young men of the Gallic families, and taught them all that they knew or believed concerning the world, the human soul and the gods. A few of these scholars stayed with their masters until they had reached the age of twenty years; but it is clear that those who were to become priests received the lion's share of attention. Such an institution, making the priests into the educators of the young, is surprising in ancient times, and calls to mind modern conditions. We cannot be certain, however, that in it we have an exceptional phenomenon, for is it not possible that something approaching the druidical teaching may be found in the schools founded in Rome in connection with the members of the colleges of Augurs and Pontifices?

In all other respects, however, the analogy between druidism and the ancient priesthoods is complete. The druids alone possessed the power of offering sacrifices by the act of presiding at them; they studied philosophy, astronomy and physiology; they wrote (in verse) the annals of their people, as did the pontifices of Rome and the priests of Israel.

The druids were not the only priests of the Gauls. They were the most important, and probably they alone were considered to rank in dignity with the nobles. But they had depending on them a good many subordinate priests who officiated singly, and others who were combined to form a sodality.

The single priests were those who were attached to a sanctuary as a kind of guardian or celebrant of a temple and its god: somewhat resembling the Roman aedituus. Among the greater number of tribes they were known as gutuater.

The Gauls also possessed priestly confraternities, which seem to have been largely made up of women. The ancient geographers tell us of a few, which were all dedicated to the orgiastic cults, doubtless having a chthonian origin. The most famous was that of the maidens of the Isle of Sein (already mentioned) who foretold the future, and raised or tranquillised storms. The truth of this information has frequently been denied of late, but all ancient religions have confraternities of this kind, all having a similar origin, and all giving rise to, and carrying on, the worship of the Earth-Mother.

Decay of Druidism

Druidism did not disappear with Gallic independence, but it underwent fundamental modifications, which must be mentioned here in order to explain the way in which medieval writers have alluded to it.

The druids, as public high-priests of the Gallic tribes, lost their old place under the Roman domination. They were suppressed, or rather transformed into Sacerdotes according to the Roman custom; and in the Concilium of the Three Gauls at Lyons, composed of Sacerdotes Romae et Augusti it is possible to trace a Roman interpretation of the druidical assemblies in the land of the Carnutes.

The lower priests, prophets, diviners, sages, guardians of temples and sorcerers, survived in obscurity, carrying on their traditions and sought after by devotees and peasants who were faithful to the old popular cults. Thus it came about that the word druid, which was formerly applied to the sacerdotal aristocracy, was finally used to designate these rustic priests, the last survivals of the national religion. When, therefore, the Latin writers mention druids and druidesses in connection with mistletoe, remedies and witchcraft, it is probable that they allude to these priests of the uneducated people.

The word druid is found in medieval writings applied to the native priests of Ireland and the so-called Keltic lands. It is difficult to feel sure that the word is there a direct survival, and that the Irish druids really were the authentic descendants of those mentioned by Pliny and Tacitus. In more than one place, the name and the dignity might have been interpolated by a learned writer who had read Caesar and Strabo. But ought this statement to be made general? and further, is it not possible that all druids found in the West in medieval times are the production of literary men? The present writer refrains from expressing an opinion on the subject.

One last question remains in connection with the druids. Caesar states in his Commentaries that their doctrine (disciplina) was evolved (inventa) in the isle of Britain, from whence it had been taken to Gaul. He adds "those who wish to study it deeply, usually go to the Island, and stay there for a time."

A completely satisfactory explanation of this passage has not yet been given. Perhaps it was simply an invention of the Gallic druids, who wished to invest their doctrine with the attractiveness that belongs to a mystery, and therefore evolved this British origin for it. But perhaps their dogmas and their myths really did spring from the large neighbouring island. In this latter case, two hypotheses must be considered.


In the time of Caesar the British population was composed of two different groups: a minority consisting of conquerors who had come from Gaul, Belgians or Kelts; and a majority consisting of natives. To which of these two races did the druids ascribe the paternity of their intellectual discipline? If to the Gauls, possibly Britain produced a reforming druid, who restored the religious doctrines of the nation to their primi­tive purity. If to the natives, it may be that an ancient religious community existed on the Island, with foreign rites and teaching, that nevertheless supplied inspiration to the druids.

In either case, one thing seems certain. It is that Britain, the last, in point of date, of the Keltic settlements in Europe, somehow preserved more faithfully than the other countries the religious habits of the common motherland. It is evident from Caesar that the Britons still respected the most ancient customs of the Gallic race, therefore it is probable that among them religion would have retained the most primitive forms. This may explain why the druids sent their novices there for instruction.

The druids of Gaul, like the pontifices of Rome, were writers. Caesar reiterates his account of their long poems; for to prevent their doctrines from being made known to all, they composed (or had composed) thousands of verses, which they compelled their disciples to learn by heart. These poems dealt with the stars, the gods, the earth and nature; probably also with the origin of the Gallic tribes and the human soul. They were at the same time their books of Genesis and Chronicles. Moral precepts were mixed with or added to this theoretical teaching, the best known being that which taught that death is not to be feared, and that another life is to be expected.

Probably these didactic poems did not exhaust the religious poetry of the Gauls. Their sacred literature seems to have been extraordinarily rich. We find quotations referring to songs of war and victory, also magnificent melodies, hymns in honour of their leaders, and historical poems, often of an epic character, in which facts and supernatural events alternate bewilderingly. The unfortunate fact is that all this is known to us only by the vague allusions to it to be found in the Classical authors.

In connection with these songs and poems, the word most often used by the ancient writers is Bardi, and this was the ordinary term for poet among the Gauls. These Bardi must be remembered in considering Gallic religion, for it is possible that they were half priests, half prophets, living in dependence on the druids. As well as references to druids and Gallic gods, we come across bards in the celebrated Keltic poems of the Middle Ages ; and the same question arises in connexion with all these traces of Gallic religion. Do they all come directly and continuously from the past, or are they nothing more than clever reconstructions due to readers of the Classics ?





Sir Edward Anwyl


Just as the general condition of Britain in Roman times is far more imperfectly known than that of Gaul, so, too, we have but scanty data for painting a complete picture of Keltic heathendom in these islands during the period in question, and that which immediately succeeded it. Such evidence as we find is derived partly from inscriptions, partly from the survival in legend of certain names which are either those of known Keltic deities, or which may be presumed from their forms to have been those of divine beings, partly from the allusions found in legend to heathen practices, and partly from inferences based upon a study of existing folklore. A consideration of this evidence leads to the conclusion that the condition of heathenism in Britain was very similar to that of Gaul, except that, in North Britain and Ireland and the less Romanized parts of Southern Britain, there had been less assimilation of the native religion to that of Rome.

In Britain, as in Gaul, the basis of Keltic religion was largely local in character, and rivers, springs, hills and other natural features were regarded as the abodes of gods and goddesses. The belief in fairies and similar beings, as well as in fabulous monsters supposed to inhabit caves, lakes and streams, which comes to view in medieval and modern Keltic folklore, is doubtless a continuous survival from the period of heathenism, and certain of the practices connected with regularly recurring festivals, such as the lighting of bonfires, the taking of omens and the like, have probably come down from the same time. The curious reader can find a very full account of these and similar survivals in Sir John Rhys’s Celtic Folklore, Campbell's Tales of the Western Highlands and Dr Frazer's Golden Bough.

Certain of the deities of Britain may have been tribal, and there are reasons for thinking that, in Britain as well as in Gaul, some deities were worshipped by several Keltic tribes, so that these may be regarded as the major deities of the Keltic pantheon. For instance, the name of Lug, a character of Irish legend, and that of Lleu in Welsh legend, are both cognate with the Gaulish Lugus, a god whose wide worship in the Keltic world is attested by the number of places called after his name Lugudunum or Lugdunum (the fortress of Lugus), and it is highly probable that both Lug of Irish legend and Lleu of Welsh legend were once regarded in their respective countries as divine. The Welsh place-names Dinlleu (the fort of Lleu) and Nantlleu (the valley of Lleu) in Carnarvonshire point in the same direction, no less than the ancient British name of Carlisle, Luguvallium (the embankment of Lugus). A name corresponding to that of the god Segomo of Gaul is found on an Ogam inscription in Ireland — Netta-Segamonas (the Champion of Segamo), and, later, as Nia-Sedhamain (for Seghamain). The Gaulish god Camulos has his British counterpart in the Camalos or Camulos after whom Colchester received its name Camalodunum or Camulodunum. The proper name Camulorigho (in an oblique case) found on an inscription in Anglesey, as well as Camelorigi, which occurs on an inscription at Cheriton in Pembrokeshire, are further evidence that the god Camulos was not unknown in Britain. This is still more probable, since the name of this deity occurs on an inscription at Barhil1,1 while the wide range of his worship is suggested by the existence of his name on inscriptions at Salona, Rome  and Clermont.

It would be unsafe to take the fact that the name of a deity occurs on an inscription in Britain as evidence that the deity in question was worshipped by the natives, since the inscriptions found in Britain are mostly those of soldiers who often paid their vows to the deities of their own lands. At the same time, the area over which certain inscriptions are found makes it highly probable that the deities mentioned on them were worshipped, among other countries, in Britain itself. The following account of the deities mentioned on inscriptions in Britain will suggest not a few instances where this was doubtless the case. The name Aesus, which is probably identical with the Gaulish Esus, occurs once on a British silver coin, and this fact makes it not unreasonable to suppose that this god was worshipped in Britain. On an inscription found at Colchester, there is mentioned a god identified with Mercury, called Andescox, but of this deity nothing further is known. The name of another god Anextiomarus (a name probably meaning "the great protector") is found, identified with Apollo, on an inscription at South Shields on the Herd sands, south of the mouth of the Tyne, and the beginning of the same name occurs on a stone which is in the Museum at Le Mans. The name Antenociticus is found on an inscription of the second century at Benwell, and Antocus  at Housesteads, but the connection of these gods with Britain is uncertain, as is that of a god Arciaco mentioned on a votive inscription at York. The name Audus, identified with Belatucadrus, on an inscription at Scalby Castle, is probably British, and similarly that of Barrex, a god identified with Mars, mentioned on an inscription at Carlisle. A deity, whose name is incomplete (Deo Sancto Bergant ...), mentioned on an inscription found at Longwood near Slack (Cambodunum), was not improbably the tribal god of the Brigantes. Another name, Braciaca, identified with Mars on an inscription at Haddon House near Bakewell, was probably that of a local British god. At Wardale in Cumberland there occurs on an inscription, the name of a god Ceaiius, but the connections of this name are entirely unknown. At Martlesham in Suffolk, there occurs an undoubtedly Keltic name Corotiacus, identified with Mars, and probably a British local god. The name Marriga or Riga, which occurs on an inscription at Malton in Yorkshire, is likewise probably that of some local deity identified with Mars. The name Matunus, found on an inscription at Elsdon in Northumberland, may be a derivative of the Keltic "matis" (meaning good), and, as it occurs nowhere else, it may well be a local name. There is an inscription, too, at Colchester (e. A.D. 222-235), set up by a Caledonian (Caledo), which mentions a god Medocius, identified with Mars, and clearly this can hardly have been a foreign deity. On the other hand, the name Mounus, which occurs on an inscription at Risingham, is probably a contraction of Mogounus, the name of a god who is identified on an inscription at Horberg in Alsace with Grannos and Apollo, and who is probably unconnected with Britain. One of the clearest instances, however, of the occurrence of the name of a British god on an inscription of Roman times, is in the case of the god Nodons or Nodens, whose name is identical with the Irish name Nuada and the Welsh name Nudd. The Irish name Nuada forms the element -nooth in the name Maynooth (the plain of Nuada). The form Nodens or Nodons (in the dative case Nodenti or Nodonti) occurs four times  on inscriptions at Lydney Park, a place on the Severn near Gloucester. It is possible that the name Lydney itself comes from a variant of Nodens, or from the name of a cognate deity Lodens, which has given in Welsh the legendary name Lludd. The name Arvalus, which occurs on an inscription at Blackmoorland on Stainmoor, Westmoreland, is most probably the name of a local deity of Brescia, inscribed by a soldier from that region, and there is some doubt, too, as to the British character of Contrebis (identified with Ialonus), though both names are undoubtedly Keltic, found at Lancaster and Overborough, inasmuch as Ialonus occurs also on an inscription at Nimes. The name Contrebis probably means "the god of the joint dwellings," and Ialonus, "the god of the fertile land."

Another Keltic name, found on inscriptions in Britain as well as in Gaul, is that of Condatis ("the joiner together"), identified with Mars, and occurs on an inscription at Piers Bridge, Durham as well as at Chester-le-Street and Allonne, Sarthe, Le Mans. Even when inscriptions were set up in Britain by foreign troops, it must not be too hastily assumed that they paid no deference to local British gods, since the name Maponos, an undoubtedly Keltic name of a British deity, occurs on an inscription  found at Ribchester, Durham, for the welfare of Sarmatian troops, and on an inscription found at Ainstable near Armthwaite, Cumberland, erected by Germans, as well as at Hexham, Northumberland. The Geographer of Ravenna' mentions a place-name in Britain called Maponi, which was, in full, possibly Maponi fanum. On the Continent the name Maponos occurs only at Bourbonne-les-Bain and Rouen, in both cases as that of a man. The name Maponos meant "the great (or divine) youth," and survived in Welsh legend as that of Mabon. Welsh legend gives his mother's name as Matrona (the divine mother), a name identical with that of the original name of the river Marne. In Wales, the name Mabon forms the second element in the place-name Rhiw Fabon (the slope of Mabon), now commonly spelt Ruabon, in Denbighshire. On all the British inscriptions Maponos is identified with Apollo.

It is difficult to be certain whether Mogons, the deity from whom Moguntiacum (Mainz) derives its name, was known to natives of Britain, but the name occurs on inscriptions at Plumptonwall near Old Penrith, Netherby and Risingham. In the case of deities of this type the original zone of their worship is not easily discoverable; for example, the name of a god Tullinus occurs on inscriptions at Newington in Kent  and Chesterford, as well as at Inzino and Heddernheim. There is a similar difficulty in the case of the god Sucellos, whose name occurs on inscriptions at York, Vienne (dep. Isere), Yverdun in Switzerland, Worms, Mainz, and the neighbourhood of Saarburg in Lorraine. It is not impossible that we have here a reference to one of the greater gods of the Keltic pantheon, who was worshipped in Britain as well as in other parts of the Keltic world. It is scarcely possible, again, to doubt the identity with the major Keltic god Teutates of the Toutatis mentioned on inscriptions at Rooky Wood, Hertfordshire, Seckau and Rome, and of the Tutatis (identified with Cocidius and Mars), mentioned on an inscription at Old Carlisle. It is certain that Cocidius was a British god, and the evidence for the British character of Tutatis appears no less convincing. The name of Cocidius occurs on inscriptions at Lancaster, Old Carlisle, Housesteads, Hardriding, Banksteed near Lanercost Priory, Howgill near Walton, Birdoswald near Bewcastle, Low Wall near Howgill, High Stead between Old Wall and Bleatarn, Old Wall near Carlisle, at a spot between Tarraby and Stanwix, at Netherby, and close to Bewcastle, while it occurs nowhere on the Continent. The name of another deity, Belatucadros, occurs on inscriptions at Whelp Castle near Kirkby Thore in Westmoreland, Brougham Castle, West­moreland, Plumptonwall near Penrith in Cumberland, Kirkbride in Cumberland, Old Carlisle, Ellenborough, Carvoran, Castlesteads, Scalby Castle, Burgh-by-Sands and Netherby, and its meaning is "brilliant in war." It is remarkable that no inscription in Britain mentions Belenos, whose name is found in certain British proper names, such as Cunobelinos, the Cymbeline of Shakespeare and the Cynfelyn of the Welsh.


Of inscriptions to grouped goddesses, there are several in Britain dedicated to Matres, but only one inscription mentions Matres Britannae along with Italian, German, and Gaulish "Mothers." The inscription in question is at Winchester. The other grouped goddesses, the Nymphs, that are mentioned on inscriptions, are probably local, and are named on inscribed stones at Great Broughton (Nymphis et Fontibus), at Blenkinsop Castle (Deabus Nymphis), at Risingham (Nymphis Venerandis), and at Nether Croy Farm near Croyhill (Nymphis). An inscription dedicated to Lamiis tribus, found at Benwell near Newcastle-on­Tyne, also doubtless refers to some local belief. On one inscription found at Chester are the words Deae Matri, but unfortunately the inscription is incomplete and we have no further information as to this "Mother-goddess." It is highly probable that the goddess Epona was worshipped in Britain as well as in other parts of the Keltic world, and inscriptions dedicated to her have been found at Carvoran, and at Auchindavy near Kirkintulloch. The goddess Brigantia may have been the tribal goddess of the Brigantes, and it is noticeable that her name is identical in form with the Irish Brigit. She is mentioned on an inscription, of A.D. 205, at Greetland, and on another inscription, at Adel, near Leeds, while, on an inscription  in Cumberland, she is called Dea Nympha Brigantia. A further inscription 8 of the second century, found at Birrens, near Middleby, reads Brigantiae sacrum.

An undoubted instance of a local British goddess exists in the case of Sul or Sulis, whence the Roman name Aquae Sulis for Bath, a place whose fame was great, as we learn from Solinus, even in Roman times. One inscription found at Bath is of special interest, inasmuch as it refers to the rebuilding of a temple to this goddess. She is further mentioned at Bath on five other inscriptions."There is an inscription dedicated to her at Alzey in Rheinhesse," which was probably set up by someone who was grateful to this goddess for restored health. That rivers, too, were worshipped in Britain is attested by the fact that the ancient name of the Mersey or the Ribble was Berfsama, a name identical with that of a Gaulish goddess. In addition to the foregoing, a goddess Latae or Latis is mentioned on inscriptions at Kirkbampton  and Birdoswald.

Legendary Names

The value of the evidence as to the pre-Christian religion of Britain and Ireland that is to be obtained from legends and from folklore, cannot always be estimated with certainty, but there can be little doubt that many of the characters of both Irish and Welsh legend bear names which once had a religious significance, and that many popular beliefs and customs found in the British Isles go back to pre-Christian times. By the help of Keltic philology several proper names found in legend, such as Mabon and Nudd, to which reference has been made, can be identified with names of deities that occur on inscriptions, or they can be shown to be similar in formation to certain known types of divine names. For example, -Onos and -Ond were favourite Keltic terminations for the names of gods and goddesses respectively, and certain Welsh names ending in -on of legendary characters appear from their very structure to have been at one time the names of deities. In addition to Mabon (Maponos) and Modron (Matrona), already mentioned, may be adduced Rhiannon (Regantona), meaning "the divine queen," Teyrnon (Tigernonos), "the divine lord," Banon (Banona)," the divine lady," Amaethon (Ambactonos), "the divine husbandman," Gofannon (Gobannonos), "the divine smith." The two latter names suggest the existence among the Kelts of Britain of departmental deities. Certain river-names, too, suggest by their forms that they were of this type, for example, Aeron (Agrona), "the goddess of war," Tarannon (Tarannonos or Tarannona), "the god or goddess of thunder," Ieithon (Iectona), "the goddess of speech."

Other legendary names, such as Ler of Irish legend and Llyr of Welsh legend, have meanings which throw light on their original character, for example, "llyr" is used in Welsh poetry for the sea, and there can be little doubt but that the original of both Ler and Llyr was the god of the Irish sea, whose son was the Irish Manannan (the Welsh Manawyddan), the eponymous deity of the Isle of Man. The name Lug, again, of Irish, and Lleu of Welsh legend, is phonetically equivalent to that of Lugus of Gaul, and the meaning of the Welsh word, namely, light, makes it probable that this god had originally some association with the sun or with fire. In Ireland, the legends sometimes speak of certain characters as divin ; for example, the goddess Danu or Dana, in the name of the legendary Tuatha Dé Danann (the tribes of the goddess Danu). Similarly, the glossary attributed to Cormac (King-Bishop of Cashel in the ninth century) speaks of the goddess Ana as mater deorum, and mentions a goddess Brigit, a poetess and prophetess, worshipped by the poets of ancient Erin. Her father, too, the Dagda, is represented as divine, while her sisters (also called Brigit), were like herself represented as goddesses, the one being patroness of the healing-art, the other of smith-work. There were, also, two Irish war-goddesses, called the Mór-rigu and Bodb Catha. Certain beings belonging to the Tuatha Dé Danann, such as Nuada of the Silver Hand, Ogma, Dian Cecht, Goibniu, Mider and a few others, along with Lug and Ler, appear to have been traditionally raised above the human plane. Another being who was regarded as divine was the Mac 0c, who was said to have been the son of Dagda the Great and the goddess Boann.

Christian Evidence. Folklore

In the lives of the early missionaries of Ireland there are some allusions to the heathenism of the country, and one of the best accounts of this heathenism is to be found in the Tripartite Life of St Patrick (trans. by the late Dr Whitley Stokes in Revue Celtique, I. p. 260). This version of St Patrick's life is attributed to St Eleranus of the seventh century. The passage reads as follows: "Thereafter went Patrick over the water to Mag Slecht, a place wherein was the chief idol of Ireland, to wit, Cenn Cruaich, covered with gold and silver, and twelve other idols about it, covered with brass. When Patrick saw the idol from the water whose name is Guthard (elevated its voice), and when he drew right unto the idol, he raised his hand to put Jesus' crozier upon it, and did not reach it, but it bowed westwards to turn on its right side, for its face was from the south, to wit, to Tara. And the trace of the crozier abides on its left side still, and yet the crozier moved not from Patrick's hand. And the earth swallowed the twelve other images as far as their heads, and they are thus in sign of the miracle, and he cursed the demon and banished him to hell." In the Book of Leinster (twelfth century) Mag Slecht is said to have been so called because the ancient Irish used to sacrifice there the first-born of their children and of their flocks, in order to secure power and peace in all their tribes, and to obtain milk and corn for the support of their families. A careful and discriminating study of Keltic legends would reveal no small sediment of pre-Christian thought, just as there are traces of the belief in a "Happy Other-world" and of the rebirth of heroes, in the Irish Voyage of Bran, and non-Christian pictures of another world in the Welsh Annwfn, which a medieval Welsh poem represents as being beneath the earth. Similarly, the Keltic folklore stories of water-bulls, water-horses, water-nymphs, fairies, sprites, and the like give a clue to the way in which Nature was regarded by the Kelts of Britain, as of other lands, before Christianity began its work in these islands.

The contribution of folklore research to the study of Keltic Heathendom in Britain is very valuable; for example, in the account which it gives of such practices as the periodical lighting of bonfires, the customs observed at Lent, May-day, and Harvest time, the vestiges of charms and sacrifices, the observation of omens and the like. By the use of the comparative method the study of folklore may be able to throw not a little light on the significance of the various practices in question. The evidence from all directions tends to show that, in Britain and Ireland, as on the Continent, Keltic religion regarded substantially all natural objects as the abodes of divine beings, named and nameless, viewed sometimes collectively and sometimes individually, and it pictured the existence beneath this world of another world, whence many of the blessings of civilization were derived, and whose inhabitants could enter into various relations, friendly and hostile, with those of this world. There are traces, too, of the conception of local other-worlds, to be found underneath lakes and parts of the sea, while, both in Irish and Welsh legend, there are vestiges of a belief in the blissful conditions of life on certain fabulous islands. In Welsh legend, too, it would appear that the wild country of Northern Britain was regarded as a haunted region. In some Welsh medieval poems there are echoes of a belief that the souls of the departed made their home in the Caledonian forest.


With regard to the priests of Britain and Ireland, we have little direct knowledge, but, though the Irish drui may conceivably be a borrowed word from the Gallo-Latin druida, it is most probable that it is a native word, and, in any case, the part played by the druids in Irish society as magicians and seers in the legends of Ireland would be their natural part in pre-Christian times. In Welsh society, too, the continuance into fairly recent times of the practice of having recourse to wizards in certain emergencies, points to the antiquity in Welsh life of the institution of the sorcerer. The best description that can be given of Britain and Ireland in the days of their heathendom, is that of countries whose inhabitants could have been seldom free by night or by day from a sense of being haunted, but whose gloom was relieved by visions of happy other-lands, into which the privileged might someday enter. Doubtless, in close conjunction with Keltic heathendom, there was at one time much oral mythology, the fragments of which can now only with difficulty be disentangled from the mass of Keltic medieval and modern folklore.

There is one problem upon which no light appears to be available, namely the religious organisation through which was maintained the worship of the major Keltic deities, whose names are found in the British Isles as well as on the Continent, and the distinction, if any, that was made between their worship and that of the minor local deities. All that we know is, from the survival of some of their names, that the tradition of their worship was not entirely lost. At Bath there are remains of a temple dedicated to Sulis, who was identified with Minerva. At Caerwent and Lydney there are also remains of temples, the latter dedicated to a Keltic god, Nodens or Nodons. Near Carrawburgh there was a temple belonging to the British water-goddess Coventina, and at Benwell in a small temple there were found two altars, one to Anociticus and the other to Antenociticus. For an account of these temples the reader is referred to Ward's Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks.





Miss B. Phillpotts


Attempts to reconstruct the great edifice of ancient Teutonic religion base themselves on two main sources of information: the Continental and the Scandinavian. English evidence stands midway between the two. With the exception of Tacitus, the Continental writers seldom do more than let fall some chance remark on religious practices, their chief concern being with other matters — in Classical and post-Classical times with the wars of these "barbaric" races, and later, with their conversion to Christianity. We also possess some early laws, and the histories of those tribes fortunate enough to have inspired a medieval chronicler, but the laws date in their present shape from Christian times, and the histories are hardly more sympathetic towards heathen ideas than are the Lives of martyred saints or the edicts of Church Councils. The chief sources from Denmark, Norway and Sweden comprise a great wealth of archaeological information, their early laws, and Saxo's history of the legendary kings of Denmark, written about 1208. It is Iceland which furnishes us with almost all the literary evidence, beginning with the mythological poems of the Older Edda, which can in one sense be termed Icelandic with impunity, in the midst of the conflict as to their origin, since they only reach us from that country. With them may be classed the earlier skaldic poems from the Norwegian court. Then come the Sagas, prose histories of Icelandic families and Norwegian kings, often dealing with events which occurred before the conversion to Christianity about A.D. 1000, but not committed to writing till the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Neither source of evidence is perfectly satisfactory. The Scandinavian Sagas, though originating among a people with an extraordinarily keen instinct for historic truth, are far from contemporary with the events they relate. The Continental references to the subject are indeed often contemporary, but they are the observations of alien eyes, and some of them are open to the further objection that the superstitions mentioned may occasionally be mere survivals of the religious legacy of Rome. Fortunately there is more agreement between these two sources than we could have dared to expect, and this common factor in both is the more valuable since, though one channel of information begins where the other leaves off, they are yet practically independent of one another. While fully admitting that there were extremely wide local divergences in the practices and belief of the various tribes, the following survey of the main features of Germanic heathendom is yet based with some confidence on this common factor, to which a third stratum of evidence, folklore, contributes subsidiary testimony. It has seemed best in almost all cases to begin with the fuller, though later, Scandinavian sources, in the light of which it is sometimes possible to interpret the more meagre references of Continental writers.

Thor or Thunor

A problem confronts us at the outset with regard to the position of the two chief gods, Odin and Thor, in Scandinavia. Most of the poetical sources depict Odin as the chief of the gods, as the Allfather of gods and men, while the prose writings contain frequent indications that Thor, the Thunder-god (Anglo-Saxon Thunor) stands highest of all in the popular estimation. There can be no doubt that the Sagas are right with regard to their own territory. The frequent occurrence of proper names compounded with Thor (such as Thorolf, Thorstein, etc.) testifies to his importance in Scandinavia, especially as we are told that a name compounded with that of a god was esteemed a safeguard to its bearer. At least one out of every five immigrants to Iceland in heathen times bore a name of which Thor formed part. His is certainly a very ancient cult. His whole equipment is primitive: he is never credited in Scandinavian sources with the possession of a sword, a horse or a coat of mail, but he either walks or drives in a car drawn by goats, and wields the hammer or axe. The sanctity of this symbol appears to date from very remote times: in fact the Museum at Stockholm contains a miniature hammer of amber from the later Stone Age. Another indication of the antiquity of the cult is afforded by Thor's original identity, not only with Jupiter and Zeus, but also with Keltic, Old Prussian and Slavonic thunder-gods. But like these, Thor is much more than a thunder-god. In Scandinavia he is called the Defender of the World, a title which he may have earned in his encounter with the "jötnar." This word usually denotes daemonic beings, but it seems that it may originally have applied to the early non-Aryan inhabitants of Scandinavia, whom the Teutonic settlers drove gradually northwards. We may hazard the conjecture that the Teutonic invasion, which crept forward from the Stone Age till the close of heathen times, was made as it were under the auspices of Thor. He is also the guardian of the land. In Iceland we hear of settlers consecrating their land to Thor, and naming it after him. It is interesting to note that an ancient method of allotting holdings in Sweden was known as the "hammer-partition," while among the Upper Saxons the throwing of a hammer was held to legalize possession of land. But this is probably connected with Thor's guardianship of law and order. The Older Edda represents him as dealing out justice under the great world-ash Yggdrasill. Most of the Scandinavian assemblies began on a Thursday—the day named after Thor—and there seems no doubt that it was he who was invoked under the name of "the almighty god" by those swearing oaths at the Icelandic Things. The Russian historian Nestor, of the eleventh century, records that the Scandinavians from Kiev ratified a treaty with the Byzantines by swearing by their god "Perun," the Slavonic Thor. The Frisians attributed their laws to a supernatural being with an axe. Among the Upper Saxons a hammer was the summons to the assembly. In later times in Iceland a small object called "St Olaf's axe" served this purpose. It is likely that this "axe" was originally a "Thor's hammer," for by the irony of fate, many of the attributes of his old enemy Thor attached themselves in popular belief to the sainted king Olaf, who rooted out his worship in Norway. An Icelandic settler invokes him in sea-voyages, and Adam of Bremen states that the Swedes sacrifice to him in famine and in pestilence. As regards disease, we have the further testimony of an Old Norse charm found in an Anglo-Saxon manuscript, which appears to call on Thor to drive away an ailment, and it was until recently a common Swedish practice to mix in the fodder of cattle powder ground from the edge of a "Thor's hammer" or flint axe, to avert disease. It is possible that the miniature T-shaped hammers, often of silver or gold, of which over fifty are to be seen in the Scandinavian museums, were worn to shield the wearer from disease, but the protective functions of Thor were so numerous that the symbols may have served other purposes as well. It has recently been recorded that Manx and Whitby fishermen wear the T-shaped bone from the tongue of a sheep to protect them from drowning; and slaughterers at Berlin wear the same bone suspended from their necks. The appearance of the bearded Thor himself, hammer and all, on a baptismal font in Sweden, has been considered to prove that the hammer was used at the heathen ceremony of naming a child, and we have some ground for supposing that it figured at weddings and at funerals.

Sacrifices to Thor are constantly mentioned, and range from the daily offerings of the Goth Radagaisus in Italy at the beginning of the fifth century to a song in his honour composed in the year 1006 by one of an Icelandic crew starving off the coast of America. It seems probable that the sacrifice at the beginning of all Things was to Thor. At one place of assembly in Iceland we hear of a "stone of Thor" on which " men were broken," but human sacrifice is so rarely mentioned in Iceland that the statement is looked upon with suspicion. We must note that Tacitus fails to mention a Germanic Jupiter. It has been suggested that he represents Thor by Hercules.

Odin or Wodan

After the enumeration of the manifold activities of Thor, there seems hardly room for the imposing figure of Odin, and indeed in Scandinavia, besides being the Lord of Valhöll, Odin only presides over war, poetry and magic. Yet in one point he stands nearer to the race of men than Thor, in that he is regarded as the ancestor of most of the royal families of Denmark and of England (where the form of the name is Wodan). It is perhaps hardly correct to speak of Thor and Odin as ruling over different social spheres, for Thor numbers earls and others of high degree among his worshippers, but persons of royal blood and their followers seem to devote themselves to the worship of Odin — the cult of a royal ancestor. Nomenclature affords interesting testimony to some such social division. We have seen what a large proportion of Norwegian proper names contained "Thor" as a component part, but we do not find any of these borne by a single Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English king. Not even among the petty kings of the period preceding the unification of Norway under King Harold Fairhair do such names occur. Now we are told that it was just these petty, often landless, kings who with their followings practiced war as a profession, and it was certainly in Norwegian court circles that skaldic poetry — an art attributed to Odin — took its origin. If the position of Odin was at all similar on the Continent, it would be easy to explain the prominence of this god in all Continental accounts from Tacitus onwards, for it seems probable that there also each king or prince was surrounded by a body of warriors devoted to his service, and that these took the principal part in wars.

In Iceland there is no mention of Odin-worship, though there is one instance of the "old custom" of throwing a spear over a hostile force, a rite which originally devoted the enemy to Odin. The existence of the cult in Norway is vouched for by the custom of drinking a toast consecrated to him at sacrificial feasts, but we must note that a toast to Odin is only mentioned at courts. In Sweden, however, Odin is more prominent. There is a statue of him "like Mars" by the side of Thor in the great Upsala temple, and the people are said to sacrifice to him in time of war. A legendary king sacrifices his nine sons to him for long life for himself — a gift which another story shows it to be within Odin's power to bestow, if he receives other lives in exchange. It is generally agreed that he was originally a god of the dead, before he became a god of war, and it is in the guise of a soul-stealing daemon that he seems to appear in folklore. For Denmark the tales of heroes under Odin's protection, and the importance of the god in Saxo's stories (where he sometimes appears himself to demand his victim), form a considerable body of evidence. Of the Frisians we are told by Alcuin that the island Walcheren was sacred to a god whom later accounts identify with Mercury. Mercury is the name under which Odin appears in Tacitus and all Con­tinental writers, and shows that the god must there have borne much the same character as is ascribed to him in Scandinavian sources, where he is described as shifty and full of guile, skilled in magic and runes, and the inventor of poetry. To judge from the evidence of place-names, his cult extended as far south as Salzburg. It is also noteworthy that the Scandinavian account of his equipment, armed only with a javelin, corresponds to that of the Germans in the time of Tacitus.

An ancient form of sacrifice to Odin in Scandinavia is the gruesome "cutting of the blood-eagle" or removal of the lungs of the victim, of which we hear once or twice, but there seems ground for believing that the usual ritual frequently combined both hanging and stabbing. In fact all those who fell in battle were regarded as sacrifices to Odin. Tacitus tells us that on the eve of the battle between the Chatti and Hermunduri each side dedicated their opponent's army to Mars and to Mercury. By this vow both horses and men, in short everything on the side of the conquered, was given up to destruction. After their victory over the Romans at Arausio (B.C. 105) the Cimbrians hung all their captives and destroyed their spoil. The complete destruc­tion of the legions of Varus, and the total massacre of Britons after an Anglo-Saxon victory, have been suggested as other instances of the same wholesale sacrifice. In some places in Denmark immense masses of heaped up spoil, mostly intentionally damaged, from the fourth century A.D., have been found. These must have been offered as a sacrifice after victory, and have lain undisturbed on the battle-ground owing to a stringent tabu. A dedication of whole armies to Odin is mentioned in later Scandinavian Sagas, where it seems to be connected with the idea that the god needs more warriors in Valh011.

Odin. Frey

While Odin and Thor, however inimical to each other they may be, are both regarded as Aesir (gods) in the mythology of the north—in fact Thor is made Odin's son—we are told that Frey and his father Njörd were originally hostages from the "Vanir," a rival race. Certainly their functions in historical times are very different from those of Thor and Odin. Frey, whose name is derived from a word meaning "lord," is only known in Scandinavia. He is a god of fertility, with the usual attributes of such a deity. He is especially honoured by the Swedes, and Adam of Bremen tells us that his statue stood by the side of Thor in the temple of Upsala, that sacrifices are made to him at weddings, and that he grants men peace and pleasure. Tacitus' account of the peaceful, wealth-loving "Suiones" (Swedes) closely corresponds to what we should expect of a nation whose chief god was Frey, and places beyond question the old-established nature of a cult of this kind. In Norway we hear of toasts drunk to Frey and his father Njörd "for prosperity and peace," and a sacrificial feast at the beginning of winter, to secure the same benefits, is associated with Frey in Iceland, where he and Njörd are invoked in legal oaths. A legendary saga relates that Frey, in the company of a priestess who was regarded as his wife, was in the habit of peregrinating the country round Upsala in the autumn, for the purpose of causing plenty. This is the clue which leads us to detect traces of an allied cult on the Continent. The goddess Nerthus, who is worshipped according to Tacitus by seven tribes, apparently in Zeeland (possibly at Naerum, older Niartharum), journeys round her island at certain seasons in a covered vehicle. During this time peace prevails, and her presence is celebrated by festivities. The ritual of lustration described by Tacitus is generally regarded as a rain-charm. From the similarity of this cult to that of goddesses of fertility all over Europe, we may assume that Nerthus, like Frey, partook of this character. Amongst other Teutonic races the earliest parallel to her peregrinations is recorded by the Byzantine historian Sozomen, in the fifth century, who states that the Goths lead round a statue in a covered vehicle. From the ninth century we have the item: "concerning the images which they carry about the fields," in a list of prohibited superstitions. But ample evidence for these practices is afforded by the ceremonies, common up to twenty years ago, connected with Plough Monday in England and with Frau Holle in Germany.

The goddess Nerthus. Other Deities

It is to be noted that the names Nerthus and Njörd are identical in all but gender, and it seems that in Scandinavia Nerthus has changed her sex and has subsequently been partly ousted by Frey; Njörd, however, still rules over fishery and wealth — two very closely allied ideas among the Norwegians, to whom a sea teeming with fish was quite as important as the fertility of the land. It is just possible that it is Njörd to whom a ninth century Latin poem refers, under the name of Neptune, as a chief god of the Normans. Frey seems also to have partially ousted his sister Freyja. One of the Edda poems is concerned with a certain Ottar, who sacrifices oxen to Freyja, and whom she on one occasion declares to be her husband — a parallel case to that of Frey and the priestess mentioned above, but with the sexes reversed.

Of the numerous other gods mentioned in our sources some may be either tribal deities, or better-known gods under other names. Such are the Frisian god Fosite: the twins whom Tacitus equates with Castor and Pollux, and who are worshipped by the Nahanarvali: the god Saxnot, or Saxneat, forsworn with Wodan and Thunor in an Old Saxon formula for converts, and claimed as an ancestor by the English East Saxon royal family. Other gods, such as Balder and Loki, of whom we only hear in Scandinavia, have been occasionally regarded as mere mythological figure­heads. Of the evil-disposed Loki there is indeed no trace of any sort of cult. It has been suggested that he was a Finnish god. Balder is the subject of much controversy, some scholars dismissing him from the rank of deity altogether, while Dr Frazer maintains that the story is a survival of tree worship, and of the ritual sacrifice of the god. In any case the only reference to an actual cult of Balder occurs in a late and doubtful saga. Tyr, who seems to have been a war-god, stands in a different cate­gory. It is likely that he had once been an important deity all over Teutonic Europe, though his cult was already overshadowed by that of Odin at the dawn of historical times. Some modern authorities place his cult in close connection with that of Nerthus — for which view certain local groups of place-names afford support — and regard him as being originally a god of the sky. A reference by Procopius to Ares, in his account of the inhabitants of Thule, and by Jornandes to Mars, both of the sixth century, and both in connection with human sacrifice, are usually held to indicate Tyr, as is also the important god Mars of Tacitus. The identity of Mars and Tyr is established by glossaries which equate Mars with "Tiw," "Tiig," as in Tuesday. In Scandinavia the word Tyr originally means "god," and in compounds is applied to Odin.

Female Deities

There is evidence that Frigg, in Northern mythology Odin's wife, was also widely known among Teutonic nations, but she seems in part to have been ousted from her place by Freyja, and in part to have suffered that general decline which must have overtaken the Germanic goddesses since the time of Tacitus, in whose day female divinities appear to have been in the ascendancy—we think of his Veleda, Isis, Ausinia, Nerthus. It is noteworthy that Bede knows of several important goddesses in England, though all other trace of them has vanished.

One class of female divinities however still held a place in Scandi­navian belief at least. It seems likely that the term dísir—" (supernatural) female beings" —covered both the valkyries and the norns. The valkyries in the North were Odin's handmaidens in war, and some trace of such beings survives in Anglo-Saxon glossaries, where woelcyrge is used to translate "Bellona," "Gorgon," etc., though in the laws the word is merely equivalent to "sorceress." The norns seem to have been hereditary tutelary spirits: they are thought of as causing good or evil fortune to their owner, and appear in dreams to him, frequently in threes, to warn him of impending danger. When there is only one attendant spirit she is called hamingja, or "Luck." Such a being appears to the dying Hallfred the Unlucky Poet, and to her the Saga-writer evidently ascribes the ill-luck first of Hallfred and later of his son. It seems possible to discern an original distinction between these beings and the fylgja or "associate," which appears as a mere materialization, as it were, in animal form, of the chief characteristic of its owner; — his soul, perhaps, though it is not the immortal part of him, as it dies on his death. It is probably closely connected with the werewolf beliefs, and that the conception was common to all Teutonic races is indicated by the Song of Roland, which makes Charles the Great dream before Roncesvalles of a fight between a bear and a leopard. The dísir are however too capricious to be called guardian spirits. Those of one family, provoked at the coming change of faith, are credited with having killed one of its representatives. We see the reasonableness of the attitude taken up by a would-be convert, who stipulates that the missionary shall guarantee him the mighty archangel Michael as his "attendant angel " (fylg ju-engill).

All the three sacrifices to dísir on record occur in the autumn, and of one it is stated that it took place at night. It is noteworthy that the term disa-thing is used as late as 1322 to denote a festival at Upsala. A "dísar-hall" appears to be an old name for a temple. From Germany we have a charm which seems rather to invoke the aid of friendly valkyries, idisi, than of tutelary spirits, but we find many references to a personified "Luck," the "Fru Saelde," in medieval German poems, and we are told of a poor knight accosted by a gigantic being who declares itself to be his "ill-luck." He shuts it up in a hollow tree and enjoys good fortune ever after.

Fate. Cult of the Dead

Northern mythology preserves a memory of three Norns who rule men's destinies, like the Parcae of the Romans, but the words used for Fate—Anglo-Saxon Wyrd, Old German Wurth, "Weird," literally "that which happens," Old Norse sköp, or orlög, "things shaped" or " laid down of yore"—show that Fate was not personified, was rather thought of as a force shaping the destinies of the world to unknown ends. It was a mystery ever present to the consciousness of the heathen Germanic races, and their deepest religious conceptions centre round it. The old Greek idea, that a man might unwittingly be forced by a retributive Fate to shameful deeds, never haunted the Northern races, who would have claimed for mankind the completest moral freedom, but in the physical world the decree of Fate was beyond appeal. A man might defy Odin, and even fall upon him with mortal weapons, and gain only a keener tribute of admiration from posterity, but after he had striven to the utmost against all odds, his world required of him that he should accept the ruling of Fate without bitterness, and even, if we read the old tales rightly, with a certain dim recognition of vaster issues at stake than his own death and defeat.

Of ancestor-worship or worship of the dead there are clear traces both in Scandinavia and on the Continent. From Scandinavia we hear how when the god Frey died the Swedes would not burn his body, lest he should leave them, so they buried him in a barrow and sacrificed to him ever after. The case of the quite historical Swedish king Erik, of the ninth century, whom the gods themselves raised to their rank shortly after his death, may also be quoted. Again, a somewhat legendary king Olaf who flourished in South Norway in the first half of the ninth century, is made to say before his death that in his case he does not want people to act as they sometimes do, to sacrifice to dead men in whom they trusted while alive. But after he was buried at Geirstad there was a famine, so they sacrificed to Olaf for plenty and called him the "elf " (álfr) of Geirstad. And there was competition for the corpse of the contemporary king Halfdan the Black among the four chief districts of his kingdom: "it was thought that there was a prospect of plenty for whichever got it," and the matter was only settled by dividing the remains into four parts. So much for kings. But ordinary mortals could also enjoy worship after death. An Icelandic source tells us of one Grim, the first settler in the Faroe Islands, who had sacrifices made to him after death. It was the custom at sacrificial feasts to drink to one's dead kinsmen, those who had been buried in barrows. Such toasts are called minni, and are paralleled on the Continent by the "drinking to the soul of the dead" forbidden by a ninth century Church capitulary. But there is more definite evidence than this. The Norwegian laws expressly forbid worship at barrows, a custom remembered by the saga of the island of Gotland, and Charles the Great forbids burial in them. Almost every Capitulary and Church Council in Germany (though not in England) forbids sacrilege at sepulchres, "laying food and wine on the tumuli of the dead," or partaking of food offered at such places. Among the Saxons, and probably among other tribes, the festival for the dead was celebrated in the autumn. At the beginning of the fifth century the poet Claudian speaks of worship of ancestors among the Getae.

Chthonic Deities

In Iceland some families are said to have believed that after death they entered into a hill, which they accordingly worshipped. In this connection "elf" is again used, and it seems reasonable to assume that whatever other signification this word may have had later, it must also have meant the spirit of a dead man. Now in Sweden the cult of the forgotten dead may be said to live on to this day, for the peasants still place offerings in the saucer-shaped depressions on some megalithic graves, and here, in heathen times, we find mention of sacrifice to elves, not at a festive gathering, but offered by each household within its own four walls. It took place in the late evening or night, a circumstance which strongly reminds us of Greek sacrifices to "heroes."

There is yet another class of Scandinavian deities, who may be classed as chthonic. These are the landvoettir, guardian spirits of the land. That they were highly esteemed is evident from the beginning of the Icelandic heathen laws, which enacted that no ship was to approach land with a figure-head on its prow, lest the landvoettir should be alarmed thereat. In Saxo men are warned not to provoke the guardian gods of a certain place, and that it was perilous to do so transpires from the fear with which a certain spot in Iceland was regarded "because of the landvoettir, since a murder had been committed there. The nearest approach to worship of these beings appears in a curious story of the Icelander Egill in Norway, in the year 934. He sets up a horse's head on a stake (a common insult to an enemy) and utters what appears to be a formula: "I turn this mark of contumely against the landvoetir who inhabit this land, that all of them may go astray: none find nor happen upon her home, till they have driven King Erik and Gunnhild out of the land." It has been suggested that the "Matronae" or "Matres" with German names, monuments to whom were erected by German soldiers in the service of Rome, were guardian spirits of their native land. Northern mythology tells us further of a female daemon of the sea, Rán, who claims the drowned. We know of no direct sacrifices to her, but there are traces of prophylactic sacrifice to some daemonic being of the sea. The Frisians sacrificed human victims before expeditions by sea, as did also the Normans, according to Dudo, though he attributes the sacrifice to Thor. In Norway there are references to the placing of a human victim on the rollers of a ship about to be launched.

Inanimate Objects of Worship. Festivals

Of inanimate objects of worship, besides sacred groves, which will be discussed later, there are sacred springs. Close to the temple at Upsala was a sacred spring, in which we are told that human victims were drowned, and the story should not be too hastily dismissed, since sacred springs are found within the precincts of many old churches all over Germany and England. The occasional practice of Germanic tribes, mentioned by Classical authors, of throwing conquered enemies and valuables into rivers, was probably a recognised form of worship of some god —possibly of Odin. From the frequency of holy springs, wells, and lakes, bearing names compounded with Äs (heathen god), Thor, or Odin, we may assume that they were sometimes sacred to the greater gods, as were probably the sacred salt springs mentioned by Tacitus. On the other hand, Procopius in the sixth century says that the Scandinavians worship, besides other gods, minor spirits in the waters of springs and rivers. Knut's Laws in England, and Church Edicts on the Continent, refer to the worship of rivers and water-wells, and further mention the worship of stones, also known in Scandinavia. 

Sacrificial Customs

Having now passed in review, however briefly, the chief objects of worship among the Germanic races, it behoves us to consider the manner of that worship. In the North there were three main sacrificial festivals. One, in the autumn, is said to have been "for peace and plenty," the second, at Yule, "for growth," the third, at the approach of summer, was for victory. On the Continent the autumn festival and that at midwinter appear, as in Scandinavia, to have been the most important. We hear very little of a midsummer festival, but its existence is vouched for by the widespread festivities in all Teutonic countries on that day. In Denmark and Sweden special festivals appear to have taken place at Lejre and Upsala respectively every nine years, at which a great number of animals and even men were sacrificed.

The ritual of sacrifice is mainly known to us from the North. The officiating priest fills the sacrificial bowl and reddens the altar with the blood of the victim, scattering some of its contents over the worshippers and the walls of the temple by means of sacrificial twigs. The blood is in fact offered to the gods, or cements a bond between them and the worshippers: the flesh is cooked and eaten. In Scandinavia horses were much valued as sacrifices, so that to eat horse-flesh was regarded as a heathen practice, and Tacitus also knows of sacrifice of horses. Ex­cavations of Icelandic temples, however, reveal a preponderance of the bones of other domestic animals. In England and on the Continent cattle were frequent offerings. Gregory the Great decided to allow the English to eat oxen ad laudem Dei, just outside their churches, since they had been accustomed to sacrificing them "to demons." Human sacrifice seems to have persisted in Sweden till quite a late period. In 1026 a little party of Norwegians declared that they narrowly escaped being utilized for that purpose on an expedition to Sweden; and the Saga of the island of Gotland remembers the custom. On the Continent, too, human sacrifice seems to have continued as long as heathenism, and we even hear of an outburst of it among the converted Franks. In Friesland human beings seem frequently to have been sacrificed by drowning. Except perhaps in the last-named country, the victims were almost invariably prisoners taken in war, slaves, or outlaws.

If the sacrifice was a public one — and probably in any case — it was followed by a feast, which lasted till the ale gave out, and no longer. A Norwegian archbishop reveals the importance of the ale even at Christian festivals when he finds it necessary to ordain that a wedding can yet be held, even though there be nothing but whey to celebrate it with, and other Norwegian ecclesiastical ordinances enact that every farmer shall brew so much ale in preparation for the various Church festivals. The drinking itself began with sacrifice in the form of toasts drunk to the gods, and this seems also to have been the case in Germany, for we hear of "drinking wine for the love of the devil." Jonas of Bobbio relates how he found a party of men sitting round an immense vessel of ale, who described themselves as worshipping Wodan. Centuries earlier, Tacitus tells us that when the Romans surprised the Germans at a religious festival they cut down an intoxicated foe. It seems that songs and dances were common at such times, and we hear of the wearing of animal masks at Yule and at funeral and memorial feasts. Several other Scandinavian festivals are worthy of notice, such as the "greeting ale" and the "ale of departure." Even when a Norwegian chief is about to flee from the swift vengeance of Harold Fairhair, the "departure ale" has yet to be brewed. Still clearer traces of sacrifice are discernible in the feast, for which the Norwegian laws stipulate, on the occasion of granting rights in the family to an illegitimate son, and also in that made by a slave on his liberation.

During the course of the great Scandinavian festivals, as well as at other times, it appears to have been the custom for private individuals to offer sacrifice for the purpose of propitiation or of learning their future. The means employed in this latter case seem sometimes to have been the sanctified twigs mentioned above. Tacitus knows of divination by twigs and also mentions various other forms of augury. In Friesland the cast­ing of lots seems to have played a particularly important part, and was employed to select men for sacrifices.

Priests. Kings. Priestesses

We have already had occasion to refer to officiating priests. The term, though permissible, is somewhat misleading, as the existence of a special class of caste of priests in Scandinavia is much disputed, and there seems to be considerable divergence on this point among the various Germanic races at different times. In Iceland any leading settler who built or came into possession of a temple officiated in it himself, and was called a godi, the connection of which with god suggests that the priestly function was older than the temporal authority. In Norway the balance of probability seems to lie with the theory that the earls and local chiefs (hersar), and probably also the petty kings, each administered the chief temple of his district, perhaps with a godi or gyoja, priestess (probably of his own family), to help him. In Sweden, where worship was more centralized and systematized, there is some slight evidence for the existence of godar, but it is clear that the king was the high-priest of the people. It is recorded from prehistoric times that when one of their kings failed to sacrifice the people attributed to him a famine which ensued, and sacrificed him "for plenty." As late as the eleventh century they expelled their Christian king for refusal to sacrifice, and the idea of the king's responsibility for bad weather, for instance, can be traced as late as the reign of Gustavus Vasa.

This idea of royal responsibility for national misfortunes is paralleled among the Burgundians in the fourth century. For Denmark the only evidence is the occurrence of the word godi, on two Runic stones of about the ninth and tenth centuries. In England there must have been a more specialized priestly caste, with disabilities unknown to the Norwegians, for Bede tells us that heathen priests might not bear arms. For the Continent we have extremely little evidence. An Old German glossary translates cotinc (formed from cot, god), not by presbyter but by tribunus, and on the other hand the Old German ewart, "guardian of law," and the Frisian and Low German asega, eosega, "law-sayer," are used to denote "priest"; so we may perhaps assume that the functions of priest were not very highly specialized at the close of heathendom. Tacitus knows of a regular priesthood, whose only administrative function consists in opening public assemblies (probably with a sacrifice, as in Iceland) and in playing some part in their procedure. We hear occasionally of a chief-priest, as among the Northumbrians, and among the Burgundians. Among the latter he was called sinistus, and it is worth noting that sinistans is the word chosen by Ulfilas for "elders." Priestesses are rarely mentioned in the North, though they seem to have been common among the Germans of Tacitus' time.


The well-known statement of Tacitus, that the Germani do not confine their gods within walls, but dedicate groves and trees to them, does not seem to have been of universal application even in his own day. But it is quite certain that he is right in the main with regard to the prevalence of grove- and tree-sanctuaries. The frequent occurrence of such place-names as the German Heiligenloh, Heiligenforst, and the Scandinavian Lund (the latter often compounded with the names of Odin, Thor and Frey) would alone suffice to prove the earlier existence of groves, "grim with ancient religious rites," as Claudian describes them. Of sacred trees, perhaps the most famous was the robor Jovis in Hesse. An interesting old Scandinavian proverb, recorded in Iceland, may be quoted here: "One must worship an oak, if one is to live under it." After the erection of a temple the sacred tree may have lived on beside it, and indeed probably conditioned the form of the temple itself. The Icelandic temple, as we know from recent excavations, consisted of a hall, like the hall of the ordinary dwelling-house, and at its further end a smaller building, with slightly rounded corners, which was the real sanctuary, with the altar in the middle and the images of the gods, generally three in number, standing round it. The outer hall, with its sacred pillars and its row of fires down the middle, is thought to have been a later addition for the convenience of worshippers, but the form of the inner building is considered to show descent from the tree-sanctuary. It has been suggested that the round churches, only found on Germanic territory, are the lineal descendants of the heathen temple, and hence of the tree-sanctuary.

Besides the images, the inner temple contained the sacrificial bowl and twigs, and the sacred ring which the priest wore on his arm at all assemblies, and on which oaths were sworn. Both temple and images appear to have been very highly decorated, sometimes even with gold and silver.

Two other types of sanctuary deserve mention. On the Continent we hear of pillars, apparently called Irminsûl (translated universalis columna), which may well have been a side-development from the tree-sanctuary. Charles the Great destroyed the most famous of these, in Westphalia. The northern hörg is frequently assumed to have been a stone altar or "high place." But the Norwegian laws speak of "making a house and calling it a hörg." It is only mentioned in connection with female deities, or with Njörd, but the occurrence of "Thorsharg" and "Odinsharg" as place-names in Sweden renders it doubtful whether it could have been limited to the use of female (or originally female) deities, at any rate in Sweden. The cognate Old German haruc is sometimes translated lucus or nemus, sometimes only by the vague fanum; while the Anglo-Saxon hearg seems to be a comprehensive term for any kind of sanctuary, almost corresponding to the. Scandinavian , though this includes Things.

In Scandinavia the violater of any sanctuary is called "wolf in holy places," and becomes an outlaw in his own land, though we note that he may be well received in other Scandinavian countries. In Friesland those who broke into a temple to rob it were sacrificed to the god whom they had offended. It is difficult to say how far, on the other hand, the sanctuaries offered a refuge to accused persons and criminals. The abuse of the right of asylum in medieval churches — many of them only transformed temples — suggests that this was a prominent characteristic of heathen temples. On the other hand we learn from an Icelandic Saga that the god Frey would not tolerate the presence of an outlaw even in the neighbourhood of his temple.

Funeral Customs. Life after Death

It will now be convenient to consider the funeral customs of the Teutonic races. Excavations in Scandinavia as well as literary records show that towards the close of heathen times the great majority of the dead were interred in barrows, often in their ships, with some of their valuables, and occasionally with horses, dogs and other animals. Slaves sometimes accompany their master or mistress. Leo Diaconus informs us that in the tenth century the Swedes in the Byzantine Empire used to kill their captives and burn their bodies with those of their own slain, apparently with the idea of providing their friends with servants in the next world. The practice of suttee was not unknown, though very rare. In some cases everything found in the barrow has been burnt, but inhumation is the commoner practice. It is noteworthy that weapons are rarely found in the period preceding about A.D. 500, while after that time, in the Viking Age, weapons form the most important part of the goods placed in the grave. It is sometimes shown in our sources that all these objects, including the ship, or occasionally a chariot, are provided with the intention of supplying the dead with what they will need in the next world, or with the means of getting there.

Besides a few indications of a belief in rebirth, there are no less than three forms of life after death in Scandinavian belief alone. We will begin with the most famous, Valhöll (the hall of the slain), where those who fell in battle feasted and fought into eternity. But when we come to apply the commonly accepted theory that all those slain in fight passed into Valhöll, we find it impossible to make it fit the facts as reported to us. A number of the Edda poems seem to know nothing about Valhöll, and despatch their mightiest warriors to the dreary abode of Hel, and the same treatment is frequently meted out in the sagas. The likeliest explanation seems to be that Valhöll was intimately bound up with the cult of Odin, which, as we have seen, probably entered into the lives of a comparatively small class, and was very recent in the North. The influence of the cult may perhaps be traced in the sudden appearance of weapons in graves about the fifth century. The great historical importance of the Valhöll idea lies in the stimulus it gave to desperate courage in battle. The influence of a similar belief among the Japanese of our own day was evident in their war with Russia. It was no doubt belief in some such palace of the dead, only to be reached by those who died of wounds, which induced the aged among the Heruli to accept a voluntary death inflicted by stabbing, and it has been shown that the formal "marking" of a dying man, mentioned two or three times in the North, is probably a substitute for the older custom of the Heruli in the fifth or sixth century.

Hel answers to the Greek Hades, a shadowy region of which we hear very little in the Sagas, where the word hel does indeed frequently occur, but usually merely with the signification of "death."

We have already seen that the conception of a future life spent by the ghost in or near its burial-place was by far the commonest, not only in Scandinavia, but all over Germanic territory. It would not be surprising to find that this, evidently the oldest belief about the dead, was connected with the faith of Thor, and some testimony to that effect is afforded by the inscriptions on a Runic grave-monument in Denmark: "May Thor consecrate these mounds," or in two other cases "these runes." In Sweden we find an inscription which has been translated “Thor give peace”. The sign of the hammer occurs on several other monuments, no doubt with a similar force. With regard to the variant of this belief, the "dying into mountains," all the evidence seems to connect it with Thor. In two cases out of the four on record we are explicitly informed that the persons "believed in Thor." In the third case, that of the kinsmen of one Aud, we know no further detail of their religion except in the case of Aud's brother, of whom it is stated that " he believed in Christ, but invoked Thor in voyages and difficulties, and whenever he thought it mattered most."

It is clearly this belief in the continued presence of the dead which caused the widespread worship of them already discussed, and it is this belief, too, which has peopled all Germanic territory with ghosts, whether malignant trolls, slayers of the living, or friendly spirits.

Ideas underlying Germanic Religion

Like all other religions, that of the Germanic peoples was a mass of mixed elements, a jumble of many different stages of culture. Primitive magical rites were no doubt freely practiced, and in view of the age-long survival of such rites in rustic festivals and rustic faith, it would be the greatest mistake to belittle their importance in earlier Germanic life. But our sources refer to them so little that we are justified in suspecting the mass of these practices to be already declining into the observances of popular superstition, with possibly nearly as little conscious religious significance as today.

There were still traces of an early grim idea of placation by sacrifice: the god of the dead, or the daemonic being who inhabits the sea, demands a human life, and one must be offered that others may be safe. But except for a few legendary instances, we see that the Germanic peoples have progressed so far in corporate sense that the community only offers the lives of those outside its pale — outlaws or captives to whom it knows no obligations. Only in Friesland is there any definite evidence that members of the community were immolated. But the prevalent idea of sacrifice is a more comfortable one. Gifts are made to the gods, who requite them with favours, an idea which reflects the manners of the time, with its system of gifts and counter-gifts, and which shows that the gods were thought of as recognizing a social bond linking them to their worshippers.

The cult of the dead reveals a sense rather of piety than of fear, for we never find that the Scandinavians, at any rate, sank to the placation of evil ghosts by sacrifice. They adopt other, somewhat matter-of-fact precautions against them, such as taking the corpse out through a hole in the wall of the house, burning and scattering the ashes, or decapitating the ghost, though perhaps there never was a prototype in heathen times of the delightfully ironic scene in one of the Icelandic sagas, where the living, ousted from the fireside by the dead, hold a court of law over them and banish them by the verdict of a jury.

On the whole, we are left with the impression that Germanic heathen­dom was as far from being a religion of dread as it was from the formalism, impregnated with magical ideas, which pervaded the religious system of the Romans. Though the gods could be angry and cause famine and plague and defeat, they were at any rate occasionally the objects of real trust and affection, and their acknowledged favouritism is not imputed to them as injustice. Only near the end of the heathen period do we find any repugnance to the idea of allegiance to non-moral gods.

Perhaps the finest flower of Germanic heathendom should be sought in the period just before its extinction — in the Viking Age, so often accused of godlessness. In the conception of Ragnarök, which fired the imagination of the North, we find the idea of fellowship with the gods: fellowship, not in feasting and victory, but in stress and storm. For the gods too are in the hands of Destiny, of a Fate ever moving towards the end of the world, when they and the armies of the valiant dead together make a vain stand against the race of daemonic beings, monstrous shapes of disorder and destruction, loosed in the shattering of the earth which precedes that Titanic struggle. The great bequests of the heathen Germanic peoples to the new order, their courage, and their ideal of loyalty to a leader, find their highest expression in this vision of preordained defeat.