[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 1 pp216/221]



How beautiful is the illuminated Manx landscape on a calm and serene May eve (OS.) ! The bright, flickering May-fires are allied to superstitions of past ages, and are doubtless modifications of a former custom. If we could trace them to their origin we should, I believe, find it in the funeral piles, when the ancient inhabitants, clad in the skins of wild sheep, dwelt in their circular huts on Meayll and Sloc, or on the breast of Sniaul. These fires take us mentally back to those distant barbarous times, when the Gael Erinagh, the Gael-Albanagh, and the Gael-Manninagh, in their respective territories, exercised their pagan rites. They point to a period long anterior to the hostile and cruel invasions of Scandinavian Vikings and Orrys — times when the Gàilig, or Erse language, was spoken in its original purity and beauty.

In connection with the Manx May-fires are the cross of the mountain ash or cuirn, worn as an amulet, and the golden flowers of the Marsh-Marigold (caltha palustris) strewed over the entrances and floors of cottages, and of the out-offices of farms. The fires were supposed by the Manx , peasantry to burn the wizards and witches, while the cuirn cross and the leaves and flowers of the caltha were deemed to possess a charm against the supernatural powers of enchanters and mountain hags.

The Manx word for May is Boaldyn, and laa Boaldyn denotes May-day. The word appears in the other Erse dialects, under the forms Bealltain and Bealltuinn. Some writers affirm that this word is a form of Beiltein = Belus’s or Baal’s fire, and hold that the worship of Baal, the Phoenician deity, obtained, at one period, in the British Isles and in the North of Europe. I am unable to arrive at the conclusion that Baal-worship prevailed in these countries.

Dr. Kelly apparently entertained a firm belief in the existence of Baal worship among the ancient Gaels. In his "Manx and English Dictionary," he gives Baal as a Manx word signifying " Baal, Apollo, the Sun, Beel, Bel, or Bol," who, he alleges, was "god of the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Samaritans, and Carthaginians, as well as of the Irish, Erse, Manx, and all the Celtic tribes." He, therefore, defines Baaltinn (laa), May-day, as the day of Baal’s fire, or of the sun ; from tinn=celestial fire, and Baal, the god Baa!, or the sun. Dr. Kelly has, moreover, ingeniously endeavoured to shew that other Manx words are derived from the name of the Phoenician deity, and indicate the worship of the sun as Baal.

In reference to the Manx word grian=sun, he remarks, "The sun was anciently worshipped by the Celts, under the name Bel, Beal, Baal, or Beul, and by the Greeks under the name Apollo, which differs very little in sound. He (Apollo) was called Grian, from grianey or griunagh=to bask, heat, or scorch ; which word was Latinised into Grymnus and Grannus, which became a classic epithet of Apollo."

The alleged derivation of Grynaeus from the Erse word grian=sun, few antiquaries, I think, will be prepared to adopt. It is more probable that Apollo derived the epithet from the Town of Gryneum, where he is said to have had a temple. It is, moreover, doubtful that Apollo and the sun were identical. Dr. Lempriere says, " Apollo has been taken for the sun, but it may be proved by different passages in the ancient writers that Apollo, the Sun, Phoebus, and Hyperion, were all different characters and deities though confounded together. When once Apollo was addressed as the Sun, and represented with a crown of rays on his head, the idea was adopted by every writer, and thence arose the mistake."

Dr. Kelly derives the word Tynwald from Tinn-vaal, signifying he says, " The fire of Baal—the place of the fire or altar of Baal." We are, however, now pretty well assured that the Tynwald is of Scandinavian introduction. The name may be from the Danish thing=a court, and vold=a mound of earth, i.e., the court on the mound ; or, according to Professor Munch, "from the old Norwegian denomination of Thing völlr=field of the thing, or parliament." (Chron. of Man, vol. i , p. 31.)

The Manx name for the mugwort (artemisia vulgaris), as given by Dr. Kelly, is bollan-feail-oin. This word is also written by him Bollan-feail-oin, which he translates "an, a chaplet, Baal of Baal, feailly on the feast, Eoin of John."

It is not probable that chaplets of the mugwort were ever worn on St. John’s day. Pieces of the plant were indeed worn on the dress or in the hat. The syllable an, which according to Dr. Kelly denotes a ring or chaplet, can only be supposed to bear this meaning in case the first syllable Bol be deemed a modification of the name Baal ; but the syllable an which he translates chaplet, if this meaning can be attached to it, is an element of the Latin annulus = a ring, and, therefore, comparatively of modern introduction into the Erse.

There are in Dr. Kelly’s Dictionary, about thirty-six words which have the prefix Bol, and it would be exceedingly irrational to refer its origin in everyone of these words to Baal-worship. It seems very unlikely that bollan is a cognate of Baal. Bollan-doo is the name of a plant which Dr. Kelly somewhat indefinitely calls "the burrs." As doo means black, this plant may be said to be the black bollan. This is one species or variety. The other is the bollan-feail-eoin, the bollan used at the feast of John. Bollan seems to mean a covering, a hood, a nipple. The term may, possibly, have been applied to these plants from some peculiar formation of their leaves or flowers. I observe Cregeen does not in his Dictionary give bollan-feail-eoin as the name of the mugwort, but gives bossan-fealoin as its name. Bossan means wort, weed, herb, and can surely have no affinity to Baal.

The learned antiquary Sven Nilsson, Emeritus Professor of Zoology in the University of Lund, Sweden, propounded, some years ago, an hypothesis which excited much interest. He held that certain sculpturings on stones in Scandinavia were of Phoenician origin, and indicated Baal-worship. Hence he concluded that, during a remote era, the Phoenicians had settlements in Scandinavian.1 The carvings on stones from the celebrated Kivik, or Bredarör, cairn were especially pointed out by Professor Nilsson as belonging to the bronze age, and as indicative of the worship of the Sun-god. It is now, however, generally believed that the historical representations which they contain are far more probably the work of some ancient neighbouring tribe. Professor Sir J. Y. Simpson, referring to these carvings, says, "I believe that the historical figures answer much better to the accounts which we have of the customs of the neighbouring ancient Cimbri, than to any account which we have of the Phoenicians A nation of the Cimbri seems to have been fixed from the time of Pythias at least (350 B.C.), down to the time of the Roman Emperors, in the modern kingdom of Jutland or Denmark." (Archaic Sculpturings, p. 88.)

The stones in the Kivik monument have been prettily figured by Sir James Y. Simpson. I have not space to mention all the designs represented on them, but a few may be detailed. On one is represented a warrior in his chariot drawn by a pair of horses, preceded apparently by three prisoners, with their hands tied behind their backs, who are guarded by a man holding a raised sword. On the same stone are eight figures, supposed by Professor Nilsson to represent priests. It has been suggested, however, that they may represent women. On another of the stones are the carvings of two bronze axes, between which is placed a conical figure which Professor Nilsson affirms to be a symbol of Baal ; but which is supposed by some antiquaries to represent the point of a spear. On a third stone are exhibited two lineal circles each quartered by two lines forming a cross. On this stone are also cut two ornamented crescents. In the crossed circles and in the Crescents, Professor Nilsson believes he sees emblems of the Sun-god and Moon-goddess. From the vertical position of the horns of the crescents, however, I venture to suggest, they may represent ships. Crossed or quartered circles, or discs, have been found on a stone in a kist in Cumberland.

Rawlinson, in his " Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World," gives numerous symbols of the ancient eastern sun-worshippers. Only one of these symbols approaches in similarity any of those exhibited on the Kivik stones, and that is the crossed circle.

No writer is better acquainted with ancient lapidary sculpturings than was Sir James Y. Simpson, who was opposed to the theory that the carvings on the Kivik stones were symbols of Baal worship. In reference to the symbols connected with eastern sun-worship, and described by Rawlinson, Sir James says, " None of these symbols correspond with the archaic con-centric ring and cup carvings upon our stones and rocks—another additional argument, if any were necessary, against the idea of their being symbolic of Baal, and connected with sun-worship. The crossed circle is common. as we have seen on Scandinavian stones, &c. ; and northern archaeologists, as Nilsson, may hold it, when so found, to be a symbol of Baal ; but it has not been found, with one exception alluded to, upon the sculptured rocks and stones in this country. On the other hand, we have the central cup and surrounding ring and the crossed disc forming the letter " 0 " and " Theta" in the Phoenician, Greek, and other old alphabets. But the absence of any other type or letter proves that, as seen on our stones, they are unconnected with the idea of writing ; and no letters, as far as I know, show concentric circles."

It has already been stated that the figures on the Kivik stones have been referred by Nilsson to the bronze age. Experience, however, shows that such figures as are there represented do not belong to that era. Sir John Lubbock, in alluding to the ornamentation of that peiod, says : "This almost always consists of geometrical figures, and we rarely, if ever, find. representations of animals and plants."

According to Professor Nilsson, " The festival of Baal, or Balder, was, until within the last 50 years, celebrated on midsummer-night in Scania, and far up in Norway, almost to the Loffoden Islands. A wood fire was made upon a hill or mountain, and the people of the neighbourhood gathered together, in order, like Baal’ prophets of old, to dance round it, shouting and singing. The midsummer-night-fire has even retained in some parts the ancient name of Balder’s-bal, or Balder’s-fire." The fires here described are, doubtless, similar to the Manx May-fires. It is not improbable that the names Balder’s-bal and Balder’s-fire were originally formed from a mistaken association of these fires with the sacrificial fires of the Phoenician god, Baal, and a mistaken identification of Balder with Baal.

Professor Nilsson identifies the prefix in the names of several Scandinavian localities with the name of Baal, e.g., the Baltic, the Great and Little Belt, Belt-berga, Baleshaugen, Balestranden, &c. It is not easy to believe that these names have any affinity to the name Baal. The syllable "Bait" in Baltic is doubtless synonymous with " belt " It is from the Latin balteum—belt or girdle. (See Dr. Charnock’s Local Etymology.) The Anglo-Saxon belt, Swedish bait, and Danish bailte, in common with the English word " belt " severally signify a girdle. As to the prefix in Bales-haugen or Balestranden, it is found in local names in many countries, and has various meanings.

Baal is said to have been worshipped under the emblem of an ox or a bull. (Index and Dict. to the Bible.) The worship of this idol is associated with all the horrors and atrocities of barbarous idolatry. Supposed to be appeased by human holocausts, children were burned as offerings to the odious deity. (11 Kings xxiii, 10 ; Jer. vii, 31.) We learn that there was, in the valley of the Son of Hinnom, on the east side of Jerusalem, a spot where human sacrifices to the god were continually performed—a spot named Tophet, from the Hebrew Toph = a drum, for drums were sounded to drown the cries of agony proceeding from the burning victims. It is interesting to note that Tophet after the abolition of Baal worship there, was made a receptacle of filth and ordure, so as to perpetuate the disgust and abomination which attached to it ; and a fire was kept continually burning in it " to prevent putrifaction.’ The valley of the Son of Hinnom then acquired the name Valley of Slaughter. From Ge Hinnom is derived the Greek word Gèena=Hell.

Is Balder identical with Baal ? His attributes are surely very different from those of Baal. Balder is represented as a young and charming deity, beautiful as the most exquisite of lilies, the god of eloquence, and the beneficent dispenser of light, from whose name is derived baldrian, Danish appellation for the odorous valerian. He is thus described by a modern writer :—"Balder, the youthful and beautiful god of eloquence and just decision, the innocent who appears brilliant as the lily, and in honour ol whom the whitest flower received the name Baldrian. His wife Nanna daughter of Gewar, looks with modest admiration at the mind of her husband She bears Forfete, the god of concord, who resembles the rainbow when it descends from the dark clouds." (Pop. Ency. Art. "Northern Mythology.")

Dr. Hermann Masius alludes to Balder as " the youthful god of spring," and gives the following account of him :—" Balder, the son of Odin anc Frigga, the beneficent giver of light, the champion of the friendly gods in the struggle with the powers of darkness ‘ He will fall,’ so it is declared in the prophetic utterances of the Nornen. Hereupon, Frigga demands an oath from all that exists on the globe—from the plants, the animals, and from stones, from fire, water, and from the air—that none of them injure Balder The anxious heart of the mother only forgot the mistletoe, sprouting as it does in concealment. Loki, the Evil One, discovers this, and maliciously persuade. Balder’s own brother, the blind Hödr, to shoot at Balder with, a shaft of mistletoe. The prophecy is then fulfilled : Balder falls. Balder is symbolical of the bright sunlight, that gradually dies away as the fair season passes.

Loki is darkness, and the fatal mistletoe is chosen by him, because this plant outlives the winter." ("Studies from Nature," Boner’s Trans., p. 168.)

Longfellow’s description is worth quoting :—

" Balder the beautiful,
God of the summer sun,
Fairest of all the Gods!
Light from his forehead beamed,
Runes were upon his tongue,
As on the warrior’s sword."

If the distinctive attributes ascribed respectively to Baal and Balder be correct, these deities cannot, I think, be identical.

It seems impossible that the worship of the sun, as Baal, could have been adopted by the ancient Gaels. In all the dialects of the Erse, grian denotes the sun ; and in all these dialects the word is feminine. The sun therefore, if a deity of the Gaels, must, I presume, have been a female deity or goddess, and worshipped as such.

The name Baal is not mentioned by Cregeen,who gives in his dictionary Laa-Boaldyn= May-day. So far from ascribing the origin of the word boaldyn to the god Baal, he says, " The etymology of this word is not well. known. Some say it is derived from boal = a wall, and teine = fire, Irish, in reference to going round the walls or fences with fire on the eve of this day others, that it is derived fiom Laa-bwoailtchyn, the day cattle or sheep are first put to the fold ; others, a corruption of blieauntyn, ‘ the month of three milkings,’ as the Saxons call this month."

Cregeen gives the word Boayldin, as the name attached respectively to two valleys in the Island, and observes, " They are no doubt so called from their low situation, as boayldowin, a low place."

If the first syllable of Boaldyn be really a corruption of Baal, it is remarkable that the fact should not have been noticed by Cregeen—a learned and astute investigator of the Manx idiom of the Erse, and who has left behind him an able and a profound philological work—a work perhaps more philosophical. and, in some respects, more erudite than that of Dr. Kelly's Between 800 and 1000 words have been added by its editor, the Rev. William Gill, late Vicar of Malew, to Kelly’s dictionary, from that of Cregeen.of course, Cregeen had never seen Dr. Kelly’s vocabulary ; for though it had been written before, it was not published until after Cregeen’s death Cregeen had, however, seen and made extensive use of Kelly’s Manx Grammar,

That Baal-worship ever obtained in the British Islands or in Scandinavia is exceedingly improbable. Indeed, it is very questionable whether the voyages of the Phoenicians or Carthaginians extended to Britain. It has been assumed that the Phoenicians, between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago traded with the Britons, and that they took from mines in the area now known as Cornwall large quantities of tin. If the Phoenicians ever had settlements in that area, the appropriation of the name Baal might be expected to be discovered in the ancient and dead Cornish tongue. But, as far as I have been able to ascertain, no verbal indication of this deity is found in it.

Strabo seems to have included under the term Phoenicians the inhabitants of Carthage, of Tyre, and of Sidon. The Cassiterides, or Tin Islands from the Greek kassiteros=tin or pewter, whence these navigators are also supposed to have procured tin, have not with certainty been identified. It has been suggested that they are the Scilly Islands or the Cornish peninsula. It is the opinion of Dr. Nuttall that "no proofs of the Phoenicians having worked mines " in the Scilly Islands or Cornwall "can be brought forward (Class and Arch Dict , s v , Tin ) Sir Cornewall Lewis, in his " Historical Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients," denounces the Ancient voyages of the Carthagiflian Himilco2 and of the Massilian navigator Pytheas as myths. His opinion is that the Phoenicians did not sail as far as the British Isles, but only as far as the mouth of the Rhone, and that the metal in which they traded was transported front Britain across Gaul.

I have already suggested that our May-fires and the Midsummer-fires may have originated in the funeral piles, during the practice of cremation. Dr. Jamieson says, "Among the ancient Scandinavians and Caledonians the words bael, baal , bail, bayle, &c., denoted a funeral pile, or the blaze therefrom." (Scottish Dictionary.) In the Danish language, baal signifies " a pile of wood." This word baal is, apparently, identical with the prefix boal in Boaldyn, or baal in Baaltinn. If it be so, Boaldyn or Baaltinn probably denotes the fiery or blazing pile, on which the dead body was consumed. It is easy to imagine that, in early Christian times, these fires became associated with the eastern Baal-fires. Dr. Lathom, in an editorial note to Dr. Prichard’s " Origin of the Celtic Nations," p. 75, says :—" There were certain habits and superstitions among the Celts, which put the comparative mythologists in mind of things Semitic ; eg, the Beltane or Midsummer-day-fire, in the Highlands of Scotland, incontinently got compared with the fire-worship of the Phoenician Baal."

Upon the introduction of Christianity into these Islands, after the practice of burning the dead had ceased, a certain superstition respecting the mysterious power of fire may have continued to exist among the Christian converts. To gratify or allay this superstition, fires, on special occasions, may have been lighted on the mountains, or in other elevated positions. The name baal-tinn perhaps originally given to a burning funeral pile may have been also applied to a fire of this kind.

 * This paper has been substituted for one on the same subject, read, by the author, before the Society, on the 3rd November, 1887, and is treated as a new contribution.

1 Skandinaviska Nordens ur-invånare. Af. S. Nilsson, Stockholm, 1860.

2, The writings of Himilco are unfortunately lost. The only existing account of his Voyage from Gades (Cadiz) to the Tin Islands is given by Avienus in his poem, "Ora Maritima."


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