The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I., ed. by J. Williams Ab Ithel, , at sacred-texts.com
This philosophic but credulous author speaks of the Druidism of Gaul, in his "Natural Philosophy," as follows:
"The Druids (so they call their wise men) hold nothing in greater reverence than the misletoe, and the tree on which it grows, so that it be an oak. They choose forests of oaks, for the sake of the tree itself, and perform no sacred rites without oak leaves; so that one might fancy they had even been called for this reason, turning the word into Greek, Druids. But whatever grows upon these trees, they hold to have been sent from heaven, and to be a sign that the Deity Himself has chosen the tree for his own. The thing, however, is very rarely found, and when found is gathered with much ceremony; and above all, on the sixth day of the moon, by which these men reckon the beginnings of their months and years, and of their cycle of thirty years, because the moon has then sufficient power, yet has not reached half its size. Addressing it in their own language by the epithet of all healing, after duly preparing sacrifices and banquets under the tree, they bring to the spot two white bulls, the horns of which are then for the first time garlanded. The priest clothed in a white dress ascends the tree, and cuts the misletoe with a golden knife; it is caught in a white cloak. Thereupon they slay the victims, with a prayer that the Deity may prosper His own gift to them, to whom
[paragraph continues] He has given it. They fancy that, by drinking it, fertility is given to any barren animal, and that it is a remedy against all poisons." 1
"Like to this Sabine herb is that called selago. It is gathered, without using a knife, with the right hand wrapped in a tunic, the left being uncovered, as though the man were stealing it; the gatherer being clothed in a white dress, and with bare feet washed clean, after performing sacrifice before gathering it, with bread and wine. It is to be carried in a new napkin. According to the tradition of the Gaulish Druids, it is to be kept as a remedy against all evil, and the smoke of it is good for all diseases of the eyes. The same Druids have given the name of samolus to a plant that grows in wet places; and this they say must be gathered with the left hand by one who is fasting, as a remedy for diseases of swine and cattle, and that he, who gathers it, must keep his head turned away, and must not lay it down anywhere except in a channel through which water runs, and there must bruize it for them who are to drink it." 2
"There is another kind of egg in high repute in Gaul, although the Greeks make no account of it. A great number of snakes in summer time are artificially twisted and rolled together into a mass by the saliva of their jaws and the foam of their bodies. It is called snake's egg. The Druids tell you that it is thrown into the air with hisses, and must be caught in a cloak that it may not touch the ground; that he that catches it must fly on horse-back, for that the snakes pursue him until hindered by the intervention of some river; that the test of it is, if it flows against the stream, even when tied with gold. And, according to the common craft of wizards, shrewd to conceal their cheating, they pronounce that it must be taken up at a particular time of the moon; as though it rested with man's choice, whether that proceeding on the part of the snake should take place or not." 3
Pliny says that he has seen one of these eggs, and that the Druids used them as a distinguishing badge.
In the above description there are several new things, that present themselves to our notice, in connection with the Druidism of Gaul.
1. One God. It is remarkable that Pliny speaks of the Gauls as professing one God; for though he
had occasion to refer twice to the Deity, he uses the singular number each time. In this matter he differs from Cæsar, and we may be allowed to believe that though much ignorance and error had crept upon the Continent, in later times, relative to the Divine Being, the unity of His nature was to some extent acknowledged. But Pliny, after all, may be only referring to one god in particular, out of many, that is, the one that was interested in the circumstance to which he refers, and therefore names him in the singular number.
2. The oak groves. Though Pliny is undoubtedly mistaken as to the etymology of the name Druid, yet we have the testimony of the Cymric traditions that our remote progenitors did sometimes choose to worship under the oak. This usage they seem to have derived from Seth, who "first made a retreat for worship in the woods of the vale of Hebron, having first searched and investigated the trees, until he found a large oak, being the king of trees, branching, wide-spreading, thick-topped, and shady, under which he formed a choir and a place of worship." 1
3. The misletoe. All admit that this plant was in great repute among the Ancient Cymry. From remote times it has been used by the Bards to decorate their tribunals on Alban Arthan, and even to this day traces of that custom may be found in the country during the Christmas festivities.
Three persons, Tydai, the Bard of Huon, Rhuvawn the Bard, and Melgin, the son of Einigan the Giant,
are recorded in a Triad as having worn around their heads a garland of misletoe, "darllys awelvar."
One of the names by which the Cymry called this plant was Holliach, which answers completely to the "omnia sanantem" of Pliny.
We know nothing of the rites which attended its gathering in Britain; and therefore we are not in a position to say in what consisted the resemblance or difference, as the case may be, between them and the ceremonies mentioned above.
4. The white garment of the Druids. Of the same description, as we have seen, was the official dress of the British Druids.
5. The offering of bread and wine. This seems to have come down from Patriarchal times--from Melchizedec, who "brought forth bread and wine," type of the Blessed Eucharist, that "pure offering" which was to take place under the Gospel; and though nothing is positively said of such a rite as existing in the Bardism of the Cymry, it is likely enough that it was practised. The reader is referred to the description given in these pages of the sacrifices of the Bards.
6. Adder's stones or beads--glain nadroedd. The three orders used to wear these beads, of a colour uniform with that of their respective robes; and they generally regarded them as possessed of rare virtues. It is questioned whether they are the production of nature or art. Be that as it may, they are always found in great numbers; and there are people who search for them, and from whom they may be had, but they maintain that they are only to be met with at one season of the year, and that they are blown by
a knot of snakes. "Ai chwythu y glain y maent?" "Are they blowing beads?" is a proverbial inquiry applied to persons who lay their heads together in conversation--an expression involving an opinion similar to that of Pliny.
But our author is not altogether silent respecting the Druidism of Britain, for he says:--
"Britain even now celebrates it [Magism] wonderfully, with so many ceremonies, that it may seem to have imparted it to the Persians."
There is here, however, no mention of any doctrine or usage in particular--Pliny merely intimates that there were many ceremonies in connection with the Druidic worship, which view is not inconsistent with the traditions of the Bards. The Persian, as well as the Gaulish system, might have been received from Britain, both of them, however, being greatly degenerated. Or it may be, that the resemblance, which Pliny perceived between the Druidism of Britain and the Magism of Persia had grown from the same root--the patriarchal religion.
lxi:1 Hist. Nat. lib. xvi. sect. 95.
lxi:2 Lib. xxiv. ss. 62-3.
lxi:3 Lib. xxix. s. 12.
lxii:1 Y Cread. Golychwyd, &c.