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Landmarks of the Druids page 2

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The most renowned are the fields of standing stones at Carnac in Brittany, but there is also a remarkable example in Scotland. This is the Many Stanes at Clyth in Caithness; it consists of twenty-two rows of smallish stones about three feet in height. There are over 400 of these stones still standing on the site, and they are disposed on the slope of a hill; the rows are 150 feet in length and diverge as they descend the hill; thus at the bottom they cover a frontage of 188 feet, but at the top they have a frontage of 118 feet only.

There are many other sites scattered all over Great Britain that have been called druidic, and among these is Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, one mile south of Avebury. This is 130 feet in height, the largest artificial mound in Europe, and its purpose and age are as yet unknown. Various smaller mounds, the tumuli or funeral barrows of our down-lands, are also called druidic, though in a large proportion of the examples that could be cited it is known that they cover the graves of a folk who lived many hundreds of years before the druids. In no instance is there any tradition of druidic origin that can be traced back beyond the eighteenth century, and nothing is to be gained by a repetition of these druidic associations if they are only relatively modern inventions.

This is a very disappointing result, but if we remember that the classical evidence suggests quite plainly that the druids worshipped in groves, there is, after all, nothing surprising in the fact that none of their temples can now be identified with certainty. The great difficulty is that we know so little about the druids, and that we have no dependable tradition to help us in reconstructing their story.

There is, however, one legend in Irish literature that seems to connect the druids with a stone circle, and that is contained in an early Life of St. Patrick; it concerns an event that took place near the modern Ballymagauran in County Cavan in Ireland. Here stood the chief idol of Ireland, Cromm Cruaich, and this was surrounded by a ring of twelve smaller idols; it is described as the scene of druidic worship, and it witnessed a mighty conflict between St. Patrick and the druids.

In the end, Patrick threatened the main idol so effectively that it was permanently branded with the mark of his stave. This sounds very much as though the legend is an attempt to explain the existence of a stone circle with a central standing stone, and it is clear, therefore, that in the ninth century, the probable date of this Life, such remains were connected with the druids. This is, of course, very far from being proof that the druids really did worship at such places, but it shows that it is not altogether an extravagant notion to suppose so.

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