Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/45

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33
The Voice of the Stone of Destiny.

ment to the folk of Tara to find that their bull-feast and their spell of truth chanted over the feaster had resulted in the selection of a beardless lad. But he convinced them that he was the true successor, and was admitted to the kingship.[1]

A traditional story is not a record of fact. It is a record only of what is believed. Probably both Lugaidh Reo-derg and Conaire are mythical personages, but their stories certainly embody what was thought to be possible. The description of the election by divination is substantially the same in both. It may therefore be taken, if not as approximately correct, at least as showing that election by divination was regarded among the ancient Irish as in the last resort a reasonable and proper manner of ascertaining and appointing a king. In this the Irish were by no means singular. The traditions of other nations point to the same result, and the customs in various parts of the world confirm it. The incident of election by divination is so picturesque and so suitable for the purposes of a story-teller that it is to be expected far more often in a tale than in real life. But that the story-incident is based on actual practice, I think there is sufficient ground for believing.

We will first shortly review a few stories of election by divination. The Saxons of Transylvania tell of a peasant who had three sons, of whom the youngest was despised by the others because he was weak and small while they were tall and strong. In that kingdom God himself chose the king from time to time. The mode of ascertaining the divine will was to call a general assembly of the people on the king's meadow in the largest commune of the country, and there to lay the crown at a certain hour on a hillock or mound. All the bells in the town pealed forth together; and the crown slowly raised itself in the air, floated round over the heads of the assembly, and finally alighted on that of the destined

  1. Revue Celtique, vol. xxii., p. 22, in the story of the Sack of Dá Derga's Hostel, translated by Whitley Stokes