* See Essay on the Subterranean Commonwealth, by Mr. Robeet Kieke, Minister of Aberfoyle.
If, indeed, the laws of the empire could have been supposed to have had any influence over these fierce barbarians, who conceived that the empire itself lay before them as a spoil, they might have been told that Constantine, taking the offence of alleged magicians and sorcerers in the same light in which it was viewed in the law of Moses, had denounced death against any who used these unlawful enquiries into futurity. " Let the unlawful curiosity of prying into futurity," says the law, " be silent in every one henceforth and for ever.* For, subjected to the avenging sword of the law, he shall be punished capitally who disobeys our commands in this matter."
If, however, we look more closely into this enactment, we shall be led to conclude that the civil law does not found upon the prohibitions and penalties in Scripture; although it condemns the ars mathematica (for the most mystic and uncertain of all sciences, real or pretended, at that time held the title which now distinguishes the most exact) as a damnable art, and utterly interdicted, and declares that the practitioners therein should die by fire, as enemies of the human race—yet the reason of this severe treatment seems to be different from that acted upon in the Mosaical institutions. The weight of the crime among the Jews was placed on the blasphemy of the diviners, and their treason against the theocracy instituted by Jehovah. The Roman legislators were, on the other hand, moved chiefly by the danger arising to the person of the prince and the quiet of the state, so apt to be unsettled by every pretence or encouragement to innovation. The reigning emperors, therefore, were desirous to place a check upon the mathematics, (as they termed the art of divination,) much more for a political than a religious cause, since we observe, in the history of the empire, how often the dethronement or death of the sovereign was produced by conspiracies or mutinies which took their rise from pretended prophecies. In this mode of viewing the crime, the lawyers of the lower empire acted upon the example of those who had compiled the laws of the Twelve Tables.* The mistaken and misplaced devotion which Horace recommends to the rural nymph, Phidyle, would have been a crime of a deep dye in a Christian convert, and must have subjected him to excommunication, as one relapsed to the rites of paganism; but he might indulge his superstition, by supposing, that though he must not worship Pan or Ceres as gods, he was at liberty to fear them in their new capacity of fiends. Some compromise between the fear and the conscience of the new converts, at a time when the church no longer consisted exclusively of saints, martyrs, and confessors, the disciples of inspired apostles, led them, and even their priestly guides, subject like themselves to human passions and errors, to resort as a charm, if not as an act of worship, to those sacrifices, words, and ritual, by which the heathen, whom they had succeeded, pretended to arrest evil, or procure benefits.
* Codex, lib. ix tit. 18, cap. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8
When such belief in a hostile principle and its imaginations was become general in the Roman empire, the ignorance of its conquerors, those wild nations, Franks, Goths, Vandals, Huns, and similar classes of unrefined humanity, made them prone to an error which there were few judicious preachers to warn them against; and we ought rather to wonder and admire the Divine clemency, which imparted to so rude nations the light of the gospel, and disposed them to receive a religion so repugnant to their warlike habits, than that they should, at the same time, have adopted many gross superstitions, borrowed from the pagans, or retained numbers of those which had made part of their own national forms of heathenism.
* By this more ancient code, the punishment of death was indeed denounced against those who destroyed crops, awakened storms, or brought over to their barns and garners the fruits of the earth; but, by good fortune, it left the agriculturists of the period at liberty to use the means they thought most proper to render their fields fertile and plentiful. Pliny informs us, that one Caius Furius Cresinus, a Roman of mean estate, raised larger crops from a small field, than his neighbours could obtain from more ample possessions. He was brought before the judge, upon a charge averring that he conjured the fruits of the earth, produced by his neighbours' farms, into his own possession. Cresinus appeared, and, having proved the return of his farm to be the produce of his own hard and unremitting labour as well as superior skill, was dismissed with the highest honours.
Thus, though the thrones of Jupiter, and the superior deities of the heathen Pantheon, were totally overthrown and broken to pieces, fragments of their worship, and many of their rites, survived the conversion to Christianity,—nay, are in existence even at this late and enlightened period, although those by whom they are practised have not preserved the least memory of their original purpose. We may hastily mention one or two customs of classical origin, in addition to the Beltane and those already noticed, which remain as examples that the manners of the Romans once gave the tone to the greater part of the island of Britain, and at least to the whole which was to the south of the wall of Severus.
The following customs still linger in the south of Scotland, and belong to this class : The bride, when she enters the house of her husband, is lifted over the threshold ; and to step on it, or over it, voluntarily, is reckoned a bad omen. This custom was universal in Rome, where it was observed as keeping in memory the rape of the Sabines, and that it was by a show of violence towards the females that the object of peopling the city was attained. On the same occasion, a sweet cake, baked for the purpose, is broken above the head of the bride; which is also a rite of classic antiquity.