We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. — Winston Churchill

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




The Druids

The Gaels were a very rude people, but they were a little more civilized than the first inhabitants of Britain. They went out on their hunting or fighting expeditions under the leadership of one of their number, who, on account of his strength or skill, was chosen to be their chief. They had also learned how to build mud huts, which they placed close together and surrounded with a wall of tree-trunks and mud. This wall protected their dwellings from the attacks of the wild beasts which ranged through the forests then covering the greater part of the island.

The Gaelic villages multiplied until they soon dotted the southern coast of England. Then, little by little, the Gaels improved, and learned to make a kind of cloth, which they used for clothing instead of the skins of wild beasts, and to fashion clumsy earthenware pots, in which they cooked their food.

But, just as the Gaels had driven away the first inhabitants, of whom we know so little, they were, in turn, driven away themselves. Another tribe of the same race, called the Celts, now came from the mainland; and as they were more civilized than the Gaels, and had better weapons, they forced the Gaels to retreat before them into the interior of the country.

The newcomers knew how to plough, and sow, and reap, as well as to hunt and fight. They brought with them their priests, who were called Druids, and began to practise in England what is known as the Druidic religion, or Druidism.

These priests were the wisest men of the Celtic nation, and they knew something of agriculture, arithmetic, astronomy, medicine, etc. They were very careful, however, to teach what they knew only to a few of the most intelligent men of the tribe, who thus became Druids too, and were greatly respected by their less learned companions.

At first the Druids used to teach their disciples by repeating over and over again the things they knew; and as it is easier to remember poetry than anything else, most of their knowledge was put into a sort of rhyme. The Druids wore long white linen garments and strange golden ornaments. They selected one of their number to be their chief, and obeyed him in all things. The chief is said to have worn a little golden box, which contained a serpent's egg. But you must not imagine that this was an ordinary snake's egg. Oh, no! The Druids said it was a magic egg, and that if the box were put into the water it would swim against the current.

Now the Celts and Gaels were so ignorant that they believed all this, and listened attentively to everything the Druids told them. But although the Druids did make them believe some very silly things, they also taught them some very useful knowledge. For instance, these priests told them that there was one great and powerful God, who had made them and enabled them to live. They said that this God was so great that no temple could hold him, and hence they always worshipped him out of doors.

Sometimes the Druids held their services under a huge oak tree, in the depths of the great forest. Then they would tell the people that the oak was an emblem of the great God whom they worshipped, while the mistletoe, a little plant which grew on its bark, was like man, who was so weak and small that he could not live for a moment without the help of God.

The Druids had very solemn services at times; and once a year they used to march out into the forest, accompanied by holy women who were supposed to have the gift of prophecy. These women wore long white linen robes, had crowns of vervain on their heads, and carried golden sickles, with which the Druids cut down the mistletoe while chanting a sort of hymn. The herb thus gathered was used for medicine, and the Celts believed that it would cure almost every disease.

In different parts of England, you can still see huge stone altars or tables, which are called dolmens. The rocks which form these altars are so large that it is not easy to understand how the Druids built them; but it is evident that these wise men knew something about machinery, and secretly made use of this knowledge to put them up. The ignorant people, however, believed that the stones had moved into their places at a mere touch of the Druids' magic wands.

stonehedge
STONEHENGE


Although the Druids generally offered up a horse or some other animal, they sometimes laid human sacrifices on these great stone slabs, in which little grooves were cut to receive the blood. As they fancied that such a sacrifice was agreeable to God, the victim sometimes offered to die of his own free will. In times of war, prisoners were sacrificed; but when they were very numerous, the Druids made a huge wicker cage in the shape of a man, crammed it full of captives, and then set it afire, while they intoned their chants.

stonehedge
STONEHENGE (RESTORED).


Besides the stone altars, the Druids are also supposed to have built one of the strangest monuments in the world, that known as Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain in England. There, around a huge stone altar, you can see two circles of upright stones, which were once connected by flat slabs laid on top of them. Learned men now think that this was one of the Druidic temples, and hence left open to the sky; but it was built so long before real history began, that the people, unable to account for its origin, declared it had risen by magic, in the course of a single night, from stones spirited over the sea from Ireland.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
"Remember"
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee