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The Stolen Scroll, Prequel to The Scepter and Tower Trilogy

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Ancient Celtic Medicine — Part II, Brehon Laws Protected the Sick

Ancient Celtic Medicine — Part II, Irish Brehon Laws Protected the Sick

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher concludes his review of ancient, Celtic medicine with Part II.

Last week, we showed how the druids issued judgments, kept the law, and maintained an oral record of the clan’s knowledge. But they were also the clan’s healers. We admire early Ireland as the land where the legendary Irish queen, Macha Mong Ruadh, built the first European hospital in Emain Macha.

Questionable Diagnostic Methods

Celtic Magical Lore–Importance of Trees

But was the druids’ medical tradition a successful and accurate one? In some cases, yes. In others, no. The famous Gaulic physician, Charmis, was known to have used astrology to help his diagnoses. This technique, common to all Irish physicians, was used not only to diagnose diseases, but also to assess the prognosis for cures. Quackery or not, because of the reputation of Irish physicians, it spread to and became the norm for all of medieval Europe.

A Trove of Medical Knowledge

Despite their reliance on what we might call “magical lore”, the Irish druids had knowledge of herbs that did cure people. And before 1800, Ireland could boast of the largest collection of medical texts in any one language. The Irish monks who preserved so much of western knowledge also translated the works of Greek physicians like Herophilus, Hippocrates, Dioscorides, etc….

Irish Brehon Laws Protected the Sick

The Brehon Laws

The Irish Brehon Laws codified protections for the sick. These were written laws collected from all the clans, summarized into one body of law. They ensured that the sick were given nutritious food and wouldn’t pay too much for a cure. For a person wounded without cause, the attacker funded that person’s care from the fines he was assessed. Peter Beresford Ellis also reports that, “The Law of Torts says that ‘full sick maintenance [must be paid] to a worker injured for the sake of unnecessary profit . . .’”

The Brehon Laws assessed harsh fines upon ill-qualified or incompetent physicians who treated the sick and injured. And even qualified physicians, if they worsened a patient’s condition through malpractice, ignorance, or laxity, were required to compensate their patients. The Irish laws also looked to the future by requiring physicians to find and train four medical students.

The Laws Required Hospitals in Ireland

The laws also specified that each region keep a hospital. As Ellis reports, “The law is exact on the conditions under which it was to be built and maintained. It should have four doors, be placed by a stream of running water, and be maintained free of charge or taxation by the local assembly. The existence of such hospitals is attested by the names of towns or places such as An Spidéal (Spidall, Spital, etc…). The local physician and his students were in charge. There was a full-time caretaker or hospital manager who was employed to keep away stray dogs, mentally sick people (who had their own institutions), and anyone liable to cause the sick or injured distress.”

A Remarkable Concern For the Sick

This concern for the sick and injured in Ireland is remarkable, considering the attitudes in the rest of Europe. Alvin J. Schmidt reports that: “‘When epidemics broke out,’ Romans ‘often fled in fear and left the sick to die without care.’” The Romans, in contrast to Christians, also saw helping a sick person as a sign of weakness. So here we see, on the part of the early Irish healers and their heirs, a most admirable regard for human life. The Irish showed a concern for the sick and injured unseen in the rest of pre-Christian Europe.

Sources for this post: The Celts, by Peter Berresford Ellis, and How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin J. Schmidt.

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland in AD 432. To learn more about his book, click on the link.

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Did the Celtic Druids Worship the Darkness? — Part II

Did the Celtic Druids Worship the Darkness? — Part II

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher concludes the answer to the question: Did the Celtic druids worship the darkness? Specifically, did they worship spiritual darkness?

The Role of the Celtic Druids

Last time, we looked at the role of druids in ancient, Celtic society—how they were the keepers of the law, the judges, the healers, and the mediators between the clan and the spirit world.

We looked at the animistic world they lived in, where spirits lived in every tree, rock, stream, waterfall, cave, and mountain. We mentioned the “little people”, an invisible race of  sprites whose habitats one must be careful never to disturb, lest they curse your cattle, children, or your household with casualty or illness. And we also looked at a sampling of Celtic gods,  most of which would give anyone nightmares. Finally, we discussed how a people living beside such a spirit world reacted. They lived in constant fear of offending a multiplicity of gods, spirits, and demons.

Their “worship” consisted of appeasing as many of the spirits and gods that inhabited their world as possible. These were gods whose anger, capricious nature, and untrustworthiness everyone feared. One misstep, one breaking of a taboo, could bring ruin on one’s clan and family.

Did the Celtic Druids Worship Spiritual Darkness?

Back to our original question: Did the druids worship spiritual darkness? Did they worship that which was evil?

When St. Patrick came to Ireland in AD 432, he brought a message of love, hope, and salvation. The ancient Irish heard what he taught and recognized at once he spoke the truth. There is only one God, not the many deities with which the druids bedeviled them—one God who created the universe and all that was in it; one God whose nature was peace, joy, kindness, forgiveness, and love; one God who was infinite and eternal, who knows all things, is everywhere, and who is all-powerful; one God who is three persons in One Being; one God who loves so much that he sent his only Son into the world—as a man, yet still God—to live as a man, to work as a man, and to die as a human being, so that those who believed in Him would have eternal life.

Yes, the Irish listened and, for the most part, quickly abandoned the false gods of the druids. Before Patrick, the people lived in spiritual darkness. Afterward, they embraced the truth, and they realized that the God of the Bible was the only God. All other gods were false. To worship them was to deny that the one Creator, the one God, was the true God. And to worship anything that was not God is, by its nature, evil.

The True Spirit World

Patrick also brought them knowledge of the true spirit world, for the Creator God also created spiritual realms. The true spirit world is divided into two camps. In one camp is God, the Creator of all things, the heavenly realms, and his angelic beings in Heaven. And in the other are Satan and his demons, banished from Heaven. Satan was once one of the angels. But because of his pride and  disobedience, the Lord of Heaven and Earth banished Satan and his angelic followers from Heaven. These former angels became demons, and are now working against God’s interests. When this world ends, Satan and his demons are promised a new, eternal home in the lake of fire, along with all who have rejected Jesus as God’s Son. Satan is fighting with all his might against that prospect. But because he is a created being, his doom is certain.

And that, not the world of the druids, is the context for the real spirit world.

Sacrificing Children—Anyone, Really—is Evil

So when the druids sacrificed a child to Crom Cruach, that kind of worship was pure evil. They were giving homage, not to God, but to a worthless idol. And Satan, seeing the peoples’ embrace of this evil, would have hardened their hearts, sent his demons to continue the practice, and rejoiced. In the real spirit world—invisible to our eyes, but real nonetheless—Satan is fighting God in a battle for the hearts and souls of men.

Worship of anything other than the one true God is, by definition, false worship. And such worship will lead one to an afterlife in Hell. And that, my friends, is evil. So did the druids worship the darkness and evil?

In the battle of darkness versus light, the druids tried unsuccessfully to poison St. Patrick. They tried to sway the kings they advised not to listen to him. Because when Patrick brought people the truth, within a generation or so, the rule of the druids was over.

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland in AD 432. Click on the link to learn more about his book.