Masque of the Red Death


THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal–the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatory, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven–an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue; and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange-the fifth with white-the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet–a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric luster. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm; much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these–the dreams–writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away–they have endured but an instant–and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most west-wardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appalls; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzer’s were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before.

But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who reveled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise; then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revelers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood–and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him-“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him-that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly-for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centers of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple–through the purple to the green-through the green to the orange-through this again to the white–and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry–and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revelers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

AUTHOR: Edgar Allen Poe



Dionysus: Fire and Dew



Writers on mythology speak habitually of the religion of the Greeks.  In thus speaking, they are really using a misleading expression, and should speak rather of religions; each race and class of Greeks–the Dorians, the people of the coast, the fishers–having had a religion of its own, conceived of the objects that came nearest to it and were most in its thoughts, and the resulting usages and ideas never having come to have a precisely harmonized system, after the analogy of some other religions.  The religion of Dionysus is the religion of people who pass their lives among the vines.  As the religion of Demeter carries us back to the cornfields and farmsteads of Greece, and places us, in fancy, among a primitive race, in the furrow and beside the granary; so the religion of Dionysus carries us back to its vineyards, and is a monument of the ways and thoughts of people whose days go by beside the winepress, and under the green and purple shadows, and whose material happiness depends on the crop of grapes.  For them the thought of Dionysus and his circle, a little Olympus outside the greater, covered the whole of life, and was a complete religion, a sacred representation or interpretation of the whole human experience, modified by the special limitations, the special privileges of insight or suggestion, incident to their peculiar mode of existence.

Now, if the reader wishes to understand what the scope of the religion of Dionysus was to the Greeks who lived in it, all it represented to them by way of one clearly conceived yet complex symbol, let him reflect what the loss would be if all the effect and expression drawn from the imagery of the vine and the cup fell out of the whole body of existing poetry; how many fascinating trains of reflexion, what colour and substance would therewith have been deducted from it, filled as it is, apart from the more awful associations of the Christian ritual, apart from Galahad’s cup, with all the various symbolism of the fruit of the vine.  That supposed loss is but an imperfect measure of all that the name of Dionysus recalled to the Greek mind, under a single imaginable form, an outward body of flesh presented to the senses, and comprehending, as its animating soul, a whole world of thoughts, surmises, greater and less experiences.

The student of the comparative science of religions finds in the religion of Dionysus one of many modes of that primitive tree-worship which, growing out of some universal instinctive belief that trees and flowers are indeed habitations of living spirits, is found almost everywhere in the earlier stages of civilization, enshrined in legend or custom, often graceful enough, as if the delicate beauty of the object of worship had effectually taken hold on the fancy of the worshipper.  Shelley’s Sensitive Plant shows in what mists of poetical reverie such feeling may still float about a mind full of modern lights, the feeling we too have of a life in the green world, always ready to assert its claim over our sympathetic fancies.  Who has not at moments felt the scruple, which is with us always regarding animal life, following the signs of animation further still, till one almost hesitates to pluck out the little soul of flower or leaf?

And in so graceful a faith the Greeks had their share; what was crude and inane in it becoming, in the atmosphere of their energetic, imaginative intelligence, refined and humanized.  The oak-grove of Dodona, the seat of their most venerable oracle, did but perpetuate the fancy that the sounds of the wind in the trees may be, for certain prepared and chosen ears, intelligible voices; they could believe in the transmigration of souls into mulberry and laurel, mint and hyacinth; and the dainty Metamorphoses of Ovid are but a fossilized form of one morsel here and there, from a whole world of transformation, with which their nimble fancy was perpetually playing.  “Together with them,” says the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite, of the Hamadryads, the nymphs which animate the forest trees, “with them, at the moment of their birth, grew up out of the soil, oak-tree or pine, fair, flourishing among the mountains.  And when at last the appointed hour of their death has come, first of all, those fair trees are dried up; the bark perishes from around them, and the branches fall away; and therewith the soul of them deserts the light of the sun.”

These then are the nurses of the vine, bracing it with interchange of sun and shade.  They bathe, they dance, they sing songs of enchantment, so that those who seem oddly in love with nature, and strange among their fellows, are still said to be nympholeptic; above all, they are weavers or spinsters, spinning or weaving with airiest fingers, and subtlest, many-coloured threads, the foliage of the trees, the petals of flowers, the skins of the fruit, the long thin stalks on which the poplar leaves are set so lightly that Homer compares to them, in their constant motion, the maids who sit spinning in the house of Alcinous.  The nymphs of Naxos, where the grape-skin is darkest, weave for him a purple robe.  Only, the ivy is never transformed, is visible as natural ivy to the last, pressing the dark outline of its leaves close upon the firm, white, quite human flesh of the god’s forehead.

In its earliest form, then, the religion of Dionysus presents us with the most graceful phase of this graceful worship, occupying a place between the ruder fancies of half-civilized people concerning life in flower or tree, and the dreamy after-fancies of the poet of the Sensitive Plant.  He is the soul of the individual vine, first; the young vine at the house-door of the newly married, for instance, as the vine-grower stoops over it, coaxing and nursing it, like a pet animal or a little child; afterwards, the soul of the whole species, the spirit of fire and dew, alive and leaping in a thousand vines, as the higher intelligence, brooding more deeply over things, pursues, in thought, the generation of sweetness and strength in the veins of the tree, the transformation of water into wine, little by little; noting all the influences upon it of the heaven above and the earth beneath; and shadowing forth, in each pause of the process, an intervening person–what is to us but the secret chemistry of nature being to them the mediation of living spirits.  So they passed on to think of Dionysus (naming him at last from the brightness of the sky and the moisture of the earth) not merely as the soul of the vine, but of all that life in flowing things of which the vine is the symbol, because its most emphatic example.  At Delos he bears a son, from whom in turn spring the three mysterious sisters Oeno, Spermo, and Elais, who, dwelling in the island, exercise respectively the gifts of turning all things at will into oil, and corn, and wine.

In the Bacchae of Euripides, he gives his followers, by miracle, honey and milk, and the water gushes for them from the smitten rock. He comes at last to have a scope equal to that of Demeter, a realm as wide and mysterious as hers; the whole productive power of the earth is in him, and the explanation of its annual change.  As some embody their intuitions of that power in corn, so others in wine.  He is the dispenser of the earth’s hidden wealth, giver of riches through the vine, as Demeter through the grain.  And as Demeter sends the airy, dainty-wheeled and dainty-winged spirit of Triptolemus to bear her gifts abroad on all winds, so Dionysus goes on his eastern journey, with its many intricate adventures, on which he carries his gifts to every people.

A little Olympus outside the greater, I said, of Dionysus and his companions; he is the center of a cycle, the hierarchy of the creatures of water and sunlight in many degrees; and that fantastic system of tree-worship places round him, not the fondly whispering spirits of the more graceful inhabitants of woodland only, the nymphs of the poplar and the pine, but the whole satyr circle, intervening between the headship of the vine and the mere earth, the grosser, less human  spirits, incorporate and made visible, of the more coarse and sluggish sorts of vegetable strength, the fig, the reed, the ineradicable weed-things which will attach themselves, climbing about the vine-poles, or seeking the sun between the hot stones.  For as Dionysus, the spiritual form of the vine, is of the highest human type, so the fig-tree and the reed have animal souls, mistakable in the thoughts of a later, imperfectly remembering age, for mere abstractions of animal nature; Snub-nose, and Sweet wine, and Silenus, the oldest of them all, so old that he has come to have the gift of prophecy.

Quite different from them in origin and intent, but confused with them in form, are those other companions of Dionysus, Pan and his children.  Home-spun dream of simple people, and like them in the uneventful tenour of his existence, he has almost no story; he is but a presence; the spiritual form of Arcadia, and the ways of human life there; the reflexion, in sacred image or ideal, of its flocks, and orchards, and wild honey; the dangers of its hunters; its weariness in noonday heat; its children, agile as the goats they tend, who run, in their picturesque rags, across the solitary wanderer’s path, to startle him, in the unfamiliar upper places; it’s one adornment and solace being the dance to the homely shepherd’s pipe, cut by Pan first from the sedges of the brook Molpeia.

Breathing of remote nature, the sense of which is so profound in the Homeric hymn to Pan, the pines, the foldings of the hills, the leaping streams, the strange echoings and dying of sound on the heights, “the bird, which among the petals of many-flowered spring, pouring out a dirge, sends forth her honey-voiced song,” “the crocus and the hyacinth disorderly mixed in the deep grass”-things which the religion of Dionysus loves–Pan joins the company of the Satyrs.

Amongst them, they give their names to insolence and mockery, and the finer sorts of malice, to unmeaning and ridiculous fear.  But the best spirits have found in them also a certain human pathos, as in displaced beings, coming even nearer to most men, in their very roughness, than the noble and delicate person of the vine; dubious creatures, half-way between the animal and human kinds, speculating wistfully on their being, because not wholly understanding themselves and their place in nature; as the animals seem always to have this expression to some noticeable degree in the presence of man.  In the later school of Attic sculpture they are treated with more and more of refinement, till in some happy moment Praxiteles conceived a model, often repeated, which concentrates this sentiment of true humour concerning them; a model of dainty natural ease in posture, but with the legs slightly crossed, as only lowly-bred gods are used to carry them, and with some puzzled trouble of youth, you might wish for a moment to smoothe away, puckering the forehead a little, between the pointed ears, on which the goodly hair of his animal strength grows low.  Little by little, the signs of brute nature are subordinated, or disappear; and at last, Robetta, a humble Italian engraver of the fifteenth century, entering into the Greek fancy because it belongs to all ages, has expressed it in its most exquisite form, in a design of Ceres and her children, of whom their mother is no longer afraid, as in the Homeric hymn to Pan.  The puck-noses have grown delicate, so that, with Plato’s infatuated lover, you may call them winsome, if you please; and no one would wish those hairy little shanks away, with which one of the small Pans walks at her side, grasping her skirt stoutly; while the other, the sick or weary one, rides in the arms of Ceres herself, who in graceful Italian dress, and decked airily with fruit and corn, steps across a country of cut sheaves, pressing it closely to her, with a child’s peevish trouble in its face, and its small goat-legs and tiny hoofs folded over together, precisely after the manner of a little child.

There is one element in the conception of Dionysus, which his connection with the satyrs, Marsyas being one of them, and with Pan, from whom the flute passed to all the shepherds of Theocritus, alike illustrates, his interest, namely, in one of the great species of music.  One form of that wilder vegetation, of which the Satyr race is the soul made visible, is the reed, which the creature plucks and trims into musical pipes.  And as Apollo inspires and rules over all the music of strings, so Dionysus inspires and rules over all the music of the reed, the water-plant, in which the ideas of water and of vegetable life are brought close together, natural property, therefore, of the spirit of life in the green sap.  I said that the religion of Dionysus was, for those who lived in it, a complete religion, a complete sacred representation and interpretation of the whole of life; and as, in his relation to the vine, he fills for them the place of Demeter, is the life of the earth through the grape as she through the grain, so, in this other phase of his being, in his relation to the reed, he fills for them the place of Apollo; he is the inherent cause of music and poetry; he inspires; he explains the phenomena of enthusiasm, as distinguished by Plato in the Phaedrus, the secrets of possession by a higher and more energetic spirit than one’s own, the gift of self-revelation, of passing out of oneself through words, tones, gestures.  A winged Dionysus, venerated at Amyclae, was perhaps meant to represent him thus, as the god of enthusiasm, of the rising up on those spiritual wings, of which also we hear something in the Phaedrus of Plato.

The artists of the Renaissance occupied themselves much with the person and the story of Dionysus; and Michelangelo, in a work still remaining in Florence, in which he essayed with success to produce a thing which should pass with the critics for a piece of ancient sculpture, has represented him in the fullness, as it seems, of this enthusiasm, an image of delighted, entire surrender to transporting dreams.  And this is no subtle after-thought of a later age, but true to certain finer movements of old Greek sentiment, though it may seem to have waited for the hand of Michelangelo before it attained complete realization.  The head of Ion leans, as they recline at the banquet, on the shoulder of Charmides; he mutters in his sleep of things seen therein, but awakes as the flute-players enter, whom Charmides has hired for his birthday supper.  The soul of Callias, who sits on the other side of Charmides, flashes out; he counterfeits, with life-like gesture, the personal tricks of friend or foe; or the things he could never utter before, he finds words for now; the secrets of life are on his lips.  It is in this loosening of the lips and heart, strictly, that Dionysus is the Deliverer, Eleutherios; and of such enthusiasm, or ecstasy, is, in a certain sense, an older patron than Apollo himself.  Even at Delphi, the centre of Greek inspiration and of the religion of Apollo, his claim always maintained itself; and signs are not wanting that Apollo was but a later comer there.  There, under his later reign, hard by the golden image of Apollo himself, near the sacred tripod on which the Pythia sat to prophesy, was to be seen a strange object–a sort of coffin or cinerary urn with the inscription, “Here lieth the body of Dionysus, the son of Semele.”  The pediment of the great temple was divided between them–Apollo with the nine Muses on that side, Dionysus, with perhaps three times three Graces, on this.  A third of the whole year was held sacred to him; the four winter months were the months of Dionysus; and in the shrine of Apollo itself he was worshipped with almost equal devotion.

The religion of Dionysus takes us back, then, into that old Greek life of the vineyards, as we see it on many painted vases, with much there as we should find it now, as we see it in Bennozzo Gozzoli’s mediaeval fresco of the Invention of Wine in the Campo Santo at Pisa-the family of Noah presented among all the circumstances of a Tuscan vineyard, around the press from which the first wine is flowing, a painted idyll, with its vintage colours still opulent in decay, and not without its solemn touch of biblical symbolism.  For differences, we detect in that primitive life, and under that Greek sky, a nimbler play of fancy, lightly and unsuspiciously investing all things with personal aspect and incident, and a certain mystical apprehension, now almost departed, of unseen powers beyond the material veil of things, corresponding to the exceptional vigour and variety of the Greek organization.  This peasant life lies, in unhistorical time, behind the definite forms with which poetry and a refined priesthood afterwards clothed the religion of Dionysus; and the mere scenery and circumstances of the vineyard have determined many things in its development.  The noise of the vineyard still sounds in some of his epithets, perhaps in his best-known name–Iacchus, Bacchus.

The masks suspended on base or cornice, so familiar an ornament in later Greek architecture, are the little faces hanging from the vines, and moving in the wind, to scare the birds.  That garland of ivy, the aesthetic value of which is so great in the later imagery of Dionysus and his descendants, the leaves of which, floating from his hair, become so noble in the hands of Titian and Tintoret, was actually worn on the head for coolness; his earliest and most sacred images were wrought in the wood of the vine.  The people of the vineyard had their feast, the little or country Dionysia, which still lived on, side by side with the greater ceremonies of a later time, celebrated in December, the time of the storing of the new wine.  It was then that the potters’ fair came, calpis and amphora, together with lamps against the winter, laid out in order for the choice of buyers; for Keramus, the Greek Vase, is a son of Dionysus, of wine and of Athene, who teaches men all serviceable and decorative art.

Then the goat was killed, and its blood poured out at the root of the vines; and Dionysus literally drank the blood of goats; and, being Greeks, with quick and mobile sympathies, deisidaimones, “superstitious,” or rather “susceptible of religious impressions,” some among them, remembering those departed since last year, add yet a little more, and a little wine and water for the dead also; brooding how the sense of these things might pass below the roots, to spirits hungry and thirsty, perhaps, in their shadowy homes.  But the gaiety, that gaiety which Aristophanes in the Acharnians has depicted with so many vivid touches, as a thing of which civil war had deprived the villages of Attica, preponderates over the grave.  The travelling country show comes round with its puppets; even the slaves have their holiday; the mirth becomes excessive; they hide their faces under grotesque masks of bark, or stain them with wine-lees, or potters’ crimson even, like the old rude idols painted red; and carry in midnight procession such rough symbols of the productive force of nature as the women and children had best not look upon; which will be frowned upon, and refine themselves, or disappear, in the feasts of cultivated Athens.

Of the whole story of Dionysus, it was the episode of his marriage with Ariadne about which ancient art concerned itself oftenest, and with most effect.  Here, although the antiquarian may still detect circumstances which link the persons and incidents of the legend with the mystical life of the earth, as symbols of its annual change, yet the merely human interest of the story has prevailed over its earlier significance; the spiritual form of fire and dew has become a romantic lover.  And as a story of romantic love, fullest perhaps of all the motives of classic legend of the pride of life, it survived with undiminished interest to a later world, two of the greatest masters of Italian painting having poured their whole power into it; Titian with greater space of ingathered shore and mountain, and solemn foliage, and fiery animal life; Tintoret with profounder luxury of delight in the nearness to each other, and imminent embrace, of glorious bodily presences; and both alike with consummate beauty of physical form.  Hardly less humanized is the Theban legend of Dionysus, the legend of his birth from Semele, which, out of the entire body of tradition concerning him, was accepted as central by the Athenian imagination.  For the people of Attica, he comes from Boeotia, a country of northern marsh and mist, but from whose somber, black marble towns came also the vine, the musical reed cut from its sedges, and the worship of the Graces, always so closely connected with the religion of Dionysus.  “At Thebes alone,” says Sophocles, “mortal women bear immortal gods.”  His mother is the daughter of Cadmus, himself marked out by many curious circumstances as the close kinsman of the earth, to which he all but returns at last, as the serpent, in his old age, attesting some closer sense lingering there of the affinity of man with the dust from whence he came.

Semele, an old Greek word, as it seems, for the surface of the earth, the daughter of Cadmus, beloved by Zeus, desires to see her lover in the glory with which he is seen by the immortal Hera.  He appears to her in lightning.  But the mortal may not behold him and live. Semele gives premature birth to the child Dionysus; whom, to preserve it from the jealousy of Hera, Zeus hides in a part of his thigh, the child returning into the loins of its father, whence in due time it is born again.  Yet in this fantastic story, hardly less than in the legend of Ariadne, the story of Dionysus has become a story of human persons, with human fortunes, and even more intimately human appeal to sympathy; so that Euripides, pre-eminent as a poet of pathos, finds in it a subject altogether to his mind.  All the interest now turns on the development of its points of moral or sentimental significance; the love of the immortal for the mortal, the presumption of the daughter of man who desires to see the divine form as it is; on the fact that not without loss of sight, or life itself, can man look upon it.  The travail of nature has been transformed into the pangs of the human mother; and the poet dwells much on the pathetic incident of death in childbirth, making Dionysus, as Callimachus calls him, a seven months’ child, cast out among its enemies, motherless.  And as a consequence of this human interest, the legend attaches itself, as in an actual history, to definite sacred objects and places, the venerable relic of the wooden image which fell into the chamber of Semele with the lightning-flash, and which the piety of a later age covered with plates of brass; the Ivy-Fountain near Thebes, the water of which was so wonderfully bright and sweet to drink, where the nymphs bathed the new-born child; the grave of Semele, in a sacred enclosure grown with ancient vines, where some volcanic heat or flame was perhaps actually traceable, near the lightning-struck ruins of her supposed abode.

Yet, though the mystical body of the earth is forgotten in the human anguish of the mother of Dionysus, the sense of his essence of fire and dew still lingers in his most sacred name, as the son of Semele, Dithyrambus.  We speak of a certain wild music in words or rhythm as dithyrambic, like the dithyrambus, that is, the wild choral-singing of the worshippers of Dionysus.  But Dithyrambus seems to have been, in the first instance, the name, not of the hymn, but of the god to whom the hymn is sung; and, through a tangle of curious etymological speculations as to the precise derivation of this name, one thing seems clearly visible, that it commemorates, namely, the double birth of the vine-god; that he is born once and again; his birth, first of fire, and afterwards of dew; the two dangers that beset him; his victory over two enemies, the capricious, excessive heats and colds of spring.


He is pyrogens’, then, fire-born, the son of lightning; lightning being to light, as regards concentration, what wine is to the other strengths of the earth.  And who that has rested a hand on the glittering silex of a vineyard slope in August, where the pale globes of sweetness are lying, does not feel this?  It is out of the bitter salts of a smitten, volcanic soil that it comes up with the most curious virtues.  The mother faints and is parched up by the heat which brings the child to the birth; and it pierces through, a wonder of freshness, drawing its everlasting green and typical coolness out of the midst of the ashes; its own stem becoming at last like a tangled mass of tortured metal.  In thinking of Dionysus, then, as fire-born, the Greeks apprehend and embody the sentiment, the poetry, of all tender things which grow out of a hard soil, or in any sense blossom before the leaf, like the little mezereon-plant of English gardens, with its pale-purple, wine-scented flowers upon the leafless twigs in February, or like the almond-trees of Tuscany, or Aaron’s rod that budded, or the staff in the hand of the Pope when Tannhauser’s repentance is accepted.


And his second birth is of the dew.  The fire of which he was born would destroy him in his turn, as it withered up his mother; a second danger comes; from this the plant is protected by the influence of the cooling cloud, the lower part of his father the sky, in which it is wrapped and hidden, and of which it is born again, its second mother being, in some versions of the legend, Hye–the Dew. The nursery, where Zeus places it to be brought up, is a cave in Mount Nysa, sought by a misdirected ingenuity in many lands, but really, like the place of the carrying away of Persephone, a place of fantasy, the oozy place of springs in the hollow of the hillside, nowhere and everywhere, where the vine was “invented.”  The nymphs of the trees overshadow it from above; the nymphs of the springs sustain it from below–the Hyades, those first leaping maenads, who, as the springs become rain-clouds, go up to heaven among the stars, and descend again, as dew or shower, upon it; so that the religion of Dionysus connects itself, not with tree-worship only, but also with ancient water-worship, the worship of the spiritual forms of springs and streams.  To escape from his enemies Dionysus leaps into the sea, the original of all rain and springs, whence, in early summer, the women of Elis and Argos were wont to call him, with the singing of a hymn.  And again, in thus commemorating Dionysus as born of the dew, the Greeks apprehend and embody the sentiment, the poetry, of water.

For not the heat only, but its solace–the freshness of the cup-this too was felt by those people of the vineyard, whom the prophet Melampus had taught to mix always their wine with water, and with whom the watering of the vines became a religious ceremony; the very dead, as they thought, drinking of and refreshed by the stream.  And who that has ever felt the heat of a southern country does not know this poetry, the motive of the loveliest of all the works attributed to Giorgione, the Fete Champetre in the Louvre; the intense sensations, the subtle and far-reaching symbolisms, which, in these places, cling about the touch and sound and sight of it?  Think of the darkness of the well in the breathless court, with the delicate ring of ferns kept alive just within the opening; of the sound of the fresh water flowing through the wooden pipes into the houses of Venice, on summer mornings; of the cry Acqua fresca! at Padua or Verona, when the people run to buy what they prize, in its rare purity, more than wine, bringing pleasures so full of exquisite appeal to the imagination, that, in these streets, the very beggars, one thinks, might exhaust all the philosophy of the epicurean.

Out of all these fancies comes the vine-growers’ god, the spiritual form of fire and dew.  Beyond the famous representations of Dionysus in later art and poetry–the Bacchanals of Euripides, the statuary of the school of Praxiteles–a multitude of literary allusions and local customs carry us back to this world of vision unchecked by positive knowledge, in which the myth is begotten among a primitive people, as they wondered over the life of the thing their hands helped forward, till it became for them a kind of spirit, and their culture of it a kind of worship.  Dionysus, as we see him in art and poetry, is the projected expression of the ways and dreams of this primitive people, brooded over and harmonised by the energetic Greek imagination; the religious imagination of the Greeks being, precisely, a unifying or identifying power, bringing together things naturally asunder, making, as it were, for the human body a soul of waters, for the human soul a body of flowers; welding into something like the identity of a human personality the whole range of man’s experiences of a given object, or series of objects–all their outward qualities, and the visible facts regarding them–all the hidden ordinances by which those facts and qualities hold of unseen forces, and have their roots in purely visionary places.

Dionysus came later than the other gods to the centers of Greek life; and, as a consequence of this, he is presented to us in an earlier stage of development than they; that element of natural fact which is the original essence of all mythology being more unmistakably impressed upon us here than in other myths.  Not the least interesting point in the study of him is, that he illustrates very clearly, not only the earlier, but also a certain later influence of this element of natural fact, in the development of the gods of Greece.


TITLE: Greek Studies; a series of essays

BY: Walter Horatio Pater

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

[Note: there is a wealth of information to be found in the above]

A Dream within a Dream


Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow–
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Author: Edgar Allen Poe 1849

After Life: Babylonian perspective



The Views of Life After Death

The problem of immortality, we have seen, engaged the serious attention of the Babylonian theologians. While the solutions they had to offer could hardly have been satisfactory either to themselves or to the masses, it must not be supposed that the denial of immortality to man involved the total extinction of conscious vitality. Neither the people nor the leaders of religious thought ever faced the possibility of the total annihilation of what once was called into existence. Death was a passage to another kind of life, and the denial of immortality merely emphasized the impossibility of escaping the change in existence brought about by death. The gods alone do not pass from one phase of existence to the other. Death was mysterious, but not more mysterious than life.

The Babylonian religion does not transcend the stage of belief, characteristic of primitive culture everywhere, which cannot conceive of the possibility of life coming to an absolute end. Life of some kind and in some form was always presupposed. So far as man was concerned, created by some god,–Bel, Ea, Aruru, or Ishtar, according to the various traditions that were current,–no divine fiat could wipe out what was endowed with life and the power of reproduction.

No doubt, the impossibility for the individual to conceive of himself as forever deprived of consciousness, was at the bottom of the primitive theory of the perpetuity of existence in some form. Among ancient religions, Buddhism alone frees itself from this theory and unfolds a bold doctrine of the possibility of a complete annihilation. The question, however, whether the continuity of existence was a blessing or a curse was raised by many ancient nations. The Babylonians are among these who are inclined to take a gloomy view of the passage from this world to the existence in store for humanity after death, and the religious leaders were either powerless or disinclined to controvert this view.

Location and Names of the Gathering Place of the Dead.

We have already had occasion to refer to the great cave underneath the earth in which the dead were supposed to dwell, and since the earth itself was regarded as a mountain, the cave is pictured as a hollow within, or rather underneath, a mountain. A conception of this kind must have arisen among a people that was once familiar with a mountainous district. The settlers of the Euphrates Valley brought the belief with them from an earlier mountain home. The cave, moreover, points to cave-dwelling and to cave-burial as conditions that prevailed at one time among the populace, precisely as the imitation of the mountain with its caves in the case of the Egyptian pyramids, is due to similar influences. To this cave various names are assigned in the literature of the Babylonians,–some of popular origin, others reflecting scholastic views. The most common name is Aralu. We also find the term ‘house of Aralu.’ The etymology of the term is obscure. Aralu was pictured as a vast place, dark and gloomy. It is sometimes called a land, sometimes a great house. The approach to it was difficult. It lay in the lowest part of the mountain that represented the earth, not far from the hollow underneath the mountain into which the ‘Apsu’ flowed.

Surrounded by seven walls and strongly guarded, it was a place to which no living person could go and from which no mortal could ever depart after once entering it. To Aralu all went whose existence in this world had come to an end. Another name which specifies the relationship of Aralu to the world is Ekur or ‘mountain house’ of the dead. Ekur is one of the names for the earth, but is applied more particularly to that part of the mountain, also known as Kharsag-kurkura ,i.e., ‘the mountain of all lands’ where the gods were born. Before the later speculative view was developed, according to which the gods, or most of them, have their seats in heaven, it was on this mountain also that the gods were supposed to dwell. Hence Ekur became also one of the names for temple, as the seat of a god. The dwelling of the dead was regarded as a part of the ‘great mountain.’ It belonged to Ekur, and the fact that it was designated simply as Ekur, is a valuable indication that the dead were brought into close association with the gods. This association is also indicated by the later use of Aralu as the designation of the mountain within which the district of the dead, Aralu proper, lay-synonymous, therefore, with Ekur. We shall seein the course of this chapter that the dead are placed even more than the living under the direct supervision of the gods.

A third name for the nether world which conveys an important addition to the views held regarding the dead, was Shualu. Jensen, it is true, following Bertin, questions the existence of this term in Babylonian, but one does not see how the evidence of the passages in the lexicographical tablets can be set aside in the way that he proposes. Zimmern does not appear to be convinced by Jensen’s arguments and regards the question as an open one. Jensen’s method of disposing of Shualu, besides being open to serious objections, fails to account for the fact that Shualu is brought into association with various Babylonian terms and ideographs for the grave. This cannot be accidental. That the term has hitherto been found only in lexicographical tablets need not surprise us. Aralu, too, is of rare occurrence in the religious texts. The priests appear to avoid the names for the nether world, which were of ill omen, and preferred to describe the place by some epithet, as ‘land without return,’ or ‘dark dwelling, or ‘great city,’ and the like. Of such descriptive terms we have a large number. The stem underlying Shualu signifies ‘to ask.’ Shualu is a place of inquiry, and the inquiry meant is of the nature of a religious oracle. The name, accordingly, is an indication of the power accorded to the dead, to aid the living by furnishing them with answers to questions, just as the gods furnish oracles through the mediation of the priests.

The Old Testament supplies us with an admirable illustration of the method of obtaining oracles through the dead. Saul, when he desires to know what the outcome of a battle is to be, seeks out a sorceress, and through her calls up the dead Samuel and puts the question to him. Similarly, in the Gilgamesh epic, the hero, with the aid of Nergal, obtains a sight of Eabani and plies him with questions. The belief, therefore, in this power of the dead was common to Babylonians and Hebrews, and, no doubt, was shared by other branches of the Semites. It is natural, therefore, to find the Babylonian term Shualu paralleled by the Hebrew Sheol, which is the common designation in the Old Testament for the dwelling-place of the dead. How widespread the custom was among Babylonians of inquiring ‘through the living of the dead’ it is difficult, in default of satisfactory evidence, to say. The growing power of the priests as mediators between men and gods must have acted as a check to such practices. The priests, as the inquirers, naturally proceeded direct to the particular god whose representative they claimed to be, and the development of an elaborate ceremonial in the temples in connection with the oracles was a further factor that must have influenced the gradual abandonment of the custom, at least as an element of the “official” cult.

Moreover, the belief itself belongs in the domain of ancestor worship, and in historical times we find but little trace of such worship among the Babylonians. We may, therefore, associate the custom with the earliest period of the Babylonian religion. This view carries with it the antiquity of the term Shualu. Like Aralu and the designation Ekur, it embodies the close association of the dead with the gods. The dead not only dwell near the gods, but, like the gods, they can direct the affairs of mankind. Their answers to questions put to them have divine justification. From this view of the dead to the deification of the latter is but a short step. It does not, of course, follow, from the fact that Shualu or Sheol is the place of ‘oracles,’ that all the dead have the power to furnish oracles or can be invoked for this purpose.

Correspondingly, if we find that the Babylonians did deify their dead, it does not mean that at one time all the dead were regarded as gods. Popular legends are concerned only with the heroes, with the popular favorites–not with the great masses. Eabani, who appears to Gilgamesh, is a hero, and so is Samuel. As a matter of fact, we have so far only found evidence that the ancient rulers whose memory lingered in the minds of the people were regarded by later generations as gods. So the names of Dungi and Gudea are written on tablets that belong to the centuries immediately following their reign, with the determinative that is placed before the names of gods. Festivals were celebrated in honor of these kings, sacrifices were offered to them, and their images were placed in temples. Again, Gimil-Sin (c. 2500 B.C.), of the second dynasty of Ur, appears to have been deified during his lifetime, and there was a temple in Lagash which was named after him. No doubt other kings will be found who were similarly honored. We may expect to come across a god Hammurabi someday. Gilgamesh is, as we have seen, a historical personage whose career has been so thoroughly amalgamated with nature-myths that he ends by becoming a solar deity who is invoked in incantations.

The tendency to connect legendary and mythical incidents with ancient rulers is part and parcel of this process of deification. Of an ancient king, Sargon, a story was related how he was exposed in a boat, and, ‘knowing neither father nor mother,’ was found by a ferryman. The exploits of this king and of his successor, Naram-Sin, were incorporated in an omen text–a circumstance that again illustrates how the popular fancy connected the heroes of the past with its religious interests. Still, there is no more reason to question the historical reality of Sargon than to question the existence of Moses, because a story of his early youth is narrated in Exodus which forms a curious parallel to the Sargon legend, or to question the existence of a personage by the name of Abraham, because an Abrahamic cult arose that continues to the present day.

This close association of the dead with the gods, upon which the deification of the dead rests, may be regarded as a legacy of the earliest period of the Babylonian religion, of the time when the intercourse between the gods and the living was also direct. The belief and rites connected with the dead constitute the most conservative elements in the religion of a people. The organized cult affects the living chiefly. So far as the latter are concerned, the rise of a priesthood to whom the religious needs of the people are entrusted, removes the living from that immediate contact with the gods which we note in the traditions of every people regarding the beginnings of mankind. The priests have no power over the dead. The dead require no ‘mediator.’ Hence, those who dwell in Aralu return to the early state of mankind when gods and mankind ‘walked together.’

Another name that is of frequent occurrence in religious texts is Kigallu, which describes the nether world as a district of great extent, situated within the earth. The chief goddess of the nether world is commonly known as the ‘queen of Kigallu.’ Furthermore, Irkalla, which was interpreted by the Babylonian theologians as ‘great city’ (or ‘district’), is used both as a designation for the dwelling-place of the dead and for the consort of the queen of Aralu.

Beside the names for the nether world above discussed, a large number of epithets and metaphors are found in the religious texts. The place to which the dead go is called the ‘dark dwelling,’ ‘the land from which there is no return,’ ‘house of death,’ ‘the great city,’ ‘the deep land,’ and, since Nergal, the ruler of the lower world, was the patron of the city Cuthah (or Kutu), the name Cuthah was also used as a designation for Aralu. Lastly, it is interesting to note that in poetical usage the words for ‘grave’ were also employed to describe the nether world. The question raised by this metaphor as to the relationship between the grave and the lower world can best be discussed when we come to consider the funeral rites.

The Condition of the Dead and the Impossibility of an Escape from Aralu.

Among the remains of Babylonian literature there is a remarkable production, which furnishes us with an admirable view of the fate in store for those who have left this world. The composition is based upon a nature-myth, symbolizing the change of seasons. Ishtar, the great mother goddess, the goddess of fertility who produces vegetation, is, as we saw in the Gilgamesh epic, also the one who brings about the decline of vegetation. The change in nature that takes place after the summer solstice is passed and the crops have ripened was variously interpreted. According to one, and, as it would seem, the favorite, tradition, the goddess is represented as herself destroying the solar deity, Tammuz, whom she had chosen as a consort. Repentant and weeping, Ishtar passes to the lower world in search of her youthful husband, the symbol of the sun on its approach to the summer solstice. While Ishtar is in the lower world, all fertility ceases, in the fields, as well as in the animal kingdom. At last Ishtar reappears, and nature is joyous once more. In the Semitic Orient there are only two seasons:] winter, or the rainy season, and summer, or the dry season. The myth was, therefore, a symbol of the great contrast that the two seasons presented to one another. Under various forms and numerous disguises, we find the myth among several branches of the Semites, as well as in Egypt and among Aryans who came into contact with Semitic ideas.

A festival celebrated in honor of Tammuz by the Babylonians is one expression of many that the myth received. The designation of the sixth month as “the mission of Ishtar” is another. This myth was adapted by the theologians to illustrate the doctrines that were developed regarding the kind of existence led by the dead. The literary method adopted is the same that characterizes the elaboration of the Adapa myth and of the myths incorporated into the Gilgamesh epic. The story forms the point of departure, but its original purport is set aside to a greater or less degree, necessary modifications are introduced, and the moral or lesson is distinctly indicated. In the case of the production that we are about to consider, the story of Ishtar’s visit to the nether world is told–perhaps by a priest–to a person who seeks consolation. A dear relative has departed this life, and a survivor,–a brother, apparently, is anxious to know whether the dead will ever come back again. The situation reminds one of Gilgamesh seeking out Eabani, with this difference: that, whereas Gilgamesh, aided by Nergal, is accorded a sight of his friend, the ordinary mourner must content himself with the answer given to him. But what Gilgamesh is not permitted to hear, the mourner is told. A description is given him of how the dead fare in Aralu.

The problem, however, is somewhat different in the story of the descent of Ishtar, from the one propounded in the twelfth tablet of the Gilgamesh epic. The question uppermost in the mind of the mourner is “Will the dead return?” The condition of the dead, which is most prominent in Gilgamesh’s mind, is secondary. Both questions, however, are answered, and both answers are hopelessly sad. The nether world is joyless. Even the goddess Ishtar is badly treated upon entering it. The place is synonymous with inactivity and decay; and, though the goddess returns, the conclusion drawn is that the exception proves the inexorable rule. A goddess may escape, but mortals are doomed to everlasting sojourn, or rather imprisonment, in the realm presided over by Allatu and her consort Nergal. The tale begins with a description of the land to which Ishtar proceeds:

To the land whence there is no return, the land of darkness (?)

Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her mind,

The daughter of Sin turned her mind;

To the house of darkness, the dwelling of Irkalla,

To the house whence no one issues who has once entered it.

To the road from which there is no return, when once it has been trodden.

To the house whose inhabitants are deprived of light.

The place where dust is their nourishment, their food clay.

They have no light, dwelling in dense darkness.

And they are clothed like birds, in a garment of feathers;

Where over gate and bolt, dust is scattered.

Ishtar, it will be observed, is here called the daughter of the moon-god, whereas in the Gilgamesh epic she appears as the daughter of Anu, the god of heaven. Both designations reflect the views developed in the schools, and prove that the story has been produced under scholastic influences. The goddess has her place in the heavens, in the planet bearing her name, and the designation of this planet as the daughter of Sin can only be understood in connection with the astronomical system, in which the moon plays so prominent a role and becomes the father of all the great gods (except Shamash) who constitute the lesser luminaries of the night.

Irkalla is one of the names for a god of the nether world, who is regarded as the associate of Allatu. The dwelling is elsewhere spoken of as a ‘great palace’ in which Allatu and her consort Nergal have their thrones. A gloomier place than the one described in these opening lines of the story cannot well be imagined. The picture reflects the popular views, and up to this point, the doctrines of the school are in agreement with the early beliefs. The description of the lower world is evidently suggested by the grave or the cave in which the dead were laid. The reference to dust and clay as the food of the dead shows that the doctrine taught in the Gilgamesh epic, of man’s being formed of clay and returning to clay, was the common one. This view helps us to understand how the words for grave came to be used as synonyms for the nether world. The dead being placed below the earth, they were actually conveyed within the realm of which Aralu was a part, and since it became customary for the Babylonians to bury their dead together, the cities of the dead that thus arose could easily be imagined to constitute the kingdom presided over by Allatu and Nergal. At this point, however, the speculations of the schools begin to diverge from the popular notions.

We may well question whether the Babylonian populace ever attempted to make clear to itself in what form the dead continued their existence. It may be that the argument from dreams, as the basis for the primitive belief in the continuation of life, in some form, after death has been too hard pressed, but certainly the appearance of the dead in the dreams of the living must have produced a profound impression, and since the dead appeared in the same form that they had while alive, the conclusion was natural that, even though the body decayed, a vague outline remained that bore the same relation to the “corpus” as the shadow to the figure casting it. Two remarkable chapters in the Old Testament illustrate this popular view prevailing in Babylonia, as to the condition of the dead in the nether world. The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel both portray the dead as having the same form that they possessed while alive. The kings have their crowns on their heads; the warriors lie with their swords girded about them. The dead Eabani, it will be recalled, appears to Gilgamesh and is at once recognized by the latter. What distinguishes the dead from the living is their inactivity.

They lie in Aralu without doing anything. Everything there is in a state of neglect and decay. The dead can speak, but the Babylonians probably believed, like the Hebrews, that the dead talk in whispers, or chirp like birds. The dead are weak, and, therefore, unless others attend to their needs, they suffer pangs of hunger, or must content themselves with ‘dust and clay’ as their food. Tender care during the last moments of life was essential to comparative well-being in Aralu. The person who goes to Aralu in sorrow and neglect will continue sorrowful and neglected.

The theologians, while accepting these views in general, passed beyond them in an important particular. They could not reconcile the evident dissolution of the body with a continuation of even a shadowy outline. When a man died, the ‘spirit,’ which, according to the animistic theory, lodged somewhere within the body and produced the manifestations of life, sought for refuge in some other substance. The ease with which birds moved from one place to another suggested these beings as the ones in which the dislodged spirit found a home. The Babylonian thinkers were not alone in developing the view that the dead assumed the form of birds. Parallels to the pictures of the dead in the story of Ishtar’s descent may be found in Egypt and elsewhere. But what is important for our purposes is the consideration that, in Babylonia at least, the view in question is not the popular one, but the result of speculations about a problem that appeals only to those who make the attempt, at least, to clarify their ideas regarding the mystery of death. The next section of the story affords us a picture of the entrance to Aralu:

When Ishtar arrived at the gate of the land without return,

She spoke to the watchman of the gate:

Ho! watchman–open thy gate.

Open thy gate that I may enter.

If thou dost not open the gate, if thou refusest me admission,

I will smash the door, break the bolt.

I will smash the threshold, force open the portals.

I will raise up the dead to eat the living

Until the dead outnumber the living.

The entrance to the nether world is strongly guarded. From other sources we learn that there was a ‘spy’–perhaps identical with the watchman–stationed at the portal of the lower world, who reports all happenings to the queen Allatu through Namtar, the god (or spirit) of pestilence. The watchman is to prevent the living from entering, and also the dead from escaping.

The violence of Ishtar is an interesting touch in the narrative. As a goddess, she resents any opposition to her desires. Her anxiety to enter Aralu indicates that the original form of the myth, which must have represented the descent as forced and not voluntary, has been modified by the introduction of a new factor,–the search for her dead consort, Tammuz. The character of Ishtar as the goddess of war may also have influenced this portrayal of her rage. In her violence, she threatens a conflict between the dead and the living. The former will destroy the latter, as a victorious army butchers the hostile host. The watchman endeavors to pacify the enraged Ishtar:

The watchman opened his mouth and spoke.

Spoke to the great Ishtar:

Hold, O mistress, do not destroy them.

I will go and mention thy name to the queen Allatu.

Allatu is grieved upon hearing the news of Ishtar’s arrival, for Ishtar’s disappearance from the world means death.

I must weep for the masters who forsake their consorts.

I must weep for the wives who are torn from their husbands’ side.

For the children I must weep who are snatched away (?) before their time.

Go, watchman, open thy gate.

Deal with her according to the ancient laws.

The scene that follows embodies, again, views of the nether world as developed in the schools. Corresponding to the seven zones surrounding the earth, the nether world is pictured as enclosed by seven gates. Through these Ishtar must pass, before she is ushered into the presence of Allatu.

The watchman went and opened his gate.

Enter, O mistress, welcome in Cuthah.

The great house of the land without return greets thee.

Through the first gate he led her, and boldly removed the great crown from her head.

Why, O watchman, dost thou remove the great crown from my head?

Enter, O mistress, such are the laws of Allatu.

At the second gate, he removes the earrings of the goddess; at the third, her necklace is taken away, and, similarly, at each succeeding gate, a portion of her dress, the ornaments on her breast, her belt of precious stones, her bracelets, until, when the seventh gate is reached, the covering over her loins is removed, and she stands naked before Allatu. At each gate Ishtar asks the same question, why the watchman strips her, and the same answer is given.

The removal of one ornament after the other symbolizes, evidently, the gradual decay of vegetation, not, as has been supposed, that the dead enter Aralu naked.

Allatu calls upon her messenger, Namtar, to strike the goddess with disease in all parts of her body. The disease expresses the same idea as the removal of the ornaments,–decay of strength. There follows a description of the desolation on earth during Ishtar’s sojourn with Allatu. Productivity comes to a standstill.

The ox does not mount the cow, the ass does not bend over the she-ass.

Among mankind, likewise, fertility ceases. The gods lament the absence of Ishtar and the fate that overtook her. The astronomical conception of Ishtar as the planet Venus, at this point, is apparent. The gods complain.

Ishtar has descended to the earth, and has not come up.

As a planet, Ishtar’s seat is in the heavens. The disappearance of the planet has been combined with the nature-myth of the decay of vegetation. As the evening star, Venus dips down into the west, to reappear after a long interval in the east. The astral character of Ishtar dominates the latter half of the story in its present form. It is not the goddess of love and fertility nor the goddess of war who is rescued from her prison by Ea, but the planet Ishtar. Shamash is informed of the disaster by his servant, Pap-sukal. The sun-god proceeds for aid to Sin and Ea. The latter furnishes relief. The sun enters Ea’s domain every evening, and, since it is in the west that the planet sinks like the sun, the association of ideas becomes apparent which suggests Ea as the savior and the sun as the mediator.

Ea created in his wisdom a male being.

He formed Uddushu-namir, a divine servant.

Go, Uddushu-namir, to the gate of the land without return, turn thy face.

The seven gates of the land without return will be opened before thee.

Allatu will see thee and welcome thee

After her heart is pacified, her spirit brightened.

Invoke against her the name of the great gods.

Raise thy countenance, to Sukhal-ziku direct thy attention.

Come, mistress, grant me Sukhal-ziku, that I may drink therefrom.

Ea appears here again in the role of Creator. The name of the mysterious being created by Ea signifies ‘renewal of light.’ The incident, it will be seen, is wholly symbolical. A touch of mysticism has also been introduced. Sukhal-ziku is a compound of a word meaning ‘to sprinkle’ and another which may mean ‘grotto.’ Sukhal-ziku appears, therefore, to be the name for a mysterious fountain, the waters of which restore the dead to life.

Uddushu-namir having pronounced the name of the gods before Allatu, and having thus secured their aid, his request is in the nature of an order. But the request must not be interpreted literally, as though the waters were intended for him. It is for the sake of Ishtar that he desires to have the use of Sukhal-ziku. Allatu understands Uddushu-namir’s speech in this sense, and is enraged at the order to yield up Ishtar.

Allalu, upon hearing this,

Smote her sides and bit her finger.

Thou hast demanded of me a request that should not be requested.

Come, Uddushu-namir, I will curse thee with a terrible curse.

Food from the gutters of the city be thy nourishment.

The sewers (?) of the city be thy drink.

The shadow of the wall be thy seat.

The threshold be thy dwelling.

Exile and banishment break thy strength.

The force of the curse lies in the closing words. Uddushu-namir is to be an outcast. He will not be permitted to enter either city or house, but must remain at the wall or stop at the threshold. Properly prepared food and drink are to be denied him. He shall starve or perish miserably.

But the mission of Uddushu-namir has been accomplished. Allatu may curse as she pleases; the order of Ea must be obeyed.

The goddess Allalu opened her mouth and spoke.

To Namtar, her messenger, she addressed an order:

Go, Namtar, smash the true palace.

Break down the threshold, destroy the door-posts (?).

Bring out the Anunnaki and place them on golden thrones.

Besprinkle Ishtar with the waters of life and take her from me.

Namtar obeys the order. Ishtar is led through the seven gates. At each one, the articles taken from her on her entrance are returned: at the first, the loin cloth; at the second, the bracelets and ankle rings, and so on, until she emerges in her full beauty.

The close of the story thus brings to our gaze once more Ishtar as goddess of fertility, who gradually brings vegetation, strength, and productivity back again. This curious mixture in the story of the astral Ishtar,–the creation of the astronomers,–and the popular Ishtar, is a trait which shows how the old nature-myth has been elaborated in passing through the hands of the “literati”. The various steps in the process can still be seen. In the original form, the goddess must have been forced into an exile to the nether world, the exile symbolizing the wintry season when fertility and productivity come to an end.

Ishtar is stripped of her glory. She comes to Allatu, who grieves at her approach, but imprisons her in the ‘great house,’ and refuses to yield her up, until forced to do so by order of the gods. A similar story must have been told of Tammuz, the sun-god, who is also the god of vegetation. The two stories were combined. Ishtar marries Tammuz, and then destroys him. The goddess produces fertility, but cannot maintain it. Tammuz goes to the nether world. Ishtar repents, bewails her loss, and goes to seek for her consort and to rescue him. In rage she advances to Allatu, threatens to smash the door and break the lock unless admitted. The story in this form must have ended in the restoration of Tammuz. The identification of Ishtar with the planet Venus introduced a new factor. The disappearance of the planet fitted in well with the original nature-myth. The combination of the Ishtar-Tammuz story with this factor resulted in the tale as we have it now. The enraged Ishtar is the one who seeks for her consort. The Ishtar who is forced to give up her ornaments is the old goddess who falls into the hands of Allatu.

During her absence, production comes to a standstill; decay sets in. The Ishtar who is rescued by Ea through the mediation of the ‘Renewal of Light’ is the astral Ishtar, as developed by the astronomers, and, finally, the Ishtar who receives her ornaments back again and comes to the upper world, is once more the goddess of vegetation, rescued from her exile to new glory. Up to this point, Tammuz has not been mentioned in the story. In the advice, however, that is given at the conclusion of the tale to mourners, the consort of Ishtar is introduced.

If she will not grant her redemption, turn to her [thy countenance?]

To Tammuz, her youthful consort,

Pour out pure waters, costly oil [offer him?].

The mourners are furthermore instructed to institute a formal lamentation. The Ukhati, the priestesses of Ishtar, are to sing dirges; flutes are to accompany the song. The thought intended, apparently, to be conveyed is that if Allatu will not give up the dead, the surviving relatives should endeavor to secure the good grace of Ishtar and Tammuz, who succeeded in subduing Allatu.

The closing lines are rendered obscure by a reference to the goddess Belili, who appears to be the sister of Tammuz. The reference assumes the knowledge of a tale in which the goddess was represented as breaking a costly vessel adorned with precious stones, in sign of her grief for the lost Tammuz. Suitable mourning for Tammuz, therefore, will secure the sympathy of Belili also. The story thus ends with a warning to all who mourn for their dead to remember Tammuz, to observe the rites set aside for the festival celebrated in his honor.

Bearing in mind the tentative character of any interpretation for the closing lines, we may mention Jeremias’ supposition that it is a deceased sister who addresses her sorrowing brother at the end of the story.

My only brother, let me not perish.

On the day of Tammuz, play for me on the flute of lapis lazuli,

together with the lyre of pearl play for me.

Together let the professional dirge singers, male and female, play for me,

That the dead may arise and inhale the incense of offerings.

The lines impress one as snatches from a dirge, sung or recited in memory of the dead, and introduced here as an appropriate illustration of the conclusion to be drawn from the tale. At all events, the consolation that the mourner receives lies in this thought, the dead can hear the lamentation. The survivors are called upon not to forget the dead. When the festival of Tammuz comes, let them combine with the weeping for the god, a dirge in memory of the dead. Let them pray to Ishtar and Tammuz. If remembered by the living, the dead will at least enjoy the offerings made to them, regain, as it were, a temporary sense of life; but more cannot with certainty be hoped for.

The outlook for the dead, it will be seen, is not hopeful. Their condition is at best a tolerable one. What we may glean from other sources but confirms the general impression, conveyed by the opening and closing lines of the Ishtar story, or makes the picture a still gloomier one. The day of death is a day of sorrow, ‘the day without mercy.’ The word for corpse conveys the idea that things have ‘come to an end.’ Whenever death is referred to in the literature, it is described as an unmitigated evil. A dirge introduced into an impressive hymn to Nergal laments the fate of him who

… has descended to the breast of the earth,

Satiated, [he has gone] to the land of the dead.

Full of lament on the day that he encountered sorrow,

In the month which does not bring to completion the year,

On the road of destruction for mankind,

To the wailing-place (?),

The hero [has gone], to the distant invisible land.

We must not be misled by an epithet bestowed upon several gods, Marduk, Ninib, and Gula, of ‘the restorer of the dead to life,’ into the belief that the dead could be brought back from Aralu. These epithets appear chiefly in incantations and hymns addressed to the gods for some specific purpose, such as deliverance of a sufferer from disease. The gods are appealed to against the demons, whose grasp means death. Ninib and Gula are viewed as gods of healing. To be cured through their aid was to be snatched from the jaws of death. Moreover, Ninib and Marduk, as solar deities, symbolize the sun of spring, which brings about the revivification of nature. The return of vegetation suggests the thought that Ninib and Marduk have filled with new life what appeared to be dead. The trees that seemed entirely dead blossom forth; the bare earth is covered with verdure. Similarly, the suffering individual stricken with disease could be awakened to new life. It is this ‘restoration’ which lies in the power of the gods, but once a man has been carried off to Aralu, no god can bring him back to this earth.

An apparent exception to the rule, according to which all mankind eventually comes to Aralu, is formed by Parnapishtim and his wife, who dwell in a place vaguely described as ‘distant,’ situated at the ‘confluence of the streams.’ The place, as was pointed out in a previous chapter, lies in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf, and, since it can only be reached by water, the natural conclusion is that it is an island. The temptation is strong to compare the dwelling of Parnapishtim with the belief found among the Greeks and other nations, of ‘an island of the blessed.’ This has been done by Jeremiasand others. However, we must bear in mind that the point in Parnapishtim’s narrative is that he and his wife do “not die”. They are removed to the distant place by the gods and continue to live there. Again, we do not learn of any other person who inhabits this island. If to these considerations we add, that the name Parnapishtim signifies ‘offspring of life,’ that his wife’s name is not mentioned, that we are not told what becomes of his family and servants, who are also saved from the deluge, it is evident that the incident of Parnapishtim’s escape is an allegory, introduced into the story as a dramatic means of teaching the doctrine which we have seen dominates the tale,–that man, ordinarily, cannot secure immortal life.

If there is any connection between the island where Parnapishtim dwells and the Greek conception of ‘an island of the blessed,’ it is a trace of foreign influence in Babylonian mythology. There is nothing to show that among the Babylonians, either among the populace or in the schools, a belief arose in a ‘paradise’ whither privileged persons were transported after death, nor is any distinction made by them between the good and the bad, so far as the future habitation is concerned. All mankind, kings and subjects, virtuous and wicked, go to Aralu. Those who have obtained the good will of the gods receive their reward in this world, by a life of happiness and of good health. The gods can ward off disease, or, rather, since disease (as all ills and misfortunes) is a punishment sent by some god or demon, forgiveness can be secured, the proof of which will consist in the restoration of the sick to health, but the moment that death ensues the control of the gods ends. To the Babylonians, the words of the Psalmist “who praises thee, O God, in Sheol?” came home with terrible force. They expressed, admirably, the Babylonian view of the limitations of divine power. The dead do not praise the gods, simply because it would be useless. The concern of the gods is with the living.

We are fortunate in possessing a pictorial representation of the nether world that confirms the view to be derived from a study of the religious literature. A number of years ago, Clermont-Ganneau directed attention to a remarkable bronze tablet which was purchased at Hamath in northern Syria. The art was clearly Babylonian, and there was no reason to question the genuineness of the production. Quite recently a duplicate has been found at Zurghul, in Babylonia, so that all suspicions are removed. The bronze tablet contains on the one side, the figure of a monster with a lion-like face and body, but provided with huge wings.

Standing erect, his head rises above the tablet, his fore legs rest on the edge, and the demon is thus represented in the attitude of looking over to the other side of the tablet. At the side of the monster, are two heads of hideous appearance.

The illustrations on the reverse are devoted to a portrayal of a funeral ceremony, and of the general aspects of the nether world. There are five distinct divisions, marked off from one another by four heavy lines drawn across the tablet. In the first division appear the symbols of the chief gods of the Assyrian pantheon, Marduk, Nabu, Sin, Ishtar, Shamash, Ramman, etc. These gods, as inhabiting the heaven, are placed at the head of the tablet. Next come seven evil spirits figured as various animals, who, as inferior to the gods, and perhaps also as messengers of the latter, are assigned a place midway between heaven and earth. In the third section, there is pictured the funeral ceremony proper. A dead body lies on a couch. Two rather strange figures, but apparently priests, have taken up a position, one at each end of the funeral bier, performing some rite of purification. One of the priests has a robe of fish scales and is bearded; the other is smooth-faced and clothed in a long garment. Censers are placed near the priests. The latter appear at the same time to be protecting the body against two demons whose threatening gestures suggest that they are endeavoring to secure possession of the dead.

These demons may be the special messengers of the gods of the nether world, who have brought about the death of their victim. Below this scene, we come to a view of the nether world. The division is much larger than any of the others. Two hideous figures dominate the scene; both of fantastic shape, and evidently so portrayed as to suggest the horror of the nether world. One of these figures stands erect in a menacing attitude; the other is resting in a kneeling position on a horse. The second figure is a representation of the chief goddess of the nether world–Allatu. The demon at her side would then be the special messenger of this goddess, Namtar. The goddess has her two arms extended, in the act of strangling a serpent. The act symbolizes her strength. Her face is that of a lioness, and she is suckling two young lions at her breasts. If it be recalled that Nergal, the chief god of the lower world, is also pictured as a lion, it seems but natural to conclude that the monster covering the one side of the tablet is none other than the consort of Allatu, the heads on either side of him representing his attendants. At the left side of Allatu are a series of objects,–a jar, bowl, an arrowhead (?), a trident, which, as being buried with the dead, are symbols of the grave. The goddess and the demon at her side direct their gaze towards these objects.

The nether world reaches down to the Apsu,–the ‘deep’ that flows underneath the earth. This is indicated in the design by placing the horse, on which the goddess rests, in a bark. The bark, again, is of fantastic shape, the one end terminating in the head of a serpent, the other in that of some other animal,–perhaps a bull. The bark reaches into the fifth division, which is a picture of flowing water with fish swimming from the left to the right, as an indication of the direction in which the water flows. At the verge of the water stand two trees. What these trees symbolize is not known, and there are other details in the third and fourth sections that still escape us. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note: (_a_) that the sections represent in a general way the divisions of the universe, the heavens, the atmosphere, the earth, the nether world, and the deep; (_b_) that the nether world is in the interior of the earth, reaching down to Apsu; and (_c_) that this interior is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness.








HEAR the sledges with the bells

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

 In the icy air of night!

While the stars that over sprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells-

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding-bells

Golden bells!

What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight!

From the molten-golden notes,

And all in tune,

What a liquid ditty floats

To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats

On the moon!

Oh, from out the sounding cells,

What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

How it swells!

How it dwells

On the Future!–how it tells

Of the rapture that impels

To the swinging and the ringing

Of the bells, bells, bells

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells

To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

Hear the loud alarum bells–

Brazen bells!

What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

In the startled ear of night

How they scream out their affright!

Too much horrified to speak,

They can only shriek, shriek,

Out of tune,

 In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,

In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,

Leaping higher, higher, higher,

With a desperate desire,

And a resolute endeavor

Now-now to sit, or never,

By the side of the pale-faced moon.

Oh, the bells, bells, bells!

What a tale their terror tells

Of Despair!

How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear, it fully knows,

By the twanging

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet, the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling

And the wrangling,

How the danger sinks and swells,

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells

Of the bells

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells

In the clamour and the clangour of the bells!


Hear the tolling of the bells–

Iron bells!

What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

In the silence of the night,

How we shiver with affright

At the melancholy meaning of their tone!

For every sound that floats

From the rust within their throats

Is a groan.

And the people–ah, the people

They that dwell up in the steeple,

All alone,

And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,

In that muffled monotone,

Feel a glory in so rolling

On the human heart a stone

They are neither man nor woman

They are neither brute nor human

They are Ghouls:

And their king it is who tolls:

And he rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls, Rolls

A paean from the bells!

And his merry bosom swells

With the paean of the bells!

And he dances, and he yells;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the paean of the bells

Of the bells:

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the throbbing of the bells

Of the bells, bells, bells

To the sobbing of the bells:

Keeping time, time, time,

As he knells, knells, knells,

In a happy Runic rhyme,

To the rolling of the bells

Of the bells, bells, bells:

To the tolling of the bells

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells

To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

 Author: Edgar Allen Poe 1849.


Egypt: the burial Mastabas


Between the Fayum and the apex of the Delta, the Lybian range expands and forms a vast and slightly undulating table-land, which runs parallel to the Nile for nearly thirty leagues. The Great Sphinx Harmakhis has mounted guard over its northern extremity ever since the time of the Followers of Horus.

Hewn out of the solid rock at the extreme margin of the mountain-plateau, he seems to raise his head in order that he may be the first to behold across the valley the rising of his father the Sun. Only the general outline of the lion can now be traced in his weather-worn body. The lower portion of the head-dress has fallen, so that the neck appears too slender to support the weight of the head. The cannon-shot of the fanatical Mamelukes has injured both the nose and beard, and the red colouring which gave animation to his features has now almost entirely disappeared. But in spite of this, even in its decay, it still bears a commanding expression of strength and dignity. The eyes look into the far-off distance with an intensity of deep thought, the lips still smile, the whole face is pervaded with calmness and power. The art that could conceive and hew this gigantic statue out of the mountain-side, was an art in its maturity, master of itself and sure of its effects. How many centuries were needed to bring it to this degree of development and perfection!

In later times, a chapel of alabaster and rose granite was erected alongside the god; temples were built here and there in the more accessible places, and round these were grouped the tombs of the whole country. The bodies of the common people, usually naked and un-coffined, were thrust under the sand, at a depth of barely three feet from the surface. Those of a better class rested in mean rectangular chambers, hastily built of yellow bricks, and roofed with pointed vaulting. No ornaments or treasures gladdened the deceased in his miserable resting-place; a few vessels, however, of coarse pottery contained the provisions left to nourish him during the period of his second existence.

Some of the wealthy class had their tombs cut out of the mountain-side; but the majority preferred an isolated tomb, a “mastaba,” [ see NOTE 1] comprising a chapel above ground, a shaft, and some subterranean vaults.

[NOTE 1] “The Arabic word ‘mastaba,’ plur. ‘masatib,’ denotes the stone bench or platform seen in the streets of Egyptian towns in front of each shop. A carpet is spread on the ‘mastaba,’ and the customer sits upon it to transact his business, usually side by side with the seller. In the necropolis of Saqqara, there is a temple of gigantic proportions in the shape of a ‘mastaba.’The inhabitants of the neighbourhood call it ‘Mastabat-el-Faraoun,’ the seat of Pharaoh, in the belief that anciently one of the Pharaohs sat there to dispense justice. The Memphite tombs of the Ancient Empire, which thickly cover the Saqqara plateau, are more or less miniature copies of the ‘Mastabat-el-Faraoun.’Hence the name of mastabas, which has always been given to this kind of tomb, in the necropolis of Saqqara.”

From a distance these chapels have the appearance of truncated pyramids, varying in size according to the fortune or taste of the owner; there are some which measure 30 to 40ft. in height, with a facade 160ft. long, and a depth from back to front of some 80ft., while others attain only a height of some 10ft. upon a base of 16ft. square. [see NOTE 2]

[NOTE 2] The mastaba of Sabu is 175ft. 9in. long, by about 87ft. 9in. deep, but two of its sides have lost their facing; that of Ranimait measures 171ft. 3in. by 84ft. 6in. on the south front, and 100ft. on the north front. On the other hand, the mastaba of Papu is only 19ft. 4in. by 29ft. long, and that of Kmbiuphtah 42ft. 4in. by 21ft. 8in.The walls slope uniformly towards one another, and usually have a smooth surface; sometimes, however, their courses are set back one above the other almost like steps.

The brick mastabas were carefully cemented externally and the layers bound together internally by fine sand poured into the interstices. Stone mastabas, on the contrary, present a regularity in the decoration of their facings alone; in nine cases out of ten the core is built of rough stone blocks, rudely cut into squares, cemented with gravel and dried mud, or thrown together pell-mell without mortar of any kind. The whole building should have been orientated according to rule, the four sides to the four cardinal points, the greatest axis directed north and south; but the masons seldom troubled themselves to find the true north, and the orientation is usually incorrect. [see NOTE 3]

[NOTE 3] Thus the axis of the tomb of Pirsenu is 17deg. east of the  magnetic north. In some cases the divergence is only 1deg. or 2deg., more often it is 6deg., 7deg., 8deg., or 9deg., as can be easily ascertained by consulting the work of Mariette.

The doors face east, sometimes north or south, but never west. One of these is but the semblance of a door, a high narrow niche, contrived so as to face east, and decorated with grooves framing a carefully walled-up entrance; this was for the use of the dead, and it was believed that the ghost entered or left it at will. The door for the use of the living, sometimes preceded by a portico, was almost always characterized by great simplicity. Over it is a cylindrical tympanum, or a smooth flagstone, bearing sometimes merely the name of the dead person, sometimes his titles and descent, sometimes a prayer for his welfare, and an enumeration of the days during which he was entitled to receive the worship due to ancestors. They invoked on his behalf, and almost always precisely in the same words, the “Great God,” the Osiris of Mendes, or else Anubis, dwelling in the Divine Palace, that burial might be granted to him in Amentit, the land of the West, the very great and very good, to him the vassal of the Great God; that he might walk in the ways in which it is good to walk, he the vassal of the Great God; that he might have offerings of bread, cakes, and drink, at the New Year’s Feast, at the feast of Thot, on the first day of the year, on the feast of Uagait, at the great fire festival, at the procession of the god Minu, at the feast of offerings, at the monthly and half-monthly festivals, and every day. The chapel is usually small, and is almost lost in the great extent of the building.[ see NOTE 4] It generally consists merely of an oblong chamber, approached by a rather short passage.[see NOTE 5]

[NOTE 4] Thus the chapel of the mastaba of Sabu is only 14ft. 4in. long, by about 3ft. 3in. deep, and that of the tomb of  Phtahshopsisu, 10ft. 4 in. by 3ft. 7in.

[NOTE 5] The mastaba of Tinti has four chambers, as has also that  of Assi-onkhu; but these are exceptions, as may be  ascertained by consulting the work of Mariette. Most of  those which contain several rooms are ancient one-roomed mastabas, which have been subsequently altered or enlarged; this is the case with the mastabas of Shopsi and of  Ankhaftuka. A few, however, were constructed from the outset with all their apartments–that of Raonkhumai, with six  chambers and several niches; that of Khabiuphtah, with three chambers, niches, and doorway ornamented with two pillars; that of Ti, with two chambers, a court surrounded with pillars, a doorway, and long inscribed passages; and that of Phtahhotpu, with seven chambers, besides niches.

At the far end, and set back into the western wall, is a huge quadrangular stele, at the foot of which is seen the table of offerings, made of alabaster, granite or limestone placed flat upon the ground, and sometimes two little obelisks or two altars, hollowed at the top to receive the gifts mentioned in the inscription on the exterior of the tomb. The general appearance is that of a rather low, narrow doorway, too small to be a practicable entrance. The recess thus formed is almost always left empty; sometimes, however, the piety of relatives placed within it a statue of the deceased. Standing there, with shoulders thrown back, head erect, and smiling face, the statue seems to step forth to lead the double from its dark lodging where it lies embalmed, to those glowing plains where he dwelt in freedom during his earthly life: another moment, crossing the threshold, he must descend the few steps leading into the public hall. On festivals and days of offering, when the priest and family presented the banquet with the customary rites, this great painted figure, in the act of advancing, and seen by the light of flickering torches or smoking lamps, might well appear endued with life. It was as if the dead ancestor himself stepped out of the wall and mysteriously stood before his descendants to claim their homage. The inscription on the lintel repeats once more the name and rank of the dead. Faithful portraits of him and of other members of his family figure in the bas-reliefs on the door-posts.

The little scene at the far end represents him seated tranquilly at table, with the details of the feast carefully recorded at his side, from the first moment when water is brought to him for ablution, to that when, all culinary skill being exhausted, he has but to return to his dwelling, in a state of beatified satisfaction. The stele represented to the visitor the door leading to the private apartments of the deceased; the fact of its being walled up for ever showing that no living mortal might cross its threshold. The inscription which covered its surface was not a mere epitaph informing future generations who it was that reposed beneath. It perpetuated the name and genealogy of the deceased, and gave him a civil status, without which he could not have preserved his personality in the world beyond; the nameless dead, like a living man without a name, was reckoned as non-existing. Nor was this the only use of the stele; the pictures and prayers inscribed upon it acted as so many talismans for ensuring the continuous existence of the ancestor, whose memory they recalled. They compelled the god therein invoked,  whether Osiris or the jackal Anubis, to act as mediator between the living and the departed; they granted to the god the enjoyment of sacrifices and those good things abundantly offered to the deities, and by which they live, on condition that a share of them might first be set aside for the deceased. By the divine favour, the soul or rather the doubles of the bread, meat, and beverages passed into the other world, and there refreshed the human double. It was not, however, necessary that the offering should have a material existence, in order to be effective; the first comer who should repeat aloud the name and the formulas inscribed upon the stone, secured for the unknown occupant, by this means alone, the immediate possession of all the things which he enumerated.

The stele constitutes the essential part of the chapel and tomb. In many cases it was the only inscribed portion, it alone being necessary to ensure the identity and continuous existence of the dead man; often, however, the sides of the chamber and passage were not left bare. When time or the wealth of the owner permitted, they were covered with scenes and writing, expressing at greater length the ideas summarized by the figures and inscriptions of the stele.

Neither pictorial effect nor the caprice of the moment was permitted to guide the artist in the choice of his subjects; all that he drew, pictures or words, bad a magical purpose. Every individual who built for himself an “eternal house,” either attached to it a staff of priests of the double, of inspectors, scribes, and slaves, or else made an agreement with the priests of a neighbouring temple to serve the chapel in perpetuity. Lands taken from his patrimony, which thus became the “Domains of the Eternal House,” rewarded them for their trouble, and supplied them with meats, vegetables, fruits, liquors, linen and vessels for sacrifice.

In theory, these “liturgies” were perpetuated from year to year, until the end of time; but in practice, after three or four generations, the older ancestors were forsaken for those who had died more recently. Notwithstanding the imprecations and threats of the donor against the priests who should neglect their duty, or against those who should usurp the funeral endowments, sooner or later there came a time when, forsaken by all, the double was in danger of perishing for want of sustenance. In order to ensure that the promised gifts, offered in substance on the day of burial, should be maintained throughout the centuries, the relatives not only depicted them upon the chapel walls, but represented in addition the lands which produced them, and the labour which contributed to their production. On one side we see ploughing, sowing, reaping, the carrying of the corn, the storing of the grain, the fattening of the poultry, and the driving of the cattle. A little further on, workmen of all descriptions are engaged in their several trades: shoemakers ply the awl, glassmakers blow through their tubes, metal founders watch over their smelting-pots, carpenters hew down trees and build a ship; groups of women weave or spin under the eye of a frowning taskmaster, who seems impatient of their chatter. Did the double in his hunger desire meat? He might choose from the pictures on the wall the animal that pleased him best, whether kid, ox, or gazelle; he might follow the course of its life, from its birth in the meadows to the slaughter-house and the kitchen, and might satisfy his hunger with its flesh. The double saw himself represented in the paintings as hunting, and to the hunt he went; he was painted eating and drinking with his wife, and he ate and drank with her; the pictured ploughing, harvesting, and gathering into barns, thus became to him actual realities. In fine, this painted world of men and things represented upon the wall was quickened by the same life which animated the double, upon whom it all depended: the “picture” of a meal or of a slave was perhaps that which best suited the “shade” of guest or of master.

Even to-day, when we enter one of these decorated chapels, the idea of death scarcely presents itself: we have rather the impression of being in some old-world house, to which the master may at any moment return. We see him portrayed everywhere upon the walls, followed by his servants, and surrounded by everything which made his earthly life enjoyable. One or two statues of him stand at the end of the room, in constant readiness to undergo the “Opening of the Mouth” and to receive offerings. Should these be accidentally removed, others, secreted in a little chamber hidden in the thickness of the masonry, are there to replace them. These inner chambers have rarely any external outlet, though occasionally they are connected with the chapel by a small opening, so narrow that it will hardly admit of a hand being passed through it. Those who came to repeat prayers and burn incense at this aperture were received by the dead in person. The statues were not mere images, devoid of consciousness. Just as the double of a god could be linked to an idol in the temple sanctuary in order to transform it into a prophetic being, capable of speech and movement, so when the double of a man was attached to the effigy of his earthly body, whether in stone, metal, or wood, a real living person was created and was introduced into the tomb. So strong was this conviction that the belief has lived on through two changes of religion until the present day. The double still haunts the statues with which he was associated in the past. As in former times, he yet strikes with madness or death any who dare to disturb is repose; and one can only be protected from him by breaking, at the moment of discovery, the perfect statues which the vault contains. The double is weakened or killed by the mutilation of these his sustainers. [see NOTE 6]

[ NOTE 6]The legends still current about the pyramids of Gizeh furnish some good examples of this kind of superstition. “The guardian of the Eastern pyramid was an idol… who had  both eyes open, and was seated on a throne, having a sort of halberd near it, on which, if any one fixed his eye, he heard a fearful noise, which struck terror to his heart, and caused the death of the hearer. There was a spirit appointed to wait on each guardian, who departed not from before him.” The keeping of the other two pyramids was in like manner entrusted to a statue, assisted by a spirit. I have collected a certain number of tales resembling that of Mourtadi in the “Etudes de Mythologie et Archeologie Egyptiennes,” vol. i. p. 77, et seq.

The statues furnish in their modelling a more correct idea of the deceased than his mummy, disfigured as it was by the work of the embalmers; they were also less easily destroyed, and any number could be made at will. Hence arose the really incredible number of statues sometimes hidden away in the same tomb. These sustainers or imperishable bodies of the double were multiplied so as to insure for him a practical immortality; and the care with which they were shut into a secure hiding-place, increased their chances of preservation. All the same, no precaution was neglected that could save a mummy from destruction. The shaft leading to it descended to a mean depth of forty to fifty feet, but sometimes it reached, and even exceeded, a hundred feet. Running horizontally from it is a passage so low as to prevent a man standing upright in it, which leads to the sepulchral chamber properly so called, hewn out of the solid rock and devoid of all ornament; the sarcophagus, whether of fine limestone, rose-granite, or black basalt, does not always bear the name and titles of the deceased. The servants who deposited the body in it placed beside it on the dusty floor the quarters of the ox, previously slaughtered in the chapel, as well as phials of perfume, and large vases of red pottery containing muddy water; after which they walled up the entrance to the passage and filled the shaft with chips of stone intermingled with earth and gravel. The whole, being well watered, soon hardened into a compact mass, which protected the vault and its master from desecration.

During the course of centuries, the ever-increasing number of tombs at length formed an almost uninterrupted chain of burying-places on the table-land. At Gizeh they follow a symmetrical plan, and line the sides of regular roads; at Saqqara they are scattered about on the surface of the ground, in some places sparsely, in others huddled confusedly together. Everywhere the tombs are rich in inscriptions, statues, and painted or sculptured scenes, each revealing some characteristic custom, or some detail of contemporary civilization. From the womb, as it were, of these cemeteries, the Egypt of the Memphite dynasties gradually takes new life, and reappears in the full daylight of history. Nobles and fellahs, soldiers and priests, scribes and craftsmen,-the whole nation lives anew before us; each with his manners, his dress, his daily round of occupation and pleasures. It is a perfect picture, and although in places the drawing is defaced and the colour dimmed, yet these may be restored with no great difficulty, and with almost absolute certainty.

The king stands out boldly in the foreground, and his tall figure towers over all else. He so completely transcends his surroundings, that at first sight one may well ask if he does not represent a god rather than a man; and, as a matter of fact, he is a god to his subjects. They call him “the good god,” “the great god,” and connect him with Ra through the intervening kings, the successors of the gods who ruled the two worlds. His father before him was “Son of Ra,” as was also his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, and so through all his ancestors, until from “son of Ra” to “son of Ra” they at last reached Ra himself. Sometimes an adventurer of unknown antecedents is abruptly inserted in the series, and we might imagine that he would interrupt the succession of the solar line; but on closer examination we always find that either the intruder is connected with the god by a genealogy hitherto unsuspected, or that he is even more closely related to him than his predecessors, inasmuch as Ra, having secretly descended upon the earth, had begotten him by a mortal mother in order to rejuvenate the race.[See NOTE 7]

[NOTE 7] A legend, preserved for us in the Westcar Papyrus (Erman’s  edition, pl. ix. 11. 5-11, pl. x. 1. 5, et seq.), maintains that the first three kings of the V dynasty, Usirkaf, Sahuri, and Kakiu, were children born to Ra, lord of Sakhibu, by Ruditdidit, wife of a priest attached to the temple of that town.


TITLE: History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 2

Author: G. Maspero (Edited by A. H. SAYCE, Professor of Assyriology, Oxford)




(A poem of the Borderlands)

 Sir Robert has left his castle ha’, The castle of fair Holmylee,

And gone to meet his Ailie Faa, Where no one might be there to see.

He has sounded shrill his bugle horn, But not for either horse or hound;

And when the echoes away were borne, He listened for a well-known sound.


He hears a rustling among the leaves, Some pattering feet are drawing near;

Like autumn’s breathings among the sheaves, So sweet at eventide to hear:

His Ailie Faa, who is sweeter far Than the white rose hanging upon the tree,

Who is fairer than the fairies are That dance in moonlight on the lea.


Oh! there are some flowers, as if in love, Unto the oak their arms incline;

And tho’ the tree may rotten prove, They still the closer around it twine:

So has it been until this hour, And so in coming time ’twill be,

Wherever young love may hang a flower, ‘Twill think it aye ane trusty tree.


He has led her into a summer bower, For he was fond and she was fain,

And there with all of a lover’s power He whispered that old and fatal strain,

Which those who sing it and those who hear Have never sung and never heard,

But they have shed the bitter tear For every soft delusive word.


He pointed to yon castle ha’, And all its holts so green and fair;

And would not she, poor Ailie Faa, Move some day as a mistress there?

As the parched lea receives the rains, Her ears drank up the sweet melodie;

A gipsy’s blood flowed in her veins, A gipsy’s soul flashed in her eye.


Oh! it’s time will come and time will go, That which has been will be again;

This strange world’s ways go to and fro, This moment joy, the next is pain.

A sough has thro’ the hamlet spread, To Ailie’s ear the tidings came,

That Holmylee will shortly wed A lady fair of noble name.


In yon lone cot adown the Lynne A widowed mother may think it long

Since there were lightsome words within, Since she has heard blithe Ailie’s song.

A gloomy shade sits on Ailie’s brow, At times her eyes flash sudden fires,

The same she had noticed long ago, Deep flashing in her gipsy sire’s.


When the wind at even was low and loun, And the moon paced on in her majesty

Thro’ lazy clouds, and threw adown Her silvery light o’er turret and tree,

Then Ailie sought the green alcove, That place of fond lovers’ lone retreat,

Where she for the boon of gentle love, Had changed the meed of a deadly hate.


She sat upon “the red Lynne stone,” Where she between the trees might see,

By yon pale moon that shone thereon, The goodly turrets of Holmylee.

And as she felt the throbbing pains, And as she heaved the bursting sigh,

A gipsy’s blood burned in her veins, A gipsy’s soul flashed in her eye.


If small the body that thus was moved, So like the form that fairies wear,

It was that slenderness he loved, So tiny a thing he might not fear.

But there is an insect skims the air, Bedecked with azure and green and gold,

Whose sting is a deadlier thing by far Than dagger of yon baron bold.


She sat upon the red Lynne stone, The midnight sky was overcast,

The winds are out with a sullen moan, The angry Lynne is rolling past.

What then? there was no lack of light, Full fifteen windows blazing shone

Up on the castle on the height, While Ailie Faa sat there alone.


For there is dancing and deray In the ancient castle of Holmylee,

And barons bold and ladies gay Are holding high-jinks revelry.

Sir Robert has that day been wed, ‘Midst sounding trumpets of eclat,

And one that night will grace his bed Of nobler birth than Ailie Faa.


Revenge will claim its high command, And Ailie is on her feet erect,

She passes nervously her hand Between her jupe and jerkinet.

“There” lies a charm for woman’s wrong, Concealed where beats the bursting heart,

Which, ere an hour hath come and gone, Will play somewhere a fatal part.


Up in the hall of Holmylee Still sound the revel, the dance, and song,

And through the open doors and free There pours the gay and stately throng;

But of all the knights and barons there, The bridegroom still the foremost stood,

And she the fairest of the fair, The bride who was of noble blood.

It was when feet were tripping The mazes of the dance,

 It was when lips were sipping, The choicest wines of France,

A wild scream rose within the hall, Which pierced the roofen tree,

And in the midst was seen to fall. The Baron of Holmylee.

“To whom belongs this small stilette. By whom our host is slain?”

Between a jupe and jerkinet. That weapon long had lain.

Each on his sword his hand did lay, This way and that they ran;

But she who did the deed is away, Ho! catch her if you can.


TITLE: Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIV. (1884)

Author: Revised by Alexander Leighton

CONTIBUTOR: Callum McCormick


Fairy Rewards (Welsh)


Fairy treasures seen by a Man near Ogwen Lake

Another tale, similar to the preceding one, is told by my friend, Mr. Hugh Derfel Hughes, in his Hynafiaethau Llandegai a Llanllechid, pp. 35, 36.  The following is a translation of Mr. Hughes’s story:-

It is said that a servant man penetrated into the recesses of the mountains in the neighbourhood of Ogwen Lake, and that he there discovered a cave within which there was a large quantity of brazen vessels of every shape and description.  In the joy of his heart at his good fortune, he seized one of the vessels, with the intention of carrying it away with him, as an earnest that the rest likewise were his.

But, alas, it was too heavy for any man to move. Therefore, with the intention of returning the following morning to the cave with a friend to assist him in carrying the vessels away, he closed its month with stones, and thus he securely hid from view the entrance to the cave.  When he had done this it flashed upon his mind that he had heard of people who had accidentally come across caves, just as he had, but that they, poor things, had afterwards lost all traces of them. And lest a similar misfortune should befall him, he determined to place a mark on the mouth of the cave, which would enable him to come upon it again, and also he bethought himself that it would be necessary, for further security, to indicate by some marks the way from his house to the cave.  He had however nothing at hand to enable him to carry out this latter design, but his walking stick.  This he began to chip with his knife, and he placed the chips at certain distances all along the way homewards.  In this way he cut up his staff, and he was satisfied with what he had done, for he hoped to find the cave by means of the chips. Early the next morning he and a friend started for the mountain in the fond hope of securing the treasures, but when they arrived at the spot where the chip-marked pathway ought to begin, they failed to discover a single chip, because, as it was reported-“They had been gathered up by the Fairies.” And thus this vision was in vain.

The author adds to the tale these words:–“But, reader, things are not always to be so.  There is a tradition in the Nant, that a Gwyddel is to have these treasures and this is how it will come to pass.  A Gwyddel Shepherd will come to live in the neighbourhood, and on one of his journeys to the mountain to shepherd his sheep, when fate shall see fit to bring it about, there will run before him into the cave a black sheep with a speckled head, and the Gwyddel shepherd will follow it into the cave to catch it, and on entering, to his great astonishment, he will discover the treasures and take possession of them.  And in this way it will come to pass, in some future age, that the property of the Gwyddelod will return to them.”

The Fairies giving Money to a Man for joining them in their Dance

The following story came to me through the Rev. Owen Jones, Vicar of Pentrevoelas.  The occurrence is said to have taken place near Pentrevoelas. The following are the particulars:

Tomas Moris, Ty’n-y-Pant, returning home one delightful summer night from Llanrwst fair, came suddenly upon a company of Fairies dancing in a ring. In the center of the circle were a number of speckled dogs, small in size, and they too were dancing with all their might.  After the dance came to an end, the Fairies persuaded Tomas to accompany them to Hafod Bryn Mullt, and there the dance was resumed, and did not terminate until the break of day.  Ere the Fairies departed they requested their visitor to join them the following night at the same place, and they promised, if he would do so, to enrich him with gifts of money, but they made him promise that he would not reveal to any one the place where they held their revels.  This Tomas did, and night after night was spent pleasantly by him in the company of his merry newly-made friends.  True to their word, he nightly parted company with them, laden with money, and thus he had no need to spend his days as heretofore, in manual labour.  This went on as long as Tomas Moris kept his word, but alas, one day, he divulged to a neighbour the secret of his riches.  That night, as usual, he went to Hafod Bryn Mullt, but his generous friends were not there, and he noticed that in the place where they were wont to dance there was nothing but cockle shells.

In certain parts of Wales it was believed that Fairy money, on close inspection, would be found to be cockle shells.  Mrs. Hugh Jones, Corlanau, who has already been mentioned, told the writer that a man found a crock filled, as he thought when he first saw it, with gold, but on taking it home he discovered that he had carried home from the mountain nothing but cockle shells.  This Mrs. Jones told me was Fairy money.

The Fairies rewarding a Woman for taking care of their Dog

Mention has already been made of Fairy Dogs.  It would appear that now and again these dogs, just like any other dogs, strayed from home; but the Fairies were fond of their pets, and when lost, sought for them, and rewarded those mortals who had shown kindness to the animals.  For the following tale I am indebted to the Rev. Owen Jones.

One day when going home from Pentrevoelas Church, the wife of Hafod y Gareg found on the ground in an exhausted state a Fairy dog.  She took it up tenderly, and carried it home in her apron.  She showed this kindness to the poor little thing from fear, for she remembered what had happened to the wife of Bryn Heilyn, who had found one of the Fairy dogs, but had behaved cruelly towards it, and consequently had fallen down dead.  The wife of Hafod y Gareg therefore made a nice soft bed for the Fairy dog in the pantry, and placed over it a brass pot.  In the night succeeding the day that she had found the dog, a company of Fairies came to Hafod y Gareg to make inquiries after it.  The woman told them that it was safe and sound, and that they were welcome to take it away with them.  She willingly gave it up to its masters.  Her conduct pleased the Fairies greatly, and so, before departing with the dog, they asked her which she would prefer, a clean or a dirty cow?  Her answer was, “A dirty one.” And so it came to pass that from that time forward to the end of her life, her cows gave more milk than the very best cows in the very best farms in her neighbor-hood.  In this way was she rewarded for her kindness to the dog, by the Fairies.


TITLE: Welsh Folk-Lore (1887)

BY: Elias Owen


The Hidden Golden Chair



It is a good many years since Mrs. Mary Jones, Corlanau, Llandinorwig, Carnarvonshire, told me the following tale.  The scene of the story is the unenclosed mountain between Corlanau, a small farm, and the hamlet, Rhiwlas.  There is still current in those parts a tale of a hidden golden chair, and Mrs. Jones said that it had once been seen by a young girl, who might have taken possession of it, but unfortunately she did not do so, and from that day to this it has not been discovered. The tale is this:

There was once a beautiful girl, the daughter of poor hardworking parents, who held a farm on the side of the hill, and their handsome industrious daughter took care of the sheep.  At certain times of the year she visited the sheep-walk daily, but she never went to the mountain without her knitting needles, and when looking after the sheep she was always knitting stockings, and she was so clever with her needles that she could knit as she walked along.  The Fairies who lived in those mountains noticed this young woman’s good qualities.  One day, when she was far from home, watching her father’s sheep, she saw before her a most beautiful golden chair. She went up to it and found that it was so massive that she could not move it.  She knew the Fairy-lore of her neighbor-hood, and she understood that the Fairies had, by revealing the chair, intended it for her, but there she was on the wild mountain, far away from home, without anyone near to assist her in carrying it away.

And often had she heard that such treasures were to be taken possession of at once, or they would disappear forever.  She did not know what to do, but all at once she thought, if she could by attaching the yarn in her hand to the chair connect it thus with her home, the chair would be hers’ forever.  Acting upon this suggestion she forthwith tied the yarn to the foot of the chair, and commenced unrolling the ball, walking the while homewards. But long before she could reach her home the yarn in the ball was exhausted; she, however, tied it to the yarn in the stocking which she had been knitting, and again started towards her home, hoping to reach it before the yarn in the stocking would be finished, but she was doomed to disappointment, for that gave out before she could arrive at her father’s house.  She had nothing else with her to attach to the yarn. She, however, could now see her home, and she began to shout, hoping to gain the ear of her parents, but no one appeared. In her distress she fastened the end of the yarn to a large stone, and ran home as fast as she could.  She told her parents what she had done, and all three proceeded immediately towards the stone to which the yarn had been tied, but they failed to discover it. The yarn, too, had disappeared.

They continued a futile search for the golden chair until driven away by the approaching night.  The next day they renewed their search, but all in vain, for the girl was unable to find the spot where she had first seen the golden chair. It was believed by everybody that the Fairies had not only removed the golden chair, but also the yarn and stone to which the yarn had been attached, but people thought that if the yarn had been long enough to reach from the chair to the girl’s home then the golden chair would have been hers’ forever.

Such is the tale. People believe the golden chair is still hidden away in the mountain, and that someday or other it will be given to those for whom it is intended.  But it is, they say, no use anyone looking for it, as it is not to be got by searching, but it will be revealed, as if by accident, to those fated to possess it.


TITLE: Welsh Folk-Lore (1887)

BY: Elias Owen


Druids: C. Julius Caesars perspective



During Caesars’ fight for the control of Gaul he finally came to the understanding, that the one unifying force of the Celts was their religion. The Druid held a promenade place in Celtic society, they administered as judges and advisors amongst other duties. The following are exerts from his communiqués to Rome concerning the progress and his perspective on the war. Caesar acknowledged their power and authority and decided to discredit and destroy the Druids, in an effort to complete his conquest of Gaul.

Book VI (53BCE) Customs of the Gauls:

Chapter 13

“The two privileged classes are the Druids and the knights. The Druids are in charge of Religion. They have control over public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions. Large numbers of young men go to them for instruction, and they are greatly honoured by the people.

In almost all disputes, between communities or between individuals, the Druids act as judges. If a crime is committed, if there is a murder, or if there is dispute about an inheritance or a boundary, they are the ones who give a verdict and decide on the punishment or compensation appropriate in each case. Any individual or community not abiding by their verdict is banned from the sacrifices, and this is regarded among the Gaul’s as the most severe punishment. Those who are banned in this way are reckoned as sacrilegious criminals. Every one shuns them: no one will go near or speak to them for fear of being contaminated in some way by contact with them. If they make any petitions there is no justice for them, and they are excluded from any position of importance.

There is one Druid who is above all the rest, with supreme authority over them. When he dies, he is succeeded by whichever of the others is most distinguished. If there are several of equal distinction, the Druids decide by vote, though sometimes they even fight to decide who will be their leader.

On a fixed date each year they assemble in a consecrated place in the territory of the Carnutes: that area is supposed to be the center of the whole country of the Gaul. People who have disputes to settle assemble there from all over the country and accept the judgements of the Druids.

It is thought that the doctrine of the Druids was invented in Britain and was brought from there into Gaul; even today those who want to study the doctrine in greater detail usually go to Britain to learn there. (Note: Referring to the Isle of Mona)

The Druids are exempt from military service (NOTE: a misconception on this part, there were Druid warriors) and do not pay taxes like the rest. Such significant privileges attract many students, some of whom come of their own accord to be taught, while others are sent by parents and relatives.

It is said that during their training they learn by heart a great many verses, so many that some people spend 20 years studying the doctrine. They do not think it right to commit their teachings to writing, although for almost all other purposes, for example, for public and private accounts, they use the Greek alphabet. I suppose this practice began originally  for two reasons: they did not want their doctrines to be accessible to the ordinary people, and they did not want their pupils to to rely on the written word and so neglect to train their memories. (NOTE: The Greeks mention a northern peoples called the ‘Keltori’, the Macedonians even signed a treaty with them) For it does usually happen that if people have the help of written documents, they do not pay as much attention to learning by heart, and so let their memories become less efficient.

The Druids attach particular importance to the belief that the soul does not perish but passes after death from one body to another; they think that belief is the most effective way to encourage bravery because it removes the fear of death. They hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their movements, about the size of the universe and the earth, about the nature of the physical world, and about the power and properties of the immortal gods, subjects in which they also give instruction to their pupils. ….”


TILE: The Battle for Gaul (De Bello Gallico) 1980

BY: Ann & Peter Wiseman

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan