However orthodox the Irish of the present day may be esteemed, there must have been a fair amount of mysticism in the past amongst so imaginative a race. Perhaps this quality brought them into some disrepute with the Church, down to the time when the Pope gave their country to the Norman King of England, in order to bring the people into more consistent faith. Even St. Bernard, in his Life of Malachy, referred to the Irish as "Pagans, while calling themselves Christians."
John Scotus Erigena, the learned Irishman of the ninth century, was certainly mystical in his views. He spoke of God as the essence of all things; of the Divine Dark and Supreme Nothing; of creation being only an eternal self-unfolding of the Divine Nature; of all things resolved or self-drawn to God; of time and space, of modes of conception of the present state, &c.
Gould's History of Freemasonry refers to the connection between the Druids and Freemasons. The Papal Bull of 1751 against the latter might have been applied to the former:--
"The strict bond of secrecy--the oath to keep secret--at variance with civil and canon law--of ill repute amongst wise and good men." Clement XII. was followed in his condemnation of Freemasons by Benedict XIV.
The Zohar of the Kabbala taught that the "narrative of the Doctrine was its cloak--the simple look only at
the garment." Clement of Alexandria wrote, "The mysteries of the Faith are not to be divulged to all.--It is requisite to hide in a mystery the wisdom spoken." Even Augustine admitted that what "is now called the Christian religion really was known to the ancients." Druidism may, therefore, have had its secrets.
It is well to recollect, as Professor Rhys points out, that "what may seem to one generation of men a mere matter of mythology, is frequently found to have belonged to the serious theology of a previous one;" and that "early man is not beneath contempt, especially when he proves to have had within him the makings of a great race, with its highest notions of duty and right."
No one can deny that Wales--somehow or other, at a certain period, assuredly long after the establishment of Christianity in these Islands, and suspected by many, from philological investigations, to have been about the twelfth century--received a flood of mystical learning, conveyed in Welsh Triads of great beauty, but great obscurity. This mystical learning, conveyed in a Christian guise, is asserted to be a re-statement, in refined symbolism, of those ancient creeds, and associated with ideas drawn from megalithic monuments, as cromlechs and circles.
The Irish literature of the same period in the Middle Ages, though less tinctured than the Welsh with the Medieval mysticism, is not without a trace of it. England, judging from the sudden admixture of religious symbols, previously unknown in the Churches of that same era, was likewise affected. French literature shares the same suspicion, Brittany in particular, and especially in connection with the myths of Arthur, and the Quest of the Holy Grail. Morien is right in placing this French development of Pagan mysticism alongside that of his Welsh.
The Early Lives of St. Patrick, containing many foolish
stories of Druids, of raising the dead, and striking dead the opponents of the Saint, have no reference to this Oriental mysticism; but the latter appears in later Lives of the Irish and Welsh Saints.
Whence came this occultism into the Church?
The introduction of it may be largely attributed to the Templars. They were accused of magic, and lost everything thereby. As students, not less than fighting monks, they learned much of Oriental mysticism, and may have been a prominent means of introducing ancient heresies into Britain and France. Their destruction from the orthodox point of view was justified. No one can look at that symbol in the roof of London Temple Church, and on English Church banners elsewhere, without recognizing the heathenism so conspicuous in Welsh Druidism.
But why this Eastern philosophy should find a special retreat in the Triads of mediæval Wales is by no means clear. It is, however, a singular fact that the introduction of this mysticism appeared almost simultaneously in the Sufuism of Persian Mahometanism, as exhibited in the poems of Hafiz, Sadi, &c., and is still to be found in the sect of the Dancing Dervishes. Did it reach Wales through Spain and France? There is little or no evidence of Gnosticism--so full of more ancient and pagan symbolism--penetrating to the British Isles; though the later development of the Middle Ages abounded in Gnostic ideas.
As this peculiarity would appear to have entered Wales in the early Norman period, during the Crusades, why was it not evidenced in Ireland? Did the Norman conquerors, who became more Irishy than the Irish, from their devotion to the Irish Brehon law, which gave chiefs so much power and property, decline to patronize therein the new learning?
The Irish King of Ulster, Mongân, recollected his first life as Find, though two centuries before. Tuan was twice
born as a man. "The idea," says Jubainville, "that a soul could in this world re-clothe successively several different physical forms, was a natural consequence of a Celtic doctrine well known in antiquity. This doctrine is that the deceased who have left in the tomb their body deprived of life, find in exchange a living body in the mysterious country which they go to inhabit, under the bewitching sceptre of the powerful King of the Dead."
That there has been an esoteric learning in the Past, which has come down to us in the form of Christian and Masonic Symbolism, is now by many accepted as a truth. The Mason's Tools must have been used once, though now merely badges of the worthy Craft. We may, therefore, be excused citing a remarkable letter, reproduced in Melville's costly work, Veritas, professedly dealing with the esoteric laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot alter. The letter is signed by Mr. Henry Melville, and by Mr. Frederick Tennyson, brother of the late Lord Tennyson, and is addressed as follows:--
"TO THE MOST WORSHIPFUL THE GRAND MASTER OF IRELAND,
HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF LEINSTER:
"The Petition of the Undersigned,
"That we, Master Masons, are in possession of the knowledge of the 'Lost Secrets of Masonry.' We can prove that the Mysteries were Masonic, inasmuch as by the usage of the Symbols now unwittingly worn by Companions and Masters, Celestial Laws are framed in accordance with the Sacred Writings, and by these Laws are obtained the true interpretation of the Lost Mysteries.
"That in former ages the learned rulers retained the Masonic mysteries for the use and benefit of the Craft, and these Mysteries were not to be divulged under a lesser penalty than Death. Such mystic secresy might have been advisable and requisite in ages past, but such retention of knowledge your Petitioners verily believe to be no longer necessary, as the advancement of truth is now the policy of the civilized world, more especially so of the British nation.
"Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly pray, Most Worshipful Sir,
that you will be pleased to order a Commission of learned and intelligent Brethren to be appointed to inquire and decide--
"1st--Whether the knowledge we profess was in former times considered Masonic.
"2nd--Whether the Lost Mysteries were, and consequently still are, celestial truths.
"3rd--Whether truth should be published to mankind under the sanction of the Grand Lodge, provided always that these Lost truths interfere not with the Mysteries and Ritual of Modern Masonry.
"And, lastly, whether, under all considerations, the Grand Lodge of Ireland will assist, fraternally, the dissemination of the recovered truths, which will enlighten the most enlightened Chiefs' of this present generation.
(Signed) HENRY MELVILLE,
We were acquainted with Mr. Melville in Tasmania some fifty years ago, when he had been long engaged in an investigation of ancient learning, and had even then come to the conclusion that heathen mythology was but a disguise, concealing scientific truths.
Occultism, in these modern days, as in Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy, or Morien's Light of Britannia, attempts to explain, even to the vulgar many, the secret mysteries supposed to have been cherished by the IRISH DRUIDS.