Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Avebury Chapter I

Avebury Chapter I is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

Of the origin of Druid or patriarchal temples, with publick religion and celebration of the sabbath. They were made of rude stones set upright in the ground, round in form, and open. In hot countries, groves were planted about them. Abraham practised it, and from him our Druids. Of the quality of evidence, in matters of such antiquity. The patriarchs had a knowledge of the nature of the Deity to be adored, subsisting in distinct personalities: which is even deducible from human reason. The Druids had the same knowledge, as appears by their works. The first publick practice of religion was called, invoking in the name of Jehovah, the mediator.

THE writers on antiquities generally find more difficulty, in so handling the matter, as to render it agreeable to the reader, than in most other subjects. Tediousness in any thing is a fault, more so in this than other sciences. 'Tis an offence, if either we spend much time in a too minute description of things, or enter upon formal and argumentative proofs, more than the nature of such accounts will well bear. Nevertheless the dignity of the knowledge of antiquities, will always insure a sufficient regard for this very considerable branch of learning, as long as there is any taste or learning left in the world. And indeed we may in short ask, what is all learning, but the knowledge of antiquities? a recalling before us the acquirements in wisdom, and the deeds of former times. But the way of writing well upon them, as I conceive, is so to lay the things together, to put2 them in such attitude, such a light, as gains upon the affection and faith of the reader, in proceeding; without a childish pointing out every particular, without a syllogistical proving, or mathematical demonstration of them: which are not to be sought for in the case. The subject of antiquities must be drawn out with such strong lines of verisimilitude, and represented in so lively colours, that the reader in effect sees them, as in their first ages: And either brings them down to modern times, or raises himself, in the scale of time, as if he lived when they were made. Then we may truly say with the poet,

Scilicet antiquis proficiscitur inde venustas, Quod, tanquam nova sint, qui legit illa, legat.

[Of course, the beauty of the ancients starts from there, Which, as if they were new, he who reads them, reads them.]

In endeavouring to keep up to such a rule, I must advertise the reader of the general purport of this volume. It may be said to consist of four parts. Three are descriptions of the three kinds of Druid temples, or we may call them patriarchal temples, which I have observed in Britain. The fourth will be reflexions upon them, as to their antiquity and origin; the founders of such in the more early ages of the world, and in the more oriental countries. And tho' in writing the descriptive part of these heads, (which I did on the spot, and with great leisure) my papers swelled to an enormous bulk; and it was necessary for my own right understanding the antiquities: yet I shall shorten them exceedingly, in delivering the work to the publick. In doing this, I shall be very much helped by the engraven designs which at one view give the reader a better notion of the things, than the most elaborate descriptions. Likewise in that part of the work wherein I reason upon these temples, and trace out the vestiges of such as are recorded to us by the learned authors of antiquity now preserved, I shall barely lay the appearances of things together; the relation between these monuments we now see with our eyes, and the accounts of such-like (as I take them) which I find in those authors to have been from oldest time. I shall leave the reader to form his judgment from such evidence, without endeavouring to force his assent with fancied proofs, which will scarce hold good, in matters of so remote an age.

After what I have said in my former volume on STONEHENGE, which carries our ideas concerning these antiquities, up to the very earliest times of the world; I may venture to discourse a little ex priori, concerning the origin of temples in general. And this will open my purpose concerning the three first heads of this book: the three different kinds of the Druid or patriarchal temples in the Britannic isles. If we desire to know any thing of a matter so very remote, as in all other affairs of antiquity, we must necessarily have recourse to the Bible. And I apprehend, it is mentioned in that passage Genesis IV. the last verse; "and to Seth, to him also there was born a son, and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the NAME of the LORD."

I observe on this passage, the gloss in our English Bibles is thus, to call themselves by the name of the LORD, which is very erroneous: themselves is a mere interpolation; and would we translate it truly, it ought to be, to call in the name of Jehovah; rather, to invoke in the name of Jehovah. Vatablus turns it, then began the name of Jehovah to be invoked. The jewish writers generally take this passage to mean the origin of idolatry, as if it imported, then began men to profane the Name, by calling themselves therewith. And our great Selden drops into that opinion. But 3was it probable, the divine historian would have been so careful to commemorate an epoch so disagreeable? or to what purpose, even before he had so much as mentioned any publick form of true religion? the very wording of that verse imports somewhat very remarkable, which he was going to declare, "and to Seth, to him also there was born a son, and he called his name Enos: then began men to invoke in the name of Jehovah."

1724. View of the Temple of Rowldrich [Map] from the South.

In understanding this verse aright, we must certainly affirm that Moses intended hereby, to assert the practice of publick religion; which necessarily includes two things, the origin of temples, and the sabbatical observance. For in all publick actions, time and place are equally necessary. In the generation, or days of Enos, grandson of Adam, when mankind were multiplyed into distinct families; besides private and family devotion, the publick worship of God was introduced in places set apart for that purpose, and on sabbath days. Publick worship necessarily implies all this.

Many and great authorities confirm this understanding of the words, as well as the reason of things. The Targum of Onkelos, Aquila's translation. Rabbi Elieser in Maase Bereschit XXII. R. Salomon Jarchi, the Chaldee paraphrast. Vossius in comm. on Maimonides de idololatria. And very many more, too tedious to be recited.

Try the place by other like expressions in scripture, and we find, it amounts to the same thing. Genes. xii. 8. Abram builded an altar unto Jehovah, and invoked in the name of Jehovah. So it ought to be translated. This was the second altar he built in Canaan, being the second place he settled at, near Bethel. In the preceding verse, we have an account of his first settling at Sichem, and of Jehovah appearing to him personally and conversing with him: and of his building an altar to that Jehovah, who appeared unto him. But I think there is so little difficulty in it, that 'tis needless to multiply authorities or argumentations: yet the importance of it demanded thus much.

Here three things most evidently appear, 1. Jehovah was that person in the deity, who appeared visibly and discoursed with the patriarchs, not the invisible supreme. 2. That Abram erected an altar to this divine person Jehovah, worshipped him, and invoked in his name. Invoked whom? the supreme unquestionably, i. e. prayed to the supreme Being, in the name, virtue, effect, and merit of Jehovah, the mediatorial deity. The word NAME, in these passages of scripture, means the mediatorial deity, JEHOVAH by name: Ὁ Θεος Επιφανης, the God who appeared personally to the patriarchs, who was the king of the Mosaic dispensation, and of the Jewish people, called the anointed or Messiah, 1 Sam. ii. 10, 35. he was the captain of the Israelites, that conducted them from Egypt to Canaan, Exod. xxiii. 20. the royal angel, the king, emperor. The angel of his face or presence, Isaiah lxiii. 9. the angel of the covenant, Malachi iii. 1. Melech Jehovah the angelick king, Zechar. iii. 1, 2, 3, 4. he is very God: for, says the supreme, in the before quoted passage in Exodus, behold I send an angel before thee (the angel, it ought to be read) to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him and obey his voice, provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my NAME is in him. This same way of speaking Joshua uses, Josh. xxiv. 19. Ye cannot serve Jehovah; for he is a holy deity, he is a jealous God, he will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins. The Jews confess this doctrine to be just. Rabbi Hadersan upon that passage in Zephaniah iii. 9. to call upon the NAME of Jehovah, says, this Jehovah is no other than Messiah. All this shews the patriarchs had a knowledge of the true nature of the deity, and that the Christian or mediatorial religion is the first and the last. And when men were quite deviated from the first, the Mosaic dispensation was but an intervening vail upon the effulgence and spirituality of true religion for a time, to reduce them to it, in the actual advent of the Messiah. 3. These altars, as they are here called, were the patriarchal temples like those of our druids, the places of publick worship; and invoking in the name of Jehovah, is a form of speech importing publick worship on sabbath days: equivalent to our saying, to go to church on sundays. Whence Servius on the Æneid III. v. 85. writes, in the most ancient manner of worshipping, they only prayed directly to the deity, without offering sacrifice. And thus I apprehend, we are to understand Herodotus II. where he says the Athenians learned invoking, of the Pelasgi, who were Phœnicians: and probably they had it from Abraham, who was introduced into the land of Canaan, as a reformer of religion. Invoking was the ordinary method of devotion on sabbath days: sacrificing was extraordinary.

It was Abraham's custom, wherever he dwelt, to build one of these temples: as afterward, in the plain of Mamre, by Hebron, Gen. xiii. 18. And at Beersheba we are told he planted a grove, and there invoked in the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God, Gen. xxi. 33. It cannot be doubted but there was an altar and work of stones at the same place. And this was the usage of all the patriarchs, his successors, ever after; as is obvious in scripture, even to Moses's time. Isaac builded an altar in Beersheba, and invoked in the Name of Jehovah, who personally appeared to him, Gen. xxvi. 25. Jacob set up the anointed pillar at Bethel, xxviii. 18. and the temple there, xxxv. At Shechem he builded another, xxxiii. 20. At Bethel he set up a pillar, where Jehovah personally appeared to him, and blessed him: he anointed it, and poured a drink-offering, or libation thereon, xxxv. 14. In Exod. xxiv. 4. we read, Moses rose early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, which we have no reason to doubt were set in a circle. The like was done after they were seated in the land of Canaan, till the temple of Solomon was built: for Samuel, when he dwelt at Ramah, built an altar, to Jehovah there, whereat to celebrate publick offices of religion, 1 Sam. vii. 17.

Hence we gather further these three things. 1. That they planted groves in patriarchal times, as temples for publick worship. It seems that this was done in those hot countries, for convenience in the summer-season: and perhaps for magnificence. For we are told, Abraham dwelt long at Beersheba, where he planted the grove. These were as our cathedrals; they were planted round about the circular parts of stones, as porticos for receiving of the congregation. Whence groves and temples became a synonymous appellation, both in sacred and heathen writers. 2. That these temples which they called altars, were circles of stones, inclosing that stone more properly named the altar. The circles were greater or less, of more or fewer stones, as the will or convenience of the founder prompted. Moses his temple was a circle of twelve stones: and such we have in England. 3. They were commonly made on open plains, and rising grounds, conspicuous and commodious for multitudes, a whole neighbourhood to assemble in. This is the consequence of the nature and reason of the thing: for a matter of publick use must be in the most publick and conspicuous place. 4. The patriarchal religion, and the christian, is but one and the same. Hence in Isaiah xix. 19. the prophet speaking of the restitution of the patriarchal religion in Egypt, under the gospel dispensation, says, "In that day shall there be an altar to Jehovah in the midst of the land of Egypt; and a pillar, at the border thereof, to Jehovah." This is expressly making use of the terms of a patriarchal temple, with a view to that religion restored, meaning the christian.

1724. View of the Temple of Rowldrich [Map] from the South. A. the King Stone [Map] as called. B. the Archdruids barrow, CC rounds barrows or King barrows.

These monuments of the piety of the patriarchs in the eastern parts of the world, were in time desecrated to idolatrous purposes, and at length destroyed, even by the people of Israel, for that reason: and temples square in form and covered at top, were introduced at the Mosaic dispensation, in direct opposition to that idolatry. But before then, that first method passed all over the western world, and to Britain, where we see them to this day. By the way, we trace some footsteps of them, but there is always a fable annexed; as generally at this day, in our Druid temples at home. Thus Pausanias in corinthiacis informs us, that near the river Chemarus, is a septum or circle of stones. He says, they have a report there, that this is the place whence Pluto carryed away Proserpine. By such story we must understand, the mysteries were there celebrated. Pausanias writes, that the Thracians used to build their temples round, and open at top, in Bœotic. He speaks of such at Haliartus, by the name of Ναος, equivalent to the Hebrew Beth, which name Jacob gave to his temple. He speaks of several altars dedicate to Pluto, set in the middle of areas fenced in with stones: and they are called hermionenses. He tells us too, among the Orchomenians, is a most ancient temple of the Graces, but they worship 'em in the form of stones. From the number three, we may easily guess this was a Kist vaen, as our old Britons call it, or Kebla, like that in our great temple of Abury, and elsewhere. Indeed, the stones of these Kebla in time, instead of a direction in worship, became the object of worship; as Clemens Alexandrinus affirms.

That our Druids were so eminently celebrated for their use of groves, shews them to have a more particular relation to Abraham, and more immediately from him deriving the usage: by which way, I pointed at in good measure, in the account of STONEHENGE. Hence the name of Druid imports, priest of the groves; and their verdant cathedrals, as we may call them, are celebrated by all old writers that speak of this people. We all know the awful and solemn pleasure that strikes one upon entering a grove; a kind of religious dread arises from the gloomy majesty of the place, very favourable to the purpose intended by them. Servius upon Æneid III.

Ante urbem in luco falsi Simoëntis ad undam,

observes, Virgil never mentions a grove without a note of religion. Again, Æneid IX. ver. 4. Strabo says, the poets call temples by the name of groves. And this is frequently done in the scripture. But it is natural for our classic writers, when speaking of the Druids and their great attachment to religious rites, so different from what they were acquainted with, to insist much upon their groves; overlooking our monuments, which they would scarce dignify with the name of temples, because not covered like their own. Yet if with some, we would from hence conclude, that they were the only temples of the Druids, and therefore Stonehenge and the works we are upon, were none of theirs, we should err as much, as if we asserted Abraham only made use of groves, and not of the other temples erected on plains and open places.

Thus far I premised with brevity, as an introduction to our discourse, shewing the origin of temples among mankind; a necessary provision for 6that duty we owe to our sovereign author and benefactor. For unless we can prove ourselves self-sufficient and independent, all nature cries aloud for our acknowledgment of this duty. Private and domestic prayer is our duty as private persons and families, that we have life, and subsistence, and the common protection of providence: but the profession and exercise of publick religion is equally necessary as we are a community, a part of the publick, a parish, a city, a nation, linked together by government, for our common safety and protection; in order to implore at the hands of God almighty the general blessings of life, wanting to us in that capacity. And that person who secludes himself from his share in this duty, is a rebel and traitor to the publick, and is virtually separated from the common blessings of heaven. But time is equally necessary to this publick duty as place, as every one's reason must dictate. Therefore was the sabbath instituted; the very first command of our maker, even in the happy seat of Paradise, and before our fatal transgression. 'Tis the positive institution of God, and founded upon the strictest reason. So that if we allow the patriarchs to have built these temples, wherein to assemble for publick devotion, and disallow of the sabbath, because not particularly mentioned in the scripture that they did celebrate it, we think absurdly, and err against common sense and reason. The scriptures were given to teach us religion, but not to inform us of common sense and reason.

The duty of the sabbath commences as early as our being, and is included with great propriety in that observation of the divine historian concerning Adam's grandson, Enos; when it passed from a family-ordinance to that of several families united, as then was the case. The particularity of the expression, invoking in the name of Jehovah, dictates to us the form of their religion, founded on the mediatorial scheme, which Mediator was a divine person, to be worshipped; and thro' our faith and hope in him, or in his Name, we were to invoke God almighty for our pardon and protection. Therefore the same scheme of religion subsists, from the beginning to this day, the Mosaic system intervening chiefly as a remedy against idolatry, till the world was prepared for the great advent; and patriarchal religion should be republished under the name of christian.

From all this we must conclude, that the ancients knew somewhat of the mysterious nature of the deity, subsisting in distinct personalities, which is more fully revealed to us in the christian dispensation. All nature, our senses, common reason assures us of the one supreme and self-originated being. The second person in the deity is discoverable in almost every page of the old testament. After his advent, he informs us more fully of the nature of the third person: and that third person is discoverable in almost every page of the new testament. That the ancients had some knowledge of this great truth, the learned Steuchus Eugubinus demonstrates, in perenni philosoph. from their writings which are still left, such as Hermes, Orpheus, Hydaspes, Pythagoras, Plato, the Platonics, the sibylline verses, the oracles, and the like. Our Cudworth has very laudably pursued the same track, and Kircher, and our Ramsey in his history of Cyrus, and many more, to whom I refer the curious reader, who has a mind to be convinced of it. I shall only add this, that upon supposition only of an ancient tradition of it, having been handed down from one generation to another, in order to light up and kindle our reason concerning it; that 'tis a doctrine so far from being contrary to reason, or above human reason, that 'tis deducible therefrom, and perfectly agreeable to it, as I shall shew in Chap. XV.

11 Sep 1724. Nor is this a slight matter; for if knowledge be a valuable thing, if it be the highest ornament and felicity to the human mind; the most divine part of all knowledge is to know somewhat of the nature of the deity. This knowledge the Druids assuredly attempted to come at, and obtained, as we gather from the different kinds of their temples; and when we have described them, we shall beg leave to resume this argument, and briefly to discourse on it again, as being the chief and ultimate purpose of all antique inquiries.

View of the Rowldrich Stones [Map] from the West Sep. 11. 1724. A. The Kistaven at a distance.