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  • Baal Cobblers and a Remarkable Survival August 17, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Modern , trackback

    ***aaargh the internet goblins are back, no image as this comes out by dial up – remember that?***


    Baal was a semitic God with unfortunate habits. By one of those bizarre confusions of etymology that characterise the eighteenth and the nineteenth century he came to be associated with Britain: something a little like situating the legendary King Arthur among the Indians of New England, say. As a rule when Victorians write about Baal or Bel they get things badly wrong. Take the following passage which is either based on supposition or is demonstrably wrong.

    The peculiar form of worshipping the Druidical deity Belus, the sun, is retained in Cornwall on St. John’s Day under the name of Bel Tan or Bel Tein. Large bonfires are kindled on the tops of the high hills, on June 24, and on the following day, and the country people amuse themselves with excursions on the water. It appears to be a remnant of an ancient Druidic festival instituted to implore the friendly influence of Heaven on the fields, compounded with that of May 1, when the Druids kindled large fires on all their sacred places, such as Cam Bre, Carnmerellis, Calvadnack, etc., and on the tops of the cairns in honour of Bel, or Betinus, the name by which they distinguished the sun whose revolving course had again clothed the earth with beauty and diffused joy and gladness throughout creation.

    However, every so often when Baal comes up there seem to be genuinely ancient customs: associated presumably with some other native fire diety. Take the following that is very wicker-manish.

    the late Lady Baird, of Ferntower, Perthshire, told [a correspondent] that every year on the first of May a number of men and women assemble at a Druidical circle of stones on her property at Crieff. They light a fire in the centre, and each person puts a bit of oat cake into a shepherd’s bonnet ; they all sit down, and draw blindfold a piece of cake from the bonnet. One piece has been previously blackened, and whoever gets that piece has to jump through the fire or pay a forfeit. This is, in fact, a remnant still surviving of the ancient worship of Baal, and the person on whom the lot fell would originally have been burnt as a sacrifice. Now, passing through the fire is taken to represent such a sacrifice, and the payment of the forfeit is considered as the redemption of the victim from the extreme penalty.

    Baal was almost certainly not worshipped in ancient Scotland. But here it looks like we have a remarkable survival or a very imaginative eighteenth-century antiquary.

    Beach loves survivals: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    31 August 2012: Pineybelt writes, ‘Many examples of vestiges of human sacrifice at sun festivals in Europe in the 17th,18th and 19th centuries are described in Sir James George Frazer’s “Balder The Beautiful”, which is available online. In fact, the example set out in your blog entry is described there, although it may have occurred in another locale.’ This conclusion about Baal  in Britain may be mistaken. Not that children were not offered as burnt sacrifices to Baal, but “passing through the fire” had another meaning. It was the practice of the Israelites to purify their booty or spoil from battle or war by cleansing what could withstand fire by passing it through the fire. Otherwise the practice was to cleanse with water. Also, Britain does have some Semitic influence due to the tin mines in Cornwall worked by Semitics. Also, there is a theory that the ancient Picts were Semitic. Those who wish to disprove this can provide the appropriate links. There is no end to discriminating between gods.’ Thanks Pineybelt and KMH